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Japanese Food History and List Menu Terms
Art and Nature
Japanese food used to be a rarity in this country away from the west coast. After WWII gradually we started seeing Japanese restaurants and, bit by bit this unique cuisine has made inroads in all parts of America. There are only a handful of dishes which have gained wide popularity here, but the cuisine, in skilled hands, is magnificent; artistic, with a foundation built on the Japanese philosophy of harmony with nature. Preparing the freshest foods at their peak of ripeness is the hallmark of this cuisine. Elaborate sauces and joining complementary flavors as in European cuisines takes a back seat to freshness and presentation. The goal of Japanese cooking is to retain the natural tastes of food with the least amount of interference with nature. Japanese chefs were carving and arranging foods long before it became a fad with American chefs. Japanese arrangements have a symbolism so that dishes represent ideas. While an American chef may make some swirls of sauce with a squeeze bottle, an accomplished Japanese chef may carve a dragon out of a daikon or arrange paper-thin slices of fish to represent the feathers of a bird or petals of a flower.
Japanese Song: Going to a Convenience Store
Sushi may be the one iconic Japanese food we are all familiar with and even the chain supermarkets have some pre-made sushi in the refrigerated section. Many people think the word “sushi” refers to raw fish, but the term actually refers to any dish made with vinegared rice; and, while raw fish is one traditional sushi ingredient, many sushi dishes contain cooked seafood, and others have no seafood at all. While raw fish is usually served with sushi rice the raw fish itself is called sashimi. Sushi can be made with a number of other ingredients, which may be raw or cooked, including seafood, vegetables, and served with fiery Japanese horseradish known as wasabi. Wasabi itself is quite expensive and much of what we see is American horseradish, which has been colored to look like wasabi. There are many names for types and preparations of sushi. For a complete list, see the link for sushi language.
Korea and China are the biggest historical players in developing Japanese cuisine with immigrants from these lands bringing farming practices and plants with them. For centuries, Japan had a cultural aversion to foreigners and this continues even today. The result was that the Japanese had the time to develop their cuisine with relatively little influence from abroad. Around 400 BC, first rice, then soybeans and wheat were introduced from China. The Yangtze delta in China is considered the source for the cultivation of rice in Japan. Only short-grain rice was known in Japan. Although long-grain rice was common in the rest of Southeast Asia, the Japanese developed prejudices about rice that continue to the present. For the Japanese, long-grain rice is regarded as inferior and unpalatable. Rice became the staple source of carbohydrate calories, while soy and wheat became an integral part of Japanese cooking. Millet is an important staple in parts of Japan where the rice harvest is poor.
A traditional meal in Japan consists of boiled plain rice, called gohan or meshi, and seasoned side dishes, called okazu. Tea, chopsticks and a number of other important food related items were also introduced from China. The main sources of protein came from the sea in this island nation and Japan continues to use all manners of food from the sea. No chairs were used in Japan before the the latter half of the twentieth century. Diners sat either on tatami (straw mats) or on the wooden floor. Tableware consisted of lacquered wooden bowls and trays until the 16th century when china began to be used. At ceremonial feasts, lacquered woodenware is still the preferred service. Rituals and complicated manners for using tableware and chopsticks evolved from formal feasts.
Religion, Tradition, Vegetarians and Seafood
Religion has played a large role in setting Japanese diets. Shinto is the native religion of Japan, with origins at least as far back as 500 B.C. Buddhism came to these islands around 67 A.D. moving across the islands until Japan became a Buddhist nation. There is some disagreement between modern scholars and Buddhists as to whether or not Buddhism demands vegetarianism but by 675 A.D., Emperor Temmu issued a decree prohibiting the eating of cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys, and chickens. The number of regulated meats increased over the years to the point that all mammals were included except whales, which were categorized as fish. There is no doctrinal prohibition against eating meat in Shintoism but they adopted some of the vegetarian ideals of Buddhism early on. As a result, Japanese food has a strong basis in vegetarianism. Land was regarded as necessary for growing rice, vegetables and fruit. Using it for cattle or other animals was considered wasteful. Seafood has always been abundant for Japan and has influenced the famous dishes we enjoy today, sukiyaki began as a way to cook fish before it became a beef dish.
Mongolian Hot Pot
Cattle were introduced to Japan via the Korean peninsula in the second century A.D., initial used as draft animals in the cultivation of rice paddies. In wartime, however, soldiers were given beef to build up their strength for battle. Developing an appetite for beef, when the soldiers returned home, they cooked it on plowshares over hot coals outside the house because it was considered a sacrilege and desecration to the household to cook it indoors. The literal meaning of sukiyaki is "grilling (yaki) on a plowshare (suki)." It wasn’t until the 19th century that beef Sukiyaki began to play a big part in Japanese cuisine. The dish bears similarity to Mongolian Hot Pot cookery and may owe its origins to the Mongols but the history is sketchy. The first sukiyaki restaurant, Isekuma, opened in Yokohama in 1862.
During the 15th century meat eating became accepted once again and now Japan raises the most expensive beef in the world. Kobe, Matsuzaka, Maeda and Omi beefs are famous for their taste, tenderness, marbling and high prices. The cattle for Japan's top beef come almost exclusively from the Tajima Valley in Hyogo Prefecture. These cows have official papers with their nose print and information on their bloodlines that goes back several generations. The ancestors of these cattle are said to have arrived from Korea in the 5th century B.C. There is a record of Omi beef from Shiga Prefecture, marinated in soybean paste, being given to the Tokugawa shogunate between 1781 and 1788.
Cooking with oil, whether frying, sautéing or deep-frying is a relatively recent cooking innovation in Japan. In the absence of meat, lard was not available and vegetable oils were only available in limited amounts and were reserved for illumination. Early Portuguese Jesuits and traders, who introduced deep-frying in oil during the latter half of the sixteenth century, brought tempura to Japan. Lacking meat and dairy in the diet made the Japanese averse to oily foods so tempura and beef were slow to take hold. There are numerous ideas of the origin of the word tempura, which we will not address here. During this period noodles also became popular in Japan; soba, noodles made of buckwheat and udon, noodles made of wheat are the primary types and anyone who uses ramen today owes thanks to the Japanese
Glossary A thru C
Abalone a Gastropod Mollusk found along the coastlines of California, Mexico and Japan. The edible portion is the adductor muscle, a broad foot by which the abalone clings to rocks. The meat is tough and must be pounded to tenderize it before cooking. Abalone, used widely in Chinese and Japanese cooking, can be purchased fresh, canned, dried or salted.
Abura-age: fried tofu slices. Abura means oil and age means frying in Japanese.
Aemono. Cold foods in vinegar dressing or sauces. Sauces are frequently based on pureed tofu but there are many variations. Ae means mixing and mono means things in Japanese.
Aeru: mixing with sauce or dressing.
Agar agar: See Kanten
Agari: hot green tea in the lingo used in sushi restaurants. When a customer finishes the food, the sushi shop serves a fresh cup of green tea as the last dish, this ending is called 'agari' You don't say agari when you drink green tea at home
Age: deep fried.
Agemono: deep-fried dishes in Japanese cuisine. Age means deep-frying and mono means things in Japanese.
Amiyaki: cooked over a wire grill.
Amiyaki Surume: Seasoned dried squid
An, Anko, and Ogur are names for sweet adzuki bean paste.
- Tsubuan ,whole red beans boiled with sugar but otherwise untreated
- Tsubushian, the beans are mashed after boiling
- Koshian, has been passed through a sieve to remove bean skins; the most common type
- Sarashian has been dried and reconstituted with water
Anmitsu: dessert made from agar-agar, an, and sugar. It is made of small cubes of agar jelly, dissolved with water or fruit juice to make the jelly. It is served in a bowl with sweet azuki bean paste or anko, boiled peas, often gyūhi and a variety of fruits. Anmitsu usually is served with a small pot of sweet syrup, or mitsu (the mitsu part of anmitsu) which one pours onto the jelly before eating.
Azuki: a small red bean, adzuki.
Ban gohan: Dinner
Batayaki: "Butter broiled dish" is a type of Sukiyaki, prepared in the special pan with beef and various vegetables, soy sauce and radish mixture.
Battera-zushi: Osaka-style pressed and molded mackerel sushi.
Bento: traditional boxed lunch. They say that a Chinese dish you eat by taste, a western dish by aroma and a Bento by color.
Botamochi a sweet treat made with sweetened rice and adzuki (red bean) paste. They are made by soaking sweet rice for approximately six hours. The rice is then cooked, and a thick azuki paste is hand-packed around pre-formed balls of rice.
Bubuzuke: When a Kyoto native asks if a guest wants to eat bubuzuke, it really means that the person has overstayed and is being politely asked to leave. See chazuke
Castella: is a popular Japanese sponge cake made of sugar, flour, eggs, and starch syrup, very common at festivals and as a street food.
O-cha: green tea (the -o is an honorific).
Chankonabe: is a Japanese stew (a type of nabemono or one-pot dish) eaten by sumo wrestlers as part of a weight gain diet
Chawan: a general term for a rice bowl as well as a tea bowl used for preparing and drinking matcha (powdered green tea) in the Japanese tea ceremony
Chawanmushi: literally "tea cup steam" or "steamed in a tea bowl") is an egg custard dish that uses the seeds of ginkgo.
Chazuke: from o + cha: tea + tsuke: submerge. Rice and various toppings, over which green tea is poured. Eaten much as we eat cereal with milk. In Kyoto, ochazuke is known as bubuzuke. When a Kyoto native asks if a guest wants to eat bubuzuke, it really means that the person has overstayed and is being politely asked to leave.
Chikuwa: tube shaped, hollow fish cake made from ingredients like fish surimi, salt, sugar, starch, monosodium glutamate and egg white
Chirashisushi: assorted raw fish on a bed of vinegared rice. See link for sushi vocabulary
Chuka soba: Long dried Japanese noodles made from wheat flour or buckwheat and wheat. Usually packaged in brick form, similar to ramen noodles. Often used as a substitute for ramen noodles.
Hashi: the commonly used word for chopsticks
Glossary D thru I
Daikon: a large white, carrot shaped Japanese radish.
Dango: small, round dumplings, made from rice flour, usually served on a stick.
Dashi: a soup stock made from kelp and fish see Miso
Dengaku: A traditional Japanese dish; pieces of tofu or konnyaku are skewered (usually) then broiled or grilled and topped with sweet miso sauce.
Donburi: Oversized rice bowls are called donburi, also a donburi meal is a big bowl full of hot steamed rice with various savory toppings:
Edamame: pods of soybeans, boiled and salted and eaten as a snack, often to accompany beer
Enoki: long, thin, white mushrooms.
Fugu: blowfish, a highly prized sashimi delicacy. The liver of blowfish is highly toxic and every year, deaths occur from the improper preparation.
Futomaki fat roll,futo means fat, maki is roll. Futomaki is a colorful sushi roll
Gari: sliced pickled ginger usually eaten between dishes of sushi, as it is said to help cleanse the palate.
Genmai: brown rice.
Gobō: burdock root. The root is very crisp and has a mild, and pungent flavor with a little harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienned/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes.
Gohan: formal word for cooked rice, also meaning "meal" (the informal word "meshi" can also be used).
Goma: sesame seeds.
Gyoza: Dumplings or pot-stickers of meat or vegetables from Chinese cuisine.
Gyūhi is a form of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet). Gyūhi is a softer variety of mochi and both are made from either glutinous rice or from mochiko which is glutinous rice flour. Gyūhi is a form of Turkish delight, made from glutinous rice and sugar, flavoured with rosewater or lemon.
Hashi: the commonly used word for chopsticks.
Hijiki: a variety of seaweed. Hijiki is a traditional food in Japan for centuries. Hijiki is rich in dietary fiber and essential minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium.
Hiyashi-bachi: served chilled in a bowl with ice and cold water.
Hiyayakko: cold tofu served with various toppings during summer.
Iidako: baby octopus
Ikura: salmon roe.
Inari-zushi: fried tofu pockets filled with sushi rice.
Glossary K thru M
Kabayaki: grilled eel on skewers.
Kabu: a small, round, white Japanese turnip, been grown for over 1300 years. This turnip is much smaller than the version commonly found in the United States. The vegetable is a good source of calcium vitamin C and fiber.
Kaiseki ryori: elaborate Kyoto style cuisine, referring to the fancy meal served at banquets
Kanpyō strips of dried calabash gourd, used for tying foods placed in stews.
Kanten: Also known as agar and agar agar, gelatin derived from seaweed, used mostly in making desserts.
Kappa-maki: sushi rice, rolled with a filling of Japanese cucumbers.
Katsuobushi dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna sometimes referred to as bonito). Katsuobushi and kombu are the main ingredients of dashi, a broth that forms the basis of many soups (such as miso soup) and sauces
Kinoko: generic term for mushrooms.
Kinrui is used as a generic term for fungi but the terms "kinoko" prevails in most uses.
Kissaten: coffee shop.
Kome: Raw rice
Konnyaku: a traditional Japanese jelly-like health food made from a kind of potato called "Konnyaku potato" and calcium hydroxide or oxide calcium extracted from eggshell
Kombu or konbu: kelp - used in making dashi (soup stock). Cultivated on ropes in the seas of Japan and Korea. Over 90 percent of Japanese kombu is cultivated, mostly in Hokkaidō, but also as far south as the Seto Inland Sea.
Konnyaku: a gelatinous substance made from the "devils-tongue" tuber. It is also used as a vegan substitute for gelatin.
Kyuri: long and thin, Japanese cucumber.
Maguro: A genus of tuna.
Matcha: powdered green tea. In Japan the Japanese tea ceremony is the ritual of serving, and drinking of matcha.
Matsunoyuki literally pine snow is a Japanese sweet made by sprinkling ground caramel on to a dark green gyūhi in the shape of a pine tree. Matsunoyuki is intended to illustrate snow on a pine tree, a symbol of long life and a strong life force.
Meshi: informal word for cooked rice (can also mean "meal.")
Mirin: sweetened cooking sake.
Miso: fermented soybean paste.
Miso soup: is a traditional Japanese soup consisting of a stock called "dashi" into which is mixed softened miso paste. Many other ingredients are added depending on preference.
Mizutaki: Japanese Sukiyaki dish putting the sliced beef, vegetables, bean curd and others in the boiling soup, and seasoning them them with PONZU
Mochi: Pounded rice cakes prepared by pounding steamed glutinous rice with a mortar and pestle, are indispensable for Japanese ceremonial feasts.
Mochiko: is glutinous rice flour
Mori-soba: a cold soba noodle (buckwheat noodles) dish served with a dipping sauce called soba tsuyu.
Myoga: variety of ginger, Flower buds and shoots are finely shredded and used in Japanese cuisine as a garnish
How To Make Oden
How to Make Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)
Glossary N thru R
Nabemono: quick cooked stew.
Nasu: Japanese eggplant.
Natto: sticky fermented soybeans, a rich source of protein and probiotics.
Nigirizushi: "hand-formed sushi" consists of a small rectangular mound ofsushi rice with raw fish draped over it.
Nihonshu: specific word for rice wine (sake), in Japan, sake is a word for alcoholic beverages in general.
Nimono: foods stewed in sake and soy sauce.
Nori: The black wrapper we often see on sushi rolls is a dried seaweed called Nori which is processed much like paper into edible sheets.
Nuka: rice bran used for pickling, Japanese people also add it to the water when boiling bamboo shoots and use it for dish washing
Oden: a Japanese one-pot winter dish in which ingredients are simmered in soy sauce based soup.
Ohagi, or botamochi, are sweet rice balls which are usually made with glutious rice.
Oishii: word meaning delicious.
Okowa: cooked glutinous rice
Okazu A side dish to accompany rice. Made from fish, meat, vegetable, or tofu and designed to add flavor to the rice. In modern Japanese cuisine, Okazu can accompany noodles in place of rice.
Okonomiyaki: egg "pancakes" containing many ingredients such as diced seafood, vegetables, or meat, that are grilled and topped with a savory sauce. The name is derived from the wordokonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", andyaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked"
Oshinko: pickle daikon or other pickled vegetables ("fresh fragrence").
Onigiri also known as omusubi or rice ball, is made from white rice formed into triangular or oval shapes and often wrapped in nori. filled with salty or sour ingredients as a natural preservative.
Osechi ryoori: traditional New Year's food.
Otsumami: See sakana
Ponzu is a flavored soy sauce made by simmering mirin, rice vinegar, katsuobushi flakes, and seaweed (konbu) over medium heat. The liquid is then cooled, strained to remove the katsuobushi flakes, and finally the juice of one or more of the following citrus fruits is added: yuzu, sudachi, daidai, kabosu, or lemon.
Ramen: Chinese style egg noodles.
Renkon: lotus root.
Robatayaki: restaurant specializing in grilled foods,where customers sit around an open hearth on which chefs grill seafood and vegetables. The fresh ingredients are displayed for customers to point at whenever they want to order.
Sukiyaki the very traditional Japanese Cuisine
How to Eat Sushi at a Restaurant
Sunomono (Cucumber Salad) Recipe - Japanese Cooking 101
Saba: mackerel. (Also in Western cuisine saba is a syrup made from grape must)
Sakana: Side dishes served when drinking sake are calledsakanaand smaller dishes are calledotsumami. Because fish, especially dried fish, was a popular choice for these dishes, over the years the termsakana also came to mean "fish".
Sake: in Japanese, sake or o-sake refers to alcoholic drinks in general. The Japanese term for the “rice wine” we know is Nihonshu meaning "Japanese sake". Although we call sake rice wine the brewing method is more like beer than wine.
O-sake: rice wine ("nihon-shu"), the -o is an honorific.
Sashimi: raw fish served without rice.
Satoimo: a small, round, potato like taro root ("country potato"). We see taro as elephant ears in southern gardens. Taro, roots and leaves are toxic when raw but are a major staple around the world and was a staple in Japan before rice took its place. The corms are roasted, baked or boiled and the natural sugars give a sweet nutty flavour. The starch is easily digestible and grains are fine and small and often used for baby food. The leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C and contain more protein than the corms.
Shabu-shabu:Another variant of hot pot cooking, thin slices of beef quick cooked in broth with vegetables.
Shari: see sushi meshi
Shiitake: Japan's best known mushroom, usually grown on dead logs.
Shiru wan soup bowl
Shiso: the green perilla leaf, (also called "beefsteak leaf). a member of the mint family usually served with sashimi Purple shiso leaf is highly prized for it's use in pickles and is thought to act as a preservative.
Shoyu: soy sauce.
Shungiku: chrysanthemum leaves, edible and used in stews. Overcooking should be avoided since it easily loses the structure
Soba: buckwheat noodles. A favorite served hot or cold.
soba-tsuyu, is a strongly flavored chilled dipping sauce, made of dashi, mirin, and shoyu.
Somen: very thin, white flour noodles served cold in summer.
Sukiyaki: FamousJapanese dish that consists of thinly sliced beef, tofu and vegetables in sugared soy sauce mixed with sweet sake (mirin) in the nabemono ("one-pot") style. The thinly-sliced beef is browned in the pan, then the broth is poured in and the other ingredients added in layers and boiled. Only the cutting of ingredients is done in kitchen while the cooking is carried out in a shallow saucepan on the dinner table.
Sunomono Vinegared dishes are called sunomono as su means vinegar in Japanese.
There are mainly three types of vinegar dressings for sunomono:
Ama-zu Vinegar, Sugar, Salt
Nibai-zu Vinegar, Soy Sauce
Sanbai-zu Vinegar, Soy Sauce, Mirin or Sugar
The rice used in sushi dishes, made by tossing freshly cooked rice with a dressing made of vinegar, sugar and salt The rice-dressing mixture is fanned to cool quickly.
About Wagashi(Japanese sweets)
Fake Versus Real Wasabi
Glossary T thru Z
Takenoko: bamboo shoots
Tara: A North Pacific species of cod, G. macrocephalus, is very similar in appearance to the Atlantic form
Tataki: Beef Tataki is a typical Japanese preparation in which beef (or fish) is seared on the outside, left very rare inside, thinly sliced and served with ponzu sauce (citrusy soy sauce.) A crispy salad of radishes and carrot matchsticks and sliced onion accompanies the beef or fish.
Tuna tataki is prepared slightly differently. A piece of Ahi tuna is marinated in a soy/mirin/rice vinegar/sake mixture for several hours, then seared each side of the cut. Remove from the heat immediately and chill until cold. Some do this by plunging it into a bowl of ice water to stop it from cooking further. Then simmer the marinade while adding a bit of sugar, chilled it quickly in the freezer and marinated the filet for another hour or so before slicing thin and serving with the marinade as a dipping sauce.
Tekka makizushi: rolled sushi made with raw tuna.
Tendon: rice topped with tempura fried shrimp.
Tenpura: lightly batter-fried seafood and vegetables.
Tofu: Soybean curd. is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks. It is of Chinese origin but widely used in Japan.
Tori: chicken (meat)
Toso or o-toso, is spiced medicinal sake traditionally drunk during New Year celebrations in Japan and thought to bring good luck and health for the coming year.
Tsukemono: Japanese style pickled vegetables. The most common kinds of tsukemono are pickled in salt or brine.
Tsukudani is a dish made of seafood, meat or seaweed that has been simmered in soy sauce and mirin.
Udon isa type of thick wheat-flour noodle popular in Japanese cuisine. Udon is usually served hot in a mildly flavoured noodle soup.
Ume (Prunus mume) is a species of fruit-bearing tree in the genus Prunus, closely related to the apricot.
Umeboshi are pickled ume fruits common in Japan.
Wagashi is a traditional Japanese confectionery which is often served with tea, typically made from natural ingredients. The names used for wagashi commonly fit a formula—a natural beauty and a word from ancient literature
Wakame: a variety of edible seaweed, grown for hundreds of years in Japan and Korea and it has been nominated as among 100 of the world's worst invasive species according to the Global Invasive Species Database. Studies conducted at Hokkaido University have found that fucoxanthin a compound found in wakame can help burn fatty tissue.
Waribashi: Disposable wooden chopsticks.
Wasabi: very hot, green Japanese horseradish.
Yasai: generic term for vegetable.
Yosenabe: a one pot dish made from whatever is available.
Yudofu: tofu simmered in hot water along with kombu seaweed.
Yuzu: Citrus fruit that looks a bit like a very small grapefruit with an uneven skin, yellow when ripe. It is rarely eaten as a fruit, but its aromatic zest is used to garnish some dishes, and its juice is used as a seasoning, somewhat like the way we use lemon
Zaru: A perforated bamboo tray often used to serve cold soba
Zaru soba: cold soba on a zaru tray, with a topping of nori strips.