For over 2000 years, rice [稲 Ine or 米 Amerika] has been the most important food stuff in the Japanese cuisine. The word gohan 御 飯 or ご 飯 - “boiled rice” in Japanese also means “food”. This alone is rather eloquent evidence of the structure of Japanese nutrition. In traditional Japan, koku (一石), the amount of rice an adult needs to live for a year (about 180 liters), was the main measure of wealth. Samurai pay was also determined in koku.
Despite changes in eating patterns over the last decades and slowly decreasing rice consumption in recent years, rice remains one of the most important ingredients in Japan today, and can be found in numerous dishes.
A bowl of rice is often served as a side dish for lunch and dinner. It is also part of the traditional Japanese breakfast, eaten plain, mixed with a raw egg and soya sauce (tamago-kake-gohan) or with natto or other toppings.
Sushi can be defined as a dish which contains sushi rice, cooked rice that is prepared with sushi vinegar. There are various kinds of sushi dishes.
A bowl of cooked rice with some other food put on top of the rice. Some of the most popular toppings are tempura (tendon), egg and chicken (oyakodon), tonkatsu (katsudon) and beef (gyudon).
Onigiri are rice balls made of cooked rice and usually wrapped with a nori seaweed. They are slightly salted and often contain some additional food in the center, for example an umeboshi (pickled Japanese apricot), katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings), tuna or salmon. Rice balls are a popular and inexpensive snack available at convenience stores.
Kare Raisu (Curry Rice) is cooked rice with a curry sauce. It can be served with additional toppings such as tonkatsu. Curry is not a native Japanese spice, but has been used in Japan for over a century. Kare Raisu is a very popular dish, and many inexpensive Kare Raisu restaurants can be found especially in and around train stations.
Fried rice or chahan has been originally introduced from China. A variety of additional ingredients such as peas, egg, negi (Japanese leek) and small pieces of carrot and pork are mixed to the rice when stir fried. It is a suitable dish for using left over rice.
Chazuke is a bowl of cooked rice with green tea and other ingredients, for example, salmon or tarako (cod roe) added to it. It is a suitable dish for using left over rice.
Kayu (粥) or often Okayu (お粥) is rice gruel, watery, soft cooked rice that resembles oatmeal. It is a suitable dish for using left over rice and is often served to sick people because it can be digested easily.
Zōsui (雑炊, literally "miscellaneous cooking"), or ojiya (おじや), is a mild and thin Japanese rice soup akin to a rice-based vegetable soup. It is made from pre-cooked rice and water seasoned with either soy sauce or miso and cooked with other ingredients such as meat, seafood, mushrooms, and vegetables. It is generally served to those who are sick or otherwise feeling unwell, and is usually only served in the winter.
Many dozens of kinds of fish, shellfish and other seafood from the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers are used in the Japanese cuisine. They are prepared and eaten in many different ways, for example, raw, dried, boiled, grilled, deep fried or steamed.
Sashimi is raw seafood. A large number of fish can be enjoyed raw if they are fresh and prepared correctly. Most types of sashimi are enjoyed with soya sauce and wasabi.
Yakizakana means grilled fish. Many varieties of fish are enjoyed in this way.
There are various traditional Japanese and introduced Japanized noodle dishes in Japan. Many of them enjoy a very high popularity.
Soba noodles are native Japanese noodles made of buckwheat and wheat flour. Soba are about as thick as spaghetti. They can be served cold or hot and with various toppings.
Udon noodles are native Japanese noodles made of wheat flour. Udon are thicker than soba and can also be served either hot or cold and with various toppings.
Ramen are Chinese style noodles prepared in a soup with various toppings. Ramen is one of the many popular dishes that were originally introduced from China but have become completely Japanized over time.
Like Udon noodles, somen are Japanese noodles made of wheat flour, but they are much thinner than Udon and Soba. Somen are usually eaten cold.
Yakisoba (焼きそば) started to appear in the 1930’s as So-su (= Sauce) Yakisoba (ソース焼きそば), and it was a poplar children’s snack at the mom-and-pop candy stores (dagashi-ya 駄菓子屋 in Japanese) in late 50’s. Yakisoba became an icon for Japanese street food. As it is easy to set up an iron plate Teppan (鉄板) and find ingredients to make this recipe.
Nabe dishes or hot pot dishes are prepared in a hot pot, usually at the table. Typical ingredients are vegetables such as negi (Japanese leek) and hakusai (Chinese cabbage), various mushrooms, seafood and/or meat. There are many regional and personal varieties, and they are especially popular in the cold winter months. Some special nabe dishes are:
A nabe dish prepared with various fish cakes, daikon, boiled eggs, konyaku and kombu seaweed, boiled over many hours in a soya sauce based soup.
A nabe dish prepared with thinly sliced meat, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu and shirataki (konyaku noodles). The pieces of food are dipped into a raw egg before eaten.
Shabu-shabu is Japanese style meat fondue. Thinly sliced meat, vegetables, mushrooms and tofu is dipped into a hot soup and then into ponzu vinegar or a sesame sauce before being eaten.
Chanko nabe is the staple diet of sumo wrestlers. There are many varieties of chanko nabe. A few chanko nabe restaurants can be found around Ryogoku, the sumo district in Tokyo.
Meat has been eaten in Japan in larger amounts only since the second half of the 19th century. Nowadays there are a variety of Japanese meat dishes.
Yakitori are grilled chicken pieces on skewers. Most parts of the chicken can be used for yakitori.
Tonkatsu (豚カツ, とんかつ or トンカツ) is a Japanese dish that consists of a breaded, deep-fried/tempura pork cutlet. It involves cutting the pig's back center into 2-3 centimeter thick slices, coating with panko (bread crumbs), frying them in oil, and then serving with Japanese Worcestershire sauce, rice, and vegetable salad (mainly cabbage). The two main types are fillet and loin. Tonkatsu is often served with shredded cabbage, or on a bed of rice (making it a donburi dish, called Katsudon).
Nikujaga is a popular dish of home style cooking made of meat (niku) and potatoes (jagaimo).
Tofu, natto, miso and many more important ingredients of Japanese cooking are made of soya beans. The following are some of the most popular soya bean based dishes:
Yudofu are tofu pieces boiled in a clear, mild soup and dipped into a soya based sauce before being eaten.
Agedashi Tofu are deep fried tofu pieces that are dipped into a soya based sauce before being eaten.
Miso soup is often served as a side dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is made by dissolving miso paste in hot water and adding additional ingredients such as wakame seaweed and small pieces of tofu.
Yoshoku means Western food. A large number of Western dishes have been introduced to Japan over the centuries. Many of them have become completely Japanized, and these dishes are now called Yoshoku dishes. Some of the most popular ones are:
Korokke has its origins in the croquettes which were introduced to Japan in the 19th century. Korokke comes in many varieties depending on the filling that is coated with bread crumbs and deep fried. The most common filling is a mix of minced meat and mashed potatoes.
Omuraisu (オムライス, abbreviation for omelet rice) is cooked rice, wrapped in a thin omelet, and usually served with tomato ketchup.
Hayashi rice is Japanese style hashed beef, thinly sliced beef and onions in a sauce made of ketchup and soya sauce, and served on cooked rice.
Hamubagu is a Japanese style hamburger without the bread.
Tempura is seafood, vegetables, mushrooms and other pieces of food coated with tempura batter and deep fried. Tempura was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century, but has internationally become one of Japan's most famous dishes.
Tamagoyaki (卵焼き or 玉子焼き, literally "grilled egg") is a type of Japanese omelette, which is made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg. These are often prepared in a rectangular omelette pan called a makiyakinabe or tamagoyakiki. If you want to make an omelet, here is the recipe (RU)
Okonomiyaki is a mix between pizza and pancake. Various ingredients such as seafood, vegetables and meat can be mixed with the dough and placed on the okonomiyaki as topping.
Monjayaki is a Kanto region specialty that is similar to Okonomiyaki, however, the dough used is much more liquid than the okonomiyaki dough.
Gyoza are dumplings with a filling usually made of minced vegetables and ground meat. Gyoza were introduced to Japan from China. In Japan gyoza are usually prepared by frying them.
Chawanmushi is steamed egg custard that contains additional pieces of food such as chicken, shrimp or fish cake.
Tsukemono are Japanese pickles. There are many variety of pickles, and a small dish with some pickles is served with most Japanese meals.
Umeboshi are a popular kind of Japanese tsukemono and are extremely sour and salty. Sweet umeboshi which are made with honey also exist. They are usually served as a side dish for rice or eaten on rice balls for breakfast and lunch. They are occasionally served boiled or seasoned for dinner.
Gomaae is a Japanese side dish and may be translated as "sesame dressing". There are several types of gomaae dishes.
Bento is Japanese for a single-portion takeout meal.