The History of Japanese Cuisine
With an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, the idea of Japanese cooking has leaned towards fresh produce such as fish, or meats, with a side of rice or udon. Their cooking is simplistic, but packs in flavour. Many elements of Japanese Cuisine are linked to the Kaiseki, or tea ceremony, where smaller plates of food are brought out in a banquet style. Many of the main meals that you will see today in Japan are ‘o-bento’ style with fresh fish, Gohan (rice), and pickled vegetables. However, with the introduction of Western culture, we have seen a rise in western foods such as Italian and American influence gaining popularity. This is no easy feat, but Japan has some of the best Michelin star restaurants in the world, beating out France for the top position last year.
During the Kofun period in Japan, Buddism was prevalent as the main religion, so many did not eat fish or animal products, leading to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. As Japan is an island nation, fish is one of their most prevalent ‘meats’ which is still seen today in many dishes, and Sashimi. Nowadays, while vegetarianism is still popular, many Japanese cuisines include meat in their dishes, including Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ), Ramen, Sukiyaki, and Japanese Curry.
How does this cuisine vary from place to place?
Although you don’t see many variations between the major parts of Tokyo, you will notice a difference in the cuisine if you step outside the buzzing capital.
For example, in Nagasaki, there is a heavy influence on European culture and was usually the first place to have Western influence, due to its proximity to Europe. This is where the Japanese Curry was first created! Similarly, Kyoto and Tokyo will have an influence on Western food, with some of their fusion creations even being the best in the world. You’ll find Indian, American, and Italian cuisine amongst the most popular.
The cuisine of Japan varies from region to region, for example, you’ll find stronger and richer flavours in the Kansai Region of Japan than in the Kanto Region, where it is often miso and lighter broths. It also depends on the weather and what is seasonal at the time – areas that are located closer to the sea are found to be more seafood-heavy, while that in-land tends to focus on meats.
Some of the dishes such as okonomiyaki were once a regional dish but are now made nation-wide. Ramen is another staple dish in Japan, however, the complexity, the broth, and the flavours used vary from region to region!
What is your favourite region of Japan? How about the cuisine? Let us know in the comments below!