The Japanese food affair

DELICATELY POWERFUL

The Japanese food affair

Japanese cuisine is diverse, often maniacal and absolutely spellbinding for serious foodies. Flavours in Japanese cuisine are either subtle and delicate or fiercely powerful.

Cooked in little oil, a typical home-style food for lunch or dinner will include a bowl of steamed sticky rice called gohan, soup and a side-dish called okazu. Popular household okazus are grilled fish, stir-fried pork and beef, sashimi, karaage, yakizakana, mushimono, nimono, nabe, teriyaki, kinpira and himono.

Breakfast will typically include Japanese omelette, sticky rice, miso soup and pickled vegetables. Meals in a Japanese fine-dining restaurant start with a plate of eight bite-sized starters, hassun, followed by gohan, soup and okazu. Some okazus that are
typical of a fine-dining restaurant are tataki (thin-sliced fish and half-grilled fish), ebishinjo (shrimp), tumireziru (fish dumplings) and saikyoyaki (special grilled fish), amongst others.

Signature dishes

Famous Japanese delicacy that has captured the international palette is sushi and sashimi. Sushi actually refers to rice that has been seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt. Contrary to popular belief, sushi can be prepared with both, brown and white rice. This can be eaten as is, or first dipped into shoyu (Japanese soy sauce).

Raw fish, sliced and served, is known as sashimi. There is no rice bed or roll, and is often served alongside daikon or shiso. This is one of the favourite styles around the world as you get the raw flavour of the fish. Sashimi is often cut in different ways to enhance the appearance of the fish. Hira zukuri is the standard rectangular shape cut. A thinner cut is called Ito zukuri - often no more than 1/16 inch thick.

Table manners

Dining customs are given great importance in the food culture in Japan. Once the guests are seated, they are handed a wet towel (oshibori), which is invitingly hot in winter and cold in summer. Soup is served in a soup bowl owan, rice is served in chawan, and noodles and rice are eaten with the famed chopsticks.

It is not considered polite to pass food using chopsticks, as this parallels a Japanese funeral ceremony. It is more appropriate to use the blunt end of the chopsticks and pass the food if one wants to share from one plate to the next.

Another interesting aspect of dining etiquette is soup sipping. Japanese soup is sipped directly from the bowl instead of a spoon; and one should not fill one’s own glass from a communal bottle of wine or saké. Rather, the diner should wait until someone notices his cup needs refilling and should then hold it up to make pouring easier. That diner should then reciprocate by filling the other diner’s glass.

If a glass is full when offered something more to drink, it’s customary to drink as much of it as possible before holding out the cup to receive more. It’s considered perfectly good manners to slurp noodles; it’s a sign of a good appetite and an ppreciation of the meal.

Japanese also have a ‘3 pm’ ritual, where they have a cup of green tea along with desserts. Two forms of green tea are loved in Japan – ocha and matcha. Zenzai (azuki beans in sugar syrup) and apanese pudding are the most loved desserts in the country, pampering the sweet tooth of many.

(The writer is a chef at Kitchen District, Hyatt Regency, Gurgaon)

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