Most people tend to think that a meal is a meal, no matter where you are. Of course, technically this is true, but the method of serving and eating varies from place to place. To illustrate this, I put together a Japanese style meal with one of my favorite meat dishes, a tried and true instant pickle salad, and a new recipe using my second kabocha pumpkin. I'll admit right now that I forgot to make the miso soup, so you'll have to use your imagination for that.
In the west our meals are built around three courses, a soup or salad, the main course, and dessert. The main course probably involves several parts, a starch, a vegetable, and a meat, all served on the same plate. In Japan a meal is served all at once, centered around the rice and the soup. Aside from those two dishes, there are usually two okazu (side dishes), one a meat or fish, the other a cooked vegetable. Lastly you will sometimes find a third okazu called hashi yasume, which is usually a cold vegetable or pickle, which cleanses the palate. The word translates to chopstick rest, a perfect metaphor.
To eat the Japanese meal, one places the rice bowl in their hand, and use the chopsticks to bring bites of the okazu to the rice. Then alternate by picking up the soup bowl and taking sips between bites. This slows down the meal, allowing for more enjoyment. In Japan it is not common to have a dessert served after dinner, as they prefer to eat their sweets between meals. Though a cup of tea rounds the dinner up nicely.
As western culture crosses over to Japan, this traditional eating method has been invaded by the ease of a western meal. A lot of the time I make a Japanese dish and eat it as a fusion with some western food. But every so often, I like to step back and enjoy the peaceful and delicious full meal.
I started by making kabocha no nimono, simmered squash. I have made nimono in the past, as it can be prepared with a variety of vegetables. In face, the picture that has become a bit of an unofficial logo, which you can see on the welcome page, is nimono. This is a very common method of cooking vegetables in Japan and so super healthy. The liquid you use is a combination of dashi, soy sauce, and sake, which complements the squash perfectly.
Chicken kijiyaki is a dish that was developed to take the bland flavor of chicken and dress it up to taste like blue pheasant (kiji). Having never eaten pheasant of any color, I don't know how successful the method is, but I do know that it is delicious. I've been cooking kijiyaki for the past several years and it is one of my favorites. Very easy and totally scrumptious.
Pickles are not something that I enjoy eating, but this instant cucumber pickle recipe is fresh and clean in flavor. Again, I've been making this for a long time and it only takes about ten minutes to make. Some of that time is letting it rest, so you can easily fit it into cooking a full meal. The recipe is on my basics page.
As I say, I forgot to make a soup, but a quick miso would have been perfect with these dishes. Here is a recipe that would work nicely.
Putting together a Japanese meal might look intimidating, but it all comes together fairly easily. I suggest making it and sitting down with your family to enjoy. It will combine both the flavors and the feeling of another country, making it an easy way to peek into the culture.
Until next time, itadakimasu!