Japanese cuisine has gained in popularity over the past few decades, becoming one of the world’s most recognizable and respected culinary traditions.
Japanese chefs place an uncommon emphasis on the presentation and elegance of their meals, making aesthetics a real priority. This can definitely be seen in the minimalist, elegant aesthetic that runs through all Japanese cooking. Though much writing in the west tends to overemphasize the role played by ceremony and ritual in Japanese culinary tradition, it is true that presentation is emphasized to a degree that is not usually found in food around the world.
A distinctively Japanese flavor is the concept of “umami,” a savoriness that was identified by a Japanese scientist as a distinctly newfound taste (along with the lines of sour, salty, or sweet) only relatively recently. In Japanese cooking, umami can come from things like soy sauce, bonito flakes (pieces of dried, fermented tuna), or miso, made from fermented soybeans.
Traditionally, due in part to its Buddhist heritage, but also due its densely populated island landscape, Japanese food was mostly pescatarian. Throughout history, most Japanese people, especially poorer Japanese people, only rarely ate meat. However, starting in the 19th century, meat became fashionable and desirable in Japan, and many western influenced meat dishes, such as curries and tonkatsu (essentially a schnitzel) were introduced into the average Japanese diet.
Today, owing to the global popularity of sushi restaurants, Japanese cuisine is still most famous for its seafood. But we think it’s much more than that. We’re here to show you the real diversity of Japanese cuisine. Here are a few of our favorite Japanese recipes in an easy, multi-course menu! Try it at your next dinner party.
Appetizer: Sesame crusted tofu
Start your guests off with a light but flavorful appetizer with this tasty and simple sesame crusted tofu recipe. It comes together in a flash: after you’ve marinated the tofu, just load the chunks up on the skewers and grill it over a hot charcoal grill. The honey in the marinade turns into a beautiful glaze—sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds onto it and they’ll stick right on there. It’s also nice to serve these with a dipping sauce: we recommend cutting garlic and chili into small slices, then marinating the result in some soy sauce overnight. You can use tamari for even more authentic Japanese flavor. The resulting spicy tamari sauce makes a perfect savory counterpoint to these tasty little vegetarian bites. These sesame crusted tofu skewers are sweet, salty, and tangy—a perfect appetizer for what’s to come!
First course: Marinated Japanese chicken wings
Who doesn’t love chicken wings? This sweet and tangy chicken wings appetizer will have your guests licking their fingers afterward. It comes together in a flash as well: simply marinate the chicken in the simple marinade overnight (we like to add some chili or sriracha to the marinade to give the chicken a little pep—who doesn’t love a spicy chicken wing?), toss them in the oven, and you’re basically finished! Just make sure the outsides are nicely browned and caramelized, something that should happen relatively quickly. Garnish these tasty, Japanese-style chicken wings with some spring onions for a bit of extra flavor, and go to town. Pro tip: bring out extra bowls so your guests have somewhere to put their wing bones, and some with warm water so people can clean their fingers.
Main course: Japanese seafood stew
This main course is hearty enough to make you forget everything you thought you knew about Japanese food. This stew is packed with different sea animals—you might find the entire ocean in here! Well not really, but this stew contains many different types of seafood, including prawns, squid, tuna, scallops, and would probably work just as well with just about anything else that swims and humans can eat. But where a European stew might be thickened with crushed tomatoes or perhaps a roux, this Japanese seafood stew is instead focused on large chunks of ingredients barely submerged in a light broth, enhanced with ginger, lime, sherry, and soy sauce. Remember: this stew is meant to be a celebration of all things oceanic and delicious, so make sure you buy the absolute highest quality seafood that you can find.
Dessert course: green tea mochi
Matcha is a Japanese specialty: powdered green tea leaves, intensely flavorful. These are used to dissolve in water to make tea, or used as a seasoning to add their vegetal bitterness to a dish. In this case, matcha is used to make mochi, a type of bean cake filled with a sweetened rice paste. These are great served with coffee, tea, or even a nice rice wine, which is known as sake in Japan. This green tea mochi recipe is the perfect way to round out a satisfying Japanese meal—completely without sushi!