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One soup and three dishes

Soup and dishes are for eating cooked rice.
“One soup and three dishes” is the basic style of washoku

“One soup and three dishes” is a combination of cooked rice, soup and pickles, with several dishes added.

Cooked rice; soup of dashi stock made of kombu or katsuobushi and seasoned with miso or salt, with some ingredients; pickles such as salted pickles or pickles using bran or sake lees; side dishes such as grilled, stewed or dressed foods. “One soup and three dishes” is the combination of these four elements.

As a basic rule, “one soup and three dishes” refers to a style including one soup and three side dishes. Pickles, that refresh the mouth during the meal, and cooked rice are always served as basic items, so they are not counted as a part of the “three dishes.”

In contrast to the “one soup and three dishes,” which is the structure of daily meals, “two soups and five dishes” appeared frequently in the Edo period. This means two types of soup and five side dishes, which used to be the basic structure of meal to welcome guests. Two small tables were used for one person. In contrast, “one soup and three dishes” is served on a single small table, showing that this is the ordinary daily household meal.

There are also various types of soup. Bony parts of fish removed when making fillet are used for soup. Kenchin-jiru is a soup of various vegetables and tofu. There are other various chunky soups in various regions, and it is also one of the characteristics of washoku to eat rice with soup.

The greatest characteristic of “one soup and three dishes” is that soup, pickles and dishes all exist just for eating cooked rice. At the base of the concept of “one soup and three dishes,” there is an idea that cooked rice is the main dish, and the other three elements are side dishes. The basic style of washoku used to be eating plenty of cooked rice with a limited amount of side dishes, and controlling the caloric intake with the amount of cooked rice.

Where did rice come from, which is essential for WASHOKU?

Let us also look at cooked rice, which is indispensable for WASHOKU.

There are two types of rice: glutinous rice and non-glutinous rice. Glutinous rice, which is strongly viscous, is used for okowa (hard, steamed rice) like sekihan, while non-glutinous rice is less sticky and is usually eaten as cooked rice for daily meals.

It is said that the cultivation of rice started more than 10,000 years ago, originally by growing wild rice. The land of origin according to the widely-accepted theory is the basin of the Yangtze River in China. Indica rice diffused westward from there, while Japonica rice diffused eastward and settled in East Asia.

It can be said that the purpose of the menu of WASHOKU is to eat cooked rice with soup and side dishes. In other words, everything from nikujaga (stewed potatoes and meat seasoned with soy sauce) and korokke (Japanese-style croquette) to tonkatsu (Japanese-style cutlet) was fine as a side dish as long as it goes with cooked rice. The flexibility of side dishes is due to the strongly established WASHOKU style which places cooked rice as the main dish. If it were not for the basic structure referred to as “one soup and three dishes,” there would be no difference with cuisines in other countries.

 “One soup and three dishes”  

“One soup and three dishes” is a structure of menu adding three dishes to cooked rice, soup and pickles. In this photo, there are grilled fish (back right), stewed vegetables (back left) and boiled and seasoned Japanese mustard spinach (center). A bowl of cooked rice is supposed to be placed at the front left side of the person, soup at the front right side, and pickles at the center.



Rice is deeply involved with the lifestyle of Japanese people.



Japonica rice and Indica rice

Major varieties of rice grown today throughout the world include Indica rice (Indian-type rice) and Japonica rice (Japanese-type rice). Indica is a type called long rice, while Japonica is a short, round rice widely eaten in Japan today. Starch, the main component of rice, includes amylose and amylopectin. While Indica rice containing more amylose is less sticky, Japonica rice including less amylose is more sticky, and tastes delicious to the palate of Japanese people. Dishes like onigiri and sushi, with cooked rice shaped in balls, were invented with this Japonica rice.

The production amount of rice in the world is about 600 million tons, approximately the same as wheat, and more than 90% of rice is grown in Asian countries, including Japan. Japonica rice accounts for about 15% of the total, and is mainly cultivated in Japan, the Korean Peninsula, the northeast part of China, and the northern part of Taiwan. On the other hand, the cultivation area of Indica rice is mainly South Asia, including India, the Bengal region of Bangladesh, Indochina Peninsula (mainly Thailand), the central and southern part of China, and Indonesia.

Japonica rice and Indica rice         

Non-glutinous rice and glutinous rice

Japanese people usually eat non-glutinous rice at meals, while they use glutinous rice for making sekihan and mochi. While the nutrition value is virtually the same, the composition of starch is different. The ratio of amylose and amylopectin of non-glutinous rice is about 2 : 8, while glutinous rice is composed mostly of amylopectin. That is why glutinous rice is stickier than non-glutinous rice, and is suitable for making mochi. In Japan, the characteristics of both types of rice are utilized effectively to create various dishes and confectionaries by using rice grain or flour, or by fermenting into sake and mirin (sweet rice wine).



* 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.

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