As we mentioned in last article, washok, literally means “food of Japan has drawn a great deal of attention from all over the world for being healthy and delicious, and has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Washoku is simultaneously both simple yet complicated, plain yet sophisticated. It is salty, sweet, sour, slightly bitter and full of umami flavors, and equal emphasis is placed on beautiful presentation.
Washoku is written in kanji characters as 和食. 和 (wa), means Japan or Japanese, also represents harmony, and 食 (shoku) means food or to eat.
The roots of washoku do go back at least to the courtly Heian Period (794-1185). Given that much of Japan has four very distinct seasons, especially in the region around Kyoto, where the Imperial court resided for hundreds of years, it’s no wonder that seasonality plays a strong role in so much of Japanese culture. Washoku is no exception.The peak season of a particular ingredient is called its shun (旬) and the shun of key foods are eagerly anticipated: tender bamboo shoots in spring; refreshing cucumbers and melons in summer; chestnuts and mushrooms, and sweet potatoes in fall; tart and sweet citrus fruit in winter.
The appreciation of nature, seasons, food from animals and plants, leads washoku to focus on highlighting the flavors and textures of the ingredients, rather than disguising them. This has been a hundreds years old concept and washoku flavoring tends to be quite subtle. Very few very spicy ingredients are found in the washoku cuisine. We said the basic washoku structure is “One Soup and Three Dishes” (1 soup dish, 1 main dish, 2 side dishes), which actually includes four elements: steamed rice, soups, side dishes and tsukemono (Japanese pickles).
After “Itadakimasu” to appreciate the people who prepare the meal for you and thanks to all the things sacrificed to become the food in front of you, now, you can take the miso soup and start the first sip. Mmm, o i shi!