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Base of Japanese cooking

Japan is in northeast Asia. And China and Korea are near Japan.
Espacially Chinese dish is known in the world. You may have some experiences to eat it.

But Japanese dish is completely different from Chinese and Korean dishes.
Roughly speaking, original Japanese dishes have the following features.

  1. No oil is used.
  2. Spices are used a little. They are ginger or chili pepper, but black pepper and garlic aren't used.
  3. Main ingredients are fish and vegitables, but meats are a little.
  4. The staple is rice.

These features show that Japanese dishes are healthy and light.

Basic Seasonings

Dashi

"Dashi" is a soup considered fundamental to Japanese cooking.
Almost Japanese dishes are used this, so it is the most important element of the flavor.

Dashi is commonly made by boiling a piece of "konbu" and shavings of "katsuobushi" in a pot of water, and then straining the resultant liquid.

Konbu is the edible kelp and it is gathered around the coast of Hokkaido and north Tohoku. A piece of dried konbu is used to make dashi.

Katsuobushi is the dried, fermented, and smoked bonito (a kind of migratory fish).
It is very hard block, so we shave it with a tool like plane and the shavings are used.

Instead of katsuobushi, other dried fish sometimes are used.
Altogether, the base of Japanese dish is the taste of fish.
And, dried shiitake (japanese mashroom) is sometimes added.

Recently many Japanese people use industrially-produced instant dashi, because of saving the trouble of making authentic dashi.

Dried konbu Shaved katsuobushi Dashi soup

Shoyu (Soy sauce)

Shoyu"Shoyu" is one of the most important fermented condiments of Japanese cooking.
It is made by boiling soy beans, fermenting them after adding salt water, and pressing out.
It is dark brown liquid, and has salty taste and fragrant flavor.
Basic soup for Japanese dish are made by mixing it to dashi, and it is often directly used as a sauce.

There are many shoyu makers around Japan, and they make the shoyu which is liked by the regional people.
The big makers are Kikkoman, Yamasa, Higeta, Higashimaru and Marukin Chuyu, and Kikkoman is well-known in the world.

Kikkoman
Yamasa
Higeta
Higashimaru Shoyu : Website in Japanese only

Miso

Miso "Miso" is also one of the most important fermented condiments of Japanese cooking.
It is made by boiling soy beans, fermenting them after adding grain and salt.
It is brown salty paste.
Generally rice or wheat are mixed to soy beans, then it has light-brown color. It is called "shiro-miso" (white miso).
Miso made from only soy beans has dark-brown color. It is called "aka-miso" (red miso).

Miso is mainly used to make "miso soup" and it is used as seasoning for various foods.
In addition, fish or meat pickled in this miso keeps for a long time and gets enhanced taste.

There are many miso makers around Japan, but they has stronger provinciality than shoyu, so only a few makers are famous around Japan.

Marukome miso
Marukome USA : USA factory website of above maker.
Hanamaruki : Website in Japanese only. There is an English page.
Shinshuichi miso
Kakukyu Hatcho miso : Red miso maker

Mirin

Mirin and Sosu "Mirin" is a kind of rice wine similar to sake, but it contains 40%-50% sugar and 10%-14% alcohol.
It is yellow liquid and tastes sweet.
Mirin sweetens cooking foods. And it is used to add a bright touch to grilled fish or meat, or to erase the fishy smell.

Other main seasonings

In Japanese cooking, sugar, salt, vinegar and sake are used except above seasonings.

Sugar is often used to sweeten cooking foods.
It is added to the soup of dashi and shoyu in various Japanese dishes, so you may feel that Japanese dishes have salty-sweet taste.

Salt, of course, makes the dish saltier.
It is used instead of shoyu when the cook want to keep the dish clear.
(Shoyu is enough salty.)

Vinegar is mainly used to make "sushi" or "sunomono" (vinegared dish).

Sake is rice wine.
Of cource, we drink it, but it is used to erase the fishy smell like mirin in cooking.

In Japan, Western dishes are often made at home.

"Sosu" is used as the condiment for them. The word "sosu" is "sauce" in English.
Sosu is made by liquidizing tomato, apple and so on, and fermenting them after adding salt, vinegar and spices.
It is dark brown liquid like shoyu, but is different taste from shoyu.
In a restautant you may find the bottles of shoyu "and/or" sosu on your table. Before you use them, please check whether the bottle contains shoyu or sosu.

Cookery methods

Main cookery methods of Japanese dish are the following.
In the dinner in ryokan, all of them are served in most cases.

Raw food

If a raw food is edible, Japanese like to eat it.
"Sashimi" is the sliced raw fish, and it is a famous case.

Boiling in water

"Ohitashi" is only boiled vegitable.
The most important staple "rice" is made by boiling uncooked rice until water evaporates.

Boiling in dashi and shoyu

This is one of popular cooking methods.
Some foods are boiled in the soup mixed dashi and shoyu, and miso, mirin, sugar or sake are added depending on individual taste.
All foods of vegitables, fish and meats are combined, so various dishes are made.

Broiling over an open fire

This is also one of popular cooking methods.
Generally salted foods are broiled over charcoal fire.
The sauce mixed shoyu and mirin is known as "teriyaki sauce". After some foods is soaked in it, they are broiled over fire, so they are called "teriyaki".

Steam food

Steamed food dishes are also important cooking method.
For this cooking, special steam pots or steaming baskets made from bamboo are used.
Various foods can be cooked by steaming.
Fancy dishes as "chawan-mushi" or "saka-mushi" are made by this method.

Frying in deep oil

Original Japanese cooking use no oil. In a sense this is a feature of it.
But "Tempura" is famous as Japanese fry cooking.
It is said that Europian missionaries introduced it with Christianity in the 16th century.
In Meiji period cutlet was introduced from Europe, and "tonkatsu" which is a pork cutlet by Japanese fry cooking method is very popular.
Please keep in mind that Japanese cooking used oil have only a short history.

Raw food Food boiled in water Foof boiled in dashi and shoyu
Food boiled over an open air Steam food Food fried in deep oil

Please, don't take it the wrong way.

Probably, Japanese dish is one of unique cuisines in the world.

The four features at the top of this page are different from any other countries.
The important dashi is made from Katsuobushi and Konbu, and it is very difficult to get them in the countries outside of Japan.

Japanese cuisine values raw dish. So sashimi and sushi are the best dishes for Japanese people.
And when the foods are cooked, they are seasoned with only dashi, shoyu, miso, mirin, vinegar, sake, salt or sugar, basically.
So Japanese cuisine has a light flavor, and we can feel the true taste of the ingredients.

Only Japanese people can have such taste sense during the life in Japan.
Probably, it is hard for the foreign cooks to express this Japanese taste.

You may find some Japanese restaurants in your country.
The chefs aren't Japanese in many restarurants. I hear that many Korean and Chinese chefs similar to Japanese look operate the "Japanese restaurants".
Over 90 percent of overseas Japanese restaurants are operated by non-Japanese chefs.

I think that they serve "Japanized dishes by foreign cooks".

If you think it taste good, I have no cause to complain.
But, I'm unhappy that you recognize such dish as the real Japanese cuisine.
Many Japanese overseas travelers reported that such restaurants disappointed them because the dishes were different from normal Japanese dishes.
(I hear that some restaurants hate when Japanese guests come.)

Please, don't take it the wrong way.

EAT-JAPAN : The website introducing orthodox Japanese cuisine in UK





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