There is probably no other element in Japanese culture that more instantly recognizable and associated with Japan than Sushi. Show anyone in the civilized world a picture of sushi and they’ll know exactly what it is.
While there are scores of different varieties your typical sushi will have a core of meat morsels (usually seafood) and a vegetable or two, wrapped in white rice and then wrapped in a sheet of ‘nori’ (toasted seaweed).
Varieties include “temaki-zushi” which is a cone of nori with rice and vegetables inside. If you think of it as an ice cream cone you’d be on the right track, with the cone being the seaweed and the ice cream being the rice and veggies. Also there is “ura-maki’ which is the same as a normal piece of sushi, except that it has an addition outer layer of rice outside the nori layer.
The meats and vegetables used in the sushi’s core vary greatly, typical choices include:
- Pickled plumb
- Daikon (Japanese white radish)
As you can imagine sushi is readily available, be it at the convenience store, super market, restaurants and sushi shops. Quality varies, whereas you can spend $200 yen for some cheap sushi at the Hyaku Yen (dollar store) you can spend over $1000 yen at a sushi shop for a plate of four pieces.
For vegetarians, ‘veggie’ only sushi exists, which will have simply a slice of avocado or an alternative veggie in place of the meat.
A sushi plate is typically served with an assortment of dipping sauces/garnishes, such as ginger slivers, wasabi, soy sauce etc etc.
- And more
These fine fillets are served raw, usually on a platter of a few different varieties; along with wasabi, shredded daikon, and scallions.
Because of the preponderance of high grade meat, sashimi is typically more expansive than sushi.
What do you get when you mix sashimi and sushi? The answer is ‘Nigiri-zushi’
Picture a molded finger of rice, on top of which lays a fillet of raw tuna which completely covers it. And there you have Nigiri-zushi
Vegetables and seafood deep fried in a light coat of batter for a short amount of time. This dish came originally from Portugal and, like many other things Portuguese, was imported into the Japanese culture.
Or ‘Curry Rice’, as you may suspect this dish was imported from India, but over time has evolved, acquiring its own taste. It is a favourite among the Japanese and you will find this dish readily available on restaurant menus.
Japan’s answer to French Fondue (or maybe not), regardless of this dish’s origins it is set up similarly to France’s Fondue, Taiwan’s Hot Pot, and Singapore’s Steamboat. The question is who is copying who exactly? Or did they all independently invent the same thing?
There is a central cooking wok/pot with broth (not oil) which is then loaded up with a variety of veggies and spice. Guests then take turns placing meat thin slices of meat (meats include, pork, beef, shrimp, clam and others) for a few seconds and then recovering them with chop sticks or spoons and placing them on their individual plates.
A wide variety of condiments are at hand, spicy, sweat salty etc etc.
The words ‘shabu shabu’ are said to mimic the sound of stirring the pot with chop sticks.
Mashed potatoes and tidbits of pork are coated in a crunchy corn-based skin and then deep fried. The result is a tasty patty you can take with you on the go.
Varieties include beef, shrimp, chicken etc etc.
Being deep-fried it should be noted that they are in fact rather greasy (the skin soaking up much oil) so don’t be surprised if you get a headache after eating a few.
The omelet is cooked on a griddle and then drizzled with Japanese Mayo & a sweet worcestershire-ish type sauce, then it is topped with nearly a dozen different meats, veggies and spices.
A container of six gyoza in Tokyo will cost around $300.
A staple for American college kids as well as the Japanese themselves, instant ramen has been exported successfully all over the world, providing consumers with cheap, filling and somewhat delicious eating.
However real ramen in Tokyo bears no resemblance to the Top Ramen you may have had in American food stores. None at all.
A real bowl of ramen in Tokyo is quite often rather large, almost enough for a whole meal. It includes slices of pork, boiled egg, seaweed, onions, other greens and spices.
Your average bowl of ramen will cost apprx $700 yen at the lowest and $1000 at the highest. Of course you can go to the Hyaku Yen and score a bowl of instant ramen for $100 yen but there really is no substitute.
The broth is mildly flavoured and can include veggies, tempora, seafood and others.
Like ramen, there are even instant udon noodle packages available at some supermarkets.
Visually, there is not much to say about Soba. It’s a ball of noodles. But that doesn’t quite do it justice and may certainly insult Soba Chef Masters, who spend literally years mastering the fine art of Soba. It is considered equivalent to the art of Sushi, (Where chefs spend over four years learning and perfecting their craft).
But how much could there be to just a plate of noodles? Good question!
Much of the skill comes from the hand making the buckwheat noodles from scratch. The noodles are much thinner compared to Udon and are typically brown (due to the buckwheat) Occasionally in some specialty Soba shops you will find green tea soba (macha) which has a particularly unique taste.
It is served either cold or hot, in soup or standing along with veggies.
As you can imagine the flavour is mild and boring, however it is rather filling and inexpensive. Expect to find them for $100 yen at the convenience store.
Onigiri is a typical Japanese light eating snack, taking only seconds to prepare and costing literally just pennies.