Tuesday, 31 July 2007

和食 Japanese Cuisine

This time I want to tell you some of the secrets of the Japanese Cuisine.

大切 Important

Good Food is really important to the people here. You can find many facts that argue in favor of this. For example television. If you zap through Japanese TV-channels you will most likely find several of them broadcasting about food. In fact there is a whole channel devoted to food and shopping channels are also mostly about selling food.
Secondly if you ask Japanese people, male and female, for their hobbies, not few of them will answer "eating". On the other hand will Japanese people immediately ask you: "What do you think about the Japanese Cuisine?" and when they tell you about travels to different places and countries, they will always first talk about food.

選別 Selection

Don't be mistaken and think Japanese Cuisine is only about rice and 寿司 (Sushi), it has by far the largest selection of food, I have ever seen within one country. If you for example go the top floors of shopping malls, you will most likely find about 10 - 15 restaurants, each selling different kinds of meals.

伝統 Tradition

Of course there are also several traditional or popular meals, that you will find anywhere across the country, such as for example

そば Soba (buckwheat noodles)
うどん Udon (thick noodles)
天ぷら Tmnpura (fried fish and vegetables)
天丼 Tendon (Tempura in a bowl with rice)
寿司 Sushi (raw fish)
カレー Curry
納豆 Nattou (fermented soy beans)
焼き鳥 焼肉 grill your food on your own place (the first ones says birds, but nowadays means fish, and the second one meat. But don't worry you can also get lots of vegetables)
しゃぶしゃぶ Japanese version of hot pot, boil your food in pots containing different 'soups' at your place
オムライス rice in an omelet like wrapper around rice
お好み焼き Okonomiyaki mix stuff you like together with some floor and make a big pancake out of it
お握り Onigiri rice balls wrapped with nori (seaweed) having some filling in the middle

But even these have no strict way of serving them, and you will find it different at each restaurant. In general however the two most important parts of the Japanese Cuisine are rice and fish. For the fish I can't tell you much, since me being vegetarian (菜食主義者) , I don't eat animals, but the rice nowadays bears some problems. At work we have a doctor for the whole building, which you can go to for asking questions and examinations, if you feel up to it. Having had this offer, I didn't say no and went to him. The doctor explained me the problem of Japanese rice:

ご飯 Rice

After WW2 white rice was something really precious and special, because it was a lot of work polishing the rice until it gets white. Today having machines and living in one of the most powerful economies of the world, it is no longer difficult. That might be the reason why today you get white rice everywhere and only white rice. Now the crucial point is, the doctor explained, that by polishing the rice until it gets white, the rice looses all the nutrition and vitamins. The positive side is for people desiring to loose weight, it doesn't give your body anything, so it doesn't make you thick. On the other hand, you can't live of it. For most people it is no huge problem, since they get most of what their body needs from fish. But for vegetarians and vegans, it is a problem. And still for the others it is no good either, since they easily could live much more healthy eating real rice.
This is really said, considering how much the Japanese love and value their rice. If they'd only return to the way they used to eat their rice before and right after WW2, it would be so much better for everyone...
So the doctor's advice for me was to eat more potatoes (which are really huge in Japan) and to get real natural rice from a natural store. And in fact I am planning to prepare some 玄米 (natural rice) for me everyday and take it with me in an お弁当 (~lunch) box. ;)

日本人は狂っている These Japanese Are Crazy

Oh yeah they are. For example I will tell you about 'German version' meals. They are very easy to prepare: You take any meal you like, e.g. Italian pasta, pizza or even Japanese meals like カレー or うどん and ... put a sausage on top. Voila you got yourself a German meal. Also really popular is German pizza with sausages on top.
But even apart from country version meals, you find really crazy stuff mostly in the same fashion. The standard recipe is to take a good old traditional meal and put a random amount of things on it (no matter how disgusting it may look afterwards). Apart from sausages you often find meals with a random burger on top.
They don't even stop before deserts. I've seen several parfaits which are mostly a big glass stuffed with random single deserts, like ice cream, yogurt, waffles, cereals , etc. All in one glass just stuffed together... Luckily for this one, and the one with the hamburger on top, I got pictures (see below).
Apart from this you will very often find japanized versions of meals. カレー Curry for example is completely unlike British or Inidan curry having been optimized to Japanese taste.

料理屋 Restaurants

Of course there are also many chains in Japan, but they are still outnumbered by little private owned restaurants. This adds to the broad selection of individual food, I mentioned above. Even though in Germany, we also have many many private restaurants they mainly serve the same meals. Here the key to the broad selection is that each restaurant specializes in one kind of food. It gets even nicer, when you leave the 'downtown' area and follow streets in any directions, because on the side you might find countless even smaller restaurants, which are mostly only one or two extra rooms in the house of a family or an old couple, which also serve food. Family business ;).
Although the prices go as far up as 6.000 円 per person (~45 Euro), they go as far down as 300 円 (~ 2 Euro). So it is really really common to eat in restaurants and instant food is still really uncommon, except for instant noodle soups. Although because of these partly cheap prices, it is in fact sometimes more expensive to cook by yourself.

日本にいる菜食主義者 A Vegetarian In Japan

Well I must admit that it is not as easy as I though, living in Japan as a vegetarian. I had set my hopes on a a rich variation on processed Tofu and soy beans in general. Alas such things apparently only exist outside of Japan. Here you can only get standard raw Tofu and nothing else. Even in restaurants it is hard to find vegetarian things. Most times I was lucky, either we had the freedom to take a restaurant, which had at least one vegetarian meal or I or some friend could explain the waiter, that it'd be nice if they could prepare some meal for me without meat and fish. This usually works in private restaurants and sometimes even in chains, which really cook by themselves. However in others, naturally, it doesn't.
I even encountered one waitress, which happened to never have heard the Japanese word for vegetarian (菜食主義者) before and could not figure out what it means, or for that what I mean, when I tried to explain it...
Another problem is that even if they know the word, they seem unable to grasp the concept of vegetarianism. So even after I explained that I cannot eat fish and meat, they still will give you a salad with bacon cubes inside. Of course reasoning as far as "this soup is made with soup stock, so it does contain fish" is too much for them. If you ask e.g. if Miso soup does contain fish, they will say no, although the it uses fish soup stock. This happens to me almost every time, I enter a restaurant and makes eating out with friends really tough for a vegetarian (and for the friends).

僧寺料理 Temple Food

Weeeee! Recently I have heard that there are places, where you can get vegetarian meals out of the believe not to harm or kill life. That is because in Japan, even if small now, in the past Buddhism had a major influence on the people. And deeply rooted in Buddhism is a deep respect for any kind of life, which encourages vegetarianism. So in open Buddhist temples apparently you can really get vegetarian food.

食事の委細 More On The Dishes

A common Japanese meal: Miso Soup, Tea, Rice, pickles + something

オムライス Omuraisu

オムライス, rice wrapped in a kind of omelet. And well for no reason at all, a burger on top ouwhah.


here's one of the parfaits I spoke about. Just take a couple of deserts and stick them together in a glass.

お好み焼き Okonomiyaki

Step 1: mix and mingle

Step 2: distribute it on your table plate

Step 3: bake it just like a pancake

You get Okonomiyaki in a bowl with all kinds of delicious stuff you like most, so no problem to get vegetarian ones. Than you put that stuff on a plate, that is actually your table and make it similar to a pancake. Finally you eat it topped with a delicious sauce and/or mayonnaise.

お握り Onigiri

Manu and me eating お握り in 川越 (Kawagoe)

お握り is usually in a triangle form with some or more のり (nori) as wrapper

in supermarkets and konbinis you always get completely wrapped up お握り

お握り (Onigiri) is a traditional Japanese dish. It can easily be taken on a journey or as a お弁当 (Obentou) for dinner to work/school. It basically consists of Japanese rice formed in the shape of a triangle and usually has nori as a wrapper. Sometimes you get it with filling in the rice.

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