Japanese Everyday Meals
When one normally thinks of Japanese food, sushi, sashimi, and maybe tempura come to mind. But did you know that these foods are not what is on the menu in most Japanese homes?
The cost of sashimi-quality fish is prohibitive, not to mention the preparation required for a dinner of sushi one expects from a reputable sushi restaurant.
Tempura is enjoyed more often but due to its oily-based nature, most Japanese eat it only occasionally, choosing instead simple, healthy foods to round out a meal. Having grown up in Japan, one of the most pleasurable aspects of its culture was the common foods we all ate.
Everyone knows that rice is the basis of all meals and green tea is the beverage of choice. But there’s more to it than that.
Most meals, including breakfast, normally begin with a soup.
As an introduction to the meal, one of two soups types are served: osuimono, a clear fish-infused broth with added garnishes of chopped scallion or decorative flower-shaped croutons, or miso soup, a tasty fermented bean paste based concoction with added bits of kombu (seaweed) and chunks of tofu. If there’s a rush to school or work, the accompanying rice is simply added to the soup or in a pinch for time, hot green tea is poured over rice and sprinkled with furikake (sesame seed-seaweed topping) for a quick nutritious, filling breakfast.
Lunch is usually on the go.
Prepared from the previous evening’s dinner, last night’s meal is now transformed into finger foods: hand-shaped balls of rice with a surprisingly tangy umeboshi (pickled plum) in the center, small containers of various pickles, re-seasoned chicken or slivers of fried fish, and a senbei cookie or slice of intensely sweet yokan (molded adzuki bean paste) for dessert, all served in a fun or decorative bento box with o-hashi (chopsticks), small wet towel, and thermos of tea or juice.
Dinners in Japan are based on the seasons and availability of fresh foods in the markets.
In most Japanese households, space is very limited. Kitchen appliances and storage are compact and food shopping is done almost daily. Depending if one is having company or not, the main course may be a marinated fried fish, a stew-pot of fish cakes and vegetables, or a delicious hodge-podge mix of noodles, sliced fish cake, and slivered vegetables.
More elaborate dinners may vary from the communal sukiyaki, a fondue-style meal of thinly sliced steak, sliced vegetables, chunks of tofu, and konnyaku (jelly-like noodles of devil’s tongue); tonkatsu, fried crumb covered pounded pork patties with a garnish of slivered raw cabbage; or yakitori, chicken fried over a hibachi and served with thickened ginger spiced sauce.
Of course, all the meals are accompanied with bowls of plain cooked short grain rice, various pickles, and the ubiquitous green tea, prepared and served with presentation and harmonious blending of flavors in mind.