Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is unique to the Japanese archipelago where it originated and developed over the centuries. The majority of Japanese dishes are contrived to accent the natural flavors of fresh fish and shellfish and almost all are prepared so as to go well with rice and sake. The season of the year is a prime factor in the selection of materials and the choice of the manner in which to prepare them. Utmost care is used in arranging the foods on dishes of various colors, shapes and materials.

In addition to such standard parts of the meal as rice, soup and pickles, there are hors d’oeuvres, sashimi (slices of raw fish), grilled fish, deep fried and boiled foods, vegetables and fish in various dressings, and vinegared dishes.

In seasoning special efforts are made to enhance the natural flavor of the materials. Typical seasonings are soy sauce, sake, vinegar and sugar, but in no case is the seasoning so heavy as to make the dish strong or cloying. In making broths for soups and boiled foods and sauces for fried foods, stocks prepared from such materials as dried bonito, shiitake mushrooms, and tangle(an edible seaweed) are used to bring out added flavor. One common technique in Japanese cooking is the use of a “hidden seasoning” which is not itself perceptible to the people enjoying the dish but which accents some natural flavor of materials. For instance, a small amount of salt is added as a “hidden seasoning” to bring out the natural sweetness of a dish. Use of sugar goes back about one hundred and even today, sugar is used but sparingly in the best Japanese cooking.

Among the Japanese foods liked best by foreign visitors are sushi,tempura and sukiyaki. Sushi is slightly vinegared rice overlayed with raw fish, shellfish, laver or vegetables.

The method of preparation, shape and taste differ some. what depending on the locality of sushi consisting of small oblong balls of vinegared rice topped with a thin slice raw fish or shellfish. It is usually eaten in sushi shops where it is prepared before the customer’s eyes by cooks who go about their work in a smart and lively manner that gives these establishments a special atmosphere. Today nigirizushi is popular throughout the country.

Tempura is a fritter-like dish of fish, shellfish and vegetables dipped in a flour-and-water batter and deep-fried in vegetable oil.

Although not a traditional Japanese dish, sukiyaki has been quite popular from about the late nineteenth century. Slices of beef are braised together with vegetables in a small amount of liquid seasoned mainly with soy sauce and sugar.

The Japanese celebrate particularly happy occasions with red rice (sekihan) and sea bream (tai) prepared with head and tail intact. Sekihan is made by steaming glutinous rice (an especially sticky) together with red beans which turn the rice red. The Japanese have long considered red to be a lucky color because of its association with the color of fire and the sun. The Japanese word for sea bream, tai, sounds similar to the word “mede-tai” or felicity” and, what is more, it is auspiciously red in color. On festive occasions the tai is served broiled completely whore from head to tail. The wish for good luck is thought to be better conveyed through the full and perfect shape.

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日本料理

日本料理は、日本列島で生まれ発達した日本独特の料理である。新鮮な魚介類の持ち味を生かした料理が多く、ほとんどが米食と日本酒に調和するようにつくられている。材料や調理法に季節感を重んじており、食器の色、材質、形が様々で、盛りつけにも繊細な配慮が加えられる。

飯・ 汁・香の物のほか、前菜・刺身・焼き物・揚げ物・煮物・あえ物・酢の物などが加えられる。味は材料そのものの持味生かすようにし、醤油・酒・酢・砂糖など で調味するが、あまりゴテゴテした濃厚な味付けをしない。汁・煮物・揚げ物のつけ汁などには、旨味を出すため鰹節・椎茸・昆布その他を用いる。また「隠し 味」と称してある種の調味料(例えば塩)を少量加えることにより材料の持ち味のある要素(例えば甘味)を引き立たせる用法もある。砂糖を用いるようになっ たのは近代以後であり、現代においても高級な日本料理では砂糖を多く使用しない。

外国人に好まれる日本料理として、鮨・天ぷら・すきやきなどがある。鮨は酢で味をつけた飯に魚介類・のり・野菜をあわせた料理で、日本全国各地にそれぞれ異なった製法・形・味のものがある。

東京のにぎり鮨というのは、一握りの飯の塊の上に、鮮度のよい魚介類の切身をのせただけの簡単なものである。職人の腕を客の前で見せる「粋」な感覚が特徴で、現在では全国に普及している。天ぷらは魚介類・野菜類に水でといた小麦粉の衣をつけて油で揚げた料理である。

すきやきは日本の伝統的な料理ではないが、19世紀後半以後普及したもので、牛肉を薄く切ったものを野菜などと一緒に煮て主として醤油と砂糖で味をつける。

日本人が祝い事のとき食べる料理に赤飯と鯛の尾頭付きがある。赤飯はもち米に小豆を入れて蒸したもので、小豆の色が米について赤くなるので喜ばれる。赤は火の色、太陽の色を表し、昔から縁起のよい色とされている。

鯛は日本語でめでたいという言葉と語呂があい、色も赤く縁起のよい魚とされている。祝いの席には頭から尻尾まで完全な形のまま焼かれた鯛が出される。これには、形の完全さによって人を祝福するという意味がある。

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