Japanese food and drink, Tofu, Wasabe, Katsudon, Sushi, Beer and Sake

What is Japanese food like?

Well for a start, lots of the flavours and textures of Japanese food maybe completely alien to the average westerner and some will take getting used to. Let’s take Sushi as an example, as it’s the most recognized of all Japanese food.

Sushi is fish, wrapped in rice, which is steamed not boiled, then wrapped again in seaweed. If you get plain sushi, you may think Hmm, nice. However some of the sauces and dressing used taste very strange indeed. Take Wasabi, this is a very hot powder or sauce which is similar too mustard, but leaves a very bitter taste in your mouth and is quite hot. Another thing that takes your taste buds some getting used to is the taste of dried seaweed.

Some foods however are similar to western food in taste, only preparation is different.

Another of my Japanese food favourites is Shabu Shabu. This is cooked at the table you are eating from. A large boiling pot is placed in the center of the table and vegetables are added to the water in the pot. Also usually added is tofu, (looks like white rubber and is virtually tasteless, it s Soya bean curd). Now here´s the fun bit. The main part of the dish is meat, beef to be precise; this is usually cut very thinly (as thin as bacon).

Katsudon 
(Rice topped with pork cutlet cooked in egg)

Oden 
(Variety of fish cakes, bean curd cubes, seaweed, hard boiled egg, boiled in fish stock)

Oyako Domburi
(Rice topped with chicken and onion cooked in egg)

Ramen 
(Chinese noodles in pork broth with sliced pok, spinich and leeks)

Unaju
(Rice topped with broiled eel)

This is picked up as required with your chopsticks and dipped into the boiling water. You then move the chopsticks around, the noise made is shabba, shabba (so I’m told!), and therefore, hence the name. Then several seconds later you pull the meat out and its cooked. This is very healthy as the fat from the meat stays in the boiling pot of water.

You don’t eat directly from the pot as this is a little but unsanitory but you have a bowl which you put your vegatables and meat in once removed from the big cooking pot and you’ll usually have separate chopsticks for the cooking pot and eating with.

One thing you will find in Japan is that they eat a lot of fish. This is due to most of the cities having grown up around the coast of Japan. So, if your not a big fish eater then make sure your hosts know this and can buy food accordingly. I would however try some of the dishes as they are surprisingly nice (I am not a big fish eater either).

Eating out in Japan is relatively cheap if you eat at one of the chain restaurants located through out Japan but always check the menu before you go and order as the price sometimes varies greatly depending on the type of restaurant you visit.

There are lots of chain restaurants and they do offer good value for money, a meal for two can generally be got for a little over £15. With a few drinks.

Nigiri-Zushi
(Various Sushi)

Tonkatsu teishoku
(Breaded pork served with shredded cabbage, salad, soup and rice)

Kitsune-udon
(noodles in fish broth in fried bean curd and leek)

Traditional Japanese Breakfast

Coffee Shop breakfast

Of course, even if you don’t want to eat Japanese there are still plenty of alternatives. The usual fast food restaurants are in Japan, such as McDonalds, as well as a few American fast food restaurants such as Wendys and Mr Doughnuts. If you don’t want fast foods then you will find Italian, Chinese or Indian restaurants in most cities.

Most restaurants offer a drink top up service in the price of the drinks, so if the drinks look expensive its because you can keep going and getting more. This applies more to soft drinks than alcoholic beverages.

Beer and Sake

Cans of Kirin ClassicWhich brings me on to Alcohol quite nicely. First off is Japanese beer. Its no stronger than in the UK but I find the taste more refreshing than UK beer. Major brands include Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin and I cannot recommend which one is the best as I haven’t drunk enough of any of them to make a firm decision yet : )

Another drink to try in Japan is Sake.

Bottle of Hakutsuru SakeNow I am completely bias towards Sake as for me it is a really nice drink. Basically Sake is rice wine and therefore is around wine strength, around 12 – 16% vol. Their are a variety of different types of Sake, as with wine, they all have differening tastes. As with wine, and they get better the more expensive they go, (Ditto!). If you really want to sample Sake then don´t just go and buy a few bottles, goto a Sake bar. The best of these are usually hiding in the backstreets of the area you are staying in. Here you will not just find the local Sake´s but a selection of Sake from all over Japan. This is the best way as you can taste the Sake’s glass by glass. However this is the expensive way to drink Sake, but invaluable for finding your prefered taste. As different areas use different water and rice to produce their given sake. You could also visit a Sake Museum as some of the larger manufacturers have museums on their factory sites and sake can be tasted if you take one of the tours.

Sashimi teishoku
(Variety of sliced raw fish served with rice, soup and pickles)

Shabu Shabu
(Thinly sliced beef simmered with bean curd (Tofu) vermicilli and various vegatables)

Yakitori
(Small kebabs of chicken and vegatables grilled)

Yudofu teishoku
(Bean curd cubes served with a sauce, rice and soup)

Zaru-soba 
(cold noodles with dip sauce)

How to drink Sake

Sake is served at various temperatures depending on which food or which situation you are in.

“Joukan” is served around 50 degrees C.
“Nurukan” is warm sake, around 40 degrees C.
“Hitohadakan” is lukewarm sake, around 35 degrees C.
“Jouon” is served at room temperature.
“Reishu” is Sake served cold or chilled.

The greater the temperature of the sake the more the flavour and alcoholic effect increases as well as the dryness of the sake. A few glasses of Joukan sake will get you well oiled, well quick!

Sake is poured from a “Tokkuri”, which is a small jug used exclusively for sake, into either a “Ochoko” (hot sake) or a “Guinomi” (cold sake), which are small or large cups used for drinking sake.

Most Sake’s these days are mass produced but most breweries, both big and small will make a choice selection of traditional Sake, made the traditional way. This is a pretty involved proccess and I don’t understand it fully so have a look at this web page and you can see how the old-style and new-style of Sake production is done.

Hakutsuru History of “Sake” Brewing 
http://www.hakutsuru-sake.com/content/04.html

Personally I think the best Sake is Hakutsuru Sake from Osaka, as my wifes Uncle work’s here and I am always receiving samples of it to try when we visit 🙂

I think the best thing about Sake though, is I have never had a hangover off it and believe me when I say I have drunk lots in one evening.

The last thing to remember about drinking in Japan is that you DO NOT fill your own glass FIRST. Fill the glasses of others, then your own. Others will then repay the compliment.

Note:
If your thinking “I’ve seen Sake for sale in Sainsburys or Tesco, i’ll try that”. Dont bother the stuff that is sold in most UK supermarkets is of the same grade that the Japanese use to cook with. As my wife said about the sake in Tesco “Thats very cheap Sake and very poor quality even for cooking with!”

Tendon
(Rice topped with deep fried prawns)

Chirashi-zushi
(sliced raw fish over seasoned rice)

Curry rice
(Rice topped with curry stew)

Japanese Food Summary

If you get the chance to experience Japanese Food albeit at a restaurant or at a Japanese friends house, please take the opportunity as you will enjoy the majority of Japanese foods. Japanese curry is very nice as is any meats cooked the Japanese way.

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