Japanese Food and Culture

Japanese Food and Culture
The Island of Japan
The Meal (gohan)
• Two Kinds of Food:
– ‘Staple’ and ‘Other dishes’
– Staple (gohan) is rice
– Other dishes (okazu) are fish, meat,
Traditional Concept of Meal
• Neutral flavor of rice considered
complement to meal
• Fill up on gohan, okazu stimulate appetite
• Traditional meal has no Western
• Sake = rice, so the two are not consumed
• Most basic meal: rice, soup, side dish
Courses of a typical Japanese
meal today
Side dishes with rice and with sake
The Table
• Zen
– Traditional, personal table
– Box with tray, individual sets of bowls,
chopsticks, spoons
– 20-30 cm per side 15-20 cm high
– Cleaned 3x a month
– Location from kitchen indicated status
– Men > Women, Elderly > Junior
The Table
• Chabudai
– Low dining table
– Adapted from Western dining tables
– 30 cm high
– More convenient than zen
●Fewer plates set
– Indicative of culture change
The Table
• Table and Chairs
– Today Western dining table and chairs are
– Began with farmers (to avoid mud on tatami
– Gradually spread in popularity
– As Japanese economy grew and democracy
expanded, expensive Western furniture was in
Zen and Chabudai
Chopsticks and Manners
• Japanese differ from Chinese
• Made of lacquered wood
• Women and children have smaller
Chopstick etiquette
• Breaches of etiquette:
• Clutched, Piercing, Scooping, Cramming,
Licked, Crying, Racking, Chewed,
Dragging, Hesitating, Roving, Probing, etc.
• No sharing of chopsticks!
– Spiritual contamination
• Chopstick rest
Etiquette-As You Like It
• Traditionally: alternate rice and side dish
• Acceptable to hold bowl of rice/soup to eat
• Sake served warm
However: Japanese table manners developed on
the premise of eating from tiny individualized
tables (zen), while using Japanese tableware for
Japanese cuisine consisting mainly of rice.
Today Japanese, Western, or Chinese-style utensils
may be used, foreign foods are part of the cuisine,
Traditional etiquette has not made the transition
• Soup
– Present at all meals (“one soup, one side
dish, and rice” for the minimum complete
– Two kinds:
• Sumashi-jiru—clear stock/salt broth
• Miso-shiru—miso dissolved into thick solution
Includes vegetables, meat, etc. to be eaten with
Broth is typically drunk from bowl, which is held in
the left hand (chopsticks right)
Umami aka “Deliciousness”
• Dashi—soup stock made chiefly from kelp but
also dried bonito, dried sardines, and shitake
• Acts as a multiplier and enhances flavor of other
• Called the 5th taste (not present in Western
• Prof Ikeda Kiknae of Tokyo University isolated
umami and produced crystal form known as
monosodium glutamate (MSG) in 1908
Sashimi—Cuisine not cooked
• Japanese philosophy: “Food should be
enjoyed as close as possible to natural
• Sashimi—raw fish
• Raw -> Grill -> Simmer, depending on
freshness of fish
• Prefer sea fish over freshwater because of
the odor
Sushi—Fast Food
19th century popular snack food
Men majority of sushi chefs
Dip fish side in sauce
Pickled ginger between pieces to
“extinguish taste”
• Nigari-zushi—rice with raw fish on top
• Maki-zushi—seaweed rolls
• Inari-zushi—bean curd pouch w/ rice
How to roll maki-zushi
Japanese Cuisine
Fugu—puffer fish, delicacy
Tofu and Natto--soybeans
Pickles and Preserved Seafood
– Daikon
• Mochi—rice cakes
• Sugar historically rare
• Green tea taken after meals to “quench
thirst and change the mood”
• Sweets taken with tea between meals
• Dessert stems from Western influence
Sake v. Green Tea
• Sake wine and tea are opposites
• Sweet-tooth type or drinking type
• Ceramic cups, bowls, pots used for green tea
• Cups with handles used for coffee
• Milk and soda are served in glasses
Culture Change
• Isolated for 2.5 centuries
• This period is known as the Edo period
• Allowed Japanese culture/cuisine
to distinctly develop
• 1958 Japan forced to trade with US, Britain, France, Netherlands,
and Russia
• Raw silk and tea
• Contact with Western culture  adoption of meat into cuisine
Western Influence
• Meat—started with army, sick soldiers
developed liking for beef, and spread the
Western custom throughout country
– Pigs, chicken, horse meat cheap alternative
• Milk—influence of Dutch
– Began for nursing mother, the young, the
– “stinking of butter”
Western Influence
-As foreign foods are adopted, intake of rice
-Though adopt foreign foods, still keep
traditional principles
-Food modified for chopsticks
-Soy sauce replaces special sauces
-“reorder and reorganize” foreign
elements to fit Japanese form
Western Influence
• Bread—equated with rice so bread and
rice not eaten together (like sake)
• Pizza
Squid Ink Pizza