Japan has an ancient tradition of culinary dishes. From their spices, to their eating utensils, to their methods of cooking, the Japanese have enough history behind their cooking to have mastered almost any dish.
Today we're going to go over some of the various ingredients the Japanese use in their cooking, and the different results and recipes you can expect to get with these ingredients.
Soy sauce is one of the most obvious Japanese ingredients. Even though the Japanese didn't invent it, they still rely on it heavily. Soy sauce was originally made in China, by fermenting soy beans with salt and water. It's typically used as a condiment for rice and noodle dishes, and offers up a saltier, more savory flavor. People often use soy sauce for glazes, dips, barbecues, and various other meals. In Japan it is used very lightly, though in America we tend to overdo it a little bit.
Curry is another seasoning/meal that the Japanese didn't invent, but have widely adopted and made their own. It was even shown that each Japanese person had curry approximately 127 times in 2005. Curry is typically a spicy dish, often mixed with meat and vegetables, then served over rice. Other kinds of curry are served with breaded pork cutlet, fried rice, or even a raw egg. There are a wide range of instant curries available, curry powders, and easy to make curry dinners. It's pretty simple to make, and will offer a rich, hearty flavor to whatever you're pairing it with.
Dashi is a common ingredient used to make Japanese soup. There are various types and styles available, depending on what soup you're trying to make. Dashi, at its most basic requirement, typically calls for kelp as well as some variety of fish. People often make their own by combining tuna flakes with kombu, as well as some spices, and sometimes even shiitake mushrooms. People often make their own home made dashi to avoid flavor enhancers like MSG or high sodium doses.
Yakiniku is a unique style of barbecuing that was introduced to Japan post WWII. It is common in Yakiniku restaurants for raw food to be brought out to guests, and for the people to cook their own food using a grill at the table. Typically vegetables and meat are grilled, though beef is the main preference. There are various types of sauces associated with Yakiniku. The sauces can be similar to barbecue sauce, although with something of a lighter and less spicy effect to them. The sauces are typically made with mirin, soy sauce, garlic, and sesame.
Fish sauce is common across South East Asia, as well as some areas of China and Japan. It is a typical ingredient for soups, casseroles, sauces, curries, and noodle dishes. The sauces are strongly flavored, so they tend to be used lightly. It's commonly used as a condiment, though it can also used in cooking and food preparation.
Sesame Oil is used in a variety of different meals. Although it's usually added toward the end of the cooking process because sesame oil will begin to smoke at hot temperatures. It is popular for its health benefits,
which include a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, omega fatty acids. The sesame oils have also been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol.
Furikake is sort of like Japanese salt and pepper, and is commonly used to add a little flavor to plain white rice. It typically uses ingredients such as seaweed, sesame seeds, dried fish, salt, and sometimes MSG. It stores pretty easily, though it should be kept in a cool dry place to ensure that it lasts.
This is just a basic run through of the types of seasonings and flavors you might to expect in a run into while in Japan. Hopefully this will make you a little more savvy about the ingredients when you order from a restaurant.