J for Japanese Food

WARNING: This post consists of non-vegetarian content. Read on your own risk. Children below 18 years of age must read this post under adult supervision. 

(Lol. Just Kidding!)

Back then in nursery class, we were taught the English alphabet in this manner –

A for apple
B for ball
C for cat.

In this version, J always stood for boring things. Like J for jug or J for jar. Or sometimes J for jam, if the teacher was sweet enough to make it so. Since then, J has always stood for boring things for me. It’s one of the uncommon alphabets of the English language and often finds itself lonely much like the Qs, Xs and the Zs.
However, D for December 2014 has changed my L for Life. Let’s see how.

As part of a cultural exchange program called JENESYS 2.0, organized by JICE (Japan International Cooperation Centre), J for Journalism schools in India were invited to send delegations to Japan for a period of nine days – 1st December to 9th December. I was one of the privileged students to be selected as a member of the delegation from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. This trip has truly been life defining – in terms of satiating my hunger for a new kind of cuisine. In this case – the Japanese cuisine.

Throughout the trip, our meals were fixed and we weren’t served Japanese meals at all times. Sometimes the meals were Indian and once we were also served an Italian dinner. However, my favourite throughout the trip were the Japanese meals, especially the ones I ate during my homestay.

Before moving on to the meals, here are a few observations I made about Japanese food and food habits during my trip –

  1. The Japanese culture is collectivistic in nature and the Japanese people ALWAYS eat together at the table. They wouldn’t begin eating if one member of the family is missing. During my homestay for instance, my foster mother and her friends who were staying with us, waited till all the five of our housemates got up and then made the breakfast.
  2. The Japanese respect their food a lot. Before starting every meal they say ‘Itadakimasu’ which literally translates into ‘I humbly receive’, in a way, thanking God for providing them food. After finishing every meal they say ‘gochisōsama-deshita’ which is a way of expressing gratitude to the person who prepared the meal.
  3. People in Japan follow these food etiquettes by heart, irrespective of their age. I remember the last time I sang ‘O God! O Lord! Bless me and my food. Amen!’ was back in second standard. From my foster mother (who was about 60 years of age) to the small children I met on my visit to a community centre, everybody practiced these etiquettes religiously.
  4. Contrary to popular belief, the use of fork and spoon is not as uncommon in Japan as it is believed to be. Even though they would prefer using chopsticks over fork to eat an omelette, there are dishes that even they prefer eating with hand. For instance, cakes and ‘melon bread’ – a Japanese traditional snack eaten with tea or coffee in the evening.

Melon bread – a Japanese traditional snack eaten with tea or coffee. It has a sweet crust outside and a soft, fluffy lump inside which tastes like a marshmallow.

5. In Japan, food is served in separate compartments of the plate. Somewhat like the ‘katori’ concept in India, each food item is served and eaten separately. Most Japanese dishes as we will see now, are accompanied by side dishes, sauces, dips and pastes which add to its delicacy. However, this trend was noticed only during my homestay because we were served a buffet during our stay in different hotels in which we were provided with one plate and one bowl per person.

This picture is from my first dinner at the host family house. Notice that there are two kinds of plates – both with multiple compartments to serve different food items in.

This picture is from my first dinner at the host family house. Notice that there are two kinds of plates – both with multiple compartments to serve different food items in.

Japanese cuisine is known to consist of rice and sushi (raw fish). Even though boiled sticky rice and sushi do comprise an important part of the Japanese cuisine it is much more than just those two food items. It’s impossible to describe all the traditional meals I ate during my stay in Japan in just one article, therefore I will be sharing with you my experience over in three parts.

Here’s presenting the first part –  The Great Grand Breakfast

IMG_4202 IMG_4201

This is how my plate looked like from the great grand breakfast at the Emion Bay Hotel in Tokyo, Japan. This is the first breakfast I ate in Japan (excluding the one served in the flight, at 2.30 a.m IST). The plate consists of 11 items including the butter and jam. First, the yellow semi liquid dish are scrambled eggs. These were in one word – tasteless. They melted in the mouth and were the fluffiest eggs I had ever eaten – except without salt or pepper in them.

The weird shaped bread in the top corner is a croissant, which was fresh-out of the oven and I ate three of them with three portions of the butter and the blueberry jam (slurrrp!). The texture of the butter was soft and creamy, and the jam was finger licking good. I gave up eating jam back in fifth standard, until I met this blueberry jam. The pork bacon and ham were my first. Even though I loved the ham and how it tasted with the scrambled eggs, bacon didn’t really fit my taste buds. What I really disliked about it was the crunchy layer surrounding it (even though that is what bacon is all about!). It’s important to point out the greatness of the mustard sauce on that plate, which added to the melt-in-the-mouth pork ham and made the boring old French fries taste heavenly!

The pink-purple salad towards the bottom of the plate is a pork and beetroot salad, which in my opinion would have tasted better than it did with some sesame seeds sprinkled over it. This opinion is based on my acquired taste of this delicious beetroot-sesame seeds combo that my mother cooks at home. The salmon piece next to it tasted like a chewy salty candy – but I took my time to get acquainted to the smell of the fish. Another favourite of the Japanese breakfast is the yellow square that you can see in the top left corner. This is a rolled omelette, also known as Tamagoyaki. The tamagoyaki is made in a special pan, much like our idlis which give the rolled omelette its shape. If cooked for lunch meal, the rolled omelette is salty and is served with soy sauce, but as a part of the breakfast meal it tastes sweet and is eaten with a slice of bread or on its own.

Here are more pictures of the full breakfast buffet –

Great Grand Breakfast

In my next piece, I would be sharing with you more traditional Japanese meals.

Stay hooked for more food-gasms! Slurrppp!