Imagine you are invited round for a home-cooked meal by your Japanese friend. Here’s what to expect –
You’ll first arrive with a small gift, bow as you enter the home and take your shoes off at the ‘genkan’ (entrance hall). You’ll be offered house slippers and guided to the living room for some tea.
After some chit chat, you’ll be shown to your seat at the dining table and here’s what will typically be in front of you:
A traditional Japanese meal layout ~
Rice on the bottom left
Soup on the bottom right
Main in the centre
side dishes and pickles up top
Rice and miso soup are the foundations of a Japanese meal. We don’t usually have miso soup for starters as they somehow have made ‘a thing’ over here and pouring soy sauce on your rice is definitely not a thing and considered amusing by us.
I don't think people realise how essential rice is in Japanese meals. Rice is everything (coming from the rice queen haha). We have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (unless we are having noodle dishes like soba or ramen).
Rice is literally always included in a Japanese meal and is an essential part of Japanese people’s lives. This is shown even in the Japanese language itself, where Gohan (ご飯) means both ‘cooked rice’ and a ‘meal.’ Traditionally, rice would be served plain unless they are made into Takikomi Gohan, a rice dish cooked with various ingredients and seasonings.
From a japanese perspective, it's funny how miso soup has recently become a starter, because for us it's very much part of the whole meal. Similar to rice, miso soup is served almost every day in a typical household but has countless variations, and often the ingredients reflect the food culture of different regions in Japan.
Okazu is a main dish that is served to accompany rice. As rice is usually served plain, Okazu adds nutrition and completes the meal. There are numerous types of Okazu in Japan, but traditionally, it consists of some kind of protein dish. Japanese meals often consist of seafood, whether that is grilled, fried, or raw but of course, they change it up with chicken, beef, and pork for variety.
In Japan, vegetable dishes often include sunomono – ‘vinegar-ed thing’ which is usually made with seaweed, cucumber, and radishes.
There’s also often a salad or an ohitashi – dashi-cooked vegetables are also a typical part of a Japanese meal. They are eaten as a palate cleanser and gives piquancy to the often flavourful and umami-packed meal.
Japanese pickled vegetables called Tsukemono also play a significant part in Japanese meals.
You are now done with your meal and your friend offers you some tea and some cut up fruits as dessert. After chatting for a bit more, you thank you for the meal and head your way home. See Let’s start with the basics [hyperlink to blog] for must-do etiquette while you’re there!
I remember growing up with my mum jealously complaining that Japanese meals are such a pain to wash up. Because we serve everything in little hand washable dishes, it’s not washing one big dinner plate x 4 or 6, it’s like 20 or 30 little dishes and bowls.
I guess this is one of the charms (but the hassles) of the Japanese way of eating.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you found it interesting!