Traditional cuisine in Japan is a detailed and complex variety of different taste sensations. In addition to the wide spectrum of tastes and flavours on offer, the techniques to prepare and present traditional dishes elevate the world of cooking to an art form.
The vast majority of these traditional delicacies can be found in every corner of Japan, with certain ingredients changing depending on the region. The best way to enjoy them all is to dive in and say yes to the culinary adventure, safe in the knowledge that the utmost care and pride is taken in the preparation and presentation of these iconic dishes.
Kaiseki cuisine is as much a form of art as it is a meal. It is a multiple-course dinner that consists of up to 15 small dishes, usually made from local fish and vegetables but also meat. The ingredients are often seasonal and the dishes are arranged to reflect particular themes. Originally designed to complement tea ceremonies, kaiseki has evolved over centuries to become a standalone traditional event of great importance, as when one enjoys the cuisine it is said you are at one with nature.
Sushi is perhaps the most instantly recognisable of all traditional Japanese cuisine. Whilst most westerners know sushi to mean raw rish, the word actually refers to the vinegared rice that is used, so some types of sushi contain ingredients other than fish; the raw fish alone is known as sashimi. Sushi’s most familiar style comes in the form of a small piece of raw seafood placed on top of a ball of vinegared rice, known as nigiri-zushi. Maki-zushi (rolled-sushi) is the wrapped version where raw seafood and vinegared rice are wrapped in a sheet of nori (dried seaweed). Of course, today one can enjoy sushi in most corners of the globe, and it has adjusted over time to suit local palates – but nothing beats enjoying sushi as prepared by the true masters of the art in Japan.
Sashimi is sliced raw fish or seafood, usually eaten with soy sauce, ginger and wasabi. The most commonly used seafood for sashimi is tuna, salmon, and mackerel, as well as squid, octopus, and scallop. However, sashimi can also include beef, horse, and deer. The slices of sashimi are often presented atop of a bed of shredded daikon (radish), and are best enjoyed when paired with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger. Sashimi is a popular dish to serve within a larger kaiseki meal.
Sukiyaki is a form of traditional cuisine that is as fun as it is delicious. Prepared at the dining table, you’ll enjoy a mouth-watering combination of flavours in this hot pot of meat, vegetables, tofu and vermicelli in a sweet-soy broth. The swiftly-cooked ingredients are then dipped in raw egg before eating. Truly a traditional delicacy.
Similar to Sukiyaki in that it is prepared on the dining table, shabu-shabu sees you pick up tender, thin slices of beef or pork with chopsticks and swish them around in a pot of boiling water. The experience is made truly delicious once you dip the flash-cooked meat in sauce. This traditional delicacy is named shabu-shabu as that’s the sound the ingredients make as they swish about in the boiling water.
Tempura is the iconic Japanese delicacy in which prawn, fish, and vegetables that are battered in a mixture of egg, wheat flour, and water and then deep-fried in vegetable oil. Introduced to Japan by visiting Portuguese traders in the 16th century, the artful form of eating has evolved into an iconic cuisine. Don’t forget to add the ball of shredded daikon radish to the sauce for added depth of flavour, and dip your tempura in before eating!
Yakitori are small pieces of chicken, liver or vegetables skewered on a bamboo stick and grilled over hot coals. Most commonly served as chicken, the delicious bite-sized portions are often coated in tare sauce or seasoned with salt and Japanese spices like shichimi, Japanese pepper.
Not unlike the beloved schnitzel, tonkatsu is a piece of pork cutlet rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Unlike schnitzel, which is often a hearty serve that takes up an entire plate, tonkatsu is sliced into pieces and served alongside shredded cabbage, often with a miso soup. Often found in the popular bento boxes, tonkatsu is best enjoyed with a delicious tonkatsu sweet and salty sauce, in a curry, or even a sandwich.
Soba and Udon
Perhaps the most famous of all Japanese noodles, udon is a thicker white noodle made from wheat flour. Udon’s tasty cousin soba is a thin grey-brown noodle made from buckwheat flour. Both can be served in a broth as a soup, or on their own to be dipped into a sauce, called tsuyu before eating. Udon is most commonly found in hot soup, whereas soba is traditionally enjoyed cold for dipping.