In Asian cuisine, Japanese food is unsurpassed in elegance and exquisitely precise preparation. Meals in Japan are an art form, from the perfect sushi to the colorful candy and sipping of tea.
There is much to be sampled and appreciated from the vast array of Japanese food, and while traveling to Japan may give you the widest variety, there are many ways you can have this healthful fare at home.
This Japanese food guide will give you explanations of the basics of Japanese cuisine including sushi and sashimi, breakfast in Japan, common dishes to enjoy, Japanese sweets and an overview of traditional Japanese beverages. Towards the end you will find a quick lesson in table manners, a buyers guide and an outline of the nutritious benefits of Japanese food and what you can incorporate into your daily diet for better health.
How to Make Sushi
Japanese Food Guide: Sushi and Sashimi
The preparation of fish in the Japanese kitchen is ruled by the proverb "eat it raw first of all, then grill it, and boil it as the last resort."This basically means that the flavor and texture of fish is best enjoyed raw, but only if it is extremely fresh. it it isn't fresh enough to eat raw, it can be seasoned and grilled. The least fresh fish can be boiled, if you must, with seasonings such as miso and soy.
There is a definite distinction between sushi and sashimi.
Sashimi is traditionally the first course in a formal Japanese meal. it consists of the freshest raw fish and seafood, thinly sliced and served only with a dipping sauce.
Sashimi is an excellent source of omega 3 fats, but it is essential to buy from a reputable source to be sure you are getting the best quality.
Sushi refers to a broader range of foods. It can be served over rice, rolled in nori or placed in a hand-formed clump of rice. Sushi is made up of vinegar rice combined with a topping or filling of fish or vegetables. The filling can be raw, cooked or marinated.
Making Sushi - Raw Fish Recipe
Japanese Food Guide : Resources
- TPO's Sushi Dictionary
An A to Z dictionary of sushi with full descriptions of ingredients and seasonings.
- WALEG Kitchen
An easy recipe for smoked salmon sushi.
How To Make Tempura: Culinary Institute of America
Tempura represents all of the best elements of Japanese cuisine. The freshest vegetables and seafood are dipped in a light batter and dropped carefully, briefly into vegetable or sesame oil. It is removed when crispy and golden brown and can be dipped in a variety of sauces or eaten plain.
Tempura can be made at home using your favorite veggies and seafood. Watch the video on the right to see it done by a professional at the Culinary Institute of America.
A basic recipe:
- 1 egg
- 1 cup very cold / icy water
- 2 Tablespoons dry white wine
- 1 cup flour
Beat egg and mix with icy water (the cold water keeps the batter from becoming sticky and sticky batter will result in oily tempura), add wine and flour and whisk briefly. Do not over mix!
Heat Oil (use your preference - vegetable oil, sesame, grape-seed or peanut) in wok or fryer
Coat chosen vegetables and seafood in batter and briefly fry with care until golden brown. Let dry on paper towel.
Vegetables that will work well with Tempura:
- carrots, onion, zucchini or eggplant, thinly sliced
- mushrooms, halved or whole
- snow pea pods, whole
- broccoli, cauliflower, prepared as in salad
Some Seafood / Fish choices:
- cod, bite sized
- shrimp, whole, peeled
- scallops, whole if small
Traditional Dipping Sauce:
- 1 Tablespoon dashi (a stock made from kelp)
- 1 Cup water
- 2 Tablespoons mirin or 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 2 Tablespoons sake or dry white wine
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
Boil dashi, remove from heat and add remaining ingredients
Mango Dipping Sauce:
Take 1/2 mango (diced) and 1 cup heavy cream and reduce over medium heat for 10-12 minutes.
Japanese Food Guide : An Overview of Common Dishes and Ingredients
Shitake Mushrooms: Once grown only in Japan and not readily available in North America, they are now cultivated in the U.S. on artificial logs. You will find these mushrooms in a multitude of dishes.
Unagi: Eel is a favorite in various preparations. Unagi is prepared primarily as sushi in North American, but in Japan it is often a main course. Eel is believed to provide strength and vitality to those who consume it. Upscale unagi restaurants keep the live eels in a viewing tank and do not remove them until they are ordered. The eel is grilled, steamed to remove any excess fat, and then seasoned and grilled again.
Oden: A bland tasting stew of fish, dumplings, tofu, eggs and vegetables in a kelp based broth.
Kobi Beef: Red meat is not a staple of the Japanese diet because it was long considered unfit for human consumption. The term Kobi refers to the particular method of raising the animals. They are fed a special diet (including beer) to keep them relaxed. The animals are often massaged to keep them in a tranquil state. This pampering is the reason kobi beef is so expensive world wide.
Ramen: Thin noodles made from wheat and soda water.
Somen: Very thin noodles made from wheat flour.
Udon: are thick Japanese noodles served both hot and cold in a variety of dishes including soup.
Soba: Made from buckwheat flour, Soba is a popular fast food in japan. Served hot and cold, soba is sometimes flavored with seaweed, mugwort or green tea powder.
Breakfast in Japan
Breakfast in Japan
A traditional Japanese breakfast may consist of rice and miso soup, probably combined with some side dishes like pickled radish, cabbage or cucumber, dried seaweed and natto which is made from fermented soy beans and is highly nutritious.
Breakfast in Japan can also include a variety of fish and possibly a rolled omelet which is similar to an egg roll and can be prepared sweet or salty.
An extensive collection of Japanese breakfast recipes can be found at Japanesefood.about.com
Desserts and Sweets
Japanese desserts are radically different than western treats. They are rarely made with dairy or egg products and are not as intensely sweet as western desserts. They often contain sweet red bean paste known as bean jam, that is made from a mixture of azuki beans and sugar.
- Wagashi: A Japanese candy that is beautifully colorful and has become a standard part of the Japanese tea ceremony.
- Daifuku: Meaning "big fortune," daifuku slightly resembles a donut and is made from rice flour, sugar and water and filled with bean jelly or strawberry.
- Sata Andagi: A fried donut seasoned with black cane sugar that originated in the Okinawan region.
Other favorites include green tea ice cream, tempura fried ice cream, walnut manju cake and sweet rice balls called ohagi.
Links: Japanese Berverages
- Japanese Green Tea Hibiki-Choosing a Japanese Tea
This site has everything you need to know about Green Tea with articles about which tea to choose, recipes for preparation and explanations of the health benefits, how it is grown and made and a full line of products to choose from.
- Realbeer.com: Japan and Japanese Beer
For the beer enthusiast. Find out where the best pubs are in Japan, which are the favored breweries and brews and international beer news.
An article explaining the history of beer in Japan. Any beer lover will enjoy the author's humor and outline of proper beer drinking behavior.
- Sake World Homepage
Check here for a full explanation of the different types of Sake, the history and details about how it is made .
Japanese Food Guide : Beverages
There is of course, a huge variety of teas enjoyed in Japan. Green Tea is perhaps the most widely used and is intricately tied with the customs and culture in Japan.
Green Tea was first used ceremonially in Japan in the 12th century. It was brought from China, where green tea has long been used by Buddhist monks in monasteries for their religious rituals.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a ritual based on Taoism and influenced by Zen Buddhism in which green tea is prepared and presented by a highly skilled practitioner. It is served in a tranquil setting. Some ceremonies include a meal and can last up to 4 hours.
In order to acquire the skill, grace and charm to host a tea ceremony, the practitioner often studies the traditional arts for many years. To be a guest at such a ceremony even requires a little training in the proper etiquette, phrases to be used and appropriate gestures.
Green Tea is known for having multiple health benefits. It is chock full of antioxidants, providing the following health benefits:
- Fights viruses
- Slows aging
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Fights cancer
- Lowers cholesterol
When buying green tea it is important to look for a high grade to be sure that you are getting the desired nutrients. Green Tea does contain caffeine and the amount will vary depending on the amount of leaves used and the length of time the leaves are infused.
Sake, also called rice wine, is made from rice and water and created through a multiple fermentation process similar to the process for making beer. It is generally not aged, as most people prefer the flavor of fresh sake. Similar to wine, sake will have different flavors depending on the region in which it was made. There are also a variety of brewing methods creating distinctively different types of sake (clear, cloudy etc.).
Sake can be served hot, warm or chilled, depending on preference. Heating will hide some of the undesirable flavors of a lesser quality sake.
The most popular alcoholic drink in Japan, there is a diverse selection of a beer to choose from. The art of brewing first came to Japan from Germany and has been evolving ever since.
There are three main types of Japanese drinks classified as beer:
- Beer:the major brands are Asahi, Kirin and Suntory.
- Happoshi is a light tasting sparkling alcohol also known as low malt beer.
- "Third Beer" is the most recent addition to the beer market in Japan. It contains no malt and uses pea, soy or wheat spirits instead.
How to Use Chopsticks
- Dining Etiquette and Taboos
From the Association for Asia Research, an informative article explaining proper etiquette in Asian countries. Full explanations of why certain behaviors are taboo and what is appropriate.
A Japanese meal is prepared with the utmost of care, and should be eaten the same way. The following examples serve as a starting point in learning Japanese etiquette,
- It is okay to slurp your miso soup. Slurpping cools it off and shows that you are enjoying your meal. It is also acceptable and expected that you will noisily slurp noodles.
- Learn how to properly use chopsticks (see video to the right). Do not, during the course of the meal, suck on or lick your chopsticks.
- Do not stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice bowl or rest them on a shared dish. Lay them across the top of the bowl.
A traditional Japanese diet consists of eating foods jam packed with nutrients. Sugar, red meat and carbohydrates made from refined white flour are not present. The thought "what is good for me" outweighs the idea of "what would be fun to eat." Portion sizes are generally about half the size of western meals.
There are many principles that can be applied to improve health without having to adopt an entirely Japanese diet.
Replace red meat with fish as often as possible. Fish is high in omega-3 fats, which are essential to visual, mental metabolic and hormonal function. Tuna steak or sushi is an excellent source.
Tofu and Soyare a main part of the Japanese diet and are a good source of protein. They are believed to be responsible for reducing risks for heart disease and high blood pressure. Additionally, a diet high in soy protein and low in fat could, according to research, decrease body fat mass without decreasing muscle mass.
Nutrient Rich Foods:
- Shitake and Enoki mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses containing protein, calcium, fiber and vitamins C and B. These nutrients can protect the health of your heart, lower the risk of cancer, boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
- Misois a rich source of protein and contains trace minerals(zinc, manganese, copper) that strengthens the immune system and boosts energy. Studies have shown that the substances in miso can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Note: it is high in sodium.
- Seaweedssuch as kelp, arame and dulse contain the broadest range of minerals of any food. Seaweeds have the mineral equivalence of human blood and is a source for potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and iodine, as well as Vitamins C and B, fiber, and beta-carotene.
- Nattois made from soybeans and is often a part of Japanese breakfasts. It is an excellent source of protein, vitamins B2 and K. It also contains phytoestrogen and selenium, which are believed to prevent cancer.
- ZEROZEROSAKE.COM: Premium Sake
A huge selection with details/ratings of each brand including region, ingredients and taste. Selection of Sake gifts and an index of Sake cocktail recipes.
Beautiful Japanese wagashi and other sweets. Directory of where to buy their products world wide.
- Japanese Grocery Online Store
Buy Asian groceries including Japanese miso, tofu, soup, ramen noodles, candy, snacks, herbal teas, seasoning, exotic kitchenware and supplies for making sushi.
- Mount Fuji
Japanese sweets and specialty foods available online at Mount Fuji including Japanese Pocky, Japanese Chocolates, and Japanese biscuits. Based in the Uk, they provide worldwide delivery.
travel-O-grapher from Dhaka, Bangladesh on December 22, 2011:
Good article on japanese food. I recently visited a japanese restaurent in Dhaka and was quite dumbstruck with the type of food that they served. I found that sushi is something of an acquired taste and takes time to adjust to! especially if its dipped in the zingy wasabi! :p
kerlynb from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ on November 04, 2011:
Talk about a well-written and informative hub. Among the foods that you mentioned, I love ramen, soba, and udon the best. Yes, I like noodles and I love Japanese noodles :) It's amazes me how many dishes Japanese people make out of these three noodles. Personally, I like my noodles with hot broth and with seafoods.
camdjohnston12 on May 24, 2011:
The guide is good, I've learned more.
jtrader on December 14, 2010:
Mixed vegetable tempura is delicious.
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on October 05, 2010:
Thanks PaperNotes! It makes me hungry too. :)
PaperNotes on August 17, 2010:
Just reading your hub already made me hungry! Good job!
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on May 03, 2010:
Thanks Granny's House! I'm glad you found this helpful. Enjoy. :)
Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on April 29, 2010:
Amy, I love recipes. I will bookmark and rate up. I made Lo mein. I have to say it turned out great.
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 12, 2010:
Thanks Chef Mac (made me laugh again)! Sushi making looks really difficult to me. I much prefer to have someone else make it! I love the idea of sushi - so neat and orderly.
I can make tempura, but I admit that I have to follow the directions very carefully or I screw it up. Thanks for reading!
Chef Mac from New York State on February 11, 2010:
Great Hub! A friend of mine in Florida is a sushi master, he can make rolls that look like stained glass windows. Personally, I don't have much talent for it. I assumed it would be easy until I gave it a try, rice kept sticking to my hands, the roll would be uneven. Think I might too into fire. Plus the whole way the Japanese hold their knife is completely different, and it's shaped a little differently too. It's almost used as a drawing instrument more than a cutting implement. I might not be a sushi master, but I certainly can appreciate it! It's the best stuff ever.
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on January 20, 2010:
Thanks Chay! Yeah, I have to agree that I wouldn't be comfortable with the whole slurpping thing either! I do love Japanese food though, so if it was a requirement, I suppose I could force myself! :) Glad you enjoyed this - happy eating!
Chay H from Florida on January 12, 2010:
LOL Stop it, you’re making me hungry!
Japanese food is my favorite food…well, alongside Indian cuisine. This hub was a fun read! I’ve learned things about Japanese food and manners that I never knew. However, I don’t know if I’ll be brave enough to slurp up my soup and suck on my chop sticks. Ha-ha Especially if I am surrounded by several other American families at a grill. Humm, I can only imagine the looks I’d get. Not to mention those that would be passed from person to person. “MMM This soup is delicious, SLUUURRRRPPP!!” Thanks for the awesome hub!
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on December 21, 2009:
Enjoy! It's time I make some tempura too...it's been awhile!
Tripetta on December 16, 2009:
...I'm going to go make tempura with mango-sauce RIGHT NOW.
: ) Yum!
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on December 10, 2009:
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!
Japaneserecipes on December 02, 2009:
Wow.. Great sharing & nice hub!! Thanks
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on September 04, 2009:
Thanks prasadjain. Japanese cuisine does offer some great options for vegetarians! Vegetable tempura is my personal favorite!
Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD from Tumkur on September 03, 2009:
The hub is good both in content and technical side.Anyway, my mouth didn,t get watered.I'm a vegetarian
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on May 03, 2009:
Thanks for sharing your experience. I love the healthy aspects of Japanese for and think it is one of the best reasons to explore this cuisine in depth.
Kash Can Speak Japanese on April 18, 2009:
It is amazing how quickly you drop weight when your in Japan. I ate heaps on our holiday, but as the food is all so good, like the soba and tempura gobo in the photos you can really go to town and not have to worry about after holiday weight gain! ill be back Japan!
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on March 02, 2009:
Thank you Mr. Nice! Looking forward to your hub about Tokyo!
Mr Nice from North America on March 01, 2009:
Hi Amy, Very comprehensive hub on Japanese foods. We eat international foods & Japanese food is one of them. I was in Tokyo this summer & I really loved it because it is very different than other places I visited. I will make a hub on Tokyo very soon.
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 23, 2009:
Thanks John! I'm sorry you didn't have this guide then too!
Joanie Ruppel from Texas on February 21, 2009:
I wish I had this guide when I went to Japan on business a few years back. I found the food quite an adjustment, and often wasn't sure what I was eating.
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on May 30, 2008:
You are very welcome AMACC, thank you for reading and commenting. I am sure you will enjoy Japanese cuisine. There is something to please everyone! :)
AMACC on May 30, 2008:
How wonderfully informative! Thank you so much for providing such a descriptive food guide! I am going out to eat at a Japanese restaurant with some friends and now I have a better idea of delicacies that will be on the menu.
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on April 03, 2008:
Hi RichterScale! Thank you so much! I will look for that recipe for you and post it here - for some reason Japanese breakfast recipies are harder to come by.
RichterScale from Kansas on April 02, 2008:
What a beatiful section on breakfast!!! It brings back memories of my trip to a Ryokan in Fukishima. Do you have any tsukemono pickle recipes?
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 25, 2008:
You are very welcome Blogger Boy! Glad I could help :)
Blogger boy on February 24, 2008:
HEYHEYHEY!! you helped out alot with a project coming up Thank you thank you thank you!! I also have a dream for a trip to japan
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 22, 2008:
Hi Chris, thanks so much! I find watching the videos on how to make sushi and tempura very helpful -way more so than reading a recipe! And I wouldn't try the squid flavors either - i am sure it is an aquired taste!
Thanks for reading!
ChrisSnil from United Kingdom on February 22, 2008:
Fantastic reference! I love Japanese cuisine and am delighted when I can find recipes and such, I'm looking into getting a sushi set soon to make some at home :)
With regards to sweet stuff, there's always Pocky - which we can get here in the UK but just not in a great deal of flavours, however when I came over to the US the Asian supermarkets stocked a bigger varety of flavours, which were delish - though I'd still be a bit squicky about trying the squid falvoured ones :D
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 06, 2008:
Thanks Blogger Mom! So glad you liked it!
Blogger Mom from Northeast, US on February 06, 2008:
Wow, this is great! I love Japanese food, and I learned a few things that I will definitely use the next time we get sushi. =)
amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 05, 2008:
I haven't been to Japan, but it is on my list of places to see! Japanese food is a favorite "guilt free" food for me, although it took my husband years to convince me to eat sushi. I love the diverse tastes. If only I could aquire a love of seaweed...it is so good for your health.
C-Lee on February 05, 2008:
Wow! This is a really nice and extensive review, Amy Jane. Well done!
Have you ever been to Japan or lived there? Isn't it amazing how this cuisine has multiple specialties?