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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, vegetables. Traditional Concept of Meal. Neutral flavor of rice considered complement to meal

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Japanese Food and Culture

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Japanese food and culture

Japanese Food and Culture

The island of japan

The Island of Japan

The meal gohan

The Meal (gohan)

  • Two Kinds of Food:

    • ‘Staple’ and ‘Other dishes’

    • Staple (gohan) is rice

    • Other dishes (okazu) are fish, meat, vegetables

Traditional concept of meal

Traditional Concept of Meal

  • Neutral flavor of rice considered complement to meal

  • Fill up on gohan, okazu stimulate appetite

  • Traditional meal has no Western counterpart

  • Sake = rice, so the two are not consumed simultaneously

  • Most basic meal: rice, soup, side dish

Courses of a typical japanese meal today

Courses of a typical Japanese meal today

Side dishes with rice and with sake

Side dishes with rice and with sake

The table

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 table1

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 table2

The Table

  • Table and Chairs

    • Today Western dining table and chairs are adopted

    • Began with farmers (to avoid mud on tatami floor)

    • Gradually spread in popularity

    • As Japanese economy grew and democracy expanded, expensive Western furniture was in vogue

Zen and chabudai

Zen and Chabudai

Chopsticks and manners

Chopsticks and Manners

  • Japanese differ from Chinese

  • Made of lacquered wood

  • Women and children have smaller chopsticks

Chopstick etiquette

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

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, etc.

    Traditional etiquette has not made the transition

Japanese food and culture


  • Soup

    • Present at all meals (“one soup, one side dish, and rice” for the minimum complete meal)

    • Two kinds:

      • Sumashi-jiru—clear stock/salt broth

      • Miso-shiru—miso dissolved into thick solution

        Includes vegetables, meat, etc. to be eaten with chopsticks

        Broth is typically drunk from bowl, which is held in the left hand (chopsticks right)

Umami aka deliciousness

Umami aka “Deliciousness”

  • Dashi—soup stock made chiefly from kelp but also dried bonito, dried sardines, and shitake mushrooms

  • Acts as a multiplier and enhances flavor of other foods

  • Called the 5th taste (not present in Western cuisine)

  • Prof Ikeda Kiknae of Tokyo University isolated umami and produced crystal form known as monosodium glutamate (MSG) in 1908

Sashimi cuisine not cooked

Sashimi—Cuisine not cooked

  • Japanese philosophy: “Food should be enjoyed as close as possible to natural state”

  • Sashimi—raw fish

  • Raw -> Grill -> Simmer, depending on freshness of fish

  • Prefer sea fish over freshwater because of the odor

Sushi fast food

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

How to roll maki-zushi

Japanese cuisine

Japanese Cuisine

  • Suyaki—beef

  • Fugu—puffer fish, delicacy

  • Tofu and Natto--soybeans

  • Tempura

  • Noodles

  • 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 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

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

Western Influence

  • Meat—started with army, sick soldiers developed liking for beef, and spread the Western custom throughout country (Sukiyaki)

    • Pigs, chicken, horse meat cheap alternative

  • Milk—influence of Dutch

    • Began for nursing mother, the young, the weak

    • “stinking of butter”

Western influence1

Western Influence

-As foreign foods are adopted, intake of rice decreases

-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 influence2

Western Influence

  • Bread—equated with rice so bread and rice not eaten together (like sake)

  • Pizza

Squid ink pizza

Squid Ink Pizza

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