Another side of Asian cuisine - Japanese cuisine offers diners a sense of sophistication, elegance and lightness that is unmistakable with any other Asian cuisine.
This particular country and cuisine hold a special place in my heart. Living far from the sea, my experience with seafood is the summer vacation when our family gets to visit the beach, along with frozen Tuna that occasionally appears in my fridge. I enjoyed seafood but couldn’t stand the fishy stench when we visited a seafood restaurant. So you can imagine my thoughts when seeing the chef slice up and consume raw fish meat, broadcasting on a TV show about Japanese cuisine I saw when I was young. The skepticism went on for a while until my father suggested that we go to a Japanese restaurant during our weekend family dine out. It is not an exaggeration to say that, on that evening, my life has changed forever.
The first dish our family ordered was a plate of sashimi, which included 3 varieties: Salmon, Tuna and octopus; each slice was placed nicely on a perilla leaf. To my surprise, there was no fishy stench in the air, instead, I was quickly captivated by the vibrant colour and the neat presentation of the dish. The dish comes with a small plate of soy sauce and a bag of wasabi. My dad told my brother and me to mix the 2 ingredients together. The fish should be wrapped with the perilla leaf and dip gently into the dipping sauce without taking too much wasabi. Before we took a bite, he reminded us to be careful when the wasabi kicked in.
After the first bite of that glowing pinkish salmon, the meat quickly dissolved in my mouth. The salty flavour combined with a bit of fattiness, along with the fresh, subtle taste of the sea was a delightful experience. The soft texture was complemented by the perilla leaves' crunchiness, along with the aroma of soy sauce and the spicy kick of wasabi created a symphony of flavour and texture. Afterwards, I was utterly indoctrinated, craving another bite, knowing that I will never look at Japanese food the same way.
Upon growing up, I got to know more about Japanese cuisine, and ultimately fell in love with what it has to offer. From raw-fresh sashimi to the highly prepared bowl of Ramen, Japanese cuisine aims to provide a balance, keeping the freshness of the ingredients but still highlighting the exquisite cooking technique. Let's explore some of the most distinctive traits of Japanese cuisine together.
Freshly picked ingredient
The traditional Japanese cuisine is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes; there is an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled, and vegetables cooked in broth. Seafood is usually grilled and served raw as sashimi or in sushi, a notable example is Tuna and Salmon.
Besides raw and fresh, the Japanese also enjoy their seafood and vegetables deep-fried in a light batter, called tempura. Apart from rice, the staple starch includes noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan also has many simmered dishes such as fish cake in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga.
Unlike many other Asian cuisines, Japanese food does not use many spices. Still, it focuses on keeping the taste fresh, and the pure flavours of the ingredients and their health benefits.
Sophistication in Philosophy
Good looking food and good quality ingredients are the factors that Japanese Cuisine never fails to deliver.
Not only focusing on delicious taste and exquisite presentation, Japanese dining tables always make diners feel secure in the safety and quality of each ingredient. All Japanese dishes follow the distinct rule: five flavours, five colours, and five cooking methods:
· Five flavours: sour, salty, bitter, sweet and umami. The Japanese have discovered the taste for a long time and turned it into a characteristic, which helps distinguish their country's cuisine from the world.
· Five colours are: white, yellow, red, blue, black. Japanese believe every meal is an experience from taste to sight. Therefore, Japanese dishes are always presented with extremely subtle colour combinations. Each plate or even the whole meal converges 5 primary colours, creating a sense of harmony while still keeping its nutritional value.
· Five methods: raw, simmered, grilled, fried and steamed. These 5 cooking methods make Japanese meals always rich even though they are made from simple ingredients. No matter the technique, the dish must always retain its natural flavour and nutrition. At the same time, Japanese chefs choose the freshest ingredients and the most appropriate method to ensure the pure taste of the dish.
The above philosophies prove the dedication Japanese put into their food and the sophistication that is Japanese cuisine.
Harmonious and civilize
The gastronomy philosophy of Japanese cuisine always involves nature. The fresh food in Japan must always ensure to keep the freshness and their natural taste.
In Japanese tradition, the food here is often prepared according to the season, suitable for the climate and weather. When spring comes, the Japanese will often eat shirouo fish or sakura mochi cake. Cold dishes such as eel, grilled eggplant or cold noodles are always more popular in summer. When the weather turns to autumn, locals will savour dishes like baked potatoes, Chestnuts, Matsutake mushroom, etc. In winter, to reduce the cold, hot pot, oden soup... will be the first priority.
Lastly, the politeness of the Japanese dining style will also make any diners take their hat off to the civilization and harmony of this national cuisine.