Sushi boom has been sweeping the world over the last decade and now that Ramen was put in the spotlight last year, the popularity of Japanese food is definitely on a rise. The whole health aspect, the way of Japanese cooking, and its unique flavourings are making this cuisine gradually establishing a position in the UK market too. The Japanese are very keen and passionate about eating and their food. Though they have been always true to their origin, they have been keen to try on new methods and introduce different food cultures and make them into their own.
In Japan, eat-out culture was born around the Edo period (1603- 1867) and at the same time the Japanese ports were reopened to the West. Their keen interest in taking on the Western style of cooking and eating can be seen today. Take Japanese curry (Spices and curry brought by the British and French cooking method, roux), tempura (coming from Portuguese Peixinhos de horta) and Breading and deep-frying method. They all originate from Europe and the Japanese integrated them and made them into their own. The common myth we have is that Japanese food is all about fish and sushi, but there is a lot more to it and the cuisine appeals not only to fish lovers and healthy eating advocates but meat loving foodists. So, hold tight onto your chopsticks, let’s dig in!
Sushi is often taken out of Japanese food and is seen as a category of its own in the industry (Sushi-only bars and restaurants, Sushi takeaways). Its compact, grossy, pretty look, and low calorie makes Sushi a healthier alternative to our lunch burger and sandwich. (Sushi is popular and ranked 9th as popular takeaway category last year. Sushi is made with fish and white seasoned rice. Roughly there are 3 types of Sushi; Nigiri, Maki and Temaki. Nigiri is supposedly one of the most ancient forms of sushi. Nigiri is hand-pressed and oval-shaped. Maki is a roll made with dried seaweed (Nori) and Temaki is a hand-roll (Cone-shaped Nori with fish and rice). And there is also “fusion” sushi such as the California roll, which might not be so traditional but equally delicious. California roll, for example, is an inside-out roll and usually consists of a slice of avocado, cucumber, crab meat or salmon. The combination of fresh and sweet flavour of fish and a rich creamy avocado is perfect. The most common fish found in Sushi in the UK are salmon, tuna, mackerel, yellow tail, scallop, prawn. Fresh fish have a very delicate sweet flavour. When put together with vinegary sweet sushi rice done well and dip into soy sauce, it’s the perfect justice to your favourite fish and seafood. For a date night, Sushi and sashimi platter is a must.
(Sushi is a must for your romantic date night. Photo: http://goo.gl/0eumls)
Deep-fried kind – Tempura, Katsu
Deep-fried dishes definitely open a door to the cuisine for the Japanese food beginner. Tempura is a method to deep-frying battered fish/prawn and vegetables. Tempura is much lighter and crispier than our battered kind. It looks like blossomed flower on a plate, served on its own with a sweet dashi dipping sauce, or served and eaten with a bowl of hot or cold noodles (Tempura Udon/Soba). Crispy good, but also when dipped in a sauce the crispy batter becomes soggy and is equally amazing. Meat such as beef was once banned from eating for religious reasons and might not have been the staple protein in Japan but since the wider consumption of meat started, the Japanese have learnt to make the most out of it. Just as breaded and deep-fried kind we have, they have their original breadcrumbs called Pamko and call their breaded cutlet Katsu. Their light and crispy crumbs and juicy meat inside is something to die for! Katsu can be pork, chicken or prawns. Served with Japanese take of “Worcester sauce” or served in a bowl on a bed of white rice with omelette on top called Katsudon. On a busy week night when you need a good power-dinner with deliciousness, go for it!
(Light and crispy pork Katsu on white rice, Katsudon, is your next power dinner! Photo: http://goo.gl/XwPUyw)
One bowl meals – Japanese curry and Donburi
It might be a little different from spicy, tangy and really aromatic Indian kind we know, but Japanese curry, Kare, stands along as a popular and unique dish. If you are curious about Oriental take on curry, why don’t you give it a go for Japanese curry. It is well worth it. Relatively milder, relatively thicker, it’s less soupy, cooked often with potatoes, onions and carrots, it is more like a spicy stew rather than a curry dish. But this stew surprisingly goes well with plumpy white rice. Donburi dish is a one bowl meal consisting of a bed of white rice, topped with abovementioned Katsu or with Tempura. There is Oyakodon as well, which is topped with chicken piece cooked in sweet dashi sauce with chopped onions and eggs. Why don’t you order a couple of Donburi meals with your mates and share a bowl packed full of happiness?
(How about spicy stew-like Japanese curry instead of the usual, chicken Jalfrezi, tonight? Photo: http://goo.gl/thwSsb)
Pan-fried dishes – Teriyaki, and Gyoza
Another easy introduction to the cuisine is the pan-fried kind such as Teriyaki and Gyoza. Teriyaki is a cooking method to grill fish and meat with a glaze of sweet salty sauce (Soy sauce, Mirin, and Sugar). Usually chicken, beef or salmon are cooked in this method and this gentle sweet salty glaze makes fish and meat beautifully golden and captures the juice inside. A rainy lunch or night when you need some comforting food to cheer you up, reach for Teriyaki with a bowl of white rice. Gyoza is a Japanese take on Chinese dumpling, Jiao-zi. Gyoza dumplings are stuffed with minced chicken, or pork with chopped cabbages with garlic and ginger, and pan-fried. Served hot, when you bite into it, juice of meat with a spicy punch of ginger and garlic ooze out, and it will bring you to heaven.
(Juicy Japanese take on Chinese Jiao-zi. Photo: http://goo.gl/FxTVdL)
Noodle soup dishes – Ramen, Udon and Soba
If you are not a rice person and more into pasta kind then there are a lot to choose from too. Ramen was huge last year and the trend might go on for a while. Ramen consists of soft Chinese style wheat noodles in a hot broth (pork, chicken, fish broth with soy, salt or miso flavouring), topped with a slice of meat and vegetables. Very indulging rich broth with soft chunky noodles is perfect on your naughty-food night. Soup might jump and go out of control so it might not be for your date-night but it is definitely one of the 1000 dishes to try before you die! Fancy other types of noodles, then say Yes to Udon. Udon is a very thick Japanese wheat flour noodles. Very very chunky but silky gorgeous and it is simply a beauty. It is served in a hot bowl of dashi soup with tempura. Or Udon can be pan-fried with vegetables and chicken (Yakiudon). You can’t call yourself a noodle specialist if you haven’t tried Udon noodles! Alternative to this is hearty super healthy Soba. Soba is a thin grey-brown noodle made of buckwheat and the colour and the texture are similar to spaghetti, only a little harder and heartier. Considering how it’s gluten-free and full of vitamins, this noodle is a super noodle. Just as with Udon, served hot or warm with tempura, stir-fried, just as with any other type of noodles. These three types of noodles complement your favourite protein and vegetables perfectly without overpowering them.
(Ramen was a big hit last year and it probably stays that way! Photo: http://goo.gl/dvkt0n)
Side dishes – rice, miso soup, seaweed salad, Edamame, Nasudengaku
White rice is the bread and potatoes to the Japanese. Their rice is round and chunky, just as the rice we use for rice pudding. Rice was even used to make paper, sake and building material. Soft silky happy rice will accompany you whichever dish you choose. Miso soup is a very very light bowl of soup, as comforting as our cock-a-leekie and ham and peas soup but much much lighter and less filling. It washes down our food with a really comforting flavour and aroma of Miso to sip it through the dinner. Usually served with seaweed and silky tofu, it is a super healthy no guilty soup. If you are 5-a-day fanatic and in need of a salad, ask for a Wakame seaweed salad! Seaweed Wakame has a very subtle flavour so it is perfect for a salad. Wakame is packed full of nutrients, especially mineral, which makes your hair nourished and silky and is also known for a compound to help burn fat tissue. When combined with crunchy crispy cucumbers with sesame dressing, it’s a perfect side dish of the night. Would you like something to nibble on with a pint of cold beer? It has to be Edamame. Edamame is green soy beans simply cooked in boiling water with a sprinkle of salt. Sweet plumpy yet salty beans are much healthier alternative to our peanuts or chips for that matter. It is pretty in green, and its healthy protein makes our empty belly happy. More satisfying side dish is Nasudengaku, which is miso- glazed grilled aubergine). Sweet and salty miso paste and sweet soft aubergines are aubergines at its best!
(Wakame seaweed salad is THE super super healthy salad ever! Photo: http://goo.gl/fX0EXq)
Dessert – Anko, Mochi and Green tea flavour goodies
Traditionally and typically Japanese dessert is all about sweet red-bean paste, Anko, and green tea flavours. Whether it is wrapped in a fluffy glutinous rice cake, Mochi, in bread, Anpan, or on pancakes, Dorayaki, gentle sweet flavour and wholesomeness of beans go so well in dessert. It goes beyond our imagination of beans on toast. It is well known that the Japanese are tea drinkers and they are famous for their green tea. And they also love to infuse green tea in their sweets too. Just as Italians mix their famous espresso in Tiramisu (the perfect mix of bitterness and acidity with sweet creaminess), the Japanese mix green tea powder, Matcha, into ice cream, in mochi and even in cakes. Green tea is too good just to be drunk! It will entice not only tea lovers but all sweet lovers too.
(Green tea flavoured dessert to refresh and indulge. Photo: http://goo.gl/4LzR2w)
Japanese food is being more demystified, becoming more affordable, and more easily accessible than ever before thanks to a selection of Pan-Asian restaurants and takeaways. So we don’t need to go to fancy £££ Sushi restaurants to enjoy gorgeous Japanese food from the comfort of your home. So why don’t you look for your own tastyfind in Japanese takeaway?