Japanese Food – An Introduction


Japan - Little Plates

Years ago, when I was planning my first visit to Japan, my hosts informed me that in the week I would be there, Wednesday was a public holiday; what would I like to do?   Having boned up a bit on Japanese food through a wonderful TIME-LIFE book (“The Cooking of Japan”) I had noted that the season was about to start for the picking of a rare wild woodland mushroom called ‘Matsutake’, considered to be one of the greatest gastronomic treats the country has to offer.

“I want to pick Matsutake”, I answered, which seems to have established me as a romantic in my hosts’ mind, or more probably as a madman.   The place was too far from Tokyo, they said, for a day’s outing. Japan - Sushi(I later found out that restaurants paid US$2,000 for a kilo of them!)  Instead they arranged a wonderful trip to a lakeside area within sight of the national shrine Mount Fuji. I went with a Japanese gentleman who would become a valued colleague and lifelong friend.    He arranged we would leave Tokyo on Tuesday night and stay in a traditional Japanese hotel, where appropriate national clothing had to be worn. “Do you like Sashimi?” he asked me. I confused Sushi with Sashimi and replied, thinking I would be partaking of the large array of fish and other ingredients served with rice (Sushi). Instead I found myself in a restaurant entirely occupied by Japanese men where the only food on offer was slivers of many kinds of raw fish, which you dipped into two sauces. After eleven pieces I was forced to give up, never having eaten one piece of raw fish before in my life.   It didn’t entirely put me off, but the word Sashimi can still make me tremble just a little. However, I took to Sushi, especially when it was served with other things in a beautiful little enameled box, called a “Bento”, often used for picnics.

Another, very simple Japanese dish also delighted and I first ate it on that lakeside day those years ago.   A little oblong box filled with cold noodles which had been cooked in a gentle broth. Forked up with chop-sticks and dipped into Wasabi and/or Japanese soy sauce, they were fantastic.

Japanese food was (and sometimes still is) delicate and beautiful to look at. Meat is almost a Johnny-come-lately to the table, which accounted for the fact that in the past the Japanese were nearly all slim. Now, meat features heavily in the cuisine with the stainless steel griddle plate looming large – an invention I believe of the Japanese Beni-Hama chain of restaurants in America. If they didn’t invent it they certainly popularized it.

Anyway, we in Cyprus have taken to Japanese style food in some style….and many readers will have their own favourites. If you care to tell us, click on your Email, type MY FAVOURITE JAPANESE RESTAURANT IS…………… BECAUSE………………… and send it to publisher@katweezle.co.uk

Japanese Food, a short Glossary

Bento. Traditional boxed meal, served in a lacquered wooden or plastic box with individual compartments for each food
California Maki. Cooked crab, avocado, and cucumber maki sushi
Chirashi Sushi   Assortment of sliced raw fish and vegetables on a bed of rice
Dashi Fish or seaweed stock.   To be found sometimes in powder form. Use fish stock cube as alternative.
Donburi A type of large bowl; dishes that end in “-don” are served in this type of bowl and feature a topping on a bed of rice
Futo Maki   Large roll about two inches thick, available with a variety of cooked fillings
Goma-ae Cold boiled spinach with a ground sesame seed dressing
Gyoza   Large, sealed, fried and then steamed dumplings filled with either meat or seafood
Kappa Maki    Cucumber roll made with small slivers of cucumber.
Maki – “Rolled”
Mirin   Sweetened Sake (see below) used only in cooking. Now available in larger supermarkets in Cyprus.
Miso Shiro    Soup made from fish stock (dashi) and fermented soybean paste
Kara-age    Deep fried chicken in ginger sauce
Oshinko Maki    Maki sushi made with pickled daikon (a large radish)
Oyako-don   Chicken, egg, and salad onions on a bed of rice
Sake Fermented rice wine with approximately the same alcohol content as table wine. For cooking buy the cheapest variety. To drink, it is usually served warm (heat in a small earthenware decanter in simmering water). Serve in small earthenware cups.
Sashimi    Assorted pieces of sliced, raw fish presented on a plate, sometimes with rice on the side
Shabu-shabu    Thinly sliced beef and vegetables cooked in a simmering stock by diners at the table; served with a variety of dipping sauces
Shoyu     Japanese soy sauce: fermented soya beans, wheat salt and water. For Japanese dishes use ‘Kikkoman’ or another Japanese brand, but NOT Chinese soy sauce which is too sweet.
Sukiyaki   Thinly sliced meat or seafood, with tofu and vegetables cooked in a pot of simmering broth at the table. You chopstick up the bits from the pot and dip them in beaten raw egg. Utterly delicious!
Suimono   Clear soup embellished with artfully cut vegetables and bite-size pieces of tofu, fish, chicken or egg, then garnished with fresh herbs
Soba   Thin, long brown noodles made from buckwheat flour, served with a soy-based dipping sauce
Sushi    Slivers of raw fish or meat shaped and put on top of cooked rice (which is quite moist and holds together) and eaten either using chopsticks or fingers. Making it is an art form and you can learn how to make them from an excellent book “
Tatsuta-age Fried chicken wings
Ten-don   Tempura served in a bowl on a bed of rice
Tempura    Deep fried shrimp and vegetables with a light, delicate breading, served with a ginger flavored dipping sauce
Teriyaki    A sweet sauce made with soy sauce, sugar, and sweet rice wine applied to grilled foods
Tonkatsu   Deep fried pork cutlet served on a bed of shredded cabbage
Udon   Round or flat chewy noodles made from white flour often served in a hot broth with a variety of meat, seafood, or vegetables
Wasabi   A strong, spicy green horseradish-like condiment. Use small amount mixed with soy sauce to make a dip for sashimi
Yaki-soba    Soba stir-fried with vegetables
Yaki-tori    Grilled chicken on a skewer
Yakko-dofu    Cold bean curd with grated ginger, dried fish flakes, scallions, and soy sauce

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