Japanese food, or Woshoku, is steeped in ritual and history. For centuries it remained mysterious and exotic to the western eye. Unknown ingredients with mysterious names like miso, bonito flakes and konbu would once have remained in the Japanese kitchen, but this delicate, fresh and healthy cuisine is now readily available in restaurants worldwide. Sushi conveyor belts and teppanyaki performances are commonplace and it is fast becoming one of the UK’s most popular cuisines.
But why is this?
Japanese cuisine is mysterious, it is different, and we want to know more about it. When I go to a Japanese restaurant I relish in the fact that you are not expected to order three standard courses. Instead, you can order as many dishes as you like (3 sides with rice and soup is typical) to share and savour all at the same time. I enjoy ordering a range of different textures, tastes and cooking methods and guzzling them with friends and family, commenting on the flavour and uniqueness of each dish.
This mysteriousness is also down, in part, to the Buddhism influence on Japan’s culture and philosophy. Appreciating nature and respecting individual ingredients and seasons is abundant in Japanese cuisine. Both the mountains and the sea play an intrinsic role in the dishes that define Japanese cuisine, packed with fresh fish, seaweed, mushrooms, fruit and nuts.
Seasonality plays an important role in Japanese food because, like us, Japan enjoys four distinct seasons, which are rich and celebrated in food. In spring, new bamboo shoots are available, summer brings fresh greens, autumn and winter also bring familiar foods, and the seasons are paid tribute to with cyclic dishes appearing on menus throughout the year.
These seasonal ingredients influenced, of course, by their location, add diversity and interest to a cuisine whose main staple is rice. Rice is typically steamed, but also features heavily across the cuisine, from rice wine vinegar to glutinous rice cakes. Fermentation is also prominent, featuring in miso, soy sauce and kimchi to name but a few. This unique method of preservation is also incredibly good for you.
Typically, a Japanese meal consists of one rice, one soup and three side dishes. Although this has been taken to another level by some restaurants, serving as many as 14 courses. Whether you go for the more refined Japanese cuisine or not, almost always present will be the recently discovered fifth taste of Umami, present in the Japanese staple stock; dashi.
Our Japanese course is running on 24th January and will teach you a selection of our favourite Japanese recipes, including miso soup and sushi. In the meantime, if you are gagging to try some Japanese cooking, our teriyaki sauce recipe could help you get started.