Have you tried Japanese food in Japan?
Currently I am living in Thailand, and there are many Japanese restaurants, but I realized there are really two types of Japanese restaurants, each with its own specialized customers. Thai people like a mixed and strong taste, such like spicy, sour, sweet and salty all combined in one dish or meal. But, Japanese people prefer a lighter taste and less seasoning. So Japanese and Thai have different definitions for “delicious.”
You should know that most traditional Japanese food, such as sushi, siba and hot pot (nabe), don’t have such a have a powerful taste. Japanese food is not overly hot, spicy, sweet, oily or salty. I think this is a big reason that many people believe Japanese food is healthy and good for a diet.
Kyoto people like a mild taste and Tokyo people like a "deep" taste
If you’ve already been to Japan, which area did you visit?
Japan has 6,852 islands included among its four main islands from north to south--Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Each has its own topographical features (like mountains or lakes) and climate, as well as the special tastes preferred by the people living there.
Here’s something interesting: when you enter convenience stores in Japan, you will often see the oden section near a cashier. Oden is one of the more popular casual dishes, especially in winter.
(If you haven't tried oden, please check it out the ‘oden’ wikipedia page )
But, if you try oden in Tokyo and Osaka, you’ll see a difference in taste. The secret of the differences in the oden taste is in the oden broth.
Oden broth in Tokyo is made with shavings of dried bonito, sea tangle and dark, strongly flavored soy sauce; oden broth in Osaka is made with sea tangle and a weaker, lighter-colored soy sauce. That accounts for the different tastes and colors. Not only does each household change the flavor according to its region or neighborhood, but convenience stores and restaurants do as well. To me, this means that the restaurant has two standards for two types of consumers. I think it sounds “very Japanese,” as a top quality service in the country.
Why do they make different flavors?
In the past, there were many samurai (warriors) in the eastern area (Kantoo-chihoo), which includes current Tokyo, and they worked as physical laborers. They sweated a lot while working, so they needed to take in salt. This condition got them to prefer eating food with strong seasoning.
In the western area (Kansai-chihoo), which includes current Kyoto and Osaka, there were many court nobles and merchants. They worked as administrators, so they didn't need to take in salt so much, and, therefore, they were less fond of spicier foods. However, they were fond of food with an elegant look and enjoyed the color and taste of the more simple ingredients.
Although samurai and court nobles don’t live in our cities nowadays, we have carried on their favorite tastes. I’m not sure if this is really true or not, but many Japanese believe this story.
There’s one more flavor of oden I’d like to tell you about. This is the traditional Japanese seasoning miso. If you’ve eaten Japanese food, then you are probably familiar with it. Miso soup is quite famous as Japanese food. So when you order from the set menu in a Japanese restaurant, miso will be served with both the main dish and the rice.
Did you know there are several kinds of miso? There is miso, Rice-miso, wheat-miso and soybean-miso. Depending on where they live, people have their favorite miso taste.
In Aichi prefecture (a government district), miso is one of its specialties. There is also an original miso, called as haccho-miso. It’s made from high-quality soybeans and salt and water, and it has a “deep taste” and dark color compared to other miso sauces. This original miso eventually became miso-oden (the first photo below). In the following two photos below the miso-oden, the food is colored with haccho-miso. See the big difference between the colors of haccho-miso and miso-oden.
There are many famous miso menus, like miso-nikomi-udon (noodles simmered in miso broth) and miso-katsu (pork cutlet with miso sauce). If you walk around this area, you will find more food and snacks with the miso flavor, like miso-senbei (miso flavored rice cookies), miso curry and so on.
Sweet Soy sauce?
Besides oden, we have many foods that have different tastes, depending on the area they come from. For example, udon and soba soups are quite different, These are photos (below) of instant udon soup. It seems obvious that they would have different tastes because of their very different colors. The left cup of udon is sold in Tokyo and the right cup is sold in Osaka. Oden is used different in different types of soy sauces, weak and light-colored or strong and darker-colored. As with miso, there are several different kinds of soy sauce. Common soy sauce is mainly made with soybeans, wheat and salt water. But, there is another recipe for soy sauce in Kyusyu where sugar or sweetener is added to the soy sauce. Because trading between Holland and China once prospered in Kyusyu in the 17th century, people could get sugar easier more than in other areas. I’ve heard that they use sweet sauce when eating sashimi and sushi, too. I’ve never tried it and it’s hard to imagine the taste, so please tell me if you have a chance to try this temptation in Kyusyu.
Enjoy regional “delicious” menus
I grew up in western Japan and have also worked in eastern Japan. So I’ve experienced the different tastes of oden, udon, and soba. It wasn’t easy to find a favorite shop in Tokyo, because the soup was not same as I had gotten used to. But, it was a very interesting experience to find so many different things even in a small island country.
Some supermarkets and department stores hold “special product fairs” to introduce and sell the great tastes from several regions to consumers. Even you have never been there, your taste buds can travel all over Japan through its special products. In addition, we can find regional specialty restaurants in most cities. Therefore, you no longer need to go to the local area to try regional tastes.
But, I believe that it’s the greatest adventure to explore and experience the local climate, terrain (land formations), dialects, people and their favorite flavors in each region. So if you have a chance to visit Japan, please try and enjoy these many different kinds of “delicious!”
Edited by Ilene Springer