>>>Life after nigiri
Sukiyaki finishes cooking at the table.

Life after nigiri

Japanese cuisine isn’t just rice and raw fish. Pizza, croquettes and Japanese omelette all compete with sushi. Get your chopsticks ready.

he 12 restaurants each with a trio of Michelin stars in Tokyo make the Japanese capital the city with the most three-star establishments in the world—ahead of Paris, with nine. To these 12, you have to add 53 with two stars, and 156 with one. Japanese gastronomy is hot news and about much more than just sushi. While this is the most exported type of Japanese food, it isn’t the most eaten. For the Japanese, it is an exception rather than a rule, since eating quality sushi could cost as much as 300 euros. That is the price on the menu at Jiro (Tokyo), at Ginza metro station, considered the best sushi restaurant in the world.

The latest tokiota to join the list of three-star venues is Kohaku. Its most popular dish has nothing to do with nori seaweed. It is beef shabu shabu in katsuo-dashi, finely sliced fatty cuts in a stock made from dry tuna. A similar version is sukiyaki, which has a stronger flavour. This dish is served in a shallow pot, with vegetable stock, noodles and diced beef. The trick, and what makes it different to shabu shabu, is the sauce. It is made with soy sauce and sugar. Sukiyaki is typical of the regions of Kanto and Kansai, in the centre of the country.

Okonomiyaki comes from the terms knomi (taste) and yaki (griddle).
Okonomiyaki comes from the terms knomi (taste) and yaki (griddle).

Appetisers in Osaka

The most popular street food in Japan is takoyakis. Originating from Osaka, they are a sort of octopus-stuffed profiterole. Very crunchy, they are normally accompanied by sweet sauce or mayonnaise. Try them at Kuromon Ichiba Market.

Carbohydrates are the main staple of Japanese cuisine. They are the secret to the longevity that has made Japan the country with the second longest life expectancy on the planet. Their version of pizza is called okonomiyaki. While it is round and cut into triangular portions, it has little else in common with the Italian dish. It is a vegetable-based cake that will work with almost any ingredient. There are two versions: Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style.

In the Kansai region, the dough used to make okonomiyaki (based on flour, water, egg, and yam) is mixed with the rest of the ingredients and then cooked on the griddle. In Hiroshima, however, they don’t add the ingredients to the dough; instead, they add them in layers. All okonomiyakis have one thing in common: the special sauce that covers the dish. It is made with tomato, fruit (normally plums) and soy sauce. In Osaka (Kansai) it is a very popular recipe. Several restaurants in the city are named after this dish, like Okonomiyaki Sanpei.

Korokkes are also very popular in South Korea.
Korokkes are also very popular in South Korea.

Although Western cooking arrived in Japan in the 16th century, it didn’t become popular until well into the 19th century. Korokkes or Japanese croquettes are little more than a century old. The term comes from the French. They are made from potato purée, onion and an ingredient of your choice (meat, fish or vegetables), battered and fried. Originally an appetiser, they have since become a main dish on the Japanese menu, served with salad and decorated with any sauce.

Takoyakis can be served alone or with other ingredients on top.
Los ‘takoyakis’Takoyakis can be served alone or with other ingredients on top. pueden servirse solos o con otros ingredientes por encima.
Photo: cowardlion/Shutterstock.com

At the same time, omuraisu or omurice, also emerged as a result of Western influence. On the outside, it looks like a traditional French omelette, but it hides something inside. It is filled with rice. They are normally seasoned with tomato sauce, or even ketchup. And you can add any other ingredient, like meat or vegetables. At Taimeiken restaurant, Tokyo, they make a version they have called tampopo omurice, in honour of the film directed by Juzo Itami. Omurice is one of the few Japanese dishes you are recommended to eat with a spoon. Does anyone still remember nigiri?

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