Japanese Food

Sushi

Sushi is white Japanese rice mixed with vinegar, salt and other ingredients usually topped with raw fish. Vinegar is used for sour taste as well as preservation to keep the freshness of sushi.

It is said that modern sushi was created by Yohei Hanaya during the Edo Period in the 19th century. Today Sushi is still referred to as Edomae Sushi as sushi was made with fish caught from Edo Mae (Tokyo Bay) in the Edo Period.

Clumps of rice, formed by sushi chefs and topped with raw fish, is called Nigiri Sushi. Raw fish alone is called sashimi and different from sushi. Sushi rolled around dried seaweed is called Maki Sushi. A big bowl of sushi rice with scattered toppings is called Chirashi Sushi.

Nigirizushi comes with sushi rice usually topped with raw fish with wasabi (bitter green paste). There is a variety of raw fish used for nigirizushi and a popular menu includes tuna, shrimp, squid, salmon, and yellowtail tuna.

Gunkanmaki, a special type of Makizushi, comes with sushi rice topped with raw fish or other ingredients wrapped by Nori (dried seaweed). Ikura (salmon roe) and Uni (Sea urchin) are very popular Gunkanmaki. Sushi generally comes in pairs, but some sushi restaurants serve just one piece so you may want to confirm when ordering.

The price varies depending on the types of fish. For instance, the price of Ootoro (fatty tuna) could be more than double or triple of regular tuna. The price also varies on the type of sushi restaurants. The price is quite reasonable at Kaiten Sushi restaurants that serve sushi in small plate revolving in front of customers tables and customers can pick any dishes they like. A pair of tuna piece cost around 150 Yen or 1.5 USD.

On the other hand, fatty tuna can cost more than 1,500 Yen or 15 USD (usually market price so it can be more expensive) at prestigious sushi restaurants such as Kyubei in Ginza, Tokyo. Gunkanmaki was actually created by Kyubei and many rich executives go to the restaurant to enjoy the best class of sushi.

Sashimi

Sashimi is a slice of fresh seafood usually served together with soy sauce (dipping sauce), green paste wasabi and shredded radish and carrot.  Sashimi literally means “pierced body” and it is said that the word came from the traditional way of sticking fish’s fin to slice their meat to prepare sashimi.

Unless the fish is being sliced immediately, it is important to place the fish in ice to keep them fresh without being degraded.  Sashimi is often confused as a part of sushi, but sashimi is easier to prepare by basically slicing the fish in raw meat.  Meanwhile, sushi comes with vinegared rice topped by raw fish and sometimes cooked fish or other ingredients.

Sashimi is usually a part of Japanese course dishes and any Japanese people eat sashimi as a main dish of dinner together with a rice bowl and miso soup. in general, sashimi is dipped into soy sauce often mixed with wasabi to eat.  Wasabi not only ads hot flavor to sashimi, but also kill hazardous bacteria present in raw fish to prevent potential food poisoning.

The most popular sashimi in Japan is tuna and other popular sashimi are octopus, salmon, squid, yellow tails and puffer fish. Octopus is sometimes cooked a bit enough to make it chewy. Pufferfish sashimi, known as “fugusashi”, is one of the most expensive sashimi and needs to be prepared carefully by experts as it contains Tetrodotoxin, a life-threatening poison. Sashimi also comes well with nighttime alcohol such as beer and Japanese sake.

Freshness is very important in Japanese sashimi and ikezukuri is the freshest sashimi. Ikezukuri literally means “prepared alive” and sashimi is prepared from a living fish. Some prestigious Japanese restaurants have a bf transparent fish tank and customers can pick living fish and slice their meats while fish is still alive and moving.

One of the most popular ikezukuri is called Odori Ebi which literally means dancing shrimp.  Live shrimp is quickly dipped into Japanese sake to kill bacteria and customers eat them which can still move around in the mouth.

Tempura

Tempura is deep fried seafood, meat and vegetables and one of the most popular Japanese food. Tempura was not actually originated in Japan and it was introduced by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. It is said that the word “tempura” actually came from the Portuguese word, “tempero” which literally means spicy condiment.

Tempura became widely popular during the Edo Period as Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of Tokugawa shogunate, loved tempura. Today there are many tempura restaurants in Japan ranging from inexpensive chain restaurants such as Tenya to prestigious restaurants often located inside five-star hotels. Tempura is also used for a part of other Japanese food such as maki sushi combined with rice wrapped by Nori (dried seaweed) known as “Tenmusu”.

To make delicious tempura, batter which is basically a mix of tempura flour and water is quite important. Some other ingredients such as baking oil and spices may be added. Tempura batter is usually kept cold with ice. If tempura batter is not well prepared like putting in too much water, tempura may come out watery and chewy.

Seafood or slices of vegetables are dipped in a light batter and briefly dipped in hot tempura oil until tempura becomes hot and crispy. Many tempura restaurants use sesame oil to make tempura crispy. Tea seed oil is also used by some tempura restaurants.  Oil temperature is usually set around 150 Celsius degree. Tempura should not be dipped in the oil too long and cooking time is in general only a few seconds.

Tempura usually comes with tempura sauce called “tentsuyu” and grated radish.  It is better to dip in the tempura sauce and eat it immediately once hot and crispy tempura is served. Tempura is used to other Japanese food such as kakiage which is a fritter mixed of vegetable strips and seafood.

Kakiage may be served on top of Japanese soba or udon, known as kakiage soba. Shrimp tempura is also served on top of Japanese soba called ten soba or tempura udon. Other popular Japanese food using tempura is a tendon which is a bowl of steamed rice topped by shrimp and some vegetable tempura.

Soba

Soba is thin Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour. Soba made from newly harvested buckwheat is called shin soba or new soba which has more rich tastes than the old one and many soba fans look forward to eating them during the harvest period.

Buckwheat flour is battered many times and then sliced into thin noodles to prepare soba. Soba can be served in multiples ways as they can come in hot soup noodles topped by some ingredients or comes with a cold dipping soba sauce. Soba is served in many locations from fast food soba restaurants chains to prestigious soba restaurants.

There are many fast food soba restaurants at the train stations where people eat soba standing quickly, usually around 10 minutes. Dried soba is sold at the supermarket and people can prepare hot or cold soba at home. Many Japanese people eat soba over new year known as Toshikoshi soba as a way of new year’s wish.

Soba is usually served in hot soy-based soup, but cold soba is also popular during summer. Cold soba is served on bamboo tray known as Zaru soba together with a cold dipping sauce usually garnished with dried nori (seaweed), negi (onion) and wasabi. Extra toppings can be added to both hot and cold soba such as tempura and deep-fried tofu.

Same toppings can also be served on top of udon which is another popular Japanese noodles and is thicker than soba. Soba restaurants in Japan usually have udon menu as well and serve the same toppings. Soba is eaten with chopsticks and it is not so impolite to make a noise when eating soba.