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A Taste of Japan

By Danielle Montgomery

Posted: 23rd August 2016 08:52

A land filled of contrast between the ancient and the modern, a trip to this fascinating country will enchant you with its neon lights twinkling in the foreground of rugged mountains and their values of deep tradition prevailing amongst cities of constant rapid flux.  Holding many titles under its advanced technological belt, Japan is renowned for its fixation on the latest fads on fashions; however their enthusiastic passion for authentic fresh cuisine has led to Tokyo and Osaka being named on several occasions ‘food capitals of the world’ by many acclaimed culinary critics. 

Conjuring up images of tofu, soy sauce, rice, beans and noodles presented in perfect symmetry and shape, the Japanese cuisine is a famous one.  Although still nurturing the foods their ancestors ate, the introductory of Western life in the mid 19th Century has seen a culinary explosion whereby an innovative food culture has developed across the country.   Discover the bustling metropolitan cities filled with Michelin star eateries or delve deeper into Japan culture to the small villages where regional dishes are favoured.

Grab a Bowl of Rice

It would be a sin to provide a guide on Japanese food culture without a praising mention of the country’s most resourced and used ingredient.  Cultivating this basic grain for over 2,000 years, the Japanese have created an enterprise of culinary opportunities, serving it in both savoury and sweet dishes.  Before the beginning of the 8th Century, the value of rice was considered with such fundamental importance that it was used as a common form of commodity money across the country, but is now only used for its amazing ability to form the foundations of many meals.  Visit the beautiful famous rice fields in the Noto Penisular to appreciate the history and hard work of something so simple but that represents a whole nation.   

A bowl of rice is the most predominant meal in Japan, with the most common being white rice and glutinous rice (otherwise known as ‘sticky rice’) found in all restaurants across the country.  Using different styles of cooking depending on the region, the Japanese offer many forms of rice dishes to cater for the entire day.  From a fusion of rice, raw egg and soya sauce for breakfast, to an economical lunch of fried rice using leftover rice and vegetables, this staple ingredient is undoubtedly Japan’s essence of culture.

Fall in Love with Fish

Japan has formed a passionate relationship with the modest fish, whether it’s cooked in a delicious meal or used as entertainment in the artistic endeavour of fish printing, it has helped shape this country’s identity.  When the Buddhism laws erected in the 6th Century prohibited the consummation of meat and poultry, fish became, and has remained, the most popular food choice in Japan, being cooked in every which way possible! Try it deep fried in the popular ‘tempura’ dish, where it’s coated in a flour-based batter, or if you’re a courageous foodie, opt for ‘odorigui’, live fish that is still dancing on the plate!

Experience the buzzing chaos at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo; the largest fish market in the world.  Tourists swarm here to witness the lively auctions at 5am, where tanks of exotic fish, mountains of octopus and lines of giant tuna are bought, sold and bartered for in a display of traditional Japanese etiquette, providing an intoxicating morning for the eager visitor.  Although the public are not allowed to partake in the auctions, it’s incredible to watch as it’s not uncommon for a single tuna fish to fetch up to 20 million Yen! However, this

prestigious market is undergoing a refurbishment in 2013 and reopening its doors in the new location of Toyoto Koto in 2014.

Jump on Board the Sushi Train

This global sensation of conveyor belt service, known as ‘Kaiten-zushi’, is the trendy way to dine, picking your own tasty dishes from a constantly replenished belt as you natter with friends.  Essentially, the term ‘sushi’ means vinegared white rice and the term ‘sashimi’ means raw fish, often causing confusion when trying the popular dish, afraid that one might bite into a tepid eyeball! However the seaweed wrapped rice parcels can be compiled with any ingredient, including chicken, vegetables and cooked fish. 

With an estimated 45,000 sushi restaurants in Japan, the sushi experience for the Japanese is a very personal affair, where many are happy to go to restaurants bestowed with years of experience, unfaultable service and a bill of mega proportions.  However the diverse city of Tokyo offers restaurants at both ends of the scale, catering to both the budget travellers and big spenders.  For the best sushi breakfast that doesn’t break the bank, brave the long queues of Sushi Dai; two steps away from the Tsukiji Fish Market, it serves up the world’s most quality and exquisite seafood.  To dine like a true sushi-connoisseur, propel yourself to the ninth floor of Ginza’s Juno Building in Tokyo to Sushi Mizutani, a family owned restaurant credited with three Michelin stars. 

Oodles of Noodles

Long, thin, fat, short, hot, cold; however you prefer your noodles you can be rest assured that Japan has every delicious variety in abundance.  From the small noodle bars on busy street corners, to the refined restaurants adorned with beauty and glamour, noodles appeal to any dining experience in Japan.  The humble noodle originates from the land of the Orient, where an overturned bowl buried beneath sediment in Northwest China revealed noodles thought to be over 4,000 years old.  Now an essential part of the Japanese diet, the strange custom of slurping your noodles signifies enjoyment and politeness, with many taking great offence if eaten otherwise! Although said to be an emotional attachment to the food, it is also argued that slurping makes the noodles taste better.

Whether you’re after healthy buckwheat Soba or a substantial meal of hearty thick-wheat Udon noodles, Japan is a mystical maze filled with impressive noodle joints, some being branded chains, others hiding underground serving the noodle enthusiasts who are willing to look a little harder for true authenticity.  Nantsuttei is tucked away in the seemingly unpromising Tokyo Shinagawa Railway Station, but is presented with queues at any time of the day and serves some of the tastiest noodles Japan has to offer in a cheery, informal ambiance.

Round Up

Holding on to its ancient culture of cuisine whilst prevailing in futuristic endeavours, Japan is an archipelago of wonder and tradition that never ceases to deliver anything but delicious fare in a passionate display of appreciation for their valued produce and skilled chefs. 

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