The standard Japanese food consists of a carbohydrate like rice or a noodle, a serving of miso soup, as well as a dish of pickled vegetables, and, optionally, a meat or a fish dish. The most common carbohydrate is rice, but many different types of noodles are available, including udon (thick noodles), soba (medium noodles), and ramen (thin noodles). These carbohydrates are all very inexpensive and form the main backbone of the dish. Additionally, fish dishes are very popular parts of meals, because Japan has a long history of fishing and eating different seafoods like many island nations. These seafoods can include many different species of sea creature, such as a huge number of types of fish as well as squid, octopus, shellfish like oysters and mussels, and even eels.
The most common type of rice in Japan is sticky short grain rice. Rice has had a huge impact on Japanese culture, because the cultivation of rice requires very close coordination and cooperation among the members of a community, not just among the members of a single family as is the case with Western methods of farming. The two most popular varieties of rice in Japan are Koshihikari and Akita Komachi, but there are thousands of others. Some of these are for special uses, and others are premium artisanal brands that are used on special occasions. Because rice has been grown in Japan as the primary staple crop for so many thousands of years, many different food products made out of rice have been developed. These include rice wine (sake), rice crackers (senbei), and rice cakes (mochi). Rice is also combined with red beans (sekihan) as well as mild seafood and vegetables to make a wide variety of dishes. The Japanese equivalent of chicken soup that is, a heartwarming comfort food that is eaten when sick is watery rice porridge with a little salt. Another rice treat is onigiri, which you may have seen before these are triangular balls of rice wrapped in dried seaweed (nori) with a savory treat such as seafood, pork, or pickled vegetables in the center. These are one of the most popular picnic foods if you think about it, they are not that far from a sandwich, only with rice instead of bread. And like sandwiches, they often taken as an on the go food and can be found in convenience stores and some vending machines.
Noodles: Ramen, Udon, and Soba
Ramen noodles are thin noodles made from rice and eggs. They originated in China, and are still thought of as a traditionally Chinese food in Japan today. Ramen in Japan can pretty much be compared to pizza in America, with many different toppings being prevalent in different regions, and regional specialty ramen being very common place, much like how in America there is New York style pizza as well as Chicago deep dish. Some of the most popular ramen toppings include corn and butter ramen, which is popular in Sapporo, and sliced marinated roast pork known as tonkatsu, which is popular in Kyushu. However, unlike pizza parlors which are often cheap and dingy, many ramen restaurants are top notch. Almost 30 different ramen restaurants are listed as Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide, which means that they serve top notch food but have a limited menu or are only open for lunch. Even despite this, there is a tiny ramen restaurant in Tokyo called Tsuta that has a Michelin star despite having only 9 seats. Meals at this restaurant can cost over 1000 yen ?but that’s actually only about 10 dollars. Two of its ramen dishes are rosemary-flavored ramen and porcini mushroom shoyu ramen.
Another common type of noodle is udon. These big thick noodles are also traced historically to China, but they are considered a traditionally Japanese food at this point. Unlike the other noodles which are made from rice, udon is made from wheat. They are more of a main course than a lunch as they are thick and hearty, and are served with big toppings like raw eggs and deep friend tofu. Soba noodle is made from buckwheat, and is traditionally served cold with a dipping sauce, which is rather unusual for a noodle dish. Sliced green onions are served on the side along with wasabi. It is a traditional summer dish.
Seafood and Meat Dishes
Japan has much lower rates of heart disease than many Western nations, and part of the reason for this might be that they consume a lot of fish relative to most Western nations. The exception is the island of Sardinia, which has very long lifespans and surprise, surprise consumes a lot of fish. Fish is served both raw as sushi and sashimi, which is considered a fine delicacy, as well as grilled and fried. In addition to fish, other types of seafood commonly eaten include octopus, clams, and eels. Sushi is by far the most widely known fish dish from Japan, and there is a fascinating new type of sushi restaurant that sends rolls around the restaurant by a conveyer belt. Each roll costs 100 yen, which is about one dollar. These types of restaurants are considered quite similar to fast food restaurants, but sushi is much much healthier than a burger and fries. One thing that many people do not know about Japan is that it was illegal to eat meat there until the 1870s due to religious reasons. As Japan became more connected with the West and with the whole world, meat eating became more popular, but because of the long standing ban, meat eating is still not very popular in Japan overall. There are some traditional dishes like yakitori, which is a skewer of grilled chicken, and gyudon, which is a bowl of hot spiced minced beef, but many foreign cuisines are also popular, including Korean barbeque as well as hamburgers.
Soybeans and Soy Products
Another thing hugely crucial to Japanese cuisine is the soybean. Several very popular sauces and flavorings are derived from processed or fermented soybeans, including miso and soy sauce. Tofu is derived from soy bean curds and is a popular dish especially among vegetarians for its protein content.