Japanese cuisine: A behind-the-scenes look

The Japanese kitchen is like a jewelry box. In addition to the unique way Japanese food is served, the food itself is something to behold. 

If you think of Japanese food, you’ll likely think of rice or some kind of fish dish. That’s, of course, only natural, because the pillars of the Asian country’s cuisine do include rice, fish, and seafood. Rice, of course, is a staple in Japan and it’s a main part of every meal. It’s interesting, though, that until the end of the 19th century rice was actually a luxury–only wealthier people were able to consume it on a regular basis.

Traditional Japanese cuisine dates back to around the 11th or 12th centuries. That’s when tofu and soy sauce first appeared. In the 16th and 17th centuries delicious vegetables, fruits, and spices were added to the menu. The method of cooking with oil also spread, which up to that point had been unheard of. 

During the WWII Japan grew wealthy very quickly, so more and more people could enjoy the tastier than tasty foods. This is around when meats like chicken, beef, and pork became popular again–there had been a period when eating meat was strictly forbidden. Traces of this habit remain even today; the Japanese eat much less meat than most Europeans. In addition, Japanese people don’t eat dairy products because apparently their bodies don’t produce an enzyme required for metabolizing dairy.

In Japan, breakfast is an entirely different kind of meal. Instead of muesli and French toast, the Japanese eat things like miso soup, pickles, rice, dried fish, or steamed vegetables. Think about how early Japanese housewives have to wake up so they can have such a meal ready on the table for their husband or child who heads out the door at 7 or 8 in the morning to go to work or school.

This is one of the reasons why Japanese women tend not to return to work after their first child is born. Instead they focus on housekeeping. 

Lunch is also quite peculiar. Most Japanese people have a bento box for lunch, which is a little box divided into squares each of which is filled with something like rice, pickles, and four or five types of dishes such as baked fish, egg omelet, noodle salad, or shrimp. Most people usually bring these bento boxes from home.

Noodles are also popular, and there are three main types: udon, ramen, and soba. What might shock people in the West is that it’s polite for men to loudly slurp when they eat noodles because if they don’t it means they didn’t like the taste of the meal.

It’s not easy to be totally familiar with Japanese cuisine. A foreigner living in Japan will still get surprises on a regular basis. Supermarkets aren’t easy to navigate because pretty much everything is written only in Japanese. If the packaging isn’t see-through then it can be quite tricky. What’s for sure, though, is that it’s worth trying Japanese food and trying different things, because your taste buds will be on a unique journey into a whole different universe.