Eat like the Japanese – they are on to something.

It is no coincidence that the Japanese have a  very low mortality rate and overall healthier lifestyle. Recent research and scientific articles point this to the Japanese diet, or the official dietary guidelines followed by the Japanese population. I will call it guidelines simply because they do not think of this as a diet per say, they do not restrict anything from their daily food intake. It is all based on portion control, mindful healthy eating and Hara hachi bun me (腹八分目/はらはちぶんめ) which translate into “only eat until you are 80% full”.

The Japanese diet consists of a load full of grains, fish, pork, vegetables and soy. This must be why they live longer, healthier and are leaner. Eating for a purpose other then to satiate hunger sounds mind blowing to us westerners, but trust me, they are on to something very important.

 

food-guide

Some of staples that you will need in your kitchen to start include Mirim sweet rice cooking wine used on most broth and stir fry recipes, Nori for garnishing and wrapping, sesame oil and seed, soy sauce, buckwheat, ramen and udon noodles are the most used. You will also want to stock up on short grained rice, fish, pork and a lot of vegetables such as shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, snow peas, spinach, cabbage and scallions.  The base of most Japanese cooking is a hearty broth, so mastering your home made broth skill is a plus.

The Japanese approach to food is very much mindful and natural, this means that they are very conscious of what they put on their plate. Eating a lot of raw ingredients, steaming or boiling over frying, these are the things that will make you healthier and happier on the long haul.

Here are some popular home style Japanese dishes to get you inspired to incorporate some of that oriental flavor to your daily meals. Bonus? Recipes usually contain less ingredients and have shorter prep times, but some ingredients are harder to find and you may need to hit your local Asian market for some specific ones.

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Prepare an easy Japanese winter soup with pork broth (store bought, like ready ramen broth works), Mirim, Soy sauce, spinach, noodle and chopped pork. Add some zucchinis, shitaki and snow peas in their for good measure and garnish with scallions. (Advise from the wise: do not use buckwheat noodle, way to strong tasting for soup.) Photo credit: F. Fernandes
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Ramen is a Chinese born recipe that quickly became popular throughout Asia, it quickly turned into a mainstream sort of comfort food dish. Very simple to prepare, and once you master the base it is very easy to play around with different ingredients you can add to your bowl. Photo credit: Delish.com
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Udon noodle is traditionally served with a broth (flavor of your choice) with Mirim and Soy Sauce. Since the noodle itself is very hearty, the broth is usually downplayed. Here less is more.  Photo credit: Los Angeles CBS 

 

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There are two variations to this delicious and hearty dish – Yakisoba made with ramen style noodles or YakiUdon made with Udon noodles. It is usally prepared by frying one these noodles with bite size pork, beef or chicken, vegetables (usually cabbage, onion, carrots and brocolli) and flavored with yakisoba sauce. Photo credit: Japanesecooking101.com
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Short grain rice is an absolute staple inside every Japanese kitchen – and also the base of their diet. It is very common to find it being served for breakfast, lunch or dinner in a variety of ways. You can eat it with raw fish (sushi), make it an elaborated rice bowl, or simple easy to make Poke (this is actually Hawaiian but popular world wide especially Japan – chopped raw fish served over rice). Get real simple and make the famous Onigiri (cute triangle shaped rice balls wrapped in  squares of nori sheet, usually  dipped in soy sauce.)
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Everyone loves sushi, and we have Japan to thank for this delicate piece of culinary heaven. You will find a thousand variations of sushi out there to satisfy all tastes – traditional short grain rice cooked with rice vinegar layered with nori and rolled up with raw fish, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits. Commonly served with sides of pickled ginger, wasabi paste and soy sauce for dipping.
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Make it a bowl – simple, tasty and hearty. We love bowls! The base is usually noodles or rice – after that you can build it the way your heart desires. Pictures is a Oyakodon (Japanese chicken and egg rice bowl) Photo: Seriouseats.com
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Okonomiyaki or “grill as you like it” is a tasty sort of Japanese style pancake, made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat and topped with your choice of condiments from bacon to Japanese mayo (there is such a thing) or simple scallions. Now, I can`t say I have tried this yet – but what I have read so far and seen in pictures, this went to the top of my taste bud`s bucket list. Click on the photo credit link for recipe. Photo credit: Justonecookbook.com

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Temakizushi is a hand rolled DYI sushi very common in Japanese restaurants and kitchen. It’s  small portion and easy to make build your own nature make the temakizushi a perfect weeknight meal. It quickly become very popular in other western countries such as Brazil, this is not so in America, it is not very uncommon to find this deconstructed sushi in U.S Japanese restaurants. With this dish, you are free to mix and match ingredients as you please. Photo credit: World Nomad

 

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