Jason's Bistro

Cuisine Japanese
Description Traditional Japanese cuisine relies heavily on seafood, but a typical meal will contain many vegetable dishes which are or can be vegetarian. The most common techniques for preparing food are based on boiling water or soup stock, including poached/simmered dishes (nimono), blanched vegetables (ohitashi), and so on. Characteristic of classic country-style cuisine are various types of pickles, which are usually eaten in small quantities at most meals.

Modern cuisine features a number of Portuguese influences (especially fried foods), and other European and American influences.

Vegetarian Appeal Although fish-based soup stock is pervasive in most dishes in ordinary Japanese homes and restaurants, Japanese cuisine is easily adaptable to vegetarian needs.

Japanese cooking techniques generally produce dishes with subtle, enjoyable flavors with a minimum of fats and oils. Salt (often from miso or soy sauce), nearly fat-free soup stock, vinegar, and rice wine are the most important flavorings.

Basic Ingredients Your pantry should feature:
  1. Dried kelp (konbu) for soup stocks
  2. Japanese soy sauce (Chinese soy sauces are often too sweet). Use Kikkoman, Yamasa or another Japanese brand.
  3. Mirin (a sweetened rice wine).
  4. Sake (rice wine).
  5. Rice vineger (su). For sushi, you may also want "seasoned rice vinegar", but you should have at least plain rice vinegar.
  6. Dried shiitake mushrooms.
  7. Japanese-style rice (nihongome).
  8. Miso (salty fermented mashed soybeans). Refrigerate.

Other frequently used ingredients include:

  1. Sea vegetables, including hijiki, kelp (konbu), young kelp (wakame), laver (nori), and many others.
  2. Roots, tubers, and squashes. Carrots, mountain yams (konnyaku, nagaimo), sweet potatoes, small taro root (satoimo), lotus root (renkon), Japanese radish (daikon), Japanese pumpkin (kabocha).
  3. Mushrooms. Shiitake, shimeji (oyster mushrooms), kikurage (tree mushrooms), and the prized matsutake.
  4. Fermented foods. Natto (fermented soybeans without salt), miso (fermented soybeans with salt).
Unusual ingredients The ingredients listed above are available in most Metropolitan areas at an Asian grocery or at many health food stores. Some harder-to-find but distinctive ingredients include:
  1. Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit). Fresh variety is nearly impossible to find in the US. It has a wonderful aroma and is used in many dipping sauces (ponzu, for example). Adding small amounts of the peel to a dipping sauce can work wonders. You may be able to find prepared ponzu containing yuzu, and you may be able to find bottles of the juice.
  2. Ichijiku (a kind of Japanese fig). Usually eaten fresh.
A Typical Meal The most basic Japanese meal (for breakfast, lunch, or dinner) usually includes a bowl of rice, miso soup (misoshiru) or a clear soup (suimono), one or two side dishes, and some pickles.

Noodle soups (such as udon, soba, and so on) are typically considered midday fare, although people increasingly eat their favorite lunch foods at dinner as well. Onigiri (filled rice balls) are a common feature in a lunch box, as well.

The most common shortcuts taken in a Japanese kitchen include:

  1. Using prepared soup stock ("hondashi"), which usually contains dried bits of tuna or bonito (katsuo).
  2. Using mixes that save a couple of steps when preparing dishes, such as okonomiyaki-no-moto (mixed flours for okonomiyaki), tempura-ko, and so on.

Modern Japanese may eat Japanese-style breads for breakfast instead of the classic rice, soup, side dishes and pickles. At lunchtime, people frequently venture to Italian restaurants for very thin-crusted pizza or pasta with a Japanese accent. Fusion between Japanese and foreign cuisine is increasingly prevalent.

A Jagaimo.com Feature

© 2000 Jason Truesdell.
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