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Hokkaido & Northern Honshu
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Food & Drink
Japanese cooking may certainly be counted among the world's great cuisines and is surely one of the healthiest.
The Japanese DietThe emphasis tends to be on freshness and simplicity. Expertise is concentrated not only on the cooking but on judicious seasoning, on careful use of the knife and on the final presentation. But the key to Japanese cooking is the freshness of the ingredients. Vegetables tend to be eaten raw, pickled, boiled or steamed; fish (raw or cooked) and rice feature in almost every meal, including breakfast.
Japanese food comes in small but varied parcels. Sushi refers to vinegared rice balls with a savoury morsel, often raw fish, on top. Sashimi is raw fish served with wasabi, a deliciously hot horseradish sauce. Tempura is seafood or vegetables dipped in a very light batter and deep-fried in sesame oil. For sukiyaki, thinly sliced beef and vegetables are cooked quickly in a hot soy stock and then dipped into raw egg. For shabu-shabu the food is dipped into a hot broth and then into a savoury sauce. Noodles are widely eaten, usually with broth, often from little street stalls. Brown soba noodles are made from buckwheat and wheat flour. Udon are more like soft spaghetti. Ramen are Chinese noodles served in a hot chicken or pork bone soup.
Restaurants (Ya)Restaurants tend to specialise in one type of cuisine. Kaiseki is the most sophisticated and expensive style and is served in ryotei. In okonomiyaki-ya you will be served savoury pancakes and in yakitori-ya, skewers of chicken. Teppanyaki restaurants cook mainly steaks and robatayaki-ya specialise in rural 'home' cooking. Other restaurants specialise in eels, perhaps, or fugu (blowfish), which is very poisonous but tastes delicious. Menus are usually in Japanese, but many restaurants have plastic versions of their dishes in the window.
DrinkGreen tea is widely drunk and is often served with meals. Sake (rice wine) is drunk warm with meals in the winter and with crushed ice in the summer. Japanese beer is very popular and good.