Carefully and artfully prepared, Japanese food has gained recognition as
one of the most healthful and aesthetically pleasing cuisines in the
world. Japanese culture places a strong emphasis on tasteful
presentation of food prepared with quality seasonal ingredients,
including rice or noodles, meat, fish, seafood, and vegetables.
Short grain sticky rice is often used as a base, but can be alternated
with soba (thin buckwheat noodles), udon (thick wheat noodles), or ramen
(wheat noodles which are traditionally Chinese). The main dishes
are known as okazu, and include a protein such as beef, chicken, seafood,
or tofu, as well as vegetables. Popular okazu include sushi,
sashimi, tempura, and yakitori, which are often flavored with miso, soy
sauce, or dashi. A typical Japanese meal includes a bowl of white
rice, a bowl of soup, pickles known as tsukemono, and several different
okazu. Chopsticks are used for most dishes except for soup, and
meals may be accompanied by sake, a wine made from fermented rice.
The overarching culinary philosophy of Japanese cuisine is encompassed in
the word "washoku" which literally means the "harmony of food".
Washoku refers to the act of being conscious of what is eaten and its
capacity to nourish, as well as to the nutritionally balanced Japanese
food which is prepared according to this principle. The philosophy
of washoku is guided by five colors, five tastes, five senses, five
outlooks, and five principles. Five colors, or "go shiki",
recommends that a balanced meal include the colors red, yellow, green,
black, and white. Five tastes, or "go mi", aims to balance the
flavors of salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy. Five ways, or "go
ho", suggests that food should be prepared by a variety of methods
including broiling, simmering, and steaming. Five senses, or "go
kan", is about being mindful of the aesthetics of the food, including the
sight, smell, and texture. Five outlooks, or "go kan mon"
encourages the partaker to be respectful of those who cultivated and
prepared the food, to do good deeds, to come to the table without anger,
to eat for the nourishment of the soul as well as the body, and to seek
to attain awareness and understanding. Traditional Japanese cuisine
embodies a way of life, and partaking in it provides a delightful dining
experience that is sure to please all five senses.
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