Modern Japanese Cuisine, Gourmet Guide

In December 2013, Japanese cuisine, or "washoku," was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity It is the fifth cuisine to be put on the list, after French, Mediterranean, Mexican, and Turkish cuisine. When applying for registration, the Japanese government gave four characteristics of washoku:

(1) Diversity and freshness of ingredients and respect for their inherent flavors, (2) An exceptionally well-balanced and healthy diet, (3) An expression of natural beauty and changing seasons and (4) Close links with annual events. The health benefits of Japanese cuisine, which mainly uses rice, vegetables, and fish, is what makes it popular overseas. However, because dashi stock made from kombu seaweed and dried bonito is the basis of Japanese cuisine, it can be said that one reason that Japanese food is so delicious is because it is made with Japanese water. The soft water in Japan brings out the flavor of the ingredients. No matter if upscale kaiseki cuisine or casual food at a restaurant with the common touch, carefully prepared Japanese dishes are full of deliciousness. A very popular dish is "sashimi," which is raw fish on wasabi that is dipped into soy sauce before it is eaten. It's also called "otsukuri." Various kinds of fish, including sea bream, tuna, and young yellowtail, as well as other seafoods, such as squid, octopus, and shellfish, are served on a plate garnished with shredded radish. "Tempura" appears to be popular with foreign visitors. It consists of vegetables and seafood, such as squid or shrimp, dipped into a batter of eggs, flour, and water, and then deep-fried. There are restaurants specializing in tempura, and because they can serve you a freshly fried dish, or 2-3 dishes at a time, it is even more delicious to eat tempura at a tempura restaurant. Tempura is eaten with a soy sauce flavored dipping sauce called "tentsuyu," or just with salt. Typical Japanese noodles are "udon" and "soba." Udon are thick, white noodles made from wheat flour, while soba are thin, light brown noodles made from buckwheat flour. Normally, a little wheat flour is mixed into the buckwheat flour. Soba noodles that are made of 100% buckwheat flour are referred to as "juwari soba." There are two types of soba: "zarusoba," which is served on a bamboo draining basket with dipping sauce, and "kakesoba," which is eaten in a hot broth with other ingredients and condiments. Udon as well as soba can have different names depending on their ingredients. If there is nothing in it besides green onion, this simple version is called "kakeudon" or "kakesoba." If you top it with sweetened fried tofu, it becomes "kitsune udon." If you put in a raw egg, it becomes "tsukimi udon," and if the topping is tempura, it becomes "tempura udon." The same goes for soba noodles. There also are various types of rice dishes. The basis of all dishes is white rice, but as soon as it is mixed with vinegar, it becomes sushi rice. If you put in azuki beans and cook it, it becomes sekihan, and if you add some salt and form rice balls with your hands, then it becomes an onigiri. In the same way, if you put some ingredients into dashi broth, it becomes clear sumashi soup. If you stir in miso, it becomes miso soup, and if you put in pork and vegetables, it becomes tonjiru. There are many local soup variations. Grilling fish, boiling vegetables and other nimono, dressing aemono (salad) with miso or sesame, steaming mushimono, or in other words, emphasizing the properties of each of the ingredients is what Japanese cuisine is about.

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