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If you’ve spent time in a kitchen (or watched a lot of cooking shows on TV like me), then chances are you’ve heard the adage “You eat first with your eyes.” While many a fine dining restaurant around the world features beautiful plating, it's hard to deny that the true masters of the art of food beautifully arranged are the Japanese.
Japan is known for its affinity with seasonal products, particularly when it comes to food. In Japanese when something is in season and popular it is referred to 旬 (shun). Here are some springtime seasonal foods you'll find in Japan:
Shiitake mushrooms, konbu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes) are three main ingredients used to make dashi in Japanese cuisine. Here's how to store each ingredient to maintain the best flavor and freshness.
Fermented foods are among the most common foods you’ll find around the world. Every culture has some tradition of fermenting foods, so it's no surprise to find that this “culture” has deep roots in Japan.
You may have come across amazake (a low/non-alcohol sweet sake) on your travels to Japan, especially if you’ve visited during the New Years period. Often served in small paper cups at shrines during the cold new years period, amazake has a mild, sweet smell and taste.
Made popular outside of Japan in 2005 in a speech to the United Nations by Wangari Maathai,mottainai has the meaning of not letting things go to waste. Translated literally, it can mean “wasteful” or even “such a waste,”yet like many words in Japanese has a deeper meaning and reflects the importance of treasuring an object and using it to its fullness.
Because tea leaves are a shelf-stable product, it is commonly assumed that their quality does not degrade over time. However, through the process of oxidation, tea begins to deteriorate as soon as it is picked from the plant. Luckily, proper storage is a simple way to interrupt that process and keep your tea fresh and delicious. There are five main “enemies” of tea that should be avoided: light, heat, moisture, odor, and air.
Japan is a seafood lover’s culinary paradise. There is a little something for everyone. One such delight is roe, fish eggs, that can be found as toppings on sushi, a paste to nibble or spread on toast, a stuffing for onigiri, mixed with pasta sauce, and for many other things.
Perhaps the best-known types of roe in Japan are tarako and mentaiko, but what are they and what is the difference? How are they the same?
For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japanese alcohol is sake. You might see it called Japanese rice wine, or even learn that it can be served either hot or cold, but this this barely skims the surface of these remarkable beverages.
Many a first experience of Japanese cooking starts with the savory, tangy, unique taste of miso soup. And while miso seems like a straightforward ingredient, there are actually a wide variety of miso to choose from.
Miso is produced widely across Japan, in every prefecture. And while there is a lot of variety, miso can be commonly categorized by color (aging), fermentation ingredient (koji), and region (prefecture).
There are many types of tofu, but the two most common types are kinu or kinugoshi (きぬ/絹ごし) and momen (もめん/木綿). Kinu literally means silk whereas momen means cotton. In English you may come across kinu tofu being referred to as silken or soft tofu and momen tofu being referred to as firm or hard tofu.
As time passes, Japan is seeing many of its smaller countryside villages become depopulated as younger generations move to larger cities for work. For those who remain, farming lacks the appeal it once did because the yields required to make a living have increased. As a result, those that do look to farming find themselves turning away from sustainable traditional techniques toward a reliance on technology and scientific farming.
One traditional technique at danger of being lost is the practice of “yakihata” (焼き畑) - careful and controlled burning of fields which helps to remove pests and reinvigorate the land, fertilizing it with ash. This practice is currently used primarily in only one part of Yamagata Prefecture, and has largely disappeared from the rest of Japan. Traditions and skills like these are now at risk of disappearing from Japan altogether if change is not made to preserve this agricultural heritage.
As you start down your Japanese home cooking experience, it's a great idea to pick up a few staple ingredients that will help build the foundation of many of the recipes you’ll want to try. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the fundamental “5 S” ingredients of Japanese cooking and how to store them.
Otsumami are a selection of foods in Japan that are meant to accompany alcoholic beverages and to enhance one’s dining experience. They’re often served at Japanese pubs known as izakaya, or at restaurants or at home as a snack before a meal. These wide ranging foods can be enjoyed hot or cold and vary in how they’re prepared including raw, cooked, deep fried, pickled, smoked or preserved.
Tea (茶 orcha) is deeply intertwined with Japanese culture and is enjoyed at almost every occasion, from daily life to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, known as the “way of tea”. Although most commonly enjoyed as a drink, whole tea leaves find their ways into many aspects of Japanese cuisine and is as shokucha (lit. "eating tea).
The different types of green tea vary based on how much sunlight the leaves receive and how they are dried, ground and rolled. How you brew them will also will also effect the taste and experience of enjoying a cup of green tea.
Springtime in Japan is associated with both the beginning and ending of stages in life as graduation ceremonies are held at the end of March while new school and corporate fiscal years begin in April. Along with these life events bloom sakura (cherry blossoms), a symbolic flower or farewell and celebration. In the early warmth of spring, people gather under sakura trees for “flower viewing", known as hanami or more formally ohanami, as they enjoy a picnic with family, friends, and colleagues.
Michi-no-eki (lit. “roadside station”) are government-designated facilities found throughout Japan with a rest stop, community space, and information center. Unlike typical rest stops, michi-no-eki serve as landmarks for the community attracting both locals and visitors. Over the years, michi-no-eki have transformed, with many now offering services such as farmers markets with local produce and regional foods, food courts, libraries, event spaces, amusement parks, and souvenir shops, all showcasing regional specialties.
Reddish orange lanterns glow softly in the dark while the sound of laughter is exchanged amongst office workers, college students and friends. Some describe an izakaya as a Japanese bar, pub or casual restaurant, but these words hardly grasp the nuance. Izakaya means “a place to settle and drink”' and is where one can find affordable drinks and delicious food. It’s a place to forget time and enjoy the present while connecting with colleagues and friends.
Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, is blessed with spacious land, abundant nature and a cooler climate that distinguishes it from the rest of Japan. Akin to Japan's “northern Europe”, Hokkaido’s thriving agriculture and fishing industry has resulted in its treasure trove of regional food.