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From sushi to tempura to Wagyu: Japanese food 101

Posted at | Updated as of 05/16/12 8:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos have long been huge fans of Japanese cuisine, which is known for being simple yet very tasty.

Several Japanese restaurants have been put up in Manila and other parts of the country, with Filipinos gauging the authenticity of the place based on the number of its Japanese customers.

The most popular dining spots for Japanese nationals are located in Makati City, where you can find Little Tokyo, a small area filled with restaurants specializing in different types of Japanese food.

Filipinos who are not that fussy, meanwhile, are happy with Japanese fast food chains with eat-all-you-can rice and fusion restaurants.

For those who think that Japanese food is only about sushi, the Japan National Tourism Organization has explained the basics on the East Asian country’s cuisine below:

Sashimi

A plate of sashimi. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Sashimi is sliced raw fish eaten with soy sauce, and sometimes with a bit of wasabi.

Sushi

Different types of sushi. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Sushi consists of cooked vinegared rice combined with other ingredients – usually raw seafood – which are called “neta.”

The difference between high-class restaurants and reasonably priced restaurants is the amount of devotion to quality in the neta that sits atop the rice.

High-class neta toppings include “toro” (fatty tuna), “uni” (sea urchin), abalone and “ikura” (salmon eggs). Toro is the tender, fatty belly portion of the tuna, and the fattiest “otoro” type practically melts in the mouth.

For the sea urchin, the testes and ovaries are eaten. Despite its thorny exterior, the edible portion of uni has a very soft texture.

There is also the sushi with “tamagoyaki,” or a Japanese-style chicken egg omelet.

The quality of sushi prepared by hand is said to fluctuate widely depending on the skill of the sushi chef. Some chefs are even more concerned with the quality of the rice than the neta. Detailed care and high-level skill in elements like the rice temperature, quality of the pressing, and ratio of vinegar to the rice is required for sushi served in a high-class restaurant.

Tempura

Ebi (shrimp) tempura. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Tempura is a dish where the ingredients are covered in a batter made of flour, egg and cold water and then deep-fried in oil.

The deep-fried ingredients center around seafood and vegetables, and particularly popular are shrimp, squid, sweet potato, pumpkin and eggplant. “Kakiage” tempura refers to different kinds of items that are deep-fried together.

The pleasure of eating tempura lies in its crispy texture and savory nature. In general, tempura is dipped in a sauce made from “dashi” (broth), soy sauce and grated “daikon” (white radish).

Tonkatsu

A plate of tonkatsu served with sauce. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet rolled in bread crumbs. It is usually served with rice.

Takoyaki

Two bowls of takoyaki. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Takoyaki refers to octopus dumplings, or chunks of octopus mixed with batter and made into balls. It is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Basic toppings include green laver, dried bonito, sauce and mayonnaise.

Ramen

A bowl of ramen. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

“Chukamen” noodles, which came to Japan from China, have flowered in Japan as a unique Japanese food culture. With some people even eating it every day, ramen is said to be Japan’s national food.

The soup broths can be generally categorized into two types – meat-based broths like “tonkotsu” (pork bone broth) and “torigara” (chicken stock broth), and fish-based broths like “katsui bushi” (dried bonito broth) and “niboshi” (dried sardine broth).

Soup flavor choices, meanwhile, may be divided into soy sauce, salt and miso.

Popular toppings include “chashu” (meat slices), “negi” (Japanese chives), “menma” (a condiment made from lactate-fermented bamboo shoots), “nitamago” (boiled egg simmered in soy sauce), “moyashi” (mung bean sprouts), “nori” (dried seaweed), and “kamaboko” (fish slices).

Ramen may also be served “tsukemen” style, where the soup and noodles come in separate bowls.

Okonomiyaki

Seafood okonomiyaki. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Okonomiyaki is a dish made by mixing ingredients like finely sliced squid, shrimp, pork, beef and cabbage into a batter and cooking it on a flat iron grill.

The name comes from the Japanese phrase “okonomi de yaku,” which means “grilling the ingredients you like in the way that you like.” In some restaurants in Japan, customers are allowed to grill their own okonomiyaki on large flat iron grills on top of the table.

Okonomiyaki styles are generally categorized into the “Kansai” style from Osaka and the “Hiroshima” style from Hiroshima. In the Kansai style, the flour batter is poured into a bowl along with the other ingredients, mixed together, and then poured onto the iron grill.

The Hiroshima style, on the other hand, involves layering the ingredients and the batter onto the flat iron grill without mixing them.

Yakitori

Different types of yakitori. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Yakitori refers to bite-size chicken pieces that are skewered and roasted on a charcoal flame. This dish is popular as a side dish, and is often eaten with beer or alcohol. Others, meanwhile, prefer to enjoy it with rice.

Aside from chicken meat, other portions of the fowl are used for yakitori, such as the organs and skin.

“Rebaa” yakitori is the liver portion, while “tsukune” is ground chicken meat which is rolled into balls. Other types of yakitori include “sunagimo” (part of the stomach), “nankotsu” (cartilage), “tebasaki” (wing tips), “hatsu” (heart), “ponjiri” (hind end), “seseri” (neck) and “kogan” (testicles).

These may be ordered per stick, or as a set.

Wagyu

Sukiyaki with Wagyu. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Wagyu is a type of high-class beef in Japan that is known for its tender texture and melt-in-your-mouth taste.

Popular ways of serving Wagyu include “sukiyaki” (thinly sliced beef with soy sauce, sugar and rice wine simmered in a pot with glass noodles and vegetables), “shabu-shabu” (beef strips quickly dipped in a simmering broth, then in sauce), steaks, and “nigiri-sushi” (raw with sushi rice).

All descriptions provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization