Sticky, short-grained rice is the staple food in Japan. Uncooked rice is called kome. The cultivation of rice in paddy fields traditionally required great cooperation between villagers and this is said to have been central to the evolution of Japanese culture. A bowl of cooked rice is a central part of traditional Japanese meals, but the grain is also processed into several different types of products including alcohol, vinegar and flour.
Rice is also used to make mochi (rice cakes), senbei (rice crackers) and sake (rice wine). Rice can also be cooked with red beans (sekihan), seafood and vegetables (Takikomi gohan) or as a kind of watery porridge seasoned with salt (kayu) which is very popular as a cold remedy. Onigiri are rice balls with seafood or vegetables in the middle, usually wrapped in a piece of dried seaweed (nori).
Japanese pickles are an important part of the Japanese diet. They are served with practically every traditional meal alongside rice and miso soup. They are valued for their unique flavors and commonly used as a garnish, relish, condiment, palate cleanser or digestive. Tsukemono first appeared way back in Japanese history in the days before refrigeration when pickling was used to preserve food.
All kinds of vegetables and some fruits are used to make tsukemono including, but not limited to, Japanese radish (daikon), cucumber, eggplant, carrot, cabbage, water lily root, ginger, shallots and plums (ume). Sometimes seaweed and other seafood are added to pickle mixtures for flavor and variety. Some pickling methods are also used to preserve and flavor seafood and meat dishes.
All kinds of noodles - Udon, Soba and Ramen
Udon is a thick noodle made from wheat flour. It is commonly served in a consomme with soy sauce and mirin. Most of the times it comes with negi (onion). The shape and the size depends on the prefecture it comes from. Udon can be eaten cold or hot.
Soba noodles are made by buckwheat flour which gives it the colour, and are also known as fast food in Japan because they are cheap and popular. Soba noodles are thin (Udon noodles are thick) and they can be eaten also cold or hot.
While udon and soba are also believed to have come from China, only ramen retains its image as Chinese food. Ramen is thin egg noodles which are almost always served in a hot broth flavored with shoyu or miso. This is topped with a variety of ingredients such as slices of roast pork (chashu), bean sprouts (moyashi), sweetcorn and butter. Ramen is popular throughout Japan and different regions are known for their variations on the theme.
It's fair to say that fish is an integral part of the Japanese diet. Whether it's eaten almost live or raw (nama or sashimi), grilled (yaki) or deep fried (tempura), it seems that the Japanese have tried and tested every possible method of preparation.
The vast array of fish on offer is simply mind-boggling. If you're a lover of fish then a trip to Tsukiji Fish Market (the world's largest wholesale fish and seafood market) is a must for an early morning breakfast of some of the freshest sushi in the world. For those that don't like the sound of a fish breakfast in the early hours there are plenty of conveyor-belt sushi restaurants (kaiten zushi) all over Japan.
From the wintery highlands of Hokkaido, to the tropical islands of the south, Japan’s diversity in climate and ecosystem across its 47 prefectures has caused a range of regional delicacies to develop over centuries. Whether it's the devil’s tongue jelly of the far north or the Goya Champuru of Okinawa, there are plenty of specialties to discover in a journey through Japan.
Tempura is a Japanese fried snack made mostly from seafood and vegetables but you can also find tempura made from fowl and fish, seasoned with a sauce made with soy sauce, ginger and sugar. Tempura can be made using almost any and every vegetable. The size of the piece has to be able to be eaten in one bite and despite being deep fried, does not have an oily texture. Tempura is usually served with Tetsuyu sauce that is a mix of consomme, sweet sake, soy sauce, ginger, radish and spices.
Wagashi (Traditional sweets)
The most authentic way to finish off a Japanese meal or matcha tea ceremony is with wagashi. Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets, invented during the Edo period and influenced by prevalent Japanese ingredients and flavours. Most wagashi are made using only a handful of select ingredients, including mochi rice cakes, anko paste, kanten (agar; a vegetarian thickener similar to gelatine), chestnuts, and sugar. The most popular wagashi include dango (sweet mochi balls on skewered sticks, often served with sugar syrup), daifuku (mochi rice stuffed with anko), dorayaki (anko sandwiched between two thick pancakes), and yokan (blocks of anko hardened with kanten and sugar).
Tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in Japan and an important part of Japanese food culture. Various types of tea are widely available and consumed at any point of the day. Green tea is the most common type of tea, and when someone mentions "tea" without specifying the type, it is green tea to which is referred. Green tea is also the central element of the tea ceremony. Among the most well-known places for tea cultivation are Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Uji.