Experimental Food Science
Washoku and Culture
Japan, located in the North Pacific Ocean of East Asia, has at total of 3,000 islands that consist of four major islands that stretch for a total of 1300 miles. Early inhabitants of the area are believed to have migrated to the area of present day Japan from the continent of Asia and the South Pacific some 2000 years ago. The majority of the population is homogenized; mainly Japanese although some Koreans, Chinese, and people from other countries live there including Brazilians and Filipinos. (1) Buddhism and Shintoism are the two most common religions practiced in Japan. Shintoism has been traced back to 550B.C. and is largely practiced to show respect for one’s ancestors due to the belief in Kami, natural or ancestral spirits. Shinto’s emphasizes purity and became the national Japanese religion in the late 19th Century.(2) Inanimate objects of profound beauty are sometimes worshiped as well as people. In fact, the placement of a red disk in the center of the Japanese flag symbolizes the sun which Shinto’s consider to be the most divine. In contrast, Buddhism was first introduced by Chinese immigrants though the two religions began to blend. Buddhism focuses on the attempt to achieve a state of nirvana, being free from anger and discontent, with peace of mind. (2) Shrines throughout Japan are often visited for the worship of both religions.
The Japanese culture is enhanced by the enjoyment of traditional dishes. The term Wakoshu means Japanese food. (3) The preparation of Washoku requires skill and is labor intensive. Most of all, Japanese cuisine is characterized by fresh ingredients, simplicity, in that each dish requires only a few ingredients, and careful preparation. Fresh ingredients include fish with bright eyes and shiny scales, and vegetables such as the Daikon radish, eggplant, and the most abundant crop of Japan; rice.(4) With rice being the main crop cultivated in the northern region of Japan, it is the main staple of their diet. Also fish is consumed more often than any other type of meat such as pork or beef. This is due to the fact that both cold and warm water fish thrive off the Pacific coast where six million tons of seafood is captured every year. Just off of the eastern coast of Honshu, tuna, salmon, eel, octopus, squid and clams are also found.(4) For added flavor, foods made from soy bean are used daily, including soy sauce. The simplest seasoning called Dashi only contains two ingredients, Konbu, or giant kelp and Shoyu or Japanese soy sauce. (5)
For most vegetable preparations, a number of geometric shapes are created after unique knife work skills are acquired. For instance, decorative shapes are carved into carrots and shiitake mushrooms to make miso- soup. Miso, fermented bean paste, is as important to Japanese cooking as oil is to the Italians. Miso soup has many variations ranging from sweet to salty depending on which paste is used.(4) The versatility it has to offer makes miso an important staple in the Japanese diet. Bean paste varies in taste, aroma, and texture but miso is made with only one method: Boiled soy beans are crushed and combined with wheat, barley, and rice and aged anywhere from a month to three years in a yeast mixture.(4) Colors identify the type of bean paste and flavors they have. Red, yellow, and dark brown miso is used in a combination of dishes from soups to sauces and as a base for pickling. Pickled vegetables are a kind of delicacy served often with green tea at the end of a meal rather than a dessert. Miso is so popular that in some households it’s served at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Additionally, common cooking methods include simmering, steaming, grilling, and frying. (6) Frying is done carefully when making shrimp tempura, a fried fish dish. The shrimp is lightly coated in oil and is considerably healthier than the American version. A grilled or pan- fried dish is...
References: 1. Parillo, V. Strangers to These Shores. 8 ed. Pearson Education, Inc. 2006
2. DeBarry T, Keene D, Tanabe G, Varley G. Sources of Japanese Tradition. Second Edition. New York: Columbia University Press; 2001.
3. Favorite Japanese Dishes. Ashkenazi M, Jeanne J. The Essence of Japanese Cuisine: an essay on food and culture. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia; 2004
4. Shizuo, T, Fisher M.F.K. Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. Kodansha International, Tokyo; 1980
5. Shimbo H, Beitchman, S & Prato R. The Japanese Kitchen. Harvard Common Press; 2000.
6. Kaneko, A. Let’s Cook Japanese Food! Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA; 2007
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