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Diversity of WASHOKU

The climate generated diversity of WASHOKU

Because the Japanese archipelago spreads wide north-south, there is a wide variety of regional food culture. There are local cuisines and processing/preservation techniques inherited in each region.
The more you know about the map of Japanese food, the more interesting it becomes.

 

“You’re from XX Prefecture, so you may have eaten that.” “How do you prepare mochi for ozohni and what do you use for ozohni seasoning?” Traditional dishes and foodstuff may differ for each region throughout Japan, and the seasoning also differs by regions.

With different climates, foodstuff that can be harvested and cooking methods have become different, resulting in the formation of washoku with abundant regional flavors. Such diversity is also one of the attractive points of washoku, and it is one of the things to look forward to when travelling in Japan.

Back in the days when logistics systems and preservation technology were not developed as now, it was an important and difficult task to use foodstuff effectively and stably without wasting them. People used wisdom and added improvements to invent effective food processing and preservation methods. Such wisdom resulted in generating the diversity of WASHOKU.

Diversity of food culture generated from the difference of climate

In lands far from sea, wisdom was developed to improve the storage life of fish. In the northern region experiencing harsh winters, techniques improved to preserve vegetables for a long time.

Dried fish, mochi, pickled ume, freeze-dried tofu, etc. are all long-life processed foods created a long time ago. Similarly, fermented food is also a type of ancient processed food in Japan. These are foods with improved storage life, nutritional value or flavor by the agency of microorganisms or with the effect of enzymes. Pickled vegetables are one such fermented food.

For example, there is iburigakko, a local cuisine dish of Akita Prefecture. Daikon radishes are hung over the open hearth and smoked with an open fire using oak and cherry wood. Then, the radish is made into pickles with rice bran and salt. This is wisdom in Akita Prefecture, where winter comes early, to dry daikon radish quickly to improve its storage life. With time and effort, the flavor is condensed and a rich taste is generated that is different from fresh vegetables.

An example of preserved seafood is narezushi. Fish is matured with salt and cooked rice for several days to several months and fermented with lactic acid bacteria. It holds down the growing of bacteria, and preservation for a long period became possible. In addition, it adds umami. Some of the nare-zushi local cuisine dishes throughout Japan are Funa-zushi of Shiga Prefecture, nare-zushi using mackerel and Pacific saury of Wakayama Prefecture, heshiko-narezushi of Obama City, Fukui Prefecture and hatahata-zushi of Akita Prefecture.

Fermented seasoning such as miso, fermented soy bean, and soy sauce can be considered as the key to the taste of Japanese cuisine. There are also differences in preparation methods and taste among these, depends on the region. For instance, there are many variations of miso: Tsugaru miso, a salty miso using soy bean and malted rice and fermented for a long period, mildly sweet Saikyo miso containing a large amount of malted rice, red-brown Haccho miso of Nagoya using malted soy bean, and barley miso of the Kyushu Region made of barley.

The diversity is obvious by taking a look at the variations of ozohni as an example, made of regional specialty products, fermented seasoning and mochi.

Climate and food culture in Japan are deeply connected, developing a wide variety of foods that the world pays attention to.  

Ozohni Map


Ozoni Map
Ozohni eaten on New Year’s Day varies widely among regions and households, in terms of the ingredients of dashi stock and seasoning used, the shape of mochi, and other ingredients in the soup. Dashi ingredients include kombu, katsuobushi, dried small fish, dried squid, conger and chicken. For seasoning, salt, soy sauce and miso are used. The shape of mochi is different, either round or square, and there is also a difference of baking it or not before cooking with soup. In some regions, mochi with sweet bean paste is stuffed inside is used. Other ingredients in the soup include vegetables, seafood and chicken, and the specialty product of the region is often used. In Okinawa, people eat nakami-jiru (soup using pork organ meat) instead of ozohni. The map here shows some of characteristic ozohni types throughout Japan.

Miso Mochi
On this page, the traditional dietary culture of Japan is expressed as WASHOKU, and dishes with such tradition are expressed as washoku.
Pictures and articles are cited from WASHOKU guidebook.

Local Regional Specialties

Japanese Food is also characterized by the countless variety of its local diversities. Keyed to the local climate, each dish mirrors the local history and culture of several generations.
Here are some examples of locally best-loved tastes.