Japanese cuisine is known around the world for its distinctive taste and appearance. Aesthetically pleasing displays of the varied dishes are considered just as important as the food itself. The mood of the season can often be felt in the dishes and they should give a sense of visual satisfaction. Each Japanese dish is artfully arranged in individual bowls, plates and dishes for each person. Often, all courses are presented at one time and eaten in no particular order.
Japan is surrounded by the sea and consists principally of four main islands. Her total size, location and population, all combine to demand that much of the people’s food come from the ocean and her world roving fishing fleets supply that need admirably. It is estimated that the average Japanese consumes 70lbs of seafood per year. Among the various methods of fish preparation, the most popular are to fry, or present them raw, as in sashimi or sushi. Perhaps sushi, bite sized pieces of fresh fish pressed onto a ball of vinegared rice and tempura, shrimp and vegetable coated with an egg batter and deep fried, are best known to westerners. Meat dishes were introduced in the last century as a new ‘western cuisine’.
Japanese culinary tradition has been much influenced by that of Korea and China. Buddhism arrived via Korea in the 6th century and the eating of meat was discouraged. Chopsticks and soy sauce came from China in the 8th century. The introduction to Japan of Zen Buddhism in the 13th century held as one of its tenets strict adherence to vegetarianism and the consumption of meat was banned until about a hundred years ago. During the course of her long history, nearly every part of Japan developed its own delightful regional food specialties and the people became skilled in preparing a number of beef dishes. Sukiyaki is one of the most widely enjoyed of such distinctive Japanese dished.
Today, Japanese restaurants are spreading throughout the USA and the rest of the world. In spite of the fact that many people enjoy Japanese foods, they may be reluctant to try making them at home. Perhaps it is because of they lack the knowledge and skills necessary, or feel hindered by the limited availability of ingredients. Japanese cooking doesn’t have to be a complicated task. There are many one-pot dishes, cooked at the table somewhat like fondue and these tend to create an intimate and cosy setting. Preparation orderly beforehand at the table of utensils and ingredients leaves you time to enjoy your company, rather than being stuck in the kitchen.
There are many cookery books in the shops dedicated to helping the uninitiated prepare, cook and serve the most delicious of Japanese dishes (also suggesting alternative ingredients if you cannot find the original in your local grocery store) and therefore amazing guests and family alike. My favorite books are the ones that give serving suggestions and appropriate table etiquette. Follow the directions and you can be assured of consistently good results and bring a little of Japan into your home.