Written by Lillian Rowlatt
Why we love food is often about more than what’s on our plate. Think about your favorite meal and all the memories that surround it. Maybe it’s the people you shared it with or a particular event you were celebrating. Maybe it’s that special dish your mother used to make when you were little or the meal that topped off a perfect day. For me, so many of my fondest memories are intertwined with Japanese food.
Being half-Japanese, I was lucky enough to grow up with the flavors and tastes of Japan. My mother would frequently cook traditional meals from back home or incorporate her own Japanese twist on western dishes. But when I think about why I love Japanese food, I often get drawn into the wonder of how seemingly simple ingredients can leave such a lasting impression.
Japanese traditions have long emphasized the beauty of simplicity. The graceful art of flower arranging, known as ikebana (生け花, "living flowers”), involves creating elegant designs of color, shape and line by using a minimal number of seasonal flowers. Impressive works of art have been created using a few carefully positioned brush strokes in the tradition of shodō (書道), or Japanese calligraphy. While a traditional Japanese tatami (疊) room can be perfectly decorated with the strategic use of empty space.
Photo credit: Niketh Vellanki
And so too, there lies beauty in the simplicity of Japanese food.
Sushi apprentices can train for years before they are even allowed to prepare the rice, which is a simple yet precise combination of rice, salt and rice vinegar. From there, it can take decades before they are ready to serve customers a perfectly cut piece of raw fish atop of a delicately formed portion of rice with a pinch of grated wasabi (山葵).
Photo credit: Wyron A
Kaiseki (懐石), a traditional multi-course meal, is regarded as the highest form of dining in Japan. The chef masterfully creates each dish to celebrate the unique flavors of the region by using only a few of the freshest seasonal ingredients in a creative display of balance and harmony, served on beautifully handcrafted plates and ceramics.
Even home cooked meals celebrate this love of simplicity. Most sauces only contain a few choice ingredients, allowing for the taste of the food itself to shine. Some of my favorite meals are made up of only a bowl of miso soup served alongside grilled fish and seasonal Japanese vegetables.
These meals may be pure and simple, yet they are incredibly special in the memories they create.
Cover photo credit: Kyle Head