When we think of Japanese cuisine, images of fresh sushi and steaming bowls of ramen often come to mind. However, this cuisine, so rich in history and nuances, goes far beyond these tasty clichés. According to Aihara Yumiko, agri-food consultant at the Japanese Foreign Trade Organization (Jetro) in Paris and gastronomic journalist, who presented this culinary art on Monday, November 27, in Casablanca: “Each dish, a work of art, is designed to reflect the flavors of the season, with ingredients meticulously chosen for their quality and freshness.”
“Japan, an archipelago of a thousand flavors, offers cuisine as diverse as its landscapes. From the delicate preparation of sashimi to the subtle nuances of kaiseki ryori, Japanese cuisine is a celebration of seasonality and harmony of flavors. With deep roots in culture and history, it continues to evolve, embracing new influences while preserving its traditional essence.explains someone who has written cookbooks at a Tokyo publishing house.
Iconic and diverse, sushi, sashimi, tempura and ramen are the ambassadors of Japanese specialties around the world. Each of these dishes, prepared with ancestral knowledge, offers an immersive taste experience. “Sushi, with its vinegared rice and fresh fish, is the expression of simplicity and elegance. Japanese dishes also include lesser-known but equally iconic dishes. Kaiseki ryori, a true culinary art, is a meal made up of several small dishes, each reflecting the flavors of the season. Okonomiyakis, a type of tasty pancake, are another example of the diversity of this cuisine.says Aihara Yumiko.
In the very essence of this diversity, Japanese cuisine, or “Washōku”, is based on principles of naturalness and balance. It relies on fresh and seasonal ingredients, valuing the purity of flavors. Rice, soy in various forms (tofu, miso), seasonal vegetables and seafood form the basis of this culinary art. To Aihara Yumiko, “Kaiseki cuisine, a cornerstone of Japanese gastronomy, perfectly illustrates this search for excellence.”
According to this expert, kaiseki cuisine places great emphasis on the seasonality of ingredients. Dishes are designed to reflect the current seasonal flavors and produce: “This means the kaiseki menu can change frequently to accommodate seasonal changes. Presentation is essential in kaiseki cooking. The dishes are created with great attention to detail, and the colors, textures and shapes of the ingredients are carefully arranged to create edible works of art.”
Fish, “a true gift from the ocean”
In addition to kaiseki cuisine that celebrates nature and seasonality, the Land of the Rising Sun is also known for its raw fish cuisine, which is at the center of many iconic dishes. This passion for the delights of the sea largely stems from the country’s island geography, which limited the availability of agricultural land and favored fishing as an essential food source.. “So you will find a multitude of fish used in Japanese cuisine, from tuna to salmon, including mackerel, sea bream, snapper and many others”list Aihara Yumiko.
“Japan’s topography, being a mountainous country, has restricted the availability of agricultural land, which has had a major impact on the country’s diet. This geographical restriction favored the predominance of fish as an essential component of Japanese cuisine, in harmony with the principles of Buddhism that also influenced eating habits, while cattle were often used for agricultural work. Freshness is king and the preparation technique aims to enhance the natural flavor of the fish, a true gift from the ocean.She explains.
However, fish is not the only protagonist of this cuisine from the Japanese archipelago. The umami flavors of soy also occupy a central place in Japanese cuisine, bringing a palette of distinct and essential flavors to many dishes, from sushi to noodles. “But that’s not all, vegetables also occupy a special place in this culinary palette. They are often eaten raw, lightly steamed or quickly fried to preserve their crunchy texture and natural flavor.notes Aihara Yumiko.
Seasonality plays a fundamental role in Japanese cuisine, influencing not only the ingredients used, but also the way dishes are prepared and presented. “Chefs prefer to use ingredients that are at their peak of freshness during a given season. For example, spring cherries, summer eggplants and autumn mushrooms are featured in seasonal dishes. The dishes are prepared in such a way as not to mask the flavor of the season, but rather to enhance it.», Notes Jetro’s agri-food consultant in Paris.
Japanese cuisine, a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, highlights fresh, seasonal ingredients to create unique culinary experiences. According to Aihara Yumiko, “It is an art that is not limited to nourishing the body, but also nourishes the soul by celebrating the natural and cultural richness of Japan.”