Japan is a unique country in many respects . No wonder the cuisine of the country is also unique. The gastronomy of Japan is distinct from the cuisine of any other Asian country. The Japanese word for Japanese cuisine is "Nihon Ryori". Nihon is the Japanese word for Japan and Ryori stands for cuisine.
Rice is the most important part of any meal and infact the Japanese word for rice – “Gohan” is the same as the Japanese word for meal. Rice is consumed at all times a day be it breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Soybeans come next being second only to Rice. Soybeans are consumed in many forms be it- Miso soup, Tofu, Soy Milk or simple Soy Sauce.
Seafood is also an important part of Japanese cuisine. Japanese sushi and sashimi are popular around the globe. But there’s more to Japanese sea foods than just sushi and sashimi. Every season has its speciality seafood too. Japanese eat fish, shellfish, sea urchins, eel and even octopus. Along with other sea food, Sea weeds are also important in Japanese food. Infact MSG which is a controversial food additive is extracted from sea weeds. This is something I learnt after coming to Japan.
Mushrooms are another important part of Japanese cuisine. Many varieties of mushrooms are available in Japan all round the year. Infact dried Shiitake mushrooms are also available in gift packs around Japanese festivals.
In Japanese cuisine, food looks and tastes very natural. The natural flavours of the ingredients are preserved and special care is taken to avoid over cooking. Mild flavoured herbs are preferred over the strong spices of other Asian countries like India, Thailand and Malaysia. Popularity of sushi and sashimi and salads highlight the raw food specialities of Japanese cuisine.
Special pots, pans and cooking equipment are used for cooking as Japanese believe that certain foods taste better when cooked in special manner. This explains the wide variety of utensils- earthenware, metal utensils, wooden bowls, glassware and nonstickware which are displayed in stores across Japan.
In Japan a lot of stress is given not only on the flavours and cooking but also on the way the food is presented or the table is arranged. The placement of food items on the table, placing the chopsticks etc all is done with utmost care. Food is served in various shapes, sizes and patterns to achieve an aesthetic balance between the dishes and food and in order to stimulate appetite. Maybe this is the reason Japanese restaurants tend to be expensive in most countries around the world.