Did you know that in 2013, Japanese cuisine was added to the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List? Japanese food, between trendy innovative food and traditional cuisine. More than food, it’s breathing in Osaka, flavors that linger, thrilling discoveries, and a familiar scent in Tokyo’s streets. You want to know more about it? Let’s get on this plane and discover why Japanese food is so famous!
Unique food culture
Japanese cuisine is not only about the dishes, snacks, and drinks you can enjoy in the land of the rising sun, it’s about living. The food culture in Japan is one of a kind. Table manners or street food, one or the other you are diving into one important part of Japanese culture.
That’s what’s fascinating about Japanese food culture. The traditional stays important no matter what and table manners aren’t forgotten but at the same time one breath into a busy street and you can feel the taste of delicious street food. Japanese cuisine is between past and present, always aiming for the future, whether it’s by carrying on family heritage, innovating, or becoming a worldwide food reference.
Let’s take a few examples of interesting facts on Japanese food culture.
Table manners and respect
Table manners are not to be forgotten, it’s a sign of respect for your host and the food you’re about to enjoy. Saying Itadakimasu いただきます ! before eating is a must for example. And don’t be mistaken, it’s not the Japanese way to say have a happy meal, it’s rather a way to appreciate what you are receiving like saying “I humbly receive”.
Using your chopsticks correctly is also very important. Do not stab your food with the chopsticks… even if they are slippery! Do not leave your chopsticks standing in your rice bowl, it’s compared to offering made to the deceased. Instead, use the chopstick rest called hashi-oki 箸置き in Japanese.
Not only while eating, but also while drinking, some table manners should be respected. When you’re eating with friends, colleagues, or any host, you should let them pour you a drink and make sure to reciprocate the action. Usually, you receive a drink someone poured for you with both hands.
Another way to enjoy a traditional way of drinking in Japan, you might be interested in the tea ceremony, a whole process that can easily be called art.
Called chanoyu 茶の湯, it is a ritual for serving tea. This ceremony has counterparts in China and Korea.
Street food- 屋台の食べ物
Street food is everywhere in Japan. Whether it’s at an Izakaya 居酒屋 (a pub) or at a Yatai 屋台 (street food stall), a lot of delicious Japanese food can be enjoyed directly in the street. More than stalls, it’s a family business and has become the charm of some cities like Osaka.
Osaka is considered to be “Japan’s kitchen”, the food culture there is unique and street food became its beating heart. There you can enjoy takoyaki たこ焼き (octopus balls), okonomiyaki お好み焼き, kushikatsu 串カツ (fried beef skewer), udon (thick noodles) and so much more!
While waiting for your dish or even while eating you usually will have the chance to watch the chef’s cooking performance, it became an integral part of the street food experience.
Family cooking or how to taste childhood
Like in many countries, in Japan, family is very important and tradition is to remain with the next generations to come. Recipes are passed onto the next generation, sometimes it’s the whole family business that goes to the younger generation.
Well portrayed in Japanese animation, family food warms the heart and the smell of childhood remains forever. Even the way Japanese food is often eaten as shared meals shows how enjoying a meal together is important in Japan.
Tasting food might not only be about how it touches taste buds, it becomes smelling a familiar dish, enjoying the sound of the stew boiling or sharing your meal with family, friends, colleagues,…
Japanese food- the cultural influence of animation
We all know quite well the cultural influence Japanese animation had on the world, spreading the Japanese culture quite efficiently. What’s the link with Japanese food? If animation portrays life, adventure, friendship and so much more, it’s also essential that the characters eat. What’s a good anime without a tasty food scene? Some anime and manga even chose to use food as their main topic, like Food wars, Artiste, or the movie Flavor of youth!
In many manga and anime, some dishes became references! Here are some of them :
- The warm feeling of family dinner with Ponyo’s ham ramen
- Attention it’s hot! Calcifer’s breakfast in Howl’s moving castle
- Flavor of youth’s rice noodles representing a slippery nostalgia
- One friend’s heart as the filling of delicious onigiri made by Megumi Tadokoro in Food Wars or her friend’s undeniable talent showed in his iconic pork roast
- What’s best after a good day of practice at the ice rink? The steamy Pork katsudon, the passion, and love of Yuri !!
- And for snacks! What about the chips Light Yagami used to hide his death note? Or maybe, on a sadder note, this tiny metal box of candies carried till the end of the grave of the fireflies.
If none of those grasped your appetite yet, you may want to try a demon fruit 悪魔の実 ? Would you?
Because it’s delicious- here is the best Japanese food you have to taste!
Japanese food is mainly appreciated for its delicious taste. There are so many dishes in Japanese cuisine to choose from, here are the most famous ones :
Sushi, maki et Sashimi
Sushi is probably Japan’s most famous dish, the one thing about Japanese food that everyone seems to know about. It’s composed of vinegar rice called shari 舎利 with other ingredients called neta 寿司ネタ, it’s usually raw fish or seafood. It’s separated into 2 main types which are nigirizushi 握り寿司 and makizushi 巻き寿司. Nigirizushi is a small ball of vinegar rice covered in a neta (slice of raw fish, shrimp, other seafood,…). Makizushi is composed of vinegar rice rolled in Nori 海苔 (seaweed) filled with vegetables (avocado, carrots, cucumbers,…) and fish (salmon, tuna,…).
Sashimi is slices of raw fish (salmon, tuna, shrimps, octopus,…) that usually can be served along with sushi. It’s a real Japanese art, it requires fresh fish and great skills to make it aesthetic.
Typical Japanese breakfast- 朝ごはん
The typical Japanese breakfast can take different forms and there is no right way to compose one. But there is some basic food you can often find in a typical Japanese breakfast, here are some :
- Natto 納豆: traditional Japanese fermented soybean usually eaten during breakfast, it can be mixed with soy sauce and a raw egg.
- Rice and miso soup ミソスープ – the base of a Japanese breakfast
- Nori 海苔 and vegetables (steamed or pickled)
- Grilled fish
- Tamagoyaki 卵焼き: rolled eggs
But, of course, you can always try Calcifer’s breakfast! (^-^)
The Bento is the typical lunch box Japanese people often carry to school or work. It’s very typical so make sure you try to have a bento for lunch once in your life! The aestheticism of the bento is very important, make sure it’s very colorful and appealing!
You can put various foods in a bento. Here are some examples of food you can find in bento boxes :
- Tamagoyaki 卵焼き: rolled eggs
- Tempura 天ぷら: fish, seafood, or vegetables fried in batter.
- Rice, of course, you can’t miss putting some rice in a bento!
- Sushi, maki and sashimi
- Onigiri おにぎり
- Yakitori 焼き鳥: grilled meat skewers (usually chicken dipped in a sauce similar to teriyaki sauce)
Ramen is now very well-known worldwide, it’s Japanese noodle soup flavored with soy sauce or miso and topped with various ingredients like boiled eggs, sliced pork, nori, menma, kikurage (a type of mushroom), narutomaki 鳴門巻き…
Ponyo ham ramen or Naruto’s ramen? You decide which one you like better!
The Gyoza is the Japanese version of the Chinese dumpling jiǎozi 饺子. It’s usually filled with vegetables, pork, beef, shrimp,… It’s even more delicious dipped in gyoza dipping (a mix between soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil)! Get your chopsticks!
Kobe beef- 神戸肉
Kobe beef is a type of beef from the cattle breed Tajima 但馬. It’s considered delicate, tender meat and it has a unique well-marbled texture. It’s often quite expensive but it’s a must-try for a quality experience!
And if you’re not filled yet…Snacks!
Snacks are a rising star in worldwide’s vision of Japanese food. Stores specialized in Japanese snacks are opening everywhere all around the world and Japanese snacks food tasting became a trend on Youtube. Here is some example :
- Mochi 餅: rice balls filled with red bean paste, chocolate, peanuts paste,…
- Taiyaki たい焼き: fish-shaped waffles usually filled with red bean paste
- Dorayaki どら焼き: pancakes filled with red bean paste
- Melon pan メロンパン
- Kinoko no yama きのこの山: chocolate mushroom biscuits
- Sweet potato chips
Let’s finish this meal!
So many reasons why Japanese cuisine is famous worldwide and I bet you now understand how genuine its popularity is. Unique food culture, heartwarming taste, and trending Japanese culture are only a few examples of what’s best in Japanese cuisine. We hope you’ll have the chance to have a wonderful experience with Japanese food and “eat till you drop” like Osakans. またね！