A Tourist in The Kitchen
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What Japanese People Really Eat

People often talk about how great Japanese food is. It is very healthy, tasty, natural, and has a lot of natural delicious flavor, "umami". When we hear those compliments about Japanese food, we are very flattered and chuffed, but it always makes me feel incredulous. Here is why:

I think my brother embodies the archetypal eater in Japanese food culture. He loves eating and drinking with friends, and going out to eat at shops that appeared on TV or magazines. He knows about a lot of popular foods more than I do, but what he eats on weekdays is mainly fastfood. To be precise, Japanese fastfood consists of things such as ramen, dried noodles, machine-made sweet pasty, fried chicken at convenience store, and lots of processed foods. He also loves sweet bread. When he wakes up in the morning, the first thing he eats is sweet buns. I tell him that he should have wholesome miso soup instead of sweet stuff but he shakes his head dismissively. I read somewhere that a person who wants something sweet in the morning is under excessive stress.

He has been a marathoner since he was a teenager so he looks quite healthy on the outside, but what he eats and his friends eat are as I described. And my colleagues' eating habits are more or less the same. They go out drinking after work and eat greasy Chinese food at 2 am.


Of course, Japanese mothers and grandmothers cook. The food they make is mainly vegetables and fish, so it is very healthy and tasty as foreigners would imagine what Japanese food is. However, our culture is so complex, as it is substantially influenced by China, the US and Europe. We eat a lot of Japanese version of carnivorous wenstern fast food.


I sometimes see Japanese recipe books written in English, and I feel they are so glamorized and unreal. They pick only the most beautiful examples of Japanese food to a extend that it almost makes it look sleazy. Our everyday food is traditionally very humble. Even nowdays, people are perfectly satisfied with a meal of a bowl of rice with a umeboshi (salted Japanese apricot) on top. Japanese home cooking is, I think, more humble and frugal than what people outside Japan think. Perhaps I will write about it some day.

(images by Nigel Shafran. Sorry I used them here arbitrarily because I really like his photographs)


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