Japan’s unique food culture

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Japan has a unique food culture: various good fresh ingredients of sea and mountains, seasonings that adds to the dishes’ tastiness, Japanese sense of taste represented by umami (旨み) and intense curiosity about savoring variety of foods.

“Tokyo has great quality ingredients, from the sea, from the mountains,” says Jean-Luc Naret, director of Michelin Guides, in an interview.

Blessed with relatively warm climate, hot summer, high precipitation, crops grew well in Japan. The diversity of Japan’s weather and soil, and centuries of experience in breed improvement, has set a variety of crops from other regions of the world in place.

Moreover, Japan, surrounded by the seas where both warm and cold currents flow, has enjoyed abundant and nearly 3,400 variety of fishery resources. In any civilization, primitive people’s diet started with eating raw and discarded the habit later. But in Japan, with various good fresh ingredients and the abundance of clean water, the eating habit has continued to this day.

Japanese cooking places emphasis on bringing out the natural tastes of the fresh ingredients, therefore, naturally relishes seasonality of food (, shun) : the times of year when a given type food is at its peak, either in terms of harvest, flavor, and nutrition.

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Wasabi is a condiment unique to Japan and essential to complement dishes like sushi and soba. It grows naturally in mountainous areas, and it requires the same kind of environment for cultivation. Water is the most important element of wasabi cultivation, and the bounty of water is needed because wasabi absorbs nutrients from it.

In seasoning and cooking, special efforts have been made to enhance the natural flavor of the materials.

Japanese popular seasonings: wasabi (ワサビ, Japanese horseradish), shōga (生姜, ginger), karashi (カラシ, mustard ), sansho (山椒, Japanese pepper), myōga (茗荷), preserve food from decay, have been used from the Nara period (奈良時代; 710 - 794, Nara jidai). By this period, the foundation of Japanese style cooking methods including grilling, boiling, steaming, and mixing have formed.

In the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代; 1185 - 1333, Kamakura jidai ), miso (みそ or 味噌) and shoyu (醤油, soya sauce), condiments characterizing Japanese cuisine came from china.

Fatty foods, cooked by stir-frying or deep-frying, had not become commonly eaten until the middle of the Meiji period (明治時代; 1868 - 1912, Meiji jidai ). Instead, Umami (旨み, [uː mɑː mi]) taste has delighted Japanese palate without using fats.


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