What are the major categories of Japanese Cuisine?
First, I would say Japanese wouldn’t be able to live without seafood.
Consisted of 4 islands all surrounded by the sea, our cuisine uses so many ingredients coming from the sea.
We are one of the only people that traditionally eat fish raw for example in sashimi, which is sliced fish.
If you put the sashimi on sushi rice which is rice seasoned with vinegar and sugar, you will have sushi.
Our taste naturally evolved from being forced to preserve the ingredients with sugar, vinegar, and salt.
Using salt, we developed fermentation of crops, especially soybeans and rice to make our daily seasonings of soy sauce and miso.
We actually have 3 types of miso in which originally most regions make it from rice, the central in Nagoya area with soy and Kyushu in the south makes it out of barley, all originally because it was what grows well in that region.
Varietiy of cuisine are imported and revised
We have also imported and revised food from abroad. Curry for example was brought by the American Navy.
Tempura is also surprisingly said that it was brought by the Europeans. Japan used to only open one port in Kyushu called Dejima, and this is where Christianity spread to Japan.
It is said that Tempura deformed from Tempora, a feast that took place on Friday where Christians ate deep fried fish with flour.
One common trait of our cuisine is we like to revise it to fit our taste. The curry is cooked with milder spice taste, tempura eaten with wasabi salt or tentsuyu (tempura sauce) and hamburgers sandwiched with rice instead of bread.
Why is Japanese Cuisine so diverse?
From different types of nabe pot dishes during the winter to somen noodles in the summer, we have diverse cuisine of different foods.
The reason is probably because Japan has 4 distinct seasons, and stretches long from north to south.
The cuisine evolved to cater extremely hot weather in the summer in the southern, and the opposite very snowy winter in the North.
What are the most important ingredients that create Japanese tastes?
Most Japanese dishes will be seasoned with soy sauce, miso, rice wine called mirin, and Japanese sake.
We also cherish the use of dashi or soup stock which enhances the umami or substance that contains good taste.
I remember my mom used to stock dashi in the fridge from bonito flakes called Katsuo Bushi, small sardine Niboshis, hard type kelp Konbu, and shiitake mushrooms.
What dishes do I need to taste while in Japan?
There are many dishes and flavors you should try in Japan, but I would say sushi, ramen, shabu shabu, sukiyaki, oyakodon are the distinct flavors of Japan.
If you are an adventurer, try natto, fermented soy beans or rice with raw egg.
These 2 dishes are so important for the health of Japanese people!
How to recognize which restaurant specializes in which dishes?
You might find it difficult to find where you can eat different types of Japanese dishes, but I would recommend going to a “teishokuya” which offers typical set menus like grilled fish, tonkatsu with rice and miso soup for lunch time, and to an izakaya during dinner time.
Izakaya is a place where you could enjoy local dishes in smaller portions to try different tastes with varieties of drinks like beers, cocktails, Sake and Shochu.
Look for these 3 letters showing you that it is one. 居・酒・屋.
For more details of how to conquer an izakaya, read this.