Japanese cuisine — notable for its simplicity of flavors — still does.
“Our food is understated, simple. Our idea of sophisticated is beautiful-looking food with fresh, clean flavor,”
And lots and lots of vegetables. Red bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, onions, burdock, tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce, carrots, spinach, bamboo shoots, beets, lotus root, turnips, daikon, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes and sea vegetables such as nori all play big roles in the Japanese diet.
Japanese vegetable dishes:
As many as four or five varieties can be served in a single meal. Vegetable soup for breakfast? It’s common in Japan.
Vegetarian dishes, as with art, music, fashion and manners, are prepared so each flavor is distinct enough to be appreciated individually. If sauces are served, they’re on the side instead of sauteed with or drizzled liberally over the vegetable dishes.
“The Japanese want the vegetables to taste like vegetables, and along with appreciating the taste, they understand the health benefits of making vegetables such an important part of the cuisine,” said Sushi Roku sous chef Ryan Anderson.
Another tenet of the cuisine is that nothing, especially vegetables, should be eaten out of season.
Over the past decade, Americans have embraced Japanese sushi with the same enthusiasm as they embraced an earlier import: Italian pizza. Yet, we still know little about the remainder of the vegetable-driven diet. Much of what we know about Japanese cuisine is, unfortunately, Americanized versions of sukiyaki, tempura and noodle houses.
One driving factor in our newfound interest in Japanese food is an awareness of the health benefits of a plant-based diet. The diet plays an important role in why on average Japanese women and men live long and healthful lives. Japanese life expectancy is 86 years for women and 79 years for men, compared with 80 years for American women and 75 years for American men.
Today, the Japanese no longer consider beef eaters with disdain. In fact, they’ve turned Kobe beef into a coveted delicacy. But their passion for well-prepared vegetables remains strong.
Sushi Roku chefs offer the following tips for preparing vegetables Japanese-style:
Looks matter. Like a florist, a Japanese cook arranges vegetables to look as good as they taste. Think contrasting colors and stylish presentation.
Vegetables often are flash-fried in rice or other vegetable oil to create a slightly crunchy bite.
For a simple meal, serve a vegetable dish with a side of short-grain rice. This gummier variety is the preferred rice of the Japanese.
Dice vegetables in uniform pieces for even cooking.
As Japan is an island nation surrounded by an ocean its people have always taken advantage of the abundant seafood supply. It is the opinion of some food scholars that the Japanese diet always relied mainly on “grains with vegetables or seaweeds as main, with fowl meat secondary, and mammal meat in slight amounts,” even before the advent of Buddhism which placed an even stronger taboo. The eating of “four-legged creatures” (四足 yotsuashi?) was spoken of as taboo, unclean, or something to be avoided by personal choice through the Edo Period. But under this definition Whale meat and suppon (terrapin) would not be regarded as taboo four-legged meat. Meat-eating never went completely out of existence in Japan. Eating wild game, as opposed to domesticated livestock, tended to be regarded as acceptable, and slaughtered hare is counted using the measure word wa (羽?), normally used for birds.)
Vegetable consumption has dwindled while processed foods have become more prominent in Japanese households due to the rising costs of general foodstuffs.