The love of Japanese food is not without its quirks, passions and challenges. While it has plenty of joys, there are just some things only a Japanese food lover will understand.
Sushi, gyoza, shabu-shabu, Kobe beef and udon noodles are just some of the pleasures that await the Japanese food connoisseur. To love Japanese food is to love subtlety, harmony and umami, and then wash it all down with sake. Of course, to love Japanese food is also to know that sometimes you march to the beat of your own taiko (also known as a drum), and with that come a few things only you and your fellow fans will understand.
1. Suddenly cheap sushi just doesn’t cut it
With the popularity of sushi across the world, it’s available in grocery stores, fast-casual restaurants and even gas stations. The problem is, once you’ve learned to love the good stuff, even the average stuff sucks. This by itself isn’t a problem, except for the fact that real, good sushi is so expensive.
2. The Japanese restaurant experience is nearly impossible to replicate at home
The background music, sake pitchers, screens, cooking tables (if Japanese steakhouses are your thing) and multitude of authentic ingredients are difficult to find and expensive to procure. By the time you’ve bought your supplies and cooked your Japanese feast, you were better off just going out to eat.
3. Good tempura is hard to make
If the Japanese experience is like lightning in a bottle to capture, try making exceptional tempura. The best tempura is light, crispy and utterly devoid of grease. It’s really hard to do perfectly, especially for multiple servings of golden shrimp and crispy vegetables.
4. Panko is addictive
Tonkatsu, tempura and everything else can be made better with the addition of a little panko. Often thought of as breadcrumbs, panko is actually a specially created mini-bread product that helps form the perfect outer layer of a tempura fry. It’s also really good on fried chicken, as a thickener for soup, a coating for pork and even good by itself. This is good, though, because after you’ve had your first panko, you’ll never want to stop eating it.
5. Bento boxes seem to come in only one size — small
Part of the Japanese culinary experience is the aesthetic. As such, it just doesn’t feel right to eat your Japanese cuisine off a paper plate or even your normal dinnerware. Enter the bento box, the ubiquitous serving platter used in many Japanese restaurants that looks a lot a like a fancy segmented school lunch tray. They definitely look neat, but they don’t hold a lot of food, and that’s just not good if you’re a Japanese food lover.
6. It’s difficult to find good seaweed in America
Seaweed plays a vital role in a number of Japanese dishes, including miso soup, sushi and shabu-shabu, to name a few. While it’s hard to tell in sushi where the toasted seaweed is hidden in all the rice, it’s still really hard to find great seaweed unless you live in Japan or on the West Coast. Sadly, your Japanese meal is only as good as its ingredients, so bad seaweed leads to bad food.
7. Red bean paste and green tea
It’s possible to make a great dessert from both red bean paste and green tea. Just, no one will believe you.
8. Ramen is good, really!
When most people hear the word “ramen,” they think of that stuff you can buy prefried and served with a flavor packet for about a quarter a package. While that stuff is ramen, it’s not really ramen. Good ramen is made with care and honors the Japanese tradition of maintaining the perfect balance of meat and vegetables. Real ramen is a joy to eat. The cheap stuff… not so much.
9. The quest for Kobe
Despite what you heard, until recently it was illegal for Japan to export real Kobe beef to the United States. What we were eating was its close spiritual cousin, American wagyu. Now it’s legal to buy Kobe, and the Japanese lover has to eat the real thing, no matter the cost. And that’s not a figure of speech — Kobe is expensive.
10. Most eateries won’t give you hot towels before the meal
The Japanese eating experience oftentimes begins with a hot towel, used to clean the hands and freshen the mind. Try getting that at your local sports bar, and you’re going to find yourself wishing for Japanese food.
11. And they make you leave your shoes on
That’s the other thing. One of the nice parts is that you get to kick off your shoes, relax and stay a while. Again, not something you’re going to get to do at a sports bar, nor would you really want to.
12. You suddenly love raw egg
The Japanese people put raw eggs on everything: fish, rice, soup, pasta, etc. Once you’ve come to love Japanese food, you can find all sorts of places you could eat raw egg, leaving you with one critical decision: Should you?
13. You get embarrassed when people follow bad chopstick etiquette
To become immersed in Japanese culture is to embrace its traditions and rules. One of these rules is to not rub the little wooden pieces off your chopsticks after you’ve split them. It’s an insult to the restaurant (or your hosts) and can be embarrassing to witness.
14. Eating rice to the last grain
Another tradition of the Japanese is to eat everything you are given, including every last grain of rice. While most Japanese food fans are adept at using chopsticks, it can still be a pain in the rear to eat every last grain.
So much can be said about wasabi, but only one thing really matters to the Japanese food fan: The stuff you get in the U.S. is not real. It’s just horseradish with green food coloring. Real wasabi is milder and has a deeper flavor. It’s also nearly impossible to get in the U.S.
More on Japanese food
Tonkatsu (Japanese pork cutlet)
Easy Japanese dessert: Grilled mochi skewers
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