When I was young, my mom was in the military and they stationed us in Japan for a few years. Since my parents were divorced and my mom worked, my siblings and I had a kind of nanny/housekeeper. We called her oba-chanand I cried when we had to leave her and come back to the U.S. I remember that she often asked me to keep her company while she was in the kitchen. The others thought I was in trouble or that I was the favorite. I have a completely different theory. I think it honestly was because I was the youngest and she wanted to keep an eye on me. I spent a lot of time watching her cook.I was young and it’s hard to remember a whole lot from back then, but I think spending that time with her was what started my love for Japanese cooking.
I really like rice, so having it as a staple in so many different dishes is something I’ve always found appealing. And when you’re not using rice, soba or udon noodles are a common alternative. Both are delicious and better for you than enriched starches.I prefer to serve it in a traditional way, where rice is in its own bowl, and everything else has its own little plate too. It makes for a beautiful presentation.
Most Japanese dishes are cooked with little to no cooking oil. Some recipes require you to pan fry or deep-fry some things, but many of those dishes have been incorporated into Japanese culture from other places—like tempura, which was brought to Japan from Portugal, believe it or not. Other things incorporated into Japanese-style cooking are processed foods and/or red meat based dishes. The majority of Japanese style dishes are based on seasonal ingredients and are steamed, boiled or simmered, stewed, or grilled. Then there are raw foods like sashimi, of course. Pickling or salting is another common way to serve food, and is a technique mostly reserved for vegetables.
Despite using little red meat, I wouldn’t call most Japanese cooking vegetarian. They do use chicken. Many foods are cooked with a dashi stock, and that is typically made with tuna. Obviously, the fact that Japan is an island influenced their cooking and there are many dishes that include a seafood broth or with seafood as the protein. However, there are Buddhist influenced dishes, and those are more in line with a vegetarian diet.
Of course, my favorite dish is shabu-shabu. Simple to make yet complex in flavor, with an almost endless supply of variations. I could eat it every night and never get tired of it. Broth base, check. Any kind of protein or vegetable I can think of to dip it into, check. And a dipping sauce to add to the flavor once the meat is cooked? Check again! So delicious!
That settles it. I’m going to a Japanese restaurant tonight!