5th Country - Japan
A crazy country I know nothing about. It is a country that has one of the highest populations and has the largest city in the world as its capital, aka, Tokyo.... Plus it is a freaking island! Wanna be even crazier, lets talk about some fun food facts
1. Rice is commonly eaten in Japan as a major part of their diet. Do not be amused if you find Japanese eating rice even in breakfast.
2. One of the popular food in Japan is raw horse meat. (yup, horse meat)
3. Coffee is extremely popular in Japan and is imported in a large number from Jamaica.
I promise not to give you a recipe for horse meat, but I thought I would just let you know what sort of things to expect. lol. Here is a great article that will tell you what items to store as part of your Japanese Pantry!
Although it's all the craze lately, ramen is just one of the soups you'll find in Japanese cuisine. And although you'll find sushi everywhere these days -- from gas stations to grocery stores -- there's more to Japanese food than raw fish and rice. Here are a couple of dishes to start to get you going:
In Asian cuisines -- Japanese cuisine included -- tofu isn't a meat replacement to be tolerated, but an ingredient of its own to be celebrated. My favorite form of tofu in any cuisine is the Japanese appetizer called agedashi (pronounced: ah-guh-dah-shee) tofu. Cubes of semi-firm tofu are battered in potato starch and deep fried, which gives them the same textural appeal of twice-fried frites: crunchy outside, soft interior. They're served in a sauce that combines all the best savory umami flavors (umamiis the sensation of food tasting earthy, rich and meaty) of dashi, mirin, and shoyu (a.k.a. soy sauce) and then topped with green onions for a tangy bite. Many dishes of agedashi tofu are also scattered with bonito flakes, which appear to "dance" as they melt into the hot tofu and give the whole dish a final sweet, briny note.
Imagine savory egg custard or flan. That's chawanmushi, which also incorporates those same umami-rich sauces as agedashi tofu. Dashi, mirin and soy sauce are mixed into eggs alongside mushrooms and shrimp. The whole thing is steamed inside a container no larger than a teacup ("chawan" means small bowl), but can be served hot or cold. I prefer my chawanmushi hot -- especially in the winter -- and those not practiced with using chopsticks will prefer this dish for another reason: It's always eaten with a spoon.
Americans like to think we have the market cornered on fried chicken. If you're in that camp, I invite you to try the Korean fried chicken at Toreore, the Hong Kong chicken wings at House of Bowls or karaage -- Japanese fried chicken -- at Muishii Makirritos. Karaage (pronounced: car-RAH-gay) can technically be any fried meat, but you'll encounter chicken karaage most often. The fowl will usually have been marinated in a mixture of garlic, ginger and soy sauce, then battered in more potato starch and deep fried. Ever since they were introduced during the Edo Period as a convenient form of fast/street food, fried dishes -- called agemono as a group -- have been popular in Japan although the batter and technique varies, from tempura to karaage to tonkatsu.
At its simplest, tonkatsu is breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. Unlike tempura or karaage, tonkatsu is breaded using panko for a fine, crumbly texture to the batter. Tonkatsu can be served on its own, but it's frequently found under curry (brought to Japan via England via India, for a very watered-down and non-spicy version of the original spice blend) alongside steamed rice, but can also be a sandwich filling. It's also popular in a hybrid dish called katsu-don, which pairs the tonkatsu and its sweet, vinegar-y sauce with a rice bowl (called donburi) and plops an egg on top.
Not to be confused with donburi, udon is a noodle soup (and a noodle soup that's not to be confused with ramen). Got it? In its most basic form, udon is simply a bowl of thick wheat flour noodles in a broth made with dashi, mirin and soy sauce. It's most commonly topped with fried meat or seafood, scallions and fish cakes called kamaboko. The extra thick, jiggly udon noodles are easily the most slurpable noodles you'll find in Japanese cuisine.
Like udon, soba noodles are a popular alternative to rice. Unlike udon, soba noodles are made from buckwheat and can be served hot or cold. Chilled soba noodles are usually served separate from the tsuyu broth, which you use to dip your cold noodles into, as many fans of soba say that the texture is best when the noodles haven't been sitting in warm soup. Hot soba dishes are served in a thinner version of the tsuyu, and can be topped with anything from fried shrimp to raw eggs that cook in the broth.
Gyoza go by many names from culture to culture; they're the dumplings that are also called jiaozi in China or pierogie in Poland or manti in Turkey. In Japan, gyoza are usually filled with pork, cabbage, garlic and ginger. They're pan fried to give one side a crispy texture, then steamed to finish. As with tempura and tonkatsu, gyoza were adapted from a foreign cuisine (Chinese, in this case) but are considered "Japanese" by now.
Umeshu has an unusually sweet, floral fragrance and taste that comes from steeping the ume fruit (which is halfway between a plum and an apricot) in alcohol and sugar until fermented. The result is a liquer that's between 10 and 15 percent ABV, so this isn't something you drink throughout a meal. I think of umeshu (pronounced: woo-MAY-shoo) as a cousin to sherry or Port, and consume it in a similar fashion.
Although you may have seen sake called "rice wine," it's truly more like "rice beer." Rice is fermented to make Japan's most popular alcoholic beverage, but there are far more factors at play than just that. The many varieties of sake are differentiated by the type of rice used, how long it was polished, how long the sake ferments, what water is used, how long the sake matures and how filtered the sake is before it's bottled. Sake can be filtered or unfiltered, dry or sweet, fruity or floral and can be served hot or cold. There are simply too many iterations on this fascinating beverage to list, so seek out a sake expert and dive in for yourself if you're interested -- it's rich, underexplored territory in the United States.
So here you are to start! Enjoy reading and the next email will be awesome to get you going!