The basics of traditional Japanese cuisine are rice, seasonal vegetables, fish, and products from the sea like seaweed. But since the country opened its doors more than 150 years ago, there is now much more to Japanese food culture than ever before—which explains why you can find not only Western restaurants in Japanese cities, but also Western food adapted to Japanese tastes!
In an article on Japanese food culture, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thru Web Japan, explains that Japanese cuisine has had its share of changes over the centuries. Buddhism in the 6th century removed meat from the table, as it emphasized frugality and vegetarianism. On the other hand, court cuisine, known as honzen ryori, was a festive and formalized way of presenting a meal. These two polar culinary cultures “married” and resulted in a food culture that is simple in the sense that it maximizes the use of fresh ingredients in season and elaborate in that each meal tray is a work of art.
Central in the Japanese table is, obviously, rice. Like Filipinos, the Japanese eat rice in every meal. Whether served plain and fluffy (gohan), mixed with vinegar (sushi), cooked in a pot (kamameshi), or fried (yakimeshi), rice makes the feast—which explains why the Japanese word “gohan” also means “meal.”
A typical meal is made up of an appetizer, sashimi (sliced raw fish), clear soup, grilled fish (or other grilled food), mushimono, nimono, and aemono (steamed food, simmered food, and salad), followed by miso soup, pickles, rice, and dessert—Japanese sweets and any fruit in season. This means that basically, without even trying, each Japanese meal is a balanced meal—and that is why it’s healthy.