Introduction to Japanese Food

Bento box

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Japanese people call each meal "gohan." For example, breakfast is called "asa-gohan." A bowl of steamed rice is included in typical Japanese meals and can be part of breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Side dishes are called okazu and are served with rice and soup. Rice is a staple of the Japanese diet. Rice cakes (mochi) are also commonly consumed. They range from sweet to savory and have many different preparations from boiled to grilled.

A Japanese Take on Three Square Meals

Traditional Japanese breakfast consists of steamed rice, miso (soybean paste) soup, and side dishes, such as grilled fish, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), pickles, nori (dried seaweed), natto, and so on. Various rice bowls and noodle dishes are popular for lunch. For example, ramen, soba, udon, and gyudon beef bowls are popular. Many people take bento lunch boxes to school or work. Dinner is usually the main meal of the day and can range from sushi to tori katsu, which is like a chicken cutlet. Modern Japanese dishes are highly influenced by other Asian and Western cuisines.


Delicious Katsudon Pork Cutlet Rice Bowl Recipe


Besides rice, seafood is highly consumed in Japan since the country is surrounded by oceans. Seaweed, fish, clams, fish cakes are popular ingredients in Japanese cooking. Of course, sushi and sashimi are also quite popular.

Dashi Soup Stock

Dashi soup stock used in traditional dishes is made from katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and/or kombu (kelp). The stock is used as a base for noodle, seafood, or other dishes.


Essential seasonings are soy sauce, mirin, and miso. Umami, a Japanese word that has become quite popular in Western culinary vocabulary, is known as the fifth basic taste. Essentially, it's the savory taste and is key in Japanese cuisine.


Japanese people distinguish traditional Japanese-style dishes as "wa-shoku" (wa means Japanese-style, and shoku indicates food) as opposed to Western food, which is generally called "yo-shoku." Chinese dishes are called "chuuka," and chuuka dishes cooked in Japan are arranged in Japanese-style. It's similar to authentic Chinese dishes but has its differences.

Regional Differences

Japan is a small country, but each region or even a city has its own specials. Mainly, there are Kanto region (eastern area of the main island) food and Kansai region (western area of the main island) food. Generally, Kanto food has strong flavors, and Kansai food is lightly seasoned. Many dishes are cooked differently between the Kansai and Kanto regions.

Cutlery and Table Settings

To eat Japanese-style meals, chopsticks are commonly used. Also, Japanese people use forks, knives, or spoons, depending on what types of food people are eating. The traditional Japanese table setting is to place a bowl of rice on your left and to place a bowl of miso soup on your right side on the table. Other dishes are set behind these bowls. Chopsticks are placed on a chopstick holder in front of soup and rice bowls.