What is Japanese Cuisine?
Japanese cuisine is sustained by the rich variety of ingredients available from fertile seas and land. Japanese people are attuned to nature and keenly aware of their reliance on its bounty.
They express gratitude for the blessings of nature with the customary expressions “Itadakimasu” -I gratefully receive the blessings of this food. – before eating and “Gochisosama”- I have partaken of the feast – after eating. Japanese cuisine is also a canvas for the beauty of nature. Distinct changes accompany the four seasons, and enjoyment of those changes provides the underlying motifs for Japanese art, crafts and literature. In cuisine as well, like the plum and cherry blossoms of spring, express attention to the beauty of the seasons.
On of the appealing qualities of Japanese food is that it is healthy. Relatively few ingredients contain animal fat, and those that do, like fish, are sources of largely unsaturated fats, which are good for body. This cuisine is closely tied to traditions that cement ties in the family and community.
Japanese cuisine, which developed om tandem with a respect for nature, is centered around rice as a staple food. In the case of ordinary household meals rice and soup are the basic dishes, eaten together with side dishes and pickles.
The basic flavor of Japanese food is Umami. Umami has been shown to be the “fifth taste” distinct from the four scientifically identified tasted of sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness. In order to accentuate the umami in ingredients, the Japanese succeeded some 500 years ago in mastering techniques for making dashi so that only the umami elements from kombu and dried bonito flakes are released.
Broth made from katsuobushi bonito flakes and kombu remains the basic flavoring for Japanese food, but it is difficult to make properly without using the soft water prevalent in Japan.
Water in Japan drains from mountain regions over comparatively short distances before flowing into the sea, so hard water resulting from seepage through rock is scarce and most water is soft and quite free of impurities. Water command a very important position in Japanese cuisine, as evidenced by preparation techniques that use large quantities of water such as soaking to remove bitterness(sarasu) or rinsing to tighten fiber (shimeru). Foods like tofu and vegetables like daikon may contain more than 90% water, also demonstrating the extent to which Japanese food depends on abundant supplies of good, fresh water.
Ref. Introduction to Japanese Cuisine