Monday, December 20, 2010

Flavours of Japanese food

Japanese cooking is unique in its taste, flavour and presentation when compared with its regional counterparts- China and Korea. The distinct taste of Japanese food is mainly due to the seasonings that are added to the Japanese food. The Japanese say that not only the ingredients but also the order in which they are added to the dish can alter the taste. To make life easy, the Japanese have a unique code for remembering the ingredients and the order – Sa Shi Su Se So. In fact this is in the same order as the sounds for the “S” alphabet in Japanese Hiragana and Katakana scripts.

What does “Sa Shi Su Se So” stand for ? It is simple :
Sa” stands for sato. Which  is sugar in Japanese.

Shi” stands for shio. Which is salt in Japanese.

Su” stands for suSu is vinegar in Japanese.

Se” stands for seuyu.  “Seuyu” is an old name for “shouyu”. Shouyu is the Japanese word for Soy sauce! Most often even the Japanese find this the hardest to remember and many of them aren’t aware why Shoyu is associated with Se. I am thankful to my Japanese teacher Emi-san for sharing this information with me.

So” is for miso. Miso is the powder or paste form of soybeans and it is used to make miso soup. It is made by fermenting soybeans, rice , barley and other ingredients and is available in both powder and paste form. It is a staple food and is used as a base for many Japanese dishes. There are many varieties of miso and the colours vary based on the ingredients therein. Miso is considered to be very healthy due to its soy content.
Other flavour enhancers are :

Cooking sake: Sake is the Japanese wine made from rice. The cooking version of sake differs from the drinking sake. Cooking sake is an essential ingredient in most Japanese dishes.

Mirin : Mirin is another kind of rice wine but unlike cooking sake it has high sugar content and low alcohol percentage.

Soya sauce: Like most other east asian cuisines, Soy Sauce is important in Japanese cuisine and is also the base for many dipping sauces and toppings.

Ginger: Ginger is used in lot of Japanese dishes. Most often grated ginger or ginger paste is served with Sushi, probably to reduce the smell of raw fish.

Myoga:  Myoga also known as Japanese ginger has a strong flavour. The flower buds are used in Miso soup and other Japanese dishes. It is believed that Myoga has anti cancer properties, however using too much of Myoga is also not recommended.

Dashi: Dashi is made from sea weed and is used as a base for miso and other soups and stock based dishes. This is usually available in single use sachets or in bottles and is generally found in powder or granule form.

Kombu: Kombu is the main ingredient in Dashi and it is also eaten in fresh form as sashimi or in pickled form or in soups. It is cultivated in the sea in Japan and Korea regions and is considered to contain a lot of nutritional benefits.

Katsuobushi: This is a essential ingredient in Dashi along with Kombu . It is also used in  other stocks which are used in Miso and other soups and sauces. Katsuobushi is the shavings of dried Bonito and is in flake form and is available in satchets . At times instead of dried bonito, it is made of dried tuna or mackerel

Sesame Seeds: Sesame seeds are used as a topping on rice balls or sushi and in many Japanese salads and baked dishes.

Gomashio: This is a mixture of salt and sesame seeds and is usually sprinkled on top of rice or rice balls. At times it may contain a bit of sugar

Wasabi paste: Wasabi is Japanese horseradish. It is pungent and has a strong smell too. At times it leaves a stinging flavour on the tongue especially if eaten by itself or in high quantity. It is most commonly served with sushi. It is available in fresh root form or in paste form in tubes. The leaves of wasabi are also eaten and these leaves have a pungent flavour too.

Karashi: This is a kind of mustard and is used as a seasoning in Japanese dishes. It is available in powder or paste form. It is usually added to Oden, Shumai and other dishes. At times it is mixed with mayonnaise to make a dipping sauce

Shichimi; This is a mixture of seven spices and it is used in soups, oden and noodles to enhance flavour. It may be used on rice balls and other snacks too. Shichi means Seven in Japanese and that explains the number of ingredients.

Ichimi : This is red ground chilli pepper . Ichi is One in Japanese.

Purikake: This is a mixture of sesame seeds, dried sea weeds, salt, red pepper, ground dried fish etc. This is usually served on top of rice and for making rice balls. Almost a staple food as most people prefer to eat this during lunch or dinner and also in bento boxes. Many varieties are available and taste varies from mild to extremely spicy.

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