What is Nihonshoku (Japanese Food)?

Food Stylist:Mamie NishidePhotography by Paula Hible; Prop Styling by Page Hicks; Food Styling by Mamie Nishide

What do you imagine when you hear the words, “Japanese cuisine”? Perhaps you think of sushi, tempura, ramen noodles, misoshiru or takoyaki. Or, maybe only you think of sushi. However, when I think about the origins of each of those dishes, I sometimes question whether they really are “Japanese cuisine”. The modern term “Japanese cuisine” means traditional-style Japanese food, similar to what existed before the end of national seclusion in 1868. In a broader sense, “Japanese cuisine” could also include foods whose ingredients or cooking methods were originally imported from other cultures, but which have been changed by the Japanese to make them their own (Wikipedia). For example, tempura was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries and traders 400 years ago. The word “tempura” comes from the word “tempora”, a Latin word meaning “times” or “time period” used by both Spanish and Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period or Ember Days, Fridays, and other Christian holy days. On those days, the Portuguese missionaries and traders who were Catholics avoided meat, instead eating fish and vegetables dipped in a batter made with flour and water, then deep fried. Another example is takoyaki, which pairs non-traditional Japanese ingredients like Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise, with traditional Japanese ingredients such as octopus and fish shavings to create a distinctly Japanese-tasting dumpling. So, when I use the term “Japanese Cuisine”, I mean “the dishes which are loved and eaten by Japanese people at home and in restaurants”.

Seasonal ingredients are very important in “Japanese cuisine”. We have 5 distinct seasons, Haru (Spring), Tsuyu (Rainy Season), Natsu (Summer), Aki (Autumn), and Fuyu (Winter). You can always find fresh seasonal vegetables, seafood and meat in Japan. The Japanese use these seasonal ingredients in their everyday cooking in order to enjoy the shun (the peak of harvest or flavor).

Haru (Spring) Ingredients: Brassica Rapeblossom, New Bamboo Shoot, New Onion, Spring Cabbage, New Potato, Asparagus, Mugwort, Watercress, Fiddleheads, Common Bracken, Mitsuba (Herb), Butterbur Sprout, Field Horsetail Shoot, Wakame Seaweed, Flounder, Sea Bream, Clam, Strawberry

Natsu (Summer) Ingredients: Watermelon, Eggplant, Cucumber, Okra, Edamame, Shiso Leaves (Perilla frutescens var. crispa), Tomato, Pepper, Lettuce, Sweefish (Plecoglossus altivelis), Smelt-whitings (Sillaginidae), Seabass (Lateolabrax aponicus), Beltfish (Trichiurus lepturus Japnonicus) Eel (Anguillajaponica), Carangidae (Trachurus japonicus), Asian pear (Pyrus pryrifolia var.culta)


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(Autumn): Ginkgo nut (ginkgo biloba), Chestnut, Satsumaimo-Japanese Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatasL.), Matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake), Satoimo-Japanese Taro (Colocasia esculenta Schott), Saury-Mackerel pike (Cocolabis saira), Mackerel, Sardine (Sardinops), Bonito-Skipjack tuna (katuswonus pelamis), Salmon, Pomegranate, Persimmon, Fig

Fuyu (Winter) Ingredients:Japanese Turnip, Burdock (Arcium lappa L.), Spinach, Daikon Radish (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus), Hakusai Cabbage (Brassica rapa L var. glabra Regel), Blowfish (T fubripes), Oyster, Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata), Crab, Yellowtail