Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to Japanese Cuisine (That's Not Sushi or Ramen)

Categories: Here, Eat This

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Not to be confused with donburi, udon is a noodle soup (and a noodle soup that's not to be confused with ramen). Got it? In its most basic form, udon is simply a bowl of thick wheat flour noodles in a broth made with dashi, mirin and soy sauce. It's most commonly topped with fried meat or seafood, scallions and fish cakes called kamaboko. The extra thick, jiggly udon noodles are easily the most slurpable noodles you'll find in Japanese cuisine.

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Like udon, soba noodles are a popular alternative to rice. Unlike udon, soba noodles are made from buckwheat and can be served hot or cold. Chilled soba noodles are usually served separate from the tsuyu broth, which you use to dip your cold noodles into, as many fans of soba say that the texture is best when the noodles haven't been sitting in warm soup. Hot soba dishes are served in a thinner version of the tsuyu, and can be topped with anything from fried shrimp to raw eggs that cook in the broth.

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Gyoza go by many names from culture to culture; they're the dumplings that are also called jiaozi in China or pierogie in Poland or manti in Turkey. In Japan, gyoza are usually filled with pork, cabbage, garlic and ginger. They're pan fried to give one side a crispy texture, then steamed to finish. As with tempura and tonkatsu, gyoza were adapted from a foreign cuisine (Chinese, in this case) but are considered "Japanese" by now.

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Umeshu has an unusually sweet, floral fragrance and taste that comes from steeping the ume fruit (which is halfway between a plum and an apricot) in alcohol and sugar until fermented. The result is a liquer that's between 10 and 15 percent ABV, so this isn't something you drink throughout a meal. I think of umeshu (pronounced: woo-MAY-shoo) as a cousin to sherry or Port, and consume it in a similar fashion.

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Although you may have seen sake called "rice wine," it's truly more like "rice beer." Rice is fermented to make Japan's most popular alcoholic beverage, but there are far more factors at play than just that. The many varieties of sake are differentiated by the type of rice used, how long it was polished, how long the sake ferments, what water is used, how long the sake matures and how filtered the sake is before it's bottled. Sake can be filtered or unfiltered, dry or sweet, fruity or floral and can be served hot or cold. There are simply too many iterations on this fascinating beverage to list, so seek out a sake expert and dive in for yourself if you're interested -- it's rich, underexplored territory in the United States.

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It's refreshing to see an article about Japanese cuisine not relating to sushi or ramen.  :)  Can't say that I'd agree with every point made, but I applaud your effort and willingness to educate and explain while pushing lesser-known topics to the surface.  I've enjoyed reading every 'Beginner's Guide.' 


No Okonomiyaki?  Looked hi and low throughout Houston and can only find it in one place: Kaneyama (which was pretty good).  Plus Japanese Curry too!


A few corrections:

1) Agedashi is pronounced ah-geh-dah-shee, not ah-guh-dah-shee.  Also, it's followed by: doh-fu.

2) Umami is not earthy, at all.  It's savory. 

3) Chawan does not mean small bowl.  It means tea bowl.

4) Karaage is pronounced kah-rah-ah-geh, not "car-RAH-gay."

5) Tonkatsu is not a frying technicque.

6) Katsu-don does not use its vinegar-y sauce (which is actually the Japanese variation of the Worcestershire sauce).  Instead, onions and eggs are cooked together with dashi, mirin, and soy sauce to provide the katsu-don sauce.

7) Umeshu is pronounced uh-meh-shoo, not woo-MAY-shoo.

8) Noone in Japan considers sake "rice beer."  It is more common to drink beer than sake in Japan.

gossamersixteen topcommenter

The best place to have this is in your own home, made to order. Now if I could only find a decent bottle of tokatsu sauce to compliment my pork cutlet.. :)


The "where" doesn't really match the article. Nippon is suggested for sushi, but the title clearly states this is not an article about sushi. Shabu House is suggested, but this is the only time the dish is described. It should have been in the "body" of the article. And no suggestion was offered for the very first dish. Fortunately, I already know where to find the best age tofu in Houston, but I guess your readers are out of luck.

Mitsy Marshall Parton
Mitsy Marshall Parton

Okonomiyaki and I've asked a million times where to find them in Houston. :/


@unblinkingeye You can also find okonomiyaki at Sushi King on Kirby and Alabama, which makes sense because it and Kaneyama used to be owned by the same people. The taste is pretty close to Kansai-fu.


@tinyhands So basically you bitch that there are no suggestions or that you disagree, then make little to none of your own.  Good work.


@Mitsy Marshall Parton Kaneyama on Westheimer and Sushi King on Alabama and Kirby are the two places I've found it.

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