See also: Asian food
If we had to describe Japanese cuisine with a single word, well, that would be easy: simplicity. In this island nation, the season’s fresh ingredients, the quality of those ingredients, and the presentation are key. The foundation of Japanese cuisine is based on rice- or noodle-based soups and okazu: dishes made from fish, meat, vegeatables, or tofu that adds richness and flavor to that foundation. Dishes are typically flavored with dashi, miso, and soy sauce, and are typically low in fat and high in salt.
Of course, with Japan being an island nation, the Japanese are true lovers of seafood. Due to the restriction of Buddhism, eating meat of any kind in Japan was rare until fairly recently. Yet strictly vegetarian food is hard to come by, since even vegetable dishes are flavored with the traditional dashi stock (usually made with dried skipjack tuna flakes). Buddhist monks, however, have developed several vegetarian dishes that are staples in the cuisine.
Noodle dishes, the alternative to rice-based meals, are central to Japanese cuisine. Soba (buckwheat flour noodles) and udon (thick wheat noodles) are the primary varieties, served hot or cold with flavorings of soy or dashi. You’re most likely to find udon served hot in the form of noodle soup, combined with a mild broth called kakejiru. Other common accompaniments include tempura, often made with shrimp or kakiage, a mixed tempura fritter, or abura age, a deep-fried tofu pocket. The Japanese may add to the dish a thin slice of kamaboko, a halfmoon-shaped fish cake, along with shichimi to taste. Flavorings for the broth and toppings used vary among regions.
Although the term “sushi” used outside of Japan has come to encompass many raw fish dishes, in its home country it’s something very specific: cooked vinegared rice called shari, wrapped in black seaweed (called nori for the algae from which they’re made) and combined with other ingredients called neta. There’s a multitude of choices for neta as well as ways to present the sushi itself, but it’s most common by far to incorporate seafood. In our opinion, the award for the ultimate Japanese delicacy goes to sashimi. The freshest raw meat (fish, usually) is sliced into thin pieces and savored for its taste and texture. Sushi and sashimi are at their best when dipped in shoyu, soy sauce, flavored with wasabi and gari (sweet, pickled ginger, eaten as a palate cleanser and digestion aid). Green tea is a typical accompaniment to sushi in Japan.
Speaking of beverages, we would be remiss not to mention the ubiquitous sake, a rice wine which, when served at a traditional meal, takes the place of other rice dishes. Another spirit, shochu, is commonly distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice.
Where to Buy Japanese Food Online:
Marukai: Specializing in Japanese products, Marukai has a wonderful selection that promises to include whatever you’re looking for. Products are well-organized with crisp images, and users can read each other’s reviews. Sushi-making tools, gardening products, household items, kitchen utensils–even “Hello Kitty” wine– it’s all here!
Rakuten Global Market: This is “Japan’s No. 1 Shopping Site,” with over 17 million products available to be shipped. Quick and easy search features allow you to find what you’re looking for, or you can browse by category. Shipping information is explained in depth, but keep a look out: Rakuten has had promotions in the past with free Japan-US delivery.
Mitsuwa Marketplace: This site features Japanese produce that can be shipped overnight–on ice to ensure freshness. The vegetables you can never find at your local supermarkets are here, even shishito, ooba and kabocha, as well as fish, meat and frozen foods. The “Easy Cooking” section is a huge help when you’re crunched for time but still want that authentic meal. Order online or see if there is a store near you.
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