Japanese food is intriguing to international visitors. Anthony Bourdain once mentioned that a group of accomplished chefs are asked if they can only eat the food from one city for the rest of their lives, the choice would be Tokyo, Japan. If you look for blogs about Japanese food, you will find numerous entries from Japanese food fans. I hardly find any articles about the experience of home cooked meals in Japan, though. Let me fill that gap from my perspective.
I would like to virtually take you to a breakfast we eat at home in Japan in this article. I hope you get to know how it is to cook and eat in normal Japanese homes.
I grew up in a Japanese small city in 60s and 70s, and it was exppected for a family to eat breakfast and dinner together at the family table. My mom did all the cooking and cleanup afterword. I have never seen my dad doing anything in the kitchen. That was the way it was back then, and it still is in many Japanese households. Being a girl, I had to help out, but my brother was never expected to do any kitchen chores.
In my household, breakfast was always a full meal. We always had a bowl of rice, miso soup and at least 5 different side dishes. Typical side dishes are tamagoyaki (rolled egg omelet), grilled or dried fish, natto (fermented soy beans), nori (dried sea weed), and pickled vegetables. Japanese restaurants in the U.S. serve miso soup always with tofu and sometimes with seaweed. Home cooked miso soup can have many different and creative ingredients such as combinations of sliced cabbage, potato, many different types of mushrooms, daikon (turnip), spinach or friend tofu. Miso soup must be always freshly cooked, and we never ate miso soup left over from the day before. Other side dishes can be steamed or stir fried fresh vegetables, some left over side dishes from previous day’s dinner.
Here are the pictures of tamagoyaki (rolled Japanese omelet), takuan (picked daikon) and natto (fermented soy beans). They are all Japanese breakfast staples.
Each dish is in small portion. Japanese people place importance to the number of dishes served in a meal. The more dishes are served, the more extravagant the meal is.
On the same token, each dish tends to be simple to cook and serve. Otherwise, the breakfast preparation can take too long and it will become lunch (or dad will be late for his work). When I go visit my Mom’s house, I’m usually in charge of preparing the breakfast. Excluding the time for cooking rice in the rice cooker, the actual meal preparation time is about 30 minutes. Breakfast time is a very busy time in Japanese household kitchen.
My mom likes to eat her meals on the low floor table and sitting on a zabuton (Japanese cushion). She has a dining table in the kitchen, but she prefers sitting on the floor rather than sitting on a chair. When I eat with her at home, I have to sit on the floor also. It’s very hard for me since I am no longer used to sitting Japanese style on the floor.
Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world. In my opinion, one of the reasons of the long life can be attributed to eating healthy and hearty traditional Japanese style breakfast.
While I was researching the topic, I found this cute YouTube video about Japanese breakfast. I thought you would enjoy it. The little girl is adorable!
Itadakimasu ! (Japanese phrase for bon apetit, or thanks for this meal).