Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day. It kick-starts your metabolism and helps burn calories throughout the day. Whether your goal is weight loss or simply to be healthy, it is imperative to eat breakfast.
Traditionally, the Japanese breakfast has four main courses – rice, soup, meat, or fermented soy for protein and pickles for a side dish. Here is a look at some of the Japanese breakfast meals you must-try.
Steamed Rice (Gohan)
Rice is Japan’s most important crop and this has been cultivated across the country for over 2000 years. Grains are processed into several different products including, alcohol, vinegar, and flour. More importantly, this is the primary staple food of the Japanese diet and with such importance to the Japanese culture. A bowl of rice is the basis of most Japanese meals. Plain steamed rice, either white rice (Hakumai) or brown rice (Genmai), is often the central dish of meals, such as with a Japanese breakfast or set meal (teishoku), in which the other dishes are considered accompaniments to the rice.
Miso Soup (Miso Shiru)
Miso is a traditional soup in Japan prepared from a paste of fermented soybeans, miso, and dashi broth. A simple version of the soup is lightly garnished with tofu and scallions. This is the main item in a Japanese meal, eaten with rice, eggs, fish, and pickles. This is the most popular of the morning meal, however, it can be served for lunch and dinner and it’s often with added heavy garnishes.
Fermented Soy Beans (Natto)
Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is usually consumed at Japanese breakfast together with rice and fish. Natto is known to be an acquired taste, probably due to its unique smell and texture. Its unpleasant smell and stingy texture can be surprising and unfamiliar to most western taste buds and palates because of its distinct, bitter flavor and unpleasant smell. Natto is one of the healthiest fermented foods in Japan that has made its way to the western world. Its nutritional combination of vitamins and minerals makes it one of the most beneficial foods for the body. It is beneficial for stronger bones; a healthier heart; good for digestion and weight loss; a source of protein, iron, probiotics, Vitamin C and Iron.
Grilled Fish (Yakizakana)
Yakizakana is general term for Japanese style grilled fish that’s often served whole. It is far more common dish than sushi for most people in Japan. It’s an extremely popular dish for breakfast eaten together with rice and soup. The fish is marinated with ginger plant (hajikami) and sweet vinegar to enhance its color and as a palate cleanser.
Pickled Vegetables (Tsukemono)
Japanese pickles have existed since ancient times as a way of preserving fruits and vegetables. Seawater was one of the first ingredients used in Japan, and through the ages, other pickling agents have been developed, from vinegar and soy sauce to miso and the leftover bits from manufacturing sake. It is essential to the Japanese diet, served together with rice and miso soup. All kinds of vegetables and some fruits are used to make tsukemono including, but not limited to, Japanese radish (daikon), cucumber, eggplant, carrot, cabbage, water lily root, ginger, shallots, and plums (ume). Seaweed and other seafood are added to pickle mixtures to add flavor, variety, and texture.
Shiozuke (salt pickling), is the most common, simplest, and easiest to prepare. Simply slice the vegetables into bite sized and sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt per cup of veggies and rinse before serving. Suzuke (vinegar pickling) is derived from Japanese rice vinegar, which gives them a crunchy texture and a sweet and tangy flavor. Shoyuzuke (soy sauce pickling) is pickling with a soy sauce base. The soy sauce is usually combined with vinegar and sugar, which gives shoyuzuke pickles a sweet and salty flavor. Fukujinzuke is a crunchy chutney-like relish made up of different vegetables cured in soy sauce. It’s named for the seven gods of Japanese myth (shichi fukujin) because it’s made from seven different kinds of vegetables. This pickle is a common garnish for Japanese curry.
Misozuke (miso paste pickling) is made from cultured paste. The pickling bed (miso bed) is prepared with sliced vegetables mixed with mirin, garlic, and ginger, buried for a couple of hours or weeks. Nukazuke (rice bran pickling) is the most complex Japanese pickling. It uses rice bran, the hard outer layers of rice, which is roasted and mixed with salt, kombu seaweed, and water to make a mash called “nukamiso” or “nukadoko”. Kasuzuke (sake lees pickling) is a traditional pickle from the Nara region. Common vegetables used are baby watermelon, ginger, and cucumber.
Most people look for energy-packed nutrition that’s quick and easy to prepare. However, the Japanese take a wise and practical approach in preparing for breakfast to ensure that the day’s first meal has full of nutrients that the body needs.
Make sure to enjoy your breakfast while you’re in Japan!