Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Japanese Meal

Continuing on the Japanese cuisine theme, this time I am attempting to write about the staple foods in Japan. These are dishes that are eaten on a regular basis. It will take me some more time before I can write about the more special dishes.

To begin with, the most indispensable part of any meal in Japan is Rice. I had written in an earlier post that Rice is so important that the word “Gohan” which means cooked rice in Japanese is also used to mean Meal. Rice is eaten at almost every meal of the day, be it “Asa Gohan” (Breakfast), “Hiru Gohan” (Lunch) or “Ban Gohan” (Dinner). Rice is also a part of the “Bento” box. Rice is eaten by itself, cooked rice dishes, or served with soups, side dishes, or served with “Purikake” (spiced mix powder) topping.

Rice is also made into “Onigiri” which is Rice ball in round or triangular shape. This is sometimes wrapped in a Sea weed or mixed with purikake. It is the Japanese equivalent of Korean “Kimbap”. Onigiri in various flavours is easily available at any convenience store and can be easily made at home.

Rice is also an essential ingredient of Sushi. Sushi is vinegared rice topped with raw seafood or even vegetables. Difference between Sushi and Sashimi is the rice. Raw fish by itself is Sashimi and when it is served as a topping on vinegared rice, it becomes Sushi. Sushi being so unique and popular needs a separate write-up.

Yet another indispensable part of Japanese meals is “Miso soup” known as “ Miso-shiru”. Like rice, Miso soup too can be eaten during breakfast, lunch or dinner. Miso soup is made from Miso, the soybean based paste. A healthy soup, this is made in various styles and with various ingredients be it meat, vegetables or seafood. Instant miso soup packets, miso paste containers or miso soup mixes are easily found in department stores or convenience stores.

It need not be specified that Noodles are an important part of Japanese cuisine. Noodles come in various forms and tastes. Ramen is the most common kind of noodles. Ramen is wheat noodles served in a soup broth and may contain meat, vegetables, seafood, tofu, etc. Ramen was introduced from China and is so popular that each region has its own version of Ramen. Instant ramen boxes are very popular. The taste of Japanese ramen is totally different from the Korean Ramyeon. The Japanese version is mild in taste when compared to the spicy Korean Ramyeon. My personal favourite remains the Korean Shin Ramyeon which is the spiciest of the lot.  “Ramen-ya” are Ramen shops where most dishes served are ramen based and these are popular joints. Perhaps evidence to the Ramen’s popularity is the “Ramen museum” in Shin-Yokohama. The history of Ramen, varieties of Ramen and ways to prepare Ramen are on display here. Ramen dishes are also sold so that visitors can experience the tastes of different kinds of ramen. Infact Ramen vending machines are also found in Japan.

Another variety of noodles which is found in Japan is the “Udon”. Udon are thick noodles made from Wheat flour and these too are served in mild flavoured soup broth. Like Ramen, the soup may contain meat, vegetables, seafood and a variety of ingredients. The Udon too has a Korean counterpart, Udong. Udon is sometimes served chilled, especially during summer but generally hot in winter. At times Udon is served with ice cubes on top.

Soba is a speciality of Japan. These thin noodles are made of buckwheat flour and have a sweet taste. These are served with soup based broth or with a dipping sauce. The best taste is that of freshly prepared noodles. At many restaurants, you can see the noodles being made right in front of you. It is common to see that Soba is served in sieved baskets at most restaurants. These noodles are available in packets in dry and wet form for cooking at home.

Tempura is the Japanese equivalent of the Indian pakora. It is usually vegetables or seafood dipped in frying batter and deep fried. Restaurants specializing in Tempura are found all over Japan and sometimes Tempura are served in Bento boxes as well.

These are just a few of the foods which are eaten on a regular basis – be it at home or in restaurants. I cannot do enough justice by writing just a few lines about the various specialities. I intend to write more about Japan’s food scene in future.

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