The voyage of food in Japan

How Japanese food has evolved through the ages.

by: Jacoba Budden | 07 Jun 2010

Like food all over the world, Japanese cuisine has been influenced by the geography and the social and political situation at the time.

After the Jomon period, locals moved from being hunter gatherers to being farmers, mostly of rice, which is why plain boiled rice has been on the menu ever since.

This has played an enormous role in the food of the Japanese as meat is seen as taboo. In 675 AD, the emperor Temmu decreed that no cattle, chickens, horses, monkeys or dogs could be eaten from April to September and anyone caught breaking the law would be put to death.

The Chinese are responsible for introducing chopsticks, but they weren’t used for everyday eating and metal spoons were commonly used, right up to the 9th century. They were only used by the nobles at banquets.

Towards the middle of the 9th century, everyone was eating with chopsticks and food became very sophisticated and versatile.

Commoners used a table called an oshiki (a table without legs) and the nobles a zen (a lacquered table with legs).

Banquets from about the 9th century, were lavish and very healthy. Meat and fish were grilled, braised and steamed and soups plentiful. Jellied fish dishes, namasu (sliced raw fish served in a vinegar sauce), aemono (seaweed or fish in spicy dressings) and pickled or cured vegetables were also on the menu.

Japan Today
Today the Japanese eat an extremely healthy diet but it doesn’t only consist of sushi or sashimi, it is so much more than that. Rice and noodles are staples, and soup is still well loved by all.

Fish, meat, vegetables and tofu are expertly combined and flavoured with dashi, miso and soy sauce. It is a low fat diet that is high in salt.

An ordinary meal consists of soup and three other courses with each course being cooked in a different way. For example, sashimi (raw sliced fish), grilled or steamed chicken and deep fried vegetables or tofu.

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