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japanese food market

Japanese food and drink: Taking a taste of the culinary art form

Japanese cuisine is a fascinating and diverse world, with a rich history and cultural significance. Japanese cuisine is a rich tapestry of flavours, textures, and techniques that reflect the country’s history, culture, and geography.

With its emphasis on fresh ingredients, seasonality, and simplicity, Japanese food is a delight for the senses. Whether you’re trying sushi for the first time or exploring regional specialties like okonomiyaki or tonkatsu, there’s always something new to discover in the world of Japanese cuisine!

Here are some popular Japanese dishes and drinks you might enjoy:

close up photo of sushi served on table
  1. Sushi: A classic Japanese dish made with vinegared rice and various toppings, often served with raw fish.
  2. Ramen: A popular noodle soup made with pork or chicken broth, served with springy noodles and toppings.
  3. Udon: Thick wheat flour noodles served in a hot broth or with dipping sauce.
  4. Tonkatsu: Breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, often served with shredded cabbage and rice.
  5. Yakitori: Grilled chicken skewers, often flavored with salt or teriyaki sauce.
  6. Bento: A boxed meal consisting of rice, vegetables, and protein (e.g., chicken, fish, or tofu).
  7. Onigiri: Triangular-shaped rice balls filled with tuna, salmon, or pickled plum.
  8. Tempura: Battered and deep-fried seafood or vegetables.
  9. Miso soup: A traditional soup made with miso paste, tofu, and seaweed.
  10. Okonomiyaki: A savory pancake from the Hiroshima region, often containing cabbage, pork, and seafood.

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Drinks:

cup of coffee decorated with flowers with leaves on saucer
  1. Green tea (Matcha): A popular Japanese green tea known for its health benefits and rich flavor.
  2. Sake: A traditional Japanese rice wine often served at special occasions.
  3. Mugicha: A roasted barley tea that’s caffeine-free and popular in Japan.
  4. Ramune: A fizzy lemon-lime flavored soda with a unique bottle design.
  5. Ramune Soda: A Japanese cola-flavored soda with a similar bottle design to Ramune.
  6. Hojicha: A roasted green tea that’s nutty and slightly sweet.
  7. Yuzushu: A citrus-based drink made with yuzu fruit, often served as a palate cleanser.

Tips:

  • Try different types of Japanese green tea for unique flavors and aromas.
  • Be prepared for spicy food when trying Japanese dishes like wasabi or kimchi.
  • Learn basic Japanese phrases like “konnichiwa” (hello), “arigatou” (thank you), and “sumimasen” (excuse me).
  • Be respectful of cultural traditions and customs when eating in Japan.

Enjoy your culinary adventure into the world of Japanese food and drink!

Japanese street food

japanese food market

Here’s a guide to help you navigate the delicious world of Japanese street food, including yakitori, takoyaki, and okonomiyaki:

1. Yakitori

Yakitori is a popular Japanese street food from the Kansai region. Skewers of grilled chicken are cooked over an open flame, and are often served with a savory sauce.

  • Try it: At a yakitori stall or restaurant, especially in Osaka or Kyoto.
  • Must-try: Chicken thighs, skin, and organs like liver or heart.
  • Tips: Look for stalls with a charcoal grill and a long line of customers.

2. Takoyaki

Takoyaki is a popular Osaka street food made with crispy batter filled with diced octopus, green onion, and tempura bits.

  • Try it: At a takoyaki stall or restaurant, especially in Osaka or Tokyo.
  • Must-try: Classic takoyaki with the original ingredients; try different flavors like mayo or kimchi for a twist.
  • Tips: Watch the chef expertly cook the batter into a crispy ball shape.

3. Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake from the Hiroshima region. The name “okonomiyaki” literally means “grilled as you like it.”

  • Try it: At an okonomiyaki stall or restaurant, especially in Hiroshima or Tokyo.
  • Must-try: The classic Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki with cabbage, pork belly, and seafood.
  • Tips: Be prepared for a filling meal; okonomiyaki is often served with a variety of ingredients and sauces.
sushirrito cut in half

4. Other popular Japanese street foods:

  • Takoyaki: Similar to takoyaki but made with wheat flour instead of cornstarch batter.
  • Yudofu: Boiled tofu served with dipping sauce and often accompanied by grated ginger and soy sauce.
  • Fugu: Pufferfish sashimi, often served as a luxury snack in Japan.
  • Grilled squid: Fresh squid grilled over an open flame, often served with salt and soy sauce.
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Tips for trying Japanese street food:

  • Be prepared for crowds and lines at popular stalls.
  • Bring cash; not all stalls may accept credit cards.
  • Try new flavors and ingredients, but be mindful of food safety and hygiene standards.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from locals or vendors.
  • Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere and sounds of the street food scene!

Where to find Japanese street food:

  • Osaka: Dotonbori area is famous for its street food, including takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
  • Tokyo: Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Harajuku areas have various street food stalls offering yakitori, takoyaki, and other snacks.
  • Hiroshima: The city’s famous okonomiyaki can be found at various stalls throughout the city.

Japanese street food is an exciting culinary adventure! With this guide, you’re ready to explore the world of yakitori, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and more. Remember to be adventurous, try new things, and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. Happy eating!

a cold drink with herbs served in a bar

Sake

Japan’s national beverage is a world of its own, with a rich history, diverse styles, and a complex brewing process. Let’s dive into the world of sake and explore the different types, brewing methods, and tasting notes.

Types of Sake:

  1. Daiginjo: A premium sake made with a high percentage of rice polish, resulting in a light, delicate flavor.
  2. Ginjo: A high-quality sake made with a slightly higher rice polish than daiginjo, offering a balanced flavor.
  3. Junmai: A traditional sake made with rice, water, and koji (a fungus), resulting in a rich, full-bodied flavor.
  4. Haikei: A dry sake with a crisp acidity and a light body.
  5. Nigori: A sweet sake with a milky appearance and a sweet flavor.

Brewing Process:

  1. Koji: Sake production begins with the cultivation of koji, a fungus that breaks down starches into fermentable sugars.
  2. Moromi: The koji is mixed with steamed rice and water to create moromi, a sticky paste.
  3. Fermentation: Moromi is left to ferment for several days or weeks, depending on the style of sake.
  4. Pressing: The fermented moromi is pressed to extract the liquid, resulting in sake.
  5. Filtration: Sake may be filtered to clarify and stabilize the liquid.

Tasting Notes:

  • Aroma: Fresh fruit, floral notes, and yeast esters are common aromas in sake.
  • Flavor: Sake can have flavors ranging from sweet and fruity to dry and savory, with notes of rice, grass, or umami.
  • Body: Sake can range from light and crisp to rich and full-bodied.
  • Finish: The finish refers to the lingering sensation after swallowing, which can be dry, sweet, or umami.

How to Taste Sake:

  1. Appearance: Hold the sake up to light to appreciate its color and clarity.
  2. Aroma: Swirl the sake gently and sniff to appreciate its aroma.
  3. Taste: Take a small sip and let the sake warm in your mouth before swallowing.
  4. Finish: Pay attention to the lingering sensations after swallowing.

Recommended Sakes for Beginners:

  1. Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo: A crisp, refreshing sake with hints of green apple and citrus.
  2. Kiku-mai Ginjo: A balanced sake with notes of cherry blossom and honey.
  3. Kokuryu Nigori: A sweet and creamy nigori with hints of vanilla and caramel.

Exploring the world of Japanese sake is a journey that requires patience, attention to detail, and an open mind. With this guide, you’ve taken the first step towards becoming a sake connoisseur. Remember to appreciate the complexity of each style, the craftsmanship behind its production, and the cultural significance it holds in Japan. Cheers!

close up of person eating sushi

Unique flavour and ingredients

Japanese cuisine is renowned for its bold flavors, vibrant colors, and intricate preparation methods. Let’s delve into the world of Japanese ingredients, focusing on two iconic components: wasabi and miso.

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Wasabi (Japanese Horseradish):

  • What is it? Wasabi is a plant native to Japan, scientifically known as Wasabia japonica.
  • Flavor profile: Wasabi has a pungent, spicy, and slightly sweet flavor, often described as earthy and herbaceous.
  • Preparation: Fresh wasabi is typically grated over sushi or sashimi using a special grater called a “wasabi oroshi.”
  • Types: There are several types of wasabi, including:
    • Fresh wasabi: Most prized for its intense flavor and aroma.
    • Freeze-dried wasabi: Preserved by freeze-drying to retain flavor and texture.
    • Powdered wasabi: A convenient alternative, often used in sauces and marinades.

Miso (Japanese Fermented Soybean Paste):

  • What is it? Miso is a fermented soybean paste made from soybeans, salt, and koji (a fungus).
  • Flavor profile: Miso has a rich, savory, umami flavor with notes of soybeans, seaweed, and slightly sweet undertones.
  • Types: There are several types of miso, including:
    • White miso (Shiro-miso): Sweet and mild, often used in soups and sauces.
    • Red miso (Aka-miso): Stronger and more savory, commonly used in marinades and braising liquids.
    • Barley miso (Mugi-miso): Made with barley instead of rice, resulting in a nuttier flavor.

Other Unique Japanese Ingredients:

  1. Yuzu: A citrus fruit often used as a garnish or in sauces.
  2. Shiso: A type of basil native to Japan, often used in salads and as a garnish.
  3. Sesame seeds: Used as a topping for salads and noodle dishes.
  4. Tofu: A staple protein source in Japanese cuisine, often marinated or pan-fried.
  5. Rice vinegar: Used as a seasoning or marinade in many Japanese dishes.
a man standing at the bar counter

Tips for Cooking with Wasabi and Miso:

  1. Start with small amounts: Wasabi can be overpowering; begin with a small amount and adjust to taste.
  2. Use fresh ingredients: Fresh wasabi and miso will have a more vibrant flavor than processed alternatives.
  3. Balance flavors: Miso can be quite strong; balance its flavor with other ingredients to avoid overpowering the dish.
  4. Experiment with ratios: Experiment with different ratios of wasabi to other ingredients to find the perfect balance for your taste buds.

Wasabi and miso are just two of the many unique ingredients that make Japanese cuisine so distinct. By understanding their flavor profiles and uses, you can elevate your cooking skills and create authentic Japanese dishes. Remember to experiment with small amounts, balance flavors, and respect the cultural significance of these ingredients.

Japan’s favourite markets

people at tsukiji market at night tokyo japan

Visiting Japan’s famous markets is a must-do experience when traveling to this foodie paradise. Here’s a guide to two of the most iconic markets: Tsukiji Fish Market and Nishiki Market.

Tsukiji Fish Market

  • Location: Tsukiji Fish Market is located in the heart of Tokyo, near the Tokyo Station.
  • What to Expect:
    • Fresh seafood: Tsukiji is one of the world’s largest fish markets, offering an incredible array of fresh seafood.
    • Sushi and sashimi: Try some of the freshest sushi and sashimi at one of the many restaurants within the market.
    • Wholesalers and retailers: The market is divided into two areas: the inner market (for wholesalers) and the outer market (for retailers).
  • Tips:
    • Arrive early: The inner market is busiest in the early morning, but the outer market is more lively during the day.
    • Be prepared for crowds: Tsukiji can get very crowded, especially on weekends and holidays.
    • Try some street food: There are many food stalls throughout the market offering everything from grilled squid to fresh fruit.
    • Take a guided tour: Consider taking a guided tour to get a deeper understanding of the market’s history and operations.

Nishiki Market

  • Location: Nishiki Market is located in Kyoto, near the famous Gion district.
  • What to Expect:
    • Traditional shops: Nishiki Market is known for its narrow alleys lined with over 100 shops selling everything from fresh produce to Japanese snacks.
    • Local specialties: Try some of Kyoto’s famous local specialties like yuba (tofu skin), momoyedan (dried persimmon), and kaiseki (traditional Japanese tea ceremony sweets).
    • Unique shopping experience: Nishiki Market offers a unique shopping experience, with many small shops and alleys to explore.
  • Tips:
    • Explore slowly: Take your time and explore the market slowly, as there’s so much to see and discover.
    • Don’t miss the hidden gems: Look for small, hidden shops and alleys that are easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
    • Try some street food: There are many food stalls throughout the market offering everything from grilled corn to sweet potato tempura.
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view of a crowded street in dotonbori osaka japan

General Tips for Visiting Japan’s Markets

  • Respect local customs: Japan has strict customs and etiquette when it comes to food and shopping. Be respectful of local traditions and practices.
  • Be prepared: Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for crowds and long lines.
  • Learn some Japanese phrases: Knowing a few basic Japanese phrases can go a long way in making your experience more enjoyable. Learn how to say “konnichiwa” (hello), “arigatou” (thank you), and “sumimasen” (excuse me).
  • Try new things: Japan’s markets are a great place to try new foods and experiences. Be adventurous and try something new!

Visiting Japan’s famous markets is an unforgettable experience that will leave you with lifelong memories. From the bustling streets of Tsukiji Fish Market to the traditional shops of Nishiki Market, there’s something for every type of traveler. With these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your market visit. Happy shopping!

Japanese dessert

eclairs in bakery

Japanese desserts are a sweet and fascinating world! Let’s dive into the wonderful world of Japanese sweets, focusing on two popular treats: mochi and manju.

Mochi

  • What is it? Mochi is a traditional Japanese rice cake made from glutinous or sticky rice.
  • Texture: Soft, chewy, and slightly sticky.
  • Taste: Sweet, slightly nutty, and often flavored with green tea or other ingredients.
  • Types:
    • Daifuku: A small, round mochi filled with sweet bean paste or fruit.
    • Ichigo daifuku: A strawberry-filled daifuku.
    • Mochi ice cream: A modern twist on traditional mochi, filled with green tea or other flavors.
  • How to enjoy:
    • Fresh: Enjoy mochi fresh, as it’s usually best consumed within a few days of making.
    • With green tea: Pair mochi with a cup of green tea for a traditional Japanese experience.
    • With other ingredients: Try mochi with other ingredients like fruit, nuts, or chocolate for added flavor and texture.

Manju

  • What is it? Manju is a steamed bun filled with various ingredients, often sweet or savory.
  • Flavors: Common fillings include:
    • Red bean paste (anko)
    • Sweetened chestnut paste (kuri)
    • Green tea ice cream
    • Fruit jam
    • Whipped cream
  • Texture: Soft and fluffy exterior, with a soft and creamy filling.
  • Taste: Sweet, comforting, and often slightly nutty or fruity.
  • Types:
    • Daigaku imo: A sweet potato-filled manju.
    • Matcha manju: A green tea-flavored manju.
    • Fruit manju: A fruit-filled manju with various flavors.
bread in bakery

Other Japanese Desserts to Try:

  1. Mochi cake: A modern twist on traditional mochi, often served as a cake or dessert.
  2. Castella: A light and fluffy sponge cake originating from Japan.
  3. Taiyaki: A fish-shaped cake filled with sweet red bean paste or ice cream.
  4. Imagawayaki: A small, round cake made with honey and corn flour, often filled with sweet bean paste or ice cream.

Tips for Trying Japanese Desserts:

  1. Be adventurous: Don’t be afraid to try new flavors and textures!
  2. Pair with green tea: Japanese desserts often pair well with green tea for a traditional experience.
  3. Try different fillings: Experiment with different fillings to find your favorite combination.
  4. Respect cultural traditions: Understand the cultural significance of Japanese desserts and respect local customs when trying them.

Japanese desserts are a world of wonder, with unique flavors and textures that will delight your taste buds. From the chewy mochi to the fluffy manju, there’s something for every palate. Don’t be afraid to try new things and explore the wonderful world of Japanese sweets!

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