Japan has more three-star Michelin restaurants than any other country in the world. When you dine at Komago in Kobe, you will see – or taste – why. Gorgeous, traditional bento boxes feature spicy spring rolls and miniature tempura. The yellowtail sashimi is marinated in sweet vinegar and brushed with horseradish and wasabi. Each bite is fresh, delicate, and delicious. From traditional sushi and sashimi to fusion, from Tokyo to Osaka, culinary treats of Japan are many, and they are incredibly diverse.
Japan features a variety of culinary styles, including:
- Tempura. Familiar to many Westerners, tempera is seafood and vegetables that are dipped in a batter and fried. The batter is a mixture of water or sparkling water and wheat flour. It is important that it be cold and mixed very quickly to create a fluffy, light coating, unlike the very thick crust that is often on US fried foods. The result is a refreshing treat that is often the star of bento (lunch) boxes.
- Sushi and sashimi. These menu items come to mind immediately when we think of Japanese cuisine. Once served only on very special occasions, sushi and sashimi are more of a staple in today’s Japanese restaurants. Different varieties of sushi, including maki and nigiri, and sashimi, unadorned by rice, offer fresh tastes, tender textures, and a bite of wasabi and ginger.
- Kaiseki. Often described as equivalent to Western haute-cuisine, Kaiseki is a style of food prized for its quality. While there are “informal” Kaiseki restaurants, the tradition is very formal. Chefs improvise within the structure of Kaiseki. Meals consist of appetizers, both light and more substantial, soup course, seasonal sashimi platter with seafood and vegetables, cooked dishes (grilled, dressed, simmered, steamed, and vinegared courses), rice course, dessert, and tea. It is more of an event than a meal!
- Fusion. Creative, fun, and delicious, fusion blends Japanese style with other culinary traditions. Japanese-Spanish, Japanese-Italian, Japanese-Thai…the list goes on and on! While fusion is popular in the United States and other areas, it is still catching on in Japan itself. Restaurants like the Two Rooms Grill integrates new and traditional styles, Japanese and international cuisine. From “bar bites” to High Tea, you will leave satisfied!
Japan is incredibly rich in culture, and its culinary traditions are among the most beloved in the world. What makes it so wonderful, though, is that it evolves and allows for creativity and improvisation. Well-prepared Japanese food always tastes fresh and exciting.