Cultured Palate: Dishes from Japan

There are plenty of reasons to visit Japan — the amazing history and culture, the bustling urban spaces, and the gorgeous countryside. While many people visit knowing nothing about the food culture in Japan and still have a great time, a good way to plan for your trip is to learn about the many types of Japanese foods available, and where to find the best examples of each dish. Many people think of sushi when they picture Japanese food, but there is much more that defines traditional cuisine. From haute kaiseki cuisine to street food, there are plenty of options for every palate and budget. Check out a few key dishes below.

1. Miso Soup

Most meals at Japanese restaurants in North America begin with miso soup, and it’s truly one of the most ubiquitous dishes in Japanese cuisine. The base is made of miso  (fermented soybean) paste, stirred into a broth made of dashi stock. Then, different ingredients are added which reflect both the season and the taste of the chef. Some commons additions are tofu cubes, daikon, mushroom, or wakame seaweed. Ideally, the additional ingredients are a mix of things that float, like seaweed, and sink, such as potato. In Japan, miso soup and white rice are traditionally eaten for breakfast.

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2. Gyoza

Originally a staple of Chinese cuisine, gyoza are small dumplings made of thin rice paper, wrapped around a mixture of finely ground pork, chives, green onions, and cabbage. There are gyoza available with different ingredients, but pork and green onions are by far the most common. Gyoza can be boiled or pan fried, which produces a delicious crispy crust on the bottom. A savory dipping sauce made of soy sauce and vinegar is usually served on the side.

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3. Sushi

Sushi is a uniquely Japanese invention, but has devotees around the world. Sushi is a mixture of vinegared rice and fish. It is generally served with either the sliced fish sitting on top of a bed of rice, or with the fish enclosed in a roll of rice and seaweed. In Japan, sushi is available everywhere from vending machines to Michelin star restaurants. Undoubtedly, the most famous restaurant is Sukiyabashi Jiro, which is a tiny unassuming has three Michelin star sushi restaurant in the basement of an office building in Ginza. At a restaurant like Jiro’s, it is best to leave your meal completely in the hands of the chef, who will prepare a meal of the freshest available fish.

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