Japanese Cuisine:

The Health Benefits of Japanese Cuisine

Sushi, tempura, sukiyaki, sashimi -- even the words that describe the most basic of Japanese dishes are exotic and beautiful. Japanese cuisine is easily one of the healthiest on Earth, with its concentration on fresh fish, seafood, rice, and vegetables. The zesty sauces and delicate flavors of fresh foods complement each other beautifully, and the methods of presentation turn even simple meals into ornate, eye-pleasing events.

The Japanese claim easily a dozen different names for rice, depending on how it is prepared and what is served with it. The most common meal is a rice bowl, a bowl of white rice served with various toppings or other things mixed in. So popular is it that the Rice Bowl has even made its way into the world of Western convenience foods beside the infamous ramen noodles.

Domburi is a bowl of rice topped with another item of food; domburi tendon, for instance, is rice topped with tempura and domburi gyudon is rice topped with beef. The Japanese adopted fried rice from the Chinese, and a century ago, when curry was first introduced, developed Kare Raisu, curried rice. It's now such a popular dish that there are many fast food restaurants that serve several versions of it in take-out bowls.

Besides white rice served as a side dish, Japanese cuisine also features onigiri -- rice balls wrapped in seaweed, often with a "surprise" in the middle. There is also kayu, a thin gruel made of rice that resembles oatmeal.

An island nation, it's not surprising that seafood is so prominent in Japanese cuisine. Sushi and sashimi are both raw fish and seafood with various spices. The freshest fish is the secret to wonderful sashimi and sushi, served with wasabi, ginger slices, and soy sauce. The Japanese love of beauty and simplicity turns slices and chunks of raw fish into miniature artworks. Fish cut so thin that it's transparent may be placed on a platter in a delicate fan that alternates pink-fleshed salmon with paler slices. Sushi is typically arranged to show off the colors and textures to their best advantage, turning the platter into paint palettes for the artistry of the chef.

Traditionally, meat plays only a minor role in the Japanese diet, though it has been taking a larger role over the past fifty years as western culture sets in. Beef, chicken, and pork may be on the menu with several meals a week now. One of the more popular meat dishes is "yakitori" -- chicken grilled on a skewer and served with sauce. A typical quick lunch might be a skewer of yakitori and a rice bowl featuring sushi sauce.

In an interesting twist on their history, Japan has imported dishes from other cuisines and "Japanized" them, adopting them as part of their own food culture. Korokke, for instance, are croquettes adopted from those introduced by the English traders of the 19th century. In Japan, the most common filling is a mixture of mashed potatoes and minced meat. Other western dishes that have been embraced by Japanese everyday cuisine include omuraisu, a rice omelet, and hambagu, the Japanized version of an American hamburger.

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