Asian Cuisine,  Culinary History,  Food History,  History,  Tea,  Tourism,  Travel

Japan: Taste the Culture

I’m excited to start off this year’s international series with the country of Japan! Because it is also New Years in the Asian cultures this month, I thought Japan would be fun to begin with. Japan is definitely one of the places on my travel wish list.

Japan, much like England, is an island nation. But unlike England, it’s culinary heritage is much different owing to different taste preferences, culinary traditions, health practices and farming abilities. Japanese history is long and varied. People have been living on this scattered island nation as long as some of the Western cultures have existed. Their history is divided up into different periods based around clans and populations beginning with the very early Yayoi period and reaching through the Yamato, Nara, Heian and Edo periods. During the mid-1800’s, Japan began to see a greater influence from foreign cuisines as they opened up their borders to trading.

Japanese tastes runs toward rice, sweet potatoes, green tea, sesame, seafood and the unique fruits and vegetables of their land like yuzu and seaweed. They also put a heavy emphasis on fermented foods like natto, miso and pickles. Influence from other Asian cultures can be found as well as Western style food with unique Japanese twists. Preferred drinks include beer, sake and matcha. A beautiful presentation of food is very important and pride is taken in preparing food as fresh as possible.

Here’s what I think of when I think of Japanese cuisine. What do you think of?

Sushi – Sushi is probably one of the first foods that people think of when eating Asian influenced foods. Japan is the sushi capital of the world but not the inventor of this delicacy. Rice and fish are very important ingredients in Asian food culture. A fermented rice and fish dish were once combined into what could have been the first sushi. Over time the rice and fish were kept fresh and sushi in all its various forms as we know it was born.

Tempura – Tempura, which is basically fried food, has a fascinating history. Commonly made with ultra fresh vegetables and seafood, tempura refers to the batter that is used to fry the food quickly in hot oil. This way of frying was introduced to the Japanese in the 1600s by Portuguese missionaries. The Japanese took the method and adapted it into what we know as tempura. Before the foreign influence, frying was not a common way of preparing food in Japan.

Ramen – Ramen is one of my favorite comfort foods. 🙂 And who hasn’t had ramen more than once? This classic seasoned noodle dish has become as much a part of Western culture as Asian. Different parts of Japan have their own different special and unique ramens. Tokyo is the ramen capital of the world with over 10,000 ramen shops. Ramen comes in four main types depending on the broth used – miso, pork, fish or chicken broth and soy sauce. The toppings vary just as much but wheat noodles are always used.

 

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