On June 14 I received a question from one of my followers, Unagi-chan, about traditional Japanese breakfast. I love receiving questions from my readers. I love sushi but I love research projects as well, it gives me a chance to look at and think about various things from different points and it kicks and tickles the side of research-nerd of me.
Nowadays I hear the younger generation in Japan do not eat breakfast, they say they do not get hungry in the morning. Hmmm.. I would be hungry ALL THE TIME if I am in Japan! When I go back to my home land, I always make 2 lists. One is a list of “What to do and Whom I meet” and the other list is “WHAT TO EAT”. Actually the second list is more difficult to manage due to the limitations of time and the capacity of my stomach, and sadly I am always looking at it with a mission-not-complete feeling on the airplane going back to Norway.
So, what is a Japanese traditional breakfast?
I thought for awhile and the next day I asked my both Japanese and non Japanese readers what they think are the necessary food to make a traditional Japanese breakfast on my Facebook page wall. My readers are kind, there came rice, miso soup, fish, natto, tamagoyaki, nori, vegetables, umeboshi and so on as their answers. And, I was glad to see one by one the food I had in my mind was being confirmed!! I had thought rice and miso soup are the must, and of course we have a couple of esential side dishes. I had thought of Okayu, too (Okayu is rice porridge) but I was confirmed that in our notion traditional breakfast rice must be plain steamed white rice. I am sure the ingredients in miso soup and side dishes will show a lot of variation and differences from family to family, from area to area. I have been at a breakfast table in Nagano prefecture (No sea; 9 out of 12 highest mountains in Japan are there) and seen the most amazing breakfast dish on the table. I will not mention what it was but it was the first time I encountered entomophagy (in simpler words, bugs) in Japan… aghhhh…. I was going to attend my girl friend’s wedding and it was at the bride’s house on the day the wedding was going to take place. I was the only one stranger in the middle of the most emotional breakfast in that family’s history and there was no moment I could utter a scream for the strange food placed in front of me. I slowly ate one to be polite….it tasted like what it was….. aghhhhh…..but the occasion was great, I just joined with others in wiping tears off. I grew up near the sea and our favorite anthropods are more like crabs and shrimps, so to my traditional Japanese breakfast I would rather like to add a piece of fish instead of bugs. Precisely it should be a piece of salted and grilled fish. In Norway we have a lot of salmon and mackerel, so I usually salt them and grill in the oven, but in Japan there is something called HIMONO. You don’t put Himono on you as it is not Kimono. Himono is fish dried in the sun that smells but oh it tastes wonderful!! (I put a link so that you can read a wonderful article on Himono) And natto! I love natto! and some Tsukemono pickles! I remember very well my grand mother opening her pickles barrel before breakfast. It smelled fermentation and awful, but it was the smell of the morning.
So, Unagi-chan, this is a typical Japanese traditional breakfast which I have in my mind. Let me explain to you. There is a bowl of steamed white rice, a bowl of miso soup with potato and wakame seaweed in it, a piece of grilled and salted fish (Salmon from Norway!), a natto, some roasted nori, a bowl of pickles, cooked vegetables (boiled spinach and soy sauce) and a cup of green tea will follow. I would have put Umeboshi on the table as well if I had some in my fridge today. My mother will probably add her Tamagoyaki for me but I have it so often in my bento, so I did not include it today. (Yes the recipes are coming after this post!)
When I take a look at this photo, I see one thing. Sushi and Sashimi represents Japanese cuisine to many of you but they are an only one part. Japanese food is not only fresh seafood but is very closely connected to and is played a big roll by fermented and preserved food. Miso, soy sauce, natto, umeboshi, himono, green tea leaves and pickles, they all go through fermenting process. I am sure Unagi-chan will also understand the complexity as she is also from a country of cheese, wine and oysters.
In searching for what is really a “traditional” breakfast in Japan, I could not avoid going back in time and learn the history of the Japanese food a little. Tradition is something that is living among us now but is a continuity from the past, right? I was very curious to know the origin of each of the above photographed food. My research began by looking for information about natto and I was lead to a virtual meeting with one assistant professor of a university in Japan…
Continue to part 2