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Japanese Dining Etiquette
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Kaiseki (course menu)
Okonomiyaki Kiji Shinagawa
Finding an excellent chef with tastes that match your own is essential to fully enjoying your dining experience in Japan. Why not compare the backgrounds and philosophies of many of Japan's finest chefs in interviews presented by Savor Japan.
On the menu
Takenoko - Feast on fresh bamboo shoots of spring
The best time to enjoy bamboo shoots (takenoko) grown in the mountains is in spring, between April and May. Especially for Japanese cuisine prepared to capture the tastes of food at the height of their respective seasons, it is essential that takenoko are fresh. Ideally, the shoots should be boiled and eaten on the day that they are dug out of the ground, as their taste becomes coarser over time. Although boiled bamboo shoots packaged in water can be found at shops throughout the year, nothing beats the great taste and tenderness of just-harvested spring bamboo shoots. Cooked with rice (takikomi gohan), simmered in broth, or added to other dishes, you're certain to marvel at the versatility and quality of this delightful ingredient.
Mebaru - Rockfish is delicious from every angle in springtime
When it's time for the start of early spring sea fishing season in Japan, rockfish (mebaru) are among what fishermen go for first.
Prized among anglers, rockfish have eyes ("me" in Japanese) nearly half the size of their heads and are named for their tendency to stay near rocks, which can make them difficult to catch. The delicate flesh of this popular, versatile fish has a mild, simple flavor that's delicious when simmered in soy sauce, sugar and sake, grilled with salt, deep fried, or prepared in other ways.
Enjoy mebaru however you like - it is sure to impress upon people that you're familiar with fresh Japanese cuisine.
Fuki - Add spring to your taste with Japanese butterbur vegetable appetizer
Fuki are edible, approximately meter-long stalks of the butterbur plant that is native to Japan, China and Korea. In Japan, the plant thrives around streams and in woodlands as well as other soggy soil from Hokkaido to Kyushu, but mostly in Aichi prefecture. Succulent fuki is best harvested at its height from spring to early summer. Marinating or cooking it in broth for the kyarabuki variety of tsukudani (preservable appetizers made by simmering such ingredients as seafood, seaweed, meat and vegetables in mirin and soy sauce) softens its faint bitterness into a distinctive, even pleasantly addictive epicurean sensation.
Enjoy kushiage - hot crispy fried seasonal fast food from western Japan
Kushiage (also known as kushikatsu), a Japanese dish of bite-sized pieces of meat, vegetables, fish and shellfish deep fried on a bamboo skewer (kushi), originated from a counter-style eating stand in downtown Osaka in western Japan. Some of the most cherished kushiage eateries have their own recipes (closely, eternally guarded secrets) for the sauces that make this comfort food even more comforting.
Calling all crab lovers! Have you had the pleasure of eating Japan's kegani?
Kegani (hairy crab or horsehair crab) from Hokkaido in northern Japan is a renowned Japanese specialty that you can loudly crack open, eat with gusto, and feel great about, especially since it is low in calories, yet rich in protein, vitamin B12, minerals and amino acids.
Spring is high season for savoring potatoes and nikujyaga - Japanese soul food!
Nikujyaga exemplifies Japanese home cooking with its hearty combination of meat, potatoes, onions, carrots and other vegetables stewed in sweetened soy sauce. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then single Japanese women have certainly prepared it with love and shin jyaga (spring's "new potatoes") to keep their partners coming for more.
Authentic Japanese tofu, served the traditional way in Kyoto.
Japanese tofu is popular worldwide thanks to its soft texture, subtle flavor, low calories and numerous health benefits. It is typically made by adding a natural coagulant called nigari (magnesium chloride) to strained soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds. While there are dozens of delicious ways to serve Japanese tofu, we recommend trying yudofu (simmered tofu) made the traditional way in Kyoto, a city historically obsessed with tofu.
Nizakana. One of Japan's favorite recipes for seasonal fish.
Almost any fish tastes delicious when prepared as nizakana, which is simmered in dashi and soy sauce. In spring, ocean perch, mackerel and spear squid are especially popular choices. The meat becomes soft yet firm, with a sweet smell from the dashi that removes any trace of fishiness. Nizakana is one of most common home-made dishes in Japan, and its thick sauce goes extremely well with white rice.
Irresistible Yakigyoza, Japan's sauteed version of Chinese dim sum.
In China, dim sum (pork dumplings) are served boiled. But Japan takes a similar recipe and quick fries it to create a crispy treat with juicy center and garlic aroma that is perfect for savoring with beer. Yakigyoza is extremely popular throughout Japan and there are countless gyoza specialty shops lining the streets. It's often served as a side dish with ramen and like many Japanese, you may find it addictive.
Japanese food glossary
Japanese enjoy foods in season.
Learn about the seasonality of Japanese ingredients.
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