While in Japan one can enjoy a wide variety of interesting and delicious dishes, including tako-yaki, sushi, sashimi, and tempura. Japanese cuisine has evolved over centuries of social and political changes. Washoku (Japanese cuisine) usually refers to food that was around before 1868, the end of Japan’s isolationist policies. A few aspects that set Japanese cuisine apart from other cuisines are it’s emphasis on using quality ingredients, particular seasonality, and impeccable presentation.
Tempura consists of vegetables or seafood that are covered in a light batter and then deep fried. Tempura was originally brought to Japan by the people of Portugal. Now, tempura is one of the most popular foods in Japan and also one it’s best-known exports. Tempura-ya (tempura restaurants) can be anything from low-priced chain fast food joints to classy fine dining establishments. Tempura is usually part of a bento (lunch box) or set meal. It is especially popular in convenience or take-out bentos. There is a huge variety in the ways that tempura is served and cooked and even in what ingredients are used, although it is widely-accepted that dishes should utilize seasonal ingredients that are as fresh as possible. A high-quality tempura should need little else other than a sprinkle of salt.
Tako-yaki (grilled or fried octopus) is a ball-shaped dumpling made from diced or baby octopus, batter, tenkasu (tempura scraps), green onion, and pickled ginger. It is topped with ponzu, mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, katsuobushi (fish shavings), and aonori (green laver). This dish became popular in Osaka and was first sold in 1935 by Endo Tomekichi, the street vendor who invented it. Takoyaki is sold in shops called issen-yoshoku (one-penny western food).
Sushi is a dish of rice cooked with vinegar topped with seafood (often uncooked) or made into rolls. When raw fish is sliced and served alone, it is known as sashimi. When sushi is rolled around or inside of nori (seaweed), it is called makizushi. Inarizushi is when rice is packed into a fried tofu pouch, although many do not consider this an actual type of sushi. And, chirashi-zushi is sushi rice served in a bowl with scattered seafood on top. Many Japanese complain when they travel abroad that the quality of sushi is extremely low compared to Japanese standards.
In a sign of how serious the Japanese are about food, Michelin recently awarded more restaurants in Tokyo a three star rating (the maximum rating) than any other city in the world, including Paris.