I’m gearing up for next year and making plans to share with you many of my adventures from my time in Japan! From fire walking to live volcanoes, my time in Japan was filled with unique experiences. One thing that I miss about ‘everyday’ life in Japan is the food. I’m finding I make it more much more often now, and the more I make it, the better and more adventurous I become. Today Veronica is guest posting from Kitchen Expert to give you the basics to easy Japanese home cooking.
Your Guide to Easy Japanese Home Cooking
You may be able to find some semblance of authenticity in a Japanese restaurant, but cooking these same dishes at home is going to be far different. The food can be prepared with as much care and love as one can muster, but, for authenticity, there are a things one needs to keep in mind.
While there are many types of distinct and succulent Japanese foods, there are essentially only three main styles.
- Honzen ryori is elaborate and saved for formal occasions like banquets.
- Chakaiseki ryori is presented at traditional tea ceremonies.
- Kaiseki ryori is served in restaurants.
The ever-popular sushi actually started out as a street snack. It can still be found in stalls in many Japanese cities.
You can also find soba, udon, yakitori, tempura, okonomiyaki, shabu shabu and popular pub (izakaya) grilled dishes and fried chicken, all of which will make great home meals.
If you’re not serving sake, your Japanese meal may as well come from Burger King.
Sake varies in flavors and types, and can be matched to different occasions and dishes. While a restaurant may offer a list to choose from, the home cook can focus on the following:
- Light and aromatic, sparkling sake is the go-to for parties. It is used in many restaurants as an aperitif or welcome drink.
- Creamy sake is rich and, well, creamy. The texture is the result of filtering that can leave rice particles, providing the sake with a distinct character. This one’s a nice fit for spicy dishes.
- Zesty and refreshing, citrus sake has a strong taste and is often mixed with soda or tonic in long drinks.
Use of Western Ingredients
Elements like rice vinegar, wasabi and sesame oil are used in common Western recipes. The same can be said going the other way. Tahini is popular in Japanese cooking. It’s mixed with miso, soy sauce and mirin for sauces and dressings. It was the Brits that originally brought mustard to Japan. The West cooks then developed their own versions, including Kona Karashi. The Japanese still use standard English mustard in katsu. Okra is popular, but they serve it with a little crunch. They rarely stew or slow cook vegetables. It’s typically blanched or used for tempura. Tomatoes are a popular ingredient in the Japanese kitchen. Lager is used to pickle cucumbers.
Kawaii is Japanese for cute and adorable. Kawaii is a macaron typically decorated like a little kitten. It is a classic after meal dessert or a favorite for snacking.
Before the mid-19th century, Japan had a ban on red meat. When it was lifted, the culture began exploring western food. Yoshoku is a culinary combination of western cuisine and Japanese foods. Katsu – a crumbled fried pork – is a popular dish. Lesser known meals include hambagu, a burger traditionally served with a demi-glace, French sauce, Neapolitan spaghetti with ketchup, kare rice and stir-fry veggie sauce.
If you are interested in trying yoshoku, check out Jane Lawson’s classic cookbook on the subject, if you can find it.
It is the staple of every meal regardless of what’s being served. There should be rice even if there is pasta on the table.
For the new cook, this may be a great place to start. Donabe is a one pot meal and is considered a delight. Donabe is cooked in an earthernware pot. Donabe’s parts shrimp or white fish, chicken and vegetables sliced into hefty chunks. Ingredients should fit snugly in the pot, remaining still while the liquid simmers.
In the West, steaming is about sucking the life out of a food in order to make it healthier. For the Japanese cook, the idea of steaming is not about deprivation, it’s about delicacy. Steaming’s about cooking gently so that flavors stand out without a lot of additives. Use a stainless steel steamer for the best results.
Japanese Style Plating
To create the right mood, it would be beneficial to add a few special pieces to your setting. You want large bowls for parties and sharing, and smaller bowls for individuals. Go with slender shapes and uplifting hues. Of course, you also want chopsticks and proper Japanese drinking utensils.
You do not drink anything until all persons at the table has a beverage. Proper manners require you only pour for others, never for yourself. Hopefully, someone will know this and return the favor. When enjoying sashimi and sushi, only use as much soy sauce as you need for dipping. Pouring too much is considered crude. Take only a little at a time and replenish as needed.
When using communal bowls, serve yourself using the fat end of chopsticks. Use little bowls for eating. Large bowls should remain on the table. Japanese culture requires one eat everything they take. Upon completion of the meal, you leave the table the way you found it, including lids on bowls and chopsticks on their rest.
If you’re interested in specific meals, here’s a good place to start. All the recipes lean towards authentic Japanese cuisine for the novice and pro. There are notes and tips, and a comprehensive library of where to find even the rarest ingredients. You’ll learn about Kanten, Nattō, Katsuobushi and how to use them properly. Find recipes for staples like miso soup or get down and dirty with delicacies like beef and garlic shoots stir-fry or sardines with rocket spaghetti.
There are a number of other resources you can refer to. Among the best are:
- Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art
- The Japanese Kitchen
- Japanese Family-Style Recipes
- Just Hungry
- Cooking with Dog
While you can certainly do your shopping online, it might be a good idea to see if there’s a store that specializes in authentic Japanese food in your area. You’ll have an opportunity to talk and learn about cooking, ingredients and culture.
With the above advice, your guests will believe they’ve flown across the East China Sea for a genuine Japanese meal.
Veronica is an enthusiastic blogger that writes for Kitchen Expert where she reviews entire categories of products and not individual models in order to offer you a complete picture of all options available on the market. Her mission is to provide the readers with comprehensive and trustworthy opinions to help them make the perfect buying decision.