A traditional Japanese multi-couse “Kaiseki” dinner
Cuisine and Sake
Japanese cuisine is famously light and healthy with very little sugar, salt, fat or oil. It is based on a rice, fish or noodle staple served with mountain or sea vegetables. It is made as much for taste and presentation as it is to fill you up, but even then Japanese people say “Hara hachi-bun”, which means they eat only 80% of what they can. Expect smaller servings, except if you’re trying Chanko-nabe (a hot pot), which is what sumo wrestlers eat to gain their bulk.
While sushi is the most recognisable Japanese food in Australia, it isn’t as celebrated in its native home. Instead, there are Ramen bars that serve noodles which are significantly better than the instant variety, and izakaya, which are reasonably priced corner restaurants with local vibes. Yakiniku (BBQ) is also popular with locals, as is other local styles such as Teppan-yaki. A battered mix cooked in Osaka on a hot plate is called Okonomiyaki, and Monjayaki, which is a Tokyo variation. Preparation of the battered mix is entirely up to the customer, meaning that the resulting pancake is only limited by one’s tastes and preferences, though helpful staff are always on hand to cook the house special. Besides Ramen, there are many types of soba, which is thicker with variations made from rice. Every area has famous specialties: Hokkaido is famous for king crabs and a salmon stew called Ishikari-nabe. Nagoya is renowned for Miso Katsu, fried pork fillet with sweet miso sauce. There are also fast food outlets, but with a Japanese twist, such as mayonnaise on pizza. A Japanese kind of fast food is Gyudon, essentially beef on rice that is tastier than it sounds. There is also high cuisine and specialty food to suit the most demanding gourmet, whether it is high-end sushi restaurants or Wagyu premium beef. For thrill seekers, there is fugu, a poisonous blowfish that is expertly prepared by a certified chef.
Sake (called Nihonshu in Japanese), or Japanese rice wine, comes in a wide range of qualities and distillation methods: micro-distilleries, premium aged types and local styles. Niigata Prefecture is known for its premium sake made from pure alpine water from melted snow. Another variation is Shochu, a kind of Japanese Vodka.