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What defines Japanese food culture?


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I am about to write an essay which should include something about the formation of Japanese food culture and also defining Japanese food/food culture.

I don't know if this question is too vague or maybe to big. But I wonder: what is really common, and really important for the Japanese?

Would it be foodstuffs like rice, soy sauce, fish or daikon? Dishes like miso soup, sushi, udon/soba, okonomiyaki(probably not) or sukiyaki? Behaviour like saying itadakimas before the meal, using chopsticks, not sticking chopsticks in the rice bowl etc.? Buying boxed lunches? Or traditions like Osechi-ryori? Other things or ways to do things?

What marks Japanese food culture? Would it be possible to make a list with 3-10 musts that are common for all of Japan?

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I think celebrating seasonality and seasonal foods/ingredients is an important aspect of Japanese cuisine. Of course, this isn't unique to Japanese cuisine, but it is nonetheless an important aspect of preparing and enjoying Japanese cuisine.

Edited by sanrensho (log)
Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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Warning: This is my personal opinion. There can be as many answers to your question as there are Japanese.

Assari. There is no exact equivalent for this word in English. Light, savory, bland, plain, simple, non-fatty, etc., etc.

Most Japanese prefer assari to kotteri (opposite of assari).

Soy sauce. Soy sauce has delayed the development of Japanese cuisine. Stated in another way, since it encountered soy sauce, Japanese cuisine has refused to develop. Suppose we have a fresh fish. Why bother to cook it when we can just cut it and eat as sashimi with soy sauce? It's the best way to savor the taste of the fish.

Edit: Corrected simply to simple.

Edited by Hiroyuki (log)
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I love this! Actually I thought of the seasonality. Good to see that I'm not alone with that. I did not think about umami, and assari was a completely new word to me, though I can feel it. (But are there "kotteri regions"?) The Moriyama book is ordered. The symbiosis between soy sauce and fish is also something I will consider. Now I will have to go down and take care of my Norwegian fish cakes. Thank you all!

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Prof. Donald Richie's book "A Taste of Japan" (not a cookbook) is one of the best overviews of traditional Japanese food for the past 100 years or so. Contemporary food culture is a different story.

BTW, a lot of things that are central to Japanese food and culture in general--including soy sauce, "5 tastes and 5 colors," tea ceremony, Zen, etc. -- have Chinese origins.

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I love this! Actually I thought of the seasonality. Good to see that I'm not alone with that. I did not think about umami, and assari was a completely new word to me, though I can feel it. (But are there "kotteri regions"?) The Moriyama book is ordered. The symbiosis between soy sauce and fish is also something I will consider. Now I will have to go down and take care of my Norwegian fish cakes. Thank you all!

I don't think there are any particular "kotteri regions", but the youth tend to prefer kotteri dishes like tonkotsu ramen, as well as gekikara (super hot) dishes. But most of them will eventually return to "normal" as they get older.

Soy sauce is pervasive. It can be used for almost everything ranging from fish, meat, vegetables, soy products, and seeweeds. It's more than ketchup in the United States and olive oil in Italy. And it's often combined with mirin and/or sugar (and sake) to create an amakara (lit. sweet and salty) flavor. The Japanese can never get tired of amakara. Just think of gyudon, sukiyaki, teriyaki, oyakodon, and what have you.

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I agree about the amakara, but I think it's especially strongly rooted in the eastern/northern parts of Japan.

Another thing - aside from the amakara tradition, Japanese seasonings often rely on either one or a small range of understated seasonings (assari), plus one strong topnote (often a very fragrant item). So instead of complex blends cooked together as in much Korean food, you will find say umami from konbu and katsuo, with salt and shoyu, simmered to permeate the entire dish; and then a generous tenmori topping of shredded fresh ginger, citrus peel, sansho leaves, shichimi chili pepper etc added at the last moment when serving. Soy sauce plus wasabi is another example.

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I agree about the amakara, but I think it's especially strongly rooted in the eastern/northern parts of Japan.

I know, I know. Kansai dishes are more subtle. Even though I prefer Kanto flavors in general (because I'm a Kanto man), I have developed quite a liking for flavorful sanuki udon. I don't think I can ever go back to Kanto-style, dark and salty soba (and udon) broth.

***

Here's a statement that almost all Japanese will agree:

The essence of Japanese cuisine is to use seasonal foods and bring out the flavors of the individual foods themselves.

Are you satisfied, nuppe? I'm bored. :raz:

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I'll order the Richie book from the library and print out the message from helenjp(!) Last Hiroyuki statement was nice; very close to what many Frenchmen would say of their own kitchen, but with the special Japanese emphasis on seasons. Yes, I'm satisfied indeed. Though I cannot promise that I will not come back to the Kansai/Kanto difference. That was actually meant as a follow up later.

I do of course have and read books. And I have been to Japan some times, though getting an overview over the food is a challenge that can be compared to understanding the language. But all in all I should now have ingredients for my writing. Thank you all!

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But all in all I should now have ingredients for my writing. Thank you all!

Good for you! But don't forget about all the different levels of Japanese cuisine: kaiseki, top-class sushi, "class A" gourmet restaurants down to "class C". And the Cuisine of Subtraction thread here in the Japan Forum. :wink:

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  • 4 weeks later...
Read this book:  Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen by Naomi Moriyama.  She defines exactly what you are looking for.

I have this book and I loved it.

I just ate her breakfast recipe, overcooked the egg though.

Although Id have liked to see a fold out actual size portion size chart.

I see Kristin is a skinny minny and I read what she eats all day and If I ate that much rice etc Id be over 200 lbs. I wanna know what she does...

I had a 1/4 cup of brown rice in my soup this morning.

How much rice, protein and veg do the Japanese eat every meal?

Wawa Sizzli FTW!

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I love this! Actually I thought of the seasonality. Good to see that I'm not alone with that. I did not think about umami, and assari was a completely new word to me, though I can feel it. (But are there "kotteri regions"?) The Moriyama book is ordered. The symbiosis between soy sauce and fish is also something I will consider. Now I will have to go down and take care of my Norwegian fish cakes. Thank you all!

I don't think there are any particular "kotteri regions", but the youth tend to prefer kotteri dishes like tonkotsu ramen, as well as gekikara (super hot) dishes. But most of them will eventually return to "normal" as they get older.

Soy sauce is pervasive. It can be used for almost everything ranging from fish, meat, vegetables, soy products, and seeweeds. It's more than ketchup in the United States and olive oil in Italy. And it's often combined with mirin and/or sugar (and sake) to create an amakara (lit. sweet and salty) flavor. The Japanese can never get tired of amakara. Just think of gyudon, sukiyaki, teriyaki, oyakodon, and what have you.

Just wanted to post a photo of my family's shusai (main dish) for today's supper, which is a typical amaraka-flavored one.

gallery_16375_5_67480.jpg

Chicken thigh chunks dusted with flour and pan-fried with negi, simmered with a 1:1:1 mixture of soy sauce, mirin, and sake.

The Japanese are addicted to amakara flavor. We sometimes deviate from it, especially young people, but return to this same old flavor sooner or later.

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Other amakara-flavored dishes:

gallery_16375_5_16935.jpg

Hamburgers, with a Japanese-style sauce of soy sauce, mirin, and sake with a ratio of 1:1:1.

gallery_16375_5_53655.jpg

Daikon simmered with aburaage, in a broth of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin with a ratio of 8:1:1.

So, you may ask, "Don't you ever get tired of amakara?? :angry: "

Answer: NO!! :biggrin:

I can never get tired of amakara-flavored dishes, miso soup, or plain cooked rice.

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I think amakara explains why the Japanese put sweet corn on pizza, ketchup on eggs, and mirin and sugar in their meat-and-potato stew.

Ketchup on eggs is a favorite among most of the kids I knew growing up... when you had scrambled eggs, you put ketchup on them. This was in the middle of the LA area, not Japan.

As an adult, I can't stand the combination of those too. Heck, I won't even put ketchup on hash browns either.

Cheryl

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I think amakara explains why the Japanese put sweet corn on pizza, ketchup on eggs, and mirin and sugar in their meat-and-potato stew.

Ketchup on eggs is a favorite among most of the kids I knew growing up... when you had scrambled eggs, you put ketchup on them. This was in the middle of the LA area, not Japan.

As an adult, I can't stand the combination of those too. Heck, I won't even put ketchup on hash browns either.

Amakara refers to *that* flavor of the combination of soy sauce and mirin (and sugar), not the flavor of a combination of any sweet and salty foods.

MomOfLittleFoodies, so, are you implying that omuraisu can be a favoriate of many children in the United States? :biggrin:

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I know you didnt ask me, but, scrambled eggs are served at all breakfast restaurants with ketchup on the table...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrambled_eggs

Most eggs in the USA are served for breakfast. There was a short time in the 70's when the omelet was all the rage for dinner and egg salad is a lunch thing, but most eggs are eaten at breakfast.

I was just at the store and I still forgot to buy a chicken thigh for Omuraisu.

I was the one who IMed Kristin and begged her to write a Japanese Cookbook a few months ago.

I DEFINITELY think the USA is ready for new tastes from Japan, Im so tired of seeing the same boring cookbooks with Teriyaki and Sushi...

I think kids in America have been raised on sushi now and are ready for Japanese fun food like Omuraisu.

I have frozen chicken breasts, Ill make my son and I Omuraisu for dinner tonight (Tomorrow is Bulgogi and Kimchi)

BTW this is a funny essay on Ketchup and moms:

http://www.salon.com/aug97/mothers/phobia970806.html

Wawa Sizzli FTW!

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MomOfLittleFoodies, so, are you implying that omuraisu can be a favoriate of many children in the United States? :biggrin:

I think omuraisu would be a favorite food of kids in ANY culture. :biggrin:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I know you didnt ask me, but, scrambled eggs are served at all breakfast restaurants with ketchup on the table...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrambled_eggs

Most eggs in the USA are served for breakfast. There was a short time in the 70's when the omelet was all the rage for dinner and egg salad is a lunch thing, but most eggs are eaten at breakfast.

I was just at the store and I still forgot to buy a chicken thigh for Omuraisu.

I was the one who IMed Kristin and begged her to write a Japanese Cookbook a few months ago.

I DEFINITELY think the USA is ready for new tastes from Japan, Im so tired of seeing the same boring cookbooks with Teriyaki and Sushi...

I think kids in America have been raised on sushi now and are ready for Japanese fun food like Omuraisu.

I have frozen chicken breasts, Ill make my son and I Omuraisu for dinner tonight (Tomorrow is Bulgogi and Kimchi)

BTW this is a funny essay on Ketchup and moms:

http://www.salon.com/aug97/mothers/phobia970806.html

Thanks for the link, GlorifiedRice, especially the first one. :laugh:

I can see a big difference between the Japanese and Americans in the perception of ketchup. The Japanese think that ketchup is healthy!

Anyone who tends to abhor rice mixed with ketchup should consider that it's just another type of vinegared rice. If you like sushi (vinegared rice + topping), then you can like omuraisu! :biggrin:

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