Japanese cuisine is a feast for the eye as well as the palate. Although white rice is integral to the Japanese culture, the abundance of fresh seafood provides many suitable choices for people following a healthy eating plan.
Japanese chefs are trained to arrange foods beautifully and to display them with an eye for color, texture and balance with nature or the seasons. That sense of beauty, paired with natural ingredients at the peak of freshness and meticulous preparation, are what make Japanese cuisine an art.
The most well-known Japanese specialties, sushi and sashimi, are based on seafood caught in the ocean surrounding this island nation, but you will find that vegetables, tofu and noodle dishes are also major menu options. Japanese cuisine also features one-pot meals, such as shabu-shabu (a kind of fondue consisting of paper-thin slices of beef and vegetables that diners dip into a simmering pot of broth).
Vegetables are almost always served crisp. If cooked, they are merely blanched or grilled, except for the batter-dipped and fried vegetable tempura. Dining in a Japanese restaurant gives you an opportunity to experiment with delicious vegetables you may never have tried before. Try burdock, daikon (radish), lotus root and Japanese eggplant, as well as the wonderful variety of pickled vegetables (oshinko), which are eaten as snacks or light appetizers before a meal.
Some of the flavors you are most likely to encounter as you enjoy Japanese food are shoyu (soy sauce), mirin (rice wine), dashi (a flavorful broth made from dried bonito [fish] flakes), ponzu (a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar, dashi and seaweed), wasabi (extra-pungent horseradish), pickled ginger, miso (soybean paste) and both sesame seeds and sesame oil.
Know Your Menu Some of the most popular dishes on Japanese menus are:
Miso soup: A clear, satisfying soup made from soybean paste and dashi broth, often incorporating a few cubes of tofu and spinach or a sprinkling of green onions as garnish.
Sushi: Different kinds of seafood and shellfish, either raw or cooked, and/or vegetables and sweetened omelet, served either on top of hand-formed ovals of steamed, vinegared rice or spread on a flat bed of rice and rolled inside sheets of nori (seaweed).
Sashimi: Slices of fresh raw fish, varying in texture and flavor, served without rice.
Shabu-shabu: A fondue-like dish comprised of meat, vegetables and broth.
Ramen, udon, soba and somen: Noodles made from different flours (rice, wheat, buckwheat, etc.) and ranging in thickness from vermicelli-thin to thick and hearty.
Tempura: Batter-dipped and fried seafood or vegetables, served with a dipping sauce.
Gyoza: Fried dumplings known as pot stickers.
Yakitori: Skewers of chicken (other meats are also sometimes available) dipped or marinated in a sweet, soy sauce-based barbecue sauce and grilled.
Sukiyaki: A beef, noodle and vegetable one-dish meal in which ingredients are served in broth, then spooned into individual bowls and blended with daikon and ponzu.
Teriyaki: Broiled meats, seafood or tofu marinated in sweet teriyaki sauce.
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At Japanese Restaurants 1. Choose oshinko (pickled vegetables) instead of edamame (whole steamed soybeans).
2. Choose broiled sea bass (or any broiled fish of the day) with soy or ginger sauce only instead of shrimp tempura.
3. Choose grilled squid instead of seafood soba or udon (noodle dishes).
4. Choose negamaki (green onions wrapped in paper-thin slices of beef) with plain soy sauce for dipping instead of beef teriyaki.
-- Start your meal with a bowl of miso soup, which has only about 3 grams of carbohydrates per cup and is deliciously filling. If you are watching your sodium intake, skip the soup because miso, like soy sauce, is high in sodium.
-- Although tofu is made from soybeans, it is high in protein and contains less than three Net Carbs per 4 ounces.
-- Don't be fooled by teriyaki sauce: It looks just like soy sauce, but is sweetened with either corn syrup or sugar.
-- Sip plenty of ocha, or green tea, which offers proven health benefits. It contains antioxidant substances that help battle cell- and DNA-damaging free radicals, the initiators of many cancers. Its subtle flavor is best savored on its own, so skip the sugar.