Japanese cuisine has developed through centuries of social and economic changes, and encompasses the regional and traditional foods of Japan. The traditional cuisine of Japan (washoku or 和食) is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Fish is common, often grilled, but also served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter as tempura.
Apart from rice, staples include noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga. Foreign food, in particular Chinese food in the form of noodles in soup called ramen and fried dumplings, gyoza, and western food such as curry and hamburger steaks are commonly found in Japan. Historically, the Japanese shunned meat, but with the modernisation of Japan in the 1880s, meat-based dishes such as tonkatsu became common.
Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi, has now become popular throughout the world. As of 2011, Japan overtook France in number of Michelin starred restaurants and has maintained the title since.
Japanese cuisine is based on combining the staple food, which is steamed white rice or gohan (御飯), with one or several okazu or main dishes and side dishes. This may be accompanied by a clear or miso soup and tsukemono (pickles).
The phrase ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜, “one soup, three sides”) refers to the makeup of a typical meal served, but has roots in classic kaiseki, honzen, and yūsoku cuisine. The term is also used to describe the first course served in standard kaiseki cuisine nowadays.
Rice is served in its own small bowl (chawan), and each course item is placed on its own small plate (sara) or bowl (hachi) for each individual portion. This is done even at home. It contrasts with the Western-style dinners at home, where each individual takes helpings from the large serving dishes of food presented at the middle of the dining table. Japanese style traditionally abhors different flavoured dishes touching each other on a single plate, so different dishes are given their own individual plates as mentioned, or are partitioned using leaves, etc. This is why in take-out sushi the tamagoyaki egg and fish, or blue-backed fish and white-fleshed fish are carefully separated. Placing okazu on top of rice and “soiling” it is also frowned upon by old-fashioned etiquette. Though this tradition originated from Classical Chinese dining formalities, especially after the adoption of Buddhism with its tea ceremony, and became most popular and common during and after the Kamakura period, such as the Kaiseki. Japanese cuisine keeps such tradition still, whereas in modern times such practice is in sharp contrast to present day Chinese cuisine, where placing food on rice is standard, However the exception is the popular donburi.
The small rice bowl or chawan (“tea bowl”) doubles as a word for the large tea bowls in tea ceremonies. Thus in common speech, the drinking cup is referred to as yunomi-jawan or yunomi for the purpose of distinction.
In the olden days, among the nobility, each course of a full-course Japanese meal would be brought on serving napkins called zen (膳), which were originally platformed trays or small dining tables. In the modern age, faldstool trays or stackup-type legged trays may still be seen used in zashiki, i.e. tatami-mat rooms, for large banquets or at a ryokan type inn. Some restaurants might use the suffix -zen (膳) as a more sophisticated though dated synonym to the more familiar teishoku (定食), since the latter basically is a term for a combo meal served at a taishū-shokudō, akin to a diner. Teishoku means a meal of fixed menu, a dinner à prix fixe served at shokudō (食堂, “dining hall”) or ryōriten (料理店, “restaurant”), which is somewhat vague (shokudō can mean a diner-type restaurant or a corporate lunch hall); but e.g. Ishikawa, Hiroyoshi (石川弘義) (1991). Taishū bunka jiten (snippet). Kōbundō. p. 516. defines it as fare served at teishoku-shokudō (定食食堂 “teishoku dining hall”), etc., a diner-like establishment.
Emphasis is placed on seasonality of food or shun (旬), and dishes are designed to herald the arrival of the four seasons or calendar months.
Seasonality means taking advantage of the “fruit of the mountains” (山の幸 yama no sachi, alt. “bounty of the mountains”) (e.g. bamboo shoots in spring, chestnuts in the fall) as well as the “fruit of the sea” (海の幸 umi no sachi, alt. “bounty of the sea”) as they come into season. Thus the first catch of skipjack tunas (初鰹 hatsu-gatsuo) that arrives with the Kuroshio Current has traditionally been greatly prized.
If something becomes available rather earlier than usual, the first crop or early catch is called hashiri.
Use of (inedible) tree leaves and branches as decor is also characteristic of Japanese cuisine. Maple leaves are often floated on water to exude coolness or ryō (涼), sprigs of nandina are popularly used. The haran (Aspidistra) and sasa bamboo leaves were often cut into shapes, and placed underneath or used as separators.
A characteristic of traditional Japanese food is the sparing use of red meat, oils and fats, and dairy products. Use of ingredients such as soy sauce, miso, and umeboshi tends to result in dishes with high salt content, though there are low-sodium versions of these available.
As Japan is an island nation surrounded by an ocean, its people have always taken advantage of the abundant seafood supply. It is the opinion of some food scholars that the Japanese diet always relied mainly on “grains with vegetables or seaweeds as main, with poultry secondary, and red meat in slight amounts” even before the advent of Buddhism which placed an even stronger taboo. The eating of “four-legged creatures” (四足 yotsuashi) was spoken of as taboo, unclean or something to be avoided by personal choice through the Edo Period. Notably, the consumption of whale and terrapin meat were not forbidden under this definition. Despite this, the consumption of red meat did not completely disappear in Japan. Eating wild game—as opposed to domesticated livestock—was tolerated; in particular, trapped hare was counted using the measure word wa (羽), a term normally reserved for birds.
Vegetable consumption has dwindled while processed foods have become more prominent in Japanese households due to the rising costs of general foodstuffs. Nonetheless, Kyoto vegetables, or Kyoyasai, are rising in popularity and different varieties of Kyoto vegetables are being revived.
Generally speaking, traditional Japanese cuisine is prepared with little cooking oil. A major exception is the deep-frying of foods. This cooking method was introduced during the Edo Period due to influence from Western (formerly called nanban-ryōri (南蛮料理)) and Chinese cuisine, and became commonplace with the availability of cooking oil due to increased productivity. Dishes such as tempura, aburaage, and satsumaage are now part of established traditional Japanese cuisine. Words such as tempura or hiryōzu (synonymous with ganmodoki) are said to be of Portuguese origin.
Also, certain homey or rustic sorts of traditional Japanese foods such as kinpira, hijiki, and kiriboshi daikon usually involve stir-frying in oil before stewing in soy sauce. Some standard osōzai or ”obanzai” dishes feature stir-fried Japanese greens with either age or chirimen-jako, dried sardines.
See also Japanese seasonings
Traditional Japanese food is typically seasoned with a combination of dashi, soy sauce, sake and mirin, vinegar, sugar, and salt. These are typically the only seasonings used when grilling or braising an item. A modest number of herbs and spices may be used during cooking as a hint or accent, or as a means of neutralising fishy or gamy odours present. Examples of such spices include ginger and takanotsume (鷹の爪) red pepper. This contrasts conceptually with barbecue or stew, where a blend of seasonings is used before and during cooking.
Once a main dish has been cooked, spices such as minced ginger and various pungent herbs may be added as a garnish, called tsuma. With certain milder items, a dollop of wasabi and grated daikon (daikon-oroshi), or Japanese mustard are provided as condiments. A sprig of mitsuba or a piece of yuzu rind floated on soups are called ukimi. Minced shiso leaves and myoga often serve as yakumi, a type of condiment paired with tataki of katsuo or soba. Finally, a dish may be garnished with minced seaweed in the form of crumpled nori or flakes of aonori. Shichimi is also a very popular spice mixture often added to soups, noodles and rice cakes, Shichimi is a chilli based spice mix which containing 7 spices: chilli, sansho, orange peel, black sesame, white sesame, hemp, ginger, and nori
See also Okazu
O-kazu (おかず or お数; お菜; 御菜) is a Japanese word meaning a side dish to accompany rice; subsidiary articles of diet. They are cooked and seasoned in such a way as to match well when eaten with rice, and are typically made from fish, meat, vegetable, or tofu. Nearly any food eaten with rice can be considered okazu, though it is distinct from furikake, which is meant specifically to add flavour to the rice itself rather than to be eaten alongside rice.
In modern Japanese cuisine, o-kazu can accompany noodles in place of rice. In the stock phrase ichijū-sansai (一汁三菜 “one soup, three sides”), the word sai (菜) has the basic meaning of “vegetable”, but secondarily means any accompanying dish including fish or meat. It figures in the Japanese word for appetiser, zensai (前菜); main dish, shusai (主菜); or sōzai (惣菜) (formal synonym for okazu – considered somewhat of a housewife’s term).
The o-hitashi or hitashi-mono (おひたし ) is boiled green-leaf vegetables bunched and cut to size, steeped in dashi broth, eaten with dashes of soy sauce. Another item is sunomono (酢の物 lit “vinegar item”), which could be made with wakame seaweed, or be something like a kōhaku namasu (紅白なます “red white namasu”) made from thin toothpick slices of daikon and carrot. The so-called vinegar that is blended with the ingredient here is often sanbaizu (三杯酢 “three cupful/spoonful vinegar”) which is a blend of vinegar, mirin, and soy sauce. A tosazu (土佐酢 “Tosa vinegar”) adds katsuo dashi to this. Note sparing use of oil, compared with Western salads.
An aemono (和え物) is another group of items, describable as a sort of “tossed salad” or “dressed” (though aemono also includes thin strips of squid or fish sashimi (itozukuri) etc. similarly prepared). One types are goma-ae (胡麻和え) where usually vegetables such as green beans are tossed with white or black sesame seeds ground in a suribachi mortar bowl, flavoured additionally with sugar and soy sauce. Shira-ae (白和え) adds tofu (bean curd) in the mix. An aemono is tossed with vinegar-white miso mix and uses wakegi scallion and baka-gai (バカガイ or 馬鹿貝 a trough shell (Mactra sinensis) as standard.
Different cooking techniques are applied to each of the three okazu; they may be raw (sashimi), grilled, simmered (sometimes called boiled), steamed, deep-fried, vinegared, or dressed.
List of dishes
Main article: List of Japanese dishes
Below are listed some of the most common types:
- grilled and pan-fried dishes (yakimono 焼き物),
- stewed/simmered/cooked/boiled dishes (nimono 煮物),
- stir-fried dishes (itamemono 炒め物),
- steamed dishes (mushimono 蒸し物),
- deep-fried dishes (agemono 揚げ物),
- sliced raw fish (sashimi 刺身),
- soups (suimono 吸い物 and shirumono 汁物),
- pickled/salted vegetables (tsukemono 漬け物),
- dishes dressed with various kinds of sauce (aemono 和え物),
- vinegared dishes (su-no-mono 酢の物), and
- delicacies, food of delicate flavour (chinmi 珍味).
Kaiseki, closely associated with tea ceremony (chanoyu), is a high form of hospitality through cuisine. The style is minimalist, extolling the aesthetics of wabi-sabi. Like the tea ceremony, appreciation of the diningware and vessels is part of the experience. In the modern standard form, the first course consists of ichijū-sansai (one soup, three dishes), followed by the serving of sake accompanied by dish(es) plated on a square wooden bordered tray of sorts called hassun (八寸). Sometimes another element called shiizakana (強肴) is served to complement the sake, for guests who are heavier drinkers.
The tea ceremony kaiseki(懐石) is often confounded with another kaiseki-ryōri (会席料理), which is an outgrowth of meals served at a gathering for haiku and renga composition, which turned into a term for sumptuous sake-accompanied banquet, or shuen (酒宴).
Strictly vegetarian food is rare since even vegetable dishes are flavoured with the ubiquitous dashi stock, usually made with katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna flakes), and are therefore pescetarian more often than carnivorous. An exception is shōjin-ryōri (精進料理), vegetarian dishes developed by Buddhist monks. However, the advertised shōjin-ryōri at public eating places includes some non-vegetarian elements. Regarding vegetarianism, it is worth mentioning fucha-ryōri (普茶料理), introduced from China by the Ōbaku sect (a sub-sect of Zen Buddhism), and which some sources still regard as part of “Japanese cuisine”. The sect in Japan was founded by the priest Ingen (d. 1673), and is headquartered in Uji, Kyoto. The Japanese name for the common green bean takes after this priest who allegedly introduced the New World crop via China. An interesting aspect of the fucha-ryōri practiced at the temple is the wealth of modoki-ryōri (もどき料理 “mock foods”), one example being mock-eel, made from strained tofu, with nori seaweed used expertly to mimic the black skin. The secret ingredient used is grated gobo (burdock) roots.
Dr. Masakazu Tada, Honorary Vice-President of the International Vegetarian Union for 25 years from 1960, stated that “Japan was vegetarian for a 1,000 years”. Although this is not totally true, British journalist J. W. Robertson Scott reported in the 1920s that the society was 90% vegetarian. 50–60% of the population only ate fish on festive occasions, probably more because of poverty than for any other reason.
Rice has been the staple food for the Japanese historically. Its fundamental importance is evident from the fact that the word for cooked rice, gohan and meshi, also stands for a “meal”. While rice has a long history of cultivation in Japan, its use as a staple has not been universal. Notably, in northern areas (northern Honshū and Hokkaidō), other grain such as wheat were more common into the 19th century.
In most of Japan, rice used to be consumed for almost every meal, and although a 2007 survey showed that 70% of Japanese still eat it once or twice a day, its popularity is now declining. In the 20th century there has been a shift in dietary habits, with an increasing number of people choosing wheat based products (such as bread and noodles) over rice.
Donburi rice bowl
Japanese rice is short-grained and becomes sticky when cooked. Most rice is sold as hakumai (“white rice”), with the outer portion of the grains (nuka) polished away. Unpolished brown rice (genmai) is considered less desirable, but its popularity has been increasing in recent years.
Japanese noodles often substitute for a rice-based meal. Soba (thin, grayish-brown noodles containing buckwheat flour) and udon (thick wheat noodles) are the main traditional noodles, while ramen is a modern import and now very popular. There are also other, less common noodles.
Japanese noodles, such as soba and udon, are eaten as a standalone, and usually not with a side dish, in terms of general custom. It may have toppings, but they are called gu (具). The fried battered shrimp tempura sitting in a bowl of tempura-soba would be referred to as “the shrimp” or “the tempura”, and not so much be referred to as a topping (gu). The identical toppings, if served as a dish to be eaten with plain white rice could be called okazu, so these terms are context-sensitive.
Hot noodles are usually served in a bowl already steeped in their broth and are called kakesoba or kakeudon. Cold soba arrive unseasoned and heaped atop a zaru or seiro, and are picked up with a chopstick and dunked in their dip sauce. The broth is a soy-dashi-mirin type of mix; the dip is similar but more concentrated (heavier on soy sauce).
In the simple form, yakumi (condiments and spices) such as shichimi, nori, finely chopped spring onions (scallions), wasabi, etc. are added to the noodles, besides the broth/dip sauce.
Udon may also be eaten in kama-age style, piping hot straight out of the boiling pot, and eaten with plain soy sauce and sometimes with raw egg also.
Traditional Japanese sweets are known as wagashi. Ingredients such as red bean paste and mochi are used. More modern-day tastes includes green tea ice cream, a very popular flavour. Almost all manufacturers produce a version of it. Kakigori is a shaved ice dessert flavoured with syrup or condensed milk. It is usually sold and eaten at summer festivals. A dessert very popular among the children in Japan are dorayaki. They are sweet pancakes filled with a sweet red bean paste. They are mostly eaten at room temperature but are also considered very delicious hot.
Green tea is produced in Japan and prepared in various forms such as matcha, the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
The most commonly consumed beers in Japan are pale-colored light lagers, with an alcohol strength of around 5.0% ABV. Lager beers are the most commonly produced beer style in Japan, but beer-like beverages, made with lower levels of malts called “Happoushu” (発泡酒, literally, “bubbly alcohol”) or non-malt Happousei (発泡性, literally “a type of bubbly alcohol”) have captured a large part of the market as tax is substantially lower on these products.
Small local microbreweries have also gained increasing popularity since the 1990s, supplying distinct tasting beers in a variety of styles that seek to match the emphasis on craftsmanship, quality, and ingredient provenance often associated with Japanese food.
Sake is a brewed rice beverage that, typically, contains 15%~17% alcohol and is made by multiple fermentation of rice. At traditional formal meals, it is considered an equivalent to rice and is not simultaneously taken with other rice-based dishes, although this notion is typically no longer applied to modern, refined, premium (“ginjo”) sake, which bear little resemblance to the sakes of even 100 years ago. Side dishes for sake are particularly called sakana or otsumami.
Sake is brewed in a highly labor-intensive process more similar to beer production than winemaking, hence, the common description of sake as rice “wine” is misleading. Sake is made with, by legal definition, strictly just four ingredients: special rice, water, koji, and special yeast.
As of 2014, Japan has some 1500 registered breweries, which produce thousands of different sakes. Sake characteristics and flavour profiles vary with regionality, ingredients, and the styles (maintained by brewmaster guilds) that brewery leaders want to produce.
Sake flavour profiles lend extremely well to pairing with a wide variety of cuisines, including non-Japanese cuisines.
Shōchū is a distilled spirit that is typically made from barley, sweet potato, buckwheat, or rice. Shōchū is produced everywhere in Japan, but its production started in Kyushu.
The production of Japanese whisky began as a conscious effort to recreate the style of Scotch whisky. Pioneers like Taketsuru carefully studied the process of making Scotch whisky, and went to great lengths in an attempt to recreate that process in Japan. The location of Yoichi in Hokkaido was chosen particularly for its terrain and climate, which were in many ways reminiscent of Scotland (although financial constraints resulted in the first distillery actually being built in the more convenient location of Yamazaki on the main island).
One facet of the style of Japanese whisky comes from the way in which blended whisky is produced, and the differing nature of the industry in Japan. Despite the recent rise of interest in single malt whiskies, the vast proportion of whisky sold in the world is still blended. The requirements of blended whiskies are one of the main driving forces behind the diversity of malts produced by Scotland’s distilleries. Typically each distillery will focus on a particular style, and blenders will choose from a wide array of elements offered by all the different distilleries to make their product. While sometimes a particular brand of blended whisky may be owned by a company that also owns one or more distilleries, it is also quite common for trading to take place between the various companies. The components of a blend may involve malt whisky from a number of distilleries, and each of these could conceivably be owned by a different company.
In Japan a different model is generally adopted. Typically the industry is vertically integrated, meaning whisky companies own both the distilleries and the brands of blended whiskies. These companies are often reluctant to trade with their competitors. So a blended whisky in Japan will generally only contain malt whisky from the distilleries owned by that same company (sometimes supplemented with malts imported from Scottish distilleries).
This clearly means that blenders in Japan have in the past had a significantly reduced palette from which to create their products. It has been suggested that this may have been a limiting factor in the success of Japanese blends, particularly outside Japan.
As a reaction to this, individual distilleries in Japan have become increasingly more diverse over recent years. It is quite common for a single Japanese distillery to produce a wide range of styles, from the smokey and peaty style of Islay, through the heavily sherried, to the lighter and more delicate floral notes of Speyside. The diversity and innovation to be found in Japanese distilleries may be one of the contributing factors to their recent high profile and acclaim in the global arena.
Japanese cuisine offers a vast array of regional specialties known as kyōdo-ryōri (郷土料理), many of them originating from dishes prepared using traditional recipes with local ingredients. Foods from the Kanto region taste very strong. For example, the dashi-based broth for serving udon noodles is heavy on dark soy sauce, similar to soba broth. On the other hand, Kansai region foods are lightly seasoned, with clear udon noodles made with light soy sauce.
Traditional table settings
The traditional Japanese table setting has varied considerably over the centuries, depending primarily on the type of table common during a given era. Before the 19th century, small individual box tables (hakozen, 箱膳) or flat floor trays were set before each diner. Larger low tables (chabudai, ちゃぶ台) that accommodated entire families were gaining popularity by the beginning of the 20th century, but these gave way to Western-style dining tables and chairs by the end of the 20th century.
Traditional Japanese table setting is to place a bowl of rice on your left and to place a bowl of miso soup on your right side at the table. Behind these, each okazu is served on its own individual plate. Based on the standard three okazu formula, behind the rice and soup are three flat plates to hold the three okazu; one to far back left, one at far back right, and one in the center. Pickled vegetables are often served on the side but are not counted as part of the three okazu. Chopsticks are generally placed at the very front of the tray near the diner with pointed ends facing left and supported by a chopstick rest, or hashioki.
Tables and sitting
Many restaurants and homes in Japan are equipped with Western-style chairs and tables. However, traditional Japanese low tables and cushions, usually found on tatami floors, are also very common. Tatami mats, which are made of straw, can be easily damaged and are hard to clean, thus shoes or any type of footwear are always taken off when stepping on tatami floors.
When dining in a traditional tatami room, sitting upright on the floor is common. In a casual setting, men usually sit with their feet crossed and women sit with both legs to one side. Only men are supposed to sit cross-legged. The formal way of sitting for both sexes is a kneeling style known as seiza. To sit in a seiza position, one kneels on the floor with legs folded under the thighs and the buttocks resting on the heels.
When dining out in a restaurant, the customers are guided to their seats by the host. The honored or eldest guest will usually be seated at the center of the table farthest from the entrance. In the home, the most important guest is also seated farthest away from the entrance. If there is an alcove or tokonoma in the room, the guest is seated in front of it. The host sits next to or closest to the entrance.
Itadakimasu and Gochisosama
In Japan, it is customary to say itadakimasu (“I receive”) before starting to eat a meal. When saying itadakimasu, both hands are put together in front of the chest or on the lap. Itadakimasu is preceded by complimenting the appearance of food. The Japanese attach as much importance to the aesthetic arrangement of the food as its actual taste. Before touching the food, it is polite to compliment the host on his artistry. It is also a polite custom to wait for the eldest guest at the table to start eating before the other diners start. Another customary and important etiquette is to say go-chisō-sama deshita (“It was a feast”) to the host after the meal and the restaurant staff when leaving.
Before eating, most dining places provide either a hot or cold towel or a plastic-wrapped wet napkin (o-shibori). This is for cleaning hands before eating (and not after). It is rude to use them to wash the face or any part of the body other than the hands though some Japanese men use their o-shibori to wipe their faces in less formal places. Accept o-shibori with both hands when a server hands you the towel. When finished, fold or roll up your oshibori and place it on the table. It is impolite to use o-shibori towels to wipe any spills on the table.
The rice or the soup is eaten by picking up the bowl with the left hand and using chopsticks (hashi) with the right, or vice versa if one is left-handed. Traditionally, chopsticks were held in the right hand and the bowl in the left. Japanese children were taught to distinguish left from right as “the right hand holds the chopsticks, the left hand holds the bowl” – but left-handed eating is acceptable today. Bowls may be lifted to the mouth, but should not be touched by the mouth except when drinking soup. The Japanese customarily slurp noodle soup dishes like ramen, udon, and soba. When slurping noodles quickly, the soup clings to the noodles, making the dish more flavourful.
Soy sauce (shōyu) is not usually poured over most foods at the table; a dipping dish is usually provided. Soy sauce is, however, meant to be poured directly onto tōfu and grated daikon dishes, and in the raw egg when preparing tamago-kake-gohan (“egg on rice”). In particular, soy sauce should never be poured onto rice or into soup.
The proper usage of chopsticks (hashi) is the most important table etiquette in Japan. Chopsticks are never left sticking vertically into rice, as this resembles incense sticks (which are usually placed vertically in sand) during offerings to the dead. This may easily offend some Japanese people. Using chopsticks to spear food or to point is also frowned upon and it is considered very bad manners to bite chopsticks. Other important chopsticks rules to remember include the following:
- Hold your chopsticks towards their end, and not in the middle or the front third.
- When you are not using your chopsticks and when you are finished eating, lay them down in front of you with the tip to left.
- Do not pass food with your chopsticks directly to somebody else’s chopsticks. This technique is only used at funerals, where the bones of the cremated body of the dead person are passed from person to person in this manner.
- Do not move your chopsticks around in the air too much, nor play with them.
- Do not move around plates or bowls with chopsticks.
- To separate a piece of food into two pieces, exert controlled pressure on the chopsticks while moving them apart from each other.
When taking food from a communal dish, unless they are family or very close friends, one should turn the chopsticks around to grab the food; it is considered more sanitary. Alternatively, one could have a separate set of chopsticks for communal dishes.
If sharing food with someone else, move it directly from one plate to another. Never pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another, as this recalls passing bones during a funeral.
Eat what is given
It is customary to eat rice to the last grain. Being a picky eater is frowned on, and it is not customary to ask for special requests or substitutions at restaurants. It is considered ungrateful to make these requests especially in circumstances where you are being hosted, as in a business dinner environment. After eating, try to move all your dishes back to the same position they were at the start of the meal. This includes replacing the lids on dishes and putting your chopsticks on the chopstick holder or back into their paper slip. Good manners dictate that you respect the selections of the host. However, this can be set aside if you have allergies such as a peanut allergy, or a religious prohibition against certain foods like pork.
Even in informal situations, drinking alcohol starts with a toast (kanpai, 乾杯) when everyone is ready. Do not start drinking until everybody is served and has finished the toast. It is not customary to pour oneself a drink; rather, people are expected to keep each other’s drinks topped up. When someone moves to pour your drink you should hold your glass with both hands and thank them.
Dishes for special occasions
In Japanese tradition some dishes are strongly tied to a festival or event. These dishes include:
- Botamochi, a sticky rice dumpling with sweet azuki paste served in spring, while a similar sweet Ohagi is served in autumn.
- Chimaki (steamed sweet rice cake): Tango no Sekku and Gion Festival.
- Hamo (a type of fish, often eel) and somen: Gion Festival.
- Osechi: New Year.
- Sekihan, is red rice, which is served for any celebratory occasion. It is usually sticky rice cooked with azuki, or red bean, which gives the rice its distinctive red colour.
- Soba: New Year’s Eve. This is called toshi koshi soba (ja:年越しそば) (literally “year crossing soba”).
- Chirashizushi, Ushiojiru (clear soup of clams) and amazake: Hinamatsuri.
In some regions every 1st and 15th day of the month people eat a mixture of rice and azuki (azuki meshi (小豆飯), see Sekihan).
Imported and adapted foods
Japan has incorporated imported food from across the world (mostly from Asia, Europe and to a lesser extent the Americas), and have historically adapted many to make them their own.
Main article: Yōshoku
Japan today abounds with home-grown, loosely Western-style food. Many of these were invented in the wake of the 1868 Meiji restoration and the end of national seclusion, when the sudden influx of foreign (in particular, Western) culture led to many restaurants serving Western food, known as yōshoku (洋食), a shortened form of seiyōshoku (西洋食) Western cuisine, opening up in cities. Restaurants that serve these foods are called yōshokuya (洋食屋), Western cuisine restaurants.
Many yōshoku items from that time have been adapted to a degree that they are now considered Japanese and are an integral part of any Japanese family menu. Many are served alongside rice and miso soup, and eaten with chopsticks. Yet, due to their origins these are still categorised as yōshoku as opposed to the more traditional washoku (和食), Japanese cuisine.
Main article: Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients mainly associated with the Kansai or Hiroshima areas of Japan.
Main article: Tonkatsu
Tonkatsu (pork cutlet), is a Japanese food which consists of a crumbed, deep-fried pork cutlet. There are two main types, hire and rosu. It is often served with shredded cabbage.
Main article: Japanese Curry
Curry was introduced to Japan by the British in the Meiji era. Japanese curry is unlike Indian or any other forms of curry. Japanese versions of curry can be found in foods such as curry udon, curry bread, and “katsu-curry”, tonkatsu served with curry. They very commonly come with rice beside the curry on the dish. This can be eaten during dinner most of the time.
Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat stock broth known as ramen have become extremely popular over the last century. Chinese food is the most popular foreign cuisine throughout Japan. It is closely followed by yakiniku and Italian pasta.
Hamburger chains include McDonald’s, Burger King, First Kitchen, Lotteria and MOS Burger. Many chains developed uniquely Japanese versions of American fast food such as the teriyaki burger, kinpira rice burger, fried shrimp burgers, and green tea milkshakes.
High-class Japanese chefs have preserved many Italian seafood dishes that are forgotten in other countries. These include pasta with prawns, lobster (a specialty known in Italy as pasta all’aragosta), crab (an Italian specialty; in Japan it is served with a different species of crab), and pasta with sea urchin sauce (sea urchin pasta being a specialty of the Puglia region).
Japanese food outside Japan
Many countries have imported portions of Japanese cuisine. Some may adhere to the traditional preparations of the cuisines, but in some cultures the dishes have been adapted to fit the palate of the local populace. In 1970s sushi traveled from Japan to Canada and the United States, it was modified to suit the American palate, and re-entered the Japanese market as “American Sushi”. The example of this phenomenon is California roll, which created in Canada in 1970s, and gain its popularity across the United States by 1980s, thus sparked the Japanese food — more precisely sushi’s global popularity.
In 2014, Japanese Restaurant Organization has selected potential countries where Japanese food is becoming increasingly popular, and conducted research concerning the Japanese restaurants abroad. These key nations are Taiwan, Hong Kong , China, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. This was meant as an effort to promote Japanese cuisine and to expand the market of Japanese ingredients, products and foodstuffs. Numbers of Japanese foodstuff and seasoning brands such as Ajinomoto, Kikkoman, Nissin and Kewpie mayonnaise, are establishing production base in other Asian countries, such as China, Thailand and Indonesia.
Japanese cuisine is very popular in Australia, and Australians are becoming increasingly familiar with traditional Japanese foods. Restaurants serving Japanese cuisine feature prominently in popular rankings, including Gourmet Traveller and The Good Food Guide.
Sushi in particular has been described as being “as popular as sandwiches”, particularly in large cities like Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane. As such, sushi bars are a mainstay in shopping centre food courts, and are extremely common in cities and towns all over the country.
Japan and Taiwan have shared a close historical and cultural relations. Taiwan has adapted many Japanese food items. A Taiwanese version of tempura, only barely resembling the original, is known as 天婦羅 or 甜不辣 (tianbula). Taiwanese versions of oden is known locally as oren (黑輪) or 關東煮 Kwantung stew.
Ramen, of Chinese origin, has been exported back to China in recent years where it is known as ri shi la mian (日式拉麵, “Japanese lamian”). Japanese ramen chains serve ramen alongside distinctly Japanese dishes such as tempura and yakitori. Skewered versions of oden is a common convenience store item in Shanghai where it is known as aódiǎn (熬点).
In Southeast Asia, Thailand is the largest market for Japanese food. This is partly because Thailand is a popular tourist destination, having large numbers of Japanese expatriats, as well as local population has developed a taste for authentic Japanese cuisine. According to the Organisation that Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad (JRO), the number of Japanese restaurants in Thailand jumped about 2.2-fold from 2007’s figures to 1,676 in June 2012. In Bangkok, Japanese restaurants accounts for 8.3 percent of all restaurants, following those that serve Thai. Numbers of Japanese chain restaurants has established their business in Thailand, such as Yoshinoya gyudon restaurant chain, Gyu-Kaku yakiniku restaurant chain and Kourakuen ramen restaurant chain.
In the ASEAN region, Indonesia is the second largest market for Japanese food, after Thailand. Japanese cuisine has been increasingly popular as the growth of the Indonesians middle-class expecting higher quality foods. This is also contributed to the fact that Indonesia has large numbers of Japanese expatriates. The main concern is the halal issue. As a Muslim majority country, Indonesians expected that Japanese food served there are halal according to Islamic dietary law, which means no pork and alcohol allowed.
In some cases, Japanese cuisine in Indonesia often slanted to suit Indonesian taste. Hoka Hoka Bento in particular is Indonesian-owned Japanese fastfood restaurant chain that cater to Indonesian clientele. As the result the foods served there have been adapted to suit Indonesians’ taste. Examples of the change include stronger flavour compared to authentic subtle Japanese taste, the preference for fried food, as well as the addition of sambal to cater to Indonesians’ preference for hot and spicy food. Japanese food popularity also had penetrated street food culture, as modest Warjep or Warung Jepang (Japanese food stall) offer Japanese food such as tempura and takoyaki, at very moderately low prices. This is also pushed further by the Japanese convenience stores operating in Indonesia, such as 7-Eleven and Lawson offering Japanese favourites such as oden, chicken katsu (deep-fried chicken cutlet), chicken teriyaki and onigiri. Some chefs in Indonesian sushi establishment has created a Japanese-Indonesian fusion cuisine, such as krakatau roll, gado-gado roll, rendang roll and gulai ramen. Nevertheless, some of these Japanese eating establishments might strive to serve the authenthic Japanese cuisine abroad.
In the Philippines, Japanese cuisine has always been popular with Filipino people, and Filipino people have always been huge fans of Japanese cuisine. The Philippines have very big influences from the Japanese people, Indian culture, and Chinese influences. The cities of Davao and Metro Manila have especially have probably the most Japanese influence in the country. In Metro Manila, it is not surprising to see Japanese-Filipino fusion cuisine from things like Manila Maki and the Laguna Roll. Several Japanese restaurants have been put up in Manila and other parts of the country, with Filipinos gauging the authenticity of the place based on the number of its Japanese customers, and Filipinos who are not that fussy, meanwhile, are happy with Japanese fast food chains with eat-all-you-can rice and fusion restaurants. The most popular dining spots for Japanese nationals are located in Makati City, where you can find Little Tokyo, a small area filled with restaurants specialising in different types of Japanese food. Some of the best Japanese restaurants in the Philippines are no-frills affairs are found in Little Tokyo. Zen gardens, red lanterns and Japanese signs almost give the impression that you’re in Japan. Restaurants here are generally owned by Japanese people who have moved to the country to start families with Filipino wives.
Japanese food restaurant chains in the UK include Wagamama, YO! Sushi, Nudo Sushi Box and Kokoro.
In Canada, Japanese cuisine has become quite popular. Sushi, sashimi, and instant ramen are highly popular at opposite ends of the income scale, with instant ramen being a common low-budget meal. Sushi and sashimi takeout began in Toronto and Vancouver, but is now common throughout Canada. The largest supermarket chains all carry basic sushi and sashimi, and Japanese ingredients and instant ramen are readily available in most supermarkets. Most mid-sized mall food courts feature fast-food teppan cooking. Izakaya restaurants have gained a surge of popularity.
United States-developed popular makizushi California roll has been influential in sushi’s global popularity; as of 2015 the country has about 4,200 sushi restaurants. It is one of the most popular styles of sushi in the US market. Japanese cuisine is an integral part of food culture in Hawaii as well as in other parts of the United States. Popular items are sushi, sashimi, and teriyaki. Kamaboko, known locally as fish cake, is a staple of saimin, a noodle soup. Sushi, long regarded as quite exotic in the west until the 1970s, has become a popular health food in parts of North America, Western Europe and Asia.
In Mexico, certain Japanese restaurants have created what is known as “Sushi Mexicano”, in which spicy sauces and ingredients accompany the dish or are integrated in sushi rolls. The habanero and serrano chiles have become nearly standard and are referred to as chiles toreados, as they are fried, diced and tossed over a dish upon request. A popular sushi topping, “Tampico”, is made by blending chiles, mayonnaise, and imitation crab. Cream cheese and avocado is usually added to makizushi.
In Brazil, Japanese food is widespread due to the large Japanese-Brazilian population living in the country, which represents the largest Japanese community living outside Japan. Over the past years, many restaurant chains such as Koni Store have opened, selling typical dishes such as the popular temaki. Yakisoba, which is readily available in all supermarkets, and often included in non-Japanese restaurant menus.