Mini guide to understand Japanese Cuisine

Don't you ever start to read a menu in a Japanese restaurant and do not understand anything, expect for the pictures? Let me introduce you to a very simple and quick guide that will explain you the most famous Japanese dishes you can find and what it is!

First thing you need to know, is that Japanese cuisine is not limited to sushi, and the "all you can eat" sushi buffet that flourished everywhere in Europe.

I will reserve a special chapter about the sushi and other raw fish food, but first, let´s see what else Japanese cuisine can offer!

1/Most famous Japanese dishes you can find in Japanese restaurants everywhere in the world

Miso soup: is a typical soup made with a seaweed paste called miso that could be from different color. In this broth, you can find seaweed, tofu, spring onions or other ingredients.

Tempura: could be vegetables or fish covered with a light paste and fried.
Yakitori: is marinated chicken skewers

Shabu-Shabu: is a hot pot of thin pork slices or crab that are quickly pour in boiling water in a pot placed in the middle of the table. The meat is then eaten with some sesame sauce. Once the meat done, you place vegetables and noodles to finish the water turned into a flavorful broth.
Soba: brownish noodles made from buckwheat flour and wheat flour. It could be served cold.
Udon: noodles made only from wheat flour and similar at big spaghetti served usually in a broth.
Teriyaki: is a marinated and grilled fish or meat served with a special sauce made from soy sauce and sake or mirin (sake vinegar), sugar or honey.
Sukiyaki: is meat (usually beef) hotpot served into a boiling broth placed into a pot in the middle of the table. Vegetables are also used. When the meat is ready you first deep into beaten egg mixture before eating.

Teppanyaki: is the famous grilled iron table where a chef cooks in front of you. This is a show as well.
Wakame: is a seaweed salad
Endaname: is a mungo beans boiled and served hot with some salt. Perfect as appetizer.




2/ Sushi and other sashimi


  • Sushi: is a piece of raw fish or seafood presented on top of oblong ball of sticky rice.
  • Sashimi: is a dish composed only of thin and perfectly cut raw fish or seafood. It could be seasoned with some spices.
  • Maki: is a big roll of nori seaweed foil with rice and then a heart of different vegetables and fish or seafood. The most famous fusion maki is the Californian roll which includes crab stick, avocado, omelette.
  • Nigiri: is a smaller roll, usually simpler with 1 or 2 ingredients in the center.
  • Temaki: is made like a maki but it is presented in a cone shape nori sheet. 
The presentation of the all these pieces is really important for the sushi master. He will look for the harmony and beauty of the of the dish. For that reason, sushi, maki, nigiri are served at least by 2 pieces.

Usually, the fish and seafood you can find are salmon, seabass, sardine, squid, octopus, prawn, scallop and tuna. Tuna is a special case, as since the sushi became trendy in restaurants, the tuna fishing risks the disappearance of some species. So please be careful when ordering it! Tuna is one of the favorite piece for Japanese. You can find 2 types of parts of the tuna in the sushi. Either you can ask for toro or maguro. Maguro is from the fillet and usually has a deep red color. Toro comes from the belly and is fat marbled which turns it into a very appreciated piece, more expensive as well. I love tuna, but since some years, I just try to not order it. I prefer to not eat for sometimes, but be sure that we will be able to eat it during the next centuries!

3/ How to eat sushi and rolls?

When you seat at the table, you have in front of you a small plate, a small bowl and your chopsticks (see below how to handle chopsticks). 
In the small bowl, you will pour a little bit of soy sauce. Then if you like spicy food, you can add and mix some wasabi, a green paste made from horseradish
You will deep each of your pieces of nigiri and maki into this mixture before to eat. For the sushi, the right way is to take the fish on top of the rice ball only, and pour the fish into the soy sauce mixture. Then you place it back on the rice ball and eat it together.
How to handle chopsticks?
First, hold the chopsticks slightly towards the thicker part. The lower chopstick should not move but remain steady and hold as a pen. The upper one is the one which is going to move.
Check this video for better understanding:

I hope you learned a little bit more about Japanese gastronomy with this post! If you have any question, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email, I will be happy to answer! Feel free to share this post with your friends!
I will keep on searching for a good sushi restaurant in Amsterdam. Which is your favorite sushi place in the Netherlands? Thank you for sharing your tips with us! I am waiting for your recommendations!

Arigato gosaimashita! (thank you very much in Japanese!)

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