Japanese food is more often than not stereotyped as “raw and spicy," perhaps because of sushi and wasabi, the most popular ones from this kind of cuisine in the Philippines. But is that all there is to it?
A country is usually marked by its culture and part of it is food. Not just the food itself but also the customs and traditions that go with the preparation and consumption.
A renowned Japanese chef, author, cooking advisor, and the mastermind behind the culinary pot innovation called Cook Zen, Machiko Chiba and her daughter Akiko, shared with us three simple dining principles which could help us further understand what Japanese food and dining culture really is and hopefully inspire new ideas that will help us elevate our own dining practices and philosophies:
1. Healthy. Japanese are generally and traditionally healthy-eating people. They value their health so much that they always make sure that every meal is well-balanced with all the right kinds and right amount of food e.g., bento—a meal in a box consists of rice, varieties of fish, vegetables, and meat. Same with sushi, although bite-size, is in itself a complete meal already because it has rice, fish, and seafood, sometimes with fruits.
2. Seasonal. Japan has four strong seasons namely spring, summer, autumn, and winter which greatly affect their cooking according to Chef Machiko.
First, some ingredients are only available at a certain period like the Matsutake mushrooms which are at its peak during autumn.
Second, some ingredients are beneficial during a certain season, for example, unagi or eels which are high in protein and are cooked more frequently during summer.
Third, there are dishes specifically served or tweaked for an occasion. During tea ceremonies, the shape of cookies served depend on the season like maple leaves in autumn and cherry blossoms in spring. This reveals their value on visual presentation of the food, not just the taste.
3. Thankful. Japanese never forget to say “Itadakimasu!” with every meal. This expression which literally means “I receive" or "humbly receive,” is their way of thanksgiving for the food served, no matter what it is. They also make sure that nothing is left on their plate as a sign of appreciation and respect not just to the cook but also the Giver.
These three simple words reveal the Japanese's deep inclination towards their own food culture. If we could apply these principles in our lives: Maximize native ingredients, celebrate occasions with our own cuisine, and never fail to be grateful in whatever food is served, each one of us would surely develop a deeper love and patriotism towards our own. How I long to see that happen.
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Photoraph from grubber.com