Two Important Tips from Japanese Home-Cooking
What comes to mind when you hear “Japanese cuisine”? You might run off a list of things like sushi, ramen, udon, tempura and tonkatsu. While these are all beloved dishes, they don’t give a full picture of what Japanese food is like— since these are meals that are often enjoyed mainly when going out to eat. So, what about Japanese home-cooking? Opportunities to enjoy this comforting and healthy style of Japanese food can be harder to come across if you’re not in Japan, but it is the backbone of a healthy local lifestyle. Even if you’re not living in Japan, there are some easy tips you can apply in your kitchen!
Balance your Nutrient Intake
Ichi-ju-san-sai (一汁三菜) is the fundamental format of a typical Japanese meal: it’s a combination of a bowl of rice, a bowl of soup (一汁 meaning ‘one soup’), and three side dishes (三菜 meaning ‘three side dishes’). Within the three side dishes, one serves as a source of protein - usually fish or meat - and the other two are filled with vegetables and mushrooms. Simply put, ichi-ju-san-sai focuses on balance.
How is this healthier than, let’s say, just eating vegetables or fruits? Take the fruitarian diet, for example. The fruitarian diet, as the name may suggest, is a fruit-only diet that is the hot new trend on Instagram, popular for its appealing, colorful aesthetic; however, as pretty as it looks, is it at all that healthy? While it’s true that fruitarian meals do not contain much fat, it’s also true that such one-sided meals lack in essential nutrients for the human body, like protein. Your body needs protein to create and repair tissues in your body and can’t do that on an unbalanced diet. Shojin Ryori, for example, is Japan’s Buddhist vegetarian cuisine that is based on the ichi-ju-san-sai formula, and it uses tofu and soybeans to provide enough protein. It is known to bring balance to your body, as well as to your mind and spirit.
Make your own Shojin Ryori here at a Zen temple in Tokyo!
The principle of balance is what makes a diet healthy, and this is the great take-away from ichi-ju-san-sai. This isn’t to suggest that you should confine yourself to eating a bowl of rice, a bowl of soup, and three side dishes for every meal; rather, the principle is to balance your nutrient intake when preparing your meal, like in the ichi-ju-san-sai style. Extreme diets that only focus on certain types of nutrients are not sustainable for your body, and sooner or later, your body is guaranteed to crash.
2. Subtract, don’t add!
Even for those who don’t like math, this principle is an easy one to follow— in a nutshell, Western cuisine is the cuisine of addition, while Japanese is the cuisine of subtraction. What this means is that while Western cuisine brings out a flavor by adding more ingredients, Japanese cuisine extracts flavor from existing ingredients through techniques.
When making Japanese dashi soup stock, for example, the general principle is to only use two ingredients at most, and to extract the umami - savory taste - from the few ingredients; however, when making soup stocks in other countries, it is common to mix a variety of ingredients together - ranging from meat to vegetables - which risks of bringing in fattening elements into one’s diet. Just keep it simple, and try out this dashi recipe (near the bottom of the page) that only uses dried kelp and bonito flakes to bring out the umami in your meals!
You can also try our new dashi experience and get an in-depth look at essential part of Japanese cuisine.
These simple principles from Japanese home-cooking can definitely be applied to cuisines other than Japanese food and just helps increase awareness of the ingredients and nutrients that you are consuming, regardless of what type of food you are preparing. While we at Detouur love the occasional steaming-hot bowl of calorie rich ramen and a plate of crispy, juicy tonkatsu, in the long run we know that what brings the most comfort is home-cooked food, which nourishes both the body and soul.
The cover photo is from our The cover photo is from our partnership with Marugoto, where you can have a homestay experience in Rikuzentakata, Iwate. It’s hard to find anything more authentic than staying with a local Japanese family.