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Japanese Food - From Sushi to Tempura

Japanese food, where the dining experience is not only about the actual food consumed, but also the presentation, the design, the sheer beauty of what you're eating. From the traditional to the modern, from the quick to the drawn-out, and from the haute to the street — with a few unusual (and necessary) ideas for limited budgets to help your yen go a bit further — this is our take on Japanese food.

Japan, where clean eating meets culinary artistry. Where raw fish and pickled vegetables sit astride seaweed strands and tempura sculptures. The place where you can eat blowfish sashimi, octopus balls and cow offal one evening, then follow it all up the next day with a 15-course meal that might qualify as one of the truly greatest eating experiences of your life. Japanese cuisine, where the food canvas employs colour, where form truly follows function.


Below is the list of our all time favourite Japanese food.


Buta-No-Shogayaki (Ginger Pork)

This is one of the most common (and tasty) Japanese dishes. Try it in many restaurants, izakaya (traditional Japanese restaurant/bar), fast food chains, and even as a bento box (a pre-prepared Japanese style lunch) found in many grocery stores and convenience stores.


The word yaki means literally “grilled.” This dish is prepared by grilling thin slices of pork dressed with a delicate sauce of mirin, soy sauce, sake (Japanese rice wine), granola oil mixed with sliced onions, and ginger.


The dish makes for a great quick and tasty meal, and it’s perfect for any season.


Champon

This dish may look like ramen at first sight (and you could say it belongs to the same category), but it’s different and unique. So if you want to taste something traditional, don’t miss out on this dish. Champon is originally from Nagasaki, as it first appeared there in a Chinese restaurant during the Meiji era (1868-1912). However, unlike the many different kinds of ramen, its noodles (specifically made for this dish) are boiled in the soup itself instead of being added later. A great seasonal dish, Champon’s ingredients vary slightly depending on the season (pork, seafood, vegetables, or any combination of these). The ingredients are fried in lard, and a soup of chicken and pig bones is later added. The result is a robust and satisfying taste that is rarely the same. In fact, not only can different versions of this dish be found in many countries in Asia, but also within Japan. This creates a variety of unique styles and flavour's that will keep you wanting more!


Edamame

Okay, so they're not really a dish, but they are a wildly popular food in Japan. These are not yet mature soybeans, still in their pods. They can be served hot or cold (at times grilled instead of boiled) and are usually dressed only with salt. Edamame make for an amazing appetizer.


Try a few, and you will find yourself reaching for more and more before you know it. Edamame usually accompany a meal in all izakaya, but they are almost always part of the menu in the vast majority of Japanese restaurants in Japan.


Miso Soup

When talking about food in Japan, we cannot avoid mentioning miso soup. This dish served in almost any combination of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals, is truly a staple of Japanese cuisine. Simple and flavourful, it’s an amazing side dish to enjoy with the rest of your food.


Once again, we see dashi being one of the main ingredients. This stock is mixed with miso (seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans) paste, creating the famous soup. Other ingredients are then mixed accordingly to preference.


Very often, miso soup will be served with tofu, scallion, and wakame seaweed. Other items, such as daikon, shrimp, fish, mushrooms, potatoes, onions, or meat, can be added.


Particularly recommended during cold winter days, you can’t leave Japan without trying this evergreen dish!


Karaage

As soon as you set foot in Japan, you’ll start seeing the typical Japanese fried chicken: karaage. Now, karaage usually refers to chicken, but depending on the area you eat out, other meat (like pork) may be used instead.


The pieces of meat are lightly coated with wheat flour or potato starch and deep-fried in oil. Sometimes the ingredients are marinated beforehand. It’s usually served with a slice of lemon on the side, but you can enjoy it with or without it.


The chicken variety is especially common in restaurants, street-food carts, izakaya, convenience stores (and pretty much anywhere else). Karaage is cheap, tasty, and fast. Only downside? So good, it’s addictive!


Kushikatsu

This dish, also known as kushiage, is crunchy deep-fried skewered meat, fish, or vegetables. The etymology refers to its preparation, with Kushi referring to the skewers used and katsu, meaning the deep frying of a cutlet of meat.


Some of the more interesting kinds are prepared with bamboo shoots, lotus root, cartilage (nankotsu), and gizzard (sunagimo). They are all certainly worth tasting.


On top of the different ingredients that can be used, there are also several geographical varieties, such as Osaka; Tokyo (also serving pork rib Kushikatsu), where the meat is prepared slightly differently and dressed with brown sauce; Nagoya is famous for its doteni (a rich miso-based dish with beef tendons, offal, and daikon radish. Here you can order Kushikatsu with this staple dish. The region also uses different sauces and batter.


Sushi and sashimi


Of course, we all know these dishes, but we can’t avoid mentioning them in this guide. Sushi and sashimi are among the foods at the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine.


While very famous worldwide, many fail to understand the variety of cuts and preparation that can go into preparing this food. Sushi chefs are regarded as artists, and most of them have to practice as apprentices for years (and at times decades) before they too can be called sushi and sashimi masters.


This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find good quality sushi or sashimi at a fair price. Japan offers options for all palates and all pockets.


An enjoyable experience is that of the rolling sushi restaurants. You order from a small tablet at your table, and the sushi is served directly to you via a rolling mat. The food is excellent, and it’s only 100 yen per dish (these restaurants are usually called 100 yen-sushi, or sushiro).


Something missing outside of Japan is usually the so-called temaki zushi (lit. hand-rolled sushi). You can certainly find restaurants in which this dish is served, but you’ll love making your own at home (if you have Japanese friends, it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll know how to do it). The preparation is simple. You’ll need sushi rice, cuts of your favorite fish (thin slices, usually), sea weed sheets, and whatever other ingredients you’d like to add, according to your taste. Often used ingredients are cucumber, crab, avocado, and wasabi.


Spread the rice on a sheet of seaweed, add fish and other fillings, roll the seaweed in a cylinder or cone, and enjoy with soy sauce.


If you’re in Japan, propose a “temaki zushi party,” and you’ll surely get amazing approval.


Tempura

Tempura is a great dish all year round, especially for those of you who enjoy sharing a few drinks with friends.


Tempura consists of shellfish, fish, chicken, or vegetables covered in a flavorful batter and deep-fried until they reach a perfect crunchiness level.


You can enjoy tempura as is or with dipping sauce.

While many restaurants serve this dish, several specialise in it, where you can find a wider choice for an even more amazing dive into traditional Japanese food.


Teppanyaki


Teppenyaki is one of the less known (but still delicious) styles of Japanese cooking. Teppan means iron plate, and yaki means grilled.


Teppenyaki is a term that encompasses a large variety of dishes, including okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and monjayaki. Still, it’s usually used to refer to a particular kind of preparation of western-influenced food.


Typical ingredients for teppenyaki are beef, shrimp, vegetables, chicken, and scallops. They are prepared on a hotplate, usually with soybean oil.


Some of you may be familiar with this kind of cooking, as in the U.S., these restaurants are pretty popular (although known as hibachi).


If you come to Japan and you want to taste amazing food that espouses Japan and the west, you’ll really want to give teppenyaki a shot.

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