On December 2013, washoku (Japanese cuisine) is recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. So now Japanese food is very poplar and famous for Sushi, miso soup and so on. However, not many people really understand why washoku is recognized as the heritage. I will show you what washoku really is and why it is so valued. You must be falling in love with washoku!
What is Washoku?
As evryone knows washoku is recognized as an intangible cultural heritage. Japanese foods are now famous for sushi, sashimi and miso soup. Those are not wrong when you explain about Japanese foods but it will be a little bit different when you do about washoku. Actually, washoku means whole Japanese foods culture and includes how they are made, what they made from and how they are ate.
According to Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan has favorable geographical conditions, the land of Japan is long from north to south and the four seasons are distinct. So the food culture is created along with nature in each area. That is why Japanese foods culture is based on respect for nature and washoku is valued as Japanese traditional foods culture.
One Soup and Three Side Dishes
Ichiju-sansai (Japanese:一汁三菜) means one soup and three side dishes. It is basic style of how Japanese people eat and considered as ideal nutritional balance. Also, washoku contains less animal fat and oil because they use “taste enhancers” called umami (Japanese:うま味) and miso which is fermented seasoning efficiently. These support the longevity and prevent obesity.
For example, the picture above is the ideal ichiju-sansai style. Rice contains carbohydrate and protein to be energy source of body. As you know, miso soup is one of representative Japanese foods. You will enjoy not only the taste of miso also rich taste of vegetables because miso helps extracting the umami from those ingredients.
Sansai (Japanese:三菜) means the three dishes. In the picture, no meats and special seasonings are used for these dishes but they are still really rich and satisfied tastes because ingredients and seasonings are really well combined so the tastes from those ingredients are extracted at maximum!
Washoku is really good at expressing the beauty of nature and the changes of four seasons. Sometimes it is decorated with seasonal flowers, leaves and furnishings. How a chef decorates dishes depends on the season and each season has a concept.
For example, for spring it reminds us of ending dark-cold winter and warm weather coming so the dish should be decorated in fresh and bright way by using ume blossoms or bright-color vegetables. For summer, a chef is trying to express pleasant cooling sensation so a type of porcelain called celadon or glass porcelain are often used. Using pieces of ice is also good way to express the coolness.
Closely Related to Yearly Events
Japanese foods culture is closely related to yearly events. People share foods as the blessings of nature with their family and neighbors and they deepen the bonds with them. The best example to explain is osechi cuisine! Osechi (Japanese: お節) means special foods for New Year’s day. For new year’s day, Japanese people eat osechi with family and celebrate New year’s. Osechi is combination of many dishes and each dish has meaning.
For example, this is called kamaboko (Japanese:かまぼこ) which is boiled fish paste. Kamaboko is a symbol of sunrise and the color red means auspicious and happiness and white means holiness.
This is kuri-kinton (Japanese:栗金団) which is a kind of food made with mashed sweet potatoes and sweetened chestnuts. The color reminds us of shining golden treasure and people wish the year will be productive and prosperous.
Washoku is Finest food culture!
These are just small part of washoku culture but the reason why washoku is recognized as the heritage. If you ever have a chance to experience Japanese foods culture “washoku”, please enjoy every details!