America has played host to Japanese restaurants for decades now, but if you feel like you’ve been seeing a marked increase in popularity in recent years, you aren’t wrong! Between the increasing number of sushi restaurants across the country and the number of shows featuring Japanese cuisine on channels like the Food Network, it’s easier than ever to learn more about this distinctive cuisine and get a hold of some for yourself! But what, exactly, is it that makes Japanese cuisine so distinctive and appealing?
One of the primary reasons Japanese cuisine, whether it’s sushi or a tempura platter, is so delicious and different is because the Japanese tend to focus on seasonality when they create meals. By choosing to cook what is currently available, fresh, and recently harvested/caught, the flavors will be brighter and require less seasoning to enhance the natural taste of each component. Many American and European dishes are heavily spiced and salted because they rely on ingredients that weren’t historically available all year and had to be preserved in some manner. This means that they had to be dried and salted or seasoned and canned in order to save enough to last through the winter. Given Japan’s more temperate climate and fertile land, there was less need for preservation, so chefs could focus on what was available during the given season.
This notion goes hand in hand with the above idea about seasonality. Because chefs tend to create Japanese menu items that are more seasonal, they need less seasoning. This idea of simplicity is carried over into the seasonings they choose to use. Generally speaking, the spices and sauces paired with a protein or vegetable are made to enhance the flavor of that item rather than cover it up. Interestingly, this is what makes sushi such a complex cuisine to prepare; each fish is carefully paired with flavorings and condiments that will make the fish the star. A great example of this simplicity of flavoring is sushi rice; the goal is to highlight the fresh flavor of the fish, so sushi rice is typically seasoned with a bit of rice wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and a tinge of salt. That’s it. The seasoning is intended to spark different tastes without overpowering the fish itself.
One of the other things that makes Japanese cuisine so different is the focus on umami flavors. Umami is what we might call savory, and is the fifth flavor along with salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. Unlike the other four flavors, your taste buds have umami taste receptors across your tongue instead of one spot. What this means is that, by creating umami flavors in a dish, that pleasing savory taste that hits more spots across your tongue and makes your meal more satisfying without overeating.
If you’re ready to experience the difference that seasonality and seasoning make in Japanese food, come visit Sushi Joa in Kirkland or Mercer Island. View our menus online and call to make reservations today!