Japan

by Marcell Jackson

Native Foods

Sushi

Sushi may refer to any dish that contains sushi rice, cooked white rice flavored with seasoned rice vinegar. There are various kinds of sushi dishes, such as nigirizushi (hand formed sushi), makizushi (rolled sushi), and chirashi (sushi rice topped with raw fish). Sushi is the most famous Japanese dish outside of Japan, and one of the most popular dishes among the Japanese themselves.

Donburi

Donburi refers to a bowl of plain cooked rice with some other food on top of it. Donburi are served at specialty restaurants, but they are also a common dish that can be found on all kinds of restaurants' menus. Some of the most popular varieties are gyudon (stewed beef), katsudon (tonkatsu), tendon (tempura), oyakodon (chicken and egg), tekkadon (maguro), and kaisendon (raw seafood).

Kare Raisu ( Curry Rice)

Kare Raisu (Curry Rice) is cooked rice with a Japanese curry sauce. It can be served with additional toppings such as tonkatsu. Curry is not a native Japanese spice, but has been used in Japan for over a century. Kare Raisu is a very popular dish, and many inexpensive Kare Raisu restaurants can be found especially in and around train stations.

Kayu, or Okayu

Kayu, or okayu, is Japanese rice porridge made by slow cooking rice in lots of water. It tends to be thicker than other types of rice porridge or gruel, and is a suitable dish for using left over rice. Kayu is often garnished with umeboshi, and is commonly served to sick people because it is easily digestible.

Fried rice, or Chahan

Fried rice, or chahan, is a dish that was originally introduced from China. There are an infinite variety of ingredients that can be added to fried rice. Some common ones are peas, egg, green onions (negi), carrots and pork. Chahan is a suitable dish for using left over rice.

Herbs and Spices

Shiso

Shiso is part of the mint family and is called “beefsteak plant” or perilla in English. I don’t know where the name beafsteak comes from, but I think shiso sounds much better. There are two varieties, red shiso and green shiso. Green shiso is often used as a garnish, but it is also used in sushi, onigiri and other dishes. Shiso has a distinct and pungent, but very refreshing flavor.

Perhaps the best thing about shiso – it’s really easy to grow. As with most greens, the early spring shiso is the best.

Wasabi

Most diners in the United States would be surprised to discover they’ve probably never tasted wasabi. That is the real stuff. Most of the wasabi served in sushi joints is made from reconstituted horseradish – with some green coloring. It turns out that it’s difficult to cultivate wasabi. It normally grows in pure, fresh flowing mountain streams.

I was recently in Japan and not only had the chance taste the real thing, but to also see it grow. This photo was taken in Yamanashi Prefecture at the base of a mountain spring. A beautiful site.

Freshly grated wasabi is more complex than powdered wasabi and is not as harsh. It is also very expensive.

Sansho Pepper

Despite its name sansho pepper is not actually a pepper. I guess you might call it a spice with some peculiar traits. It’s earthy and tangy with a bit of lemon. When put directly on your tongue, you’ll notice a sort of tingling sensation.

Sansho pepper is usually sold ground, but you can also buy the berries and grind it yourself. It’s typically used on grilled foods like yakitori (chicken) or eel.

The sansho or prickly ash tree also yields the fragrant kinome leaves - which are often used as a garnish.

Karashi

Karashi is a mixture of ground mustard seeds and horseradish – like wasabi- a little goes a long way. So unlike European mustard, it’s not an emulsion based with vinegar. It’s normally sold in a dried powder form (just add water), or as a paste in a tube.

Karashi paste is served as a condiment with dishes such as tonkatsu, steak and oden. It is also used in sauces based with miso, mayonaise and sometimes in sunomono (things with vinegar) dressing.

Shichimi pepper

Shichimi is mix of seven different spices. It’s not really that spicy in small amounts. It’s mainly used to add a little heat to soups and as a garnish. The mix is typically made from:

  1. Ground red pepper
  2. Sesame seeds
  3. Poppy seeds
  4. Sansho pepper
  5. Dried citrus peel
  6. Flaxseeds
  7. Nori