When you think of Japanese food, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? When I ask foreigners what their favorite Japanese food is, I always get similar answers such as Sushi, Tempura, Ramen. However, Japanese cuisine is not limited to these few, as Japan has a boundless variety of dishes creatively prepared using seasonal and unique ingredients. Today, I would like to introduce some of the things that I found interesting about Japanese cuisines.
Teishoku “Set Meal”
Teishoku is a set meal that you can order in many Japanese restaurants. Japanese teishoku meals consist of rice, miso soup, and variety of small dishes so you can enjoy different flavors in one dining. The presentation of the meal is also important as each teishoku meal is beautifully arranged on different serving plates and treys. I believe there are a lot of creativity and artistic sense involved in creating a beautiful and delicious teishoku meal. Here are some teishoku meals I had recently.
When I went to a grilled fish restaurant in Omotesando, I ordered the grilled mackerel teishoku (鯖塩焼き定食）. It was one of the more simple teishoku I’ve had yet very delicious. There was, of course, rice and miso soup (left) which was all you can eat. On top, there was konnyaku or Japanese style yam cakes, and pickled cucumber and daikon radish. The main dish was the grilled mackerel which was perfectly salted and served with a slice of lemon and grated daikon radish. This entire teishoku may look small but it was enough to make me full and was 1,100 yen in total.
I believe that this next teishoku I had is one rank higher. There was a wider variety of dishes available in this teishoku, with all of the best Japanese dishes in one meal! The three main dishes shown in the bigger plates were sashimi, soba, and tempura. The smaller side dishes contained hijiki seaweed, tofu, corn, pickled cucumber and much more! I enjoyed so many different flavors in one meal and finished it off with dessert and a cup of warm tea. With all these different types of dishes, it was a total of 1,700 yen.
Lastly, this teishoku was probably the most luxurious! There were so many dishes that it did not all fit onto the box trey. The tempura and sashimi had its own plate and the rice and soup came separately. There were so many assortment of more expensive choices of dishes arranged beautifully on the tray, ranging from cooked fish, raw salmon, roast beef to melon as desert. We ordered this when our family gathered together so unfortunately I am not sure about the price. But I am guessing it would be between 2,000 yen to 3,000 yen since we ordered it from a very traditional style Japanese restaurant.
What makes Japanese cuisines unique are the types of ingredients they use. I had trouble describing some of the teishoku above because I did not know what some of those ingredients were called in English as it is not commonly used in western style cooking. I decided to introduce you to some of the more unusual ingredients in Japan, that many people may not show a liking for. But for those who are always open to new challenges, I highly recommend you try these foods next time!
Mozuku is a dish made from seaweed submerged into vinegar sauce. It creates a very slimy and soft (sometimes bubbly) texture and has a very strong vinegar taste. Although the appearance is very unappetizing, it is a popular ingredient among people in mainland Japan as it is low in calories and is said to have various health benefits such as cancer treatment aid and immune system boost.
Hijiki looks like short strands of black hair but again, it is another type of seaweed eaten commonly by Japanese people. Hijiki is commonly cooked in soy sauce or fish sauce along with vegetables such as carrots, creating a little dry texture. It is also great for your diet as it is abundant in fiber, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Nama Tamago （Raw Eggs）
In the United States, I think most of the families are reluctant to eating eggs raw. Families always cook their eggs in order to avoid Salmonella poisoning through eggs. However, raw eggs is an important ingredient in Japanese cooking used in popular dishes such as Tamago kake gohan and Sukiyaki. Tamago kakegohan is simply beaten raw eggs over rice with soy sauce for flavoring. Sukiyaki is hot pot dish eaten with cooked meat and vegetable dipped in beaten raw egg.
Suppon Nabe (Japanese Turtle Hot Pot)
Suppon or turtle is an ingredient used for Japans hot pot since the ancient times and believed to have various medicinal benefits. Imagine this being in your hotpot.
Additionally, Suppon’s blood is also used to make an alcoholic beverage closely resembling wine.
Gruesome isn’t it!
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