Japanese food, it has to be said, is by far one of the most healthy and satisfying cuisines on planet Earth.


Japanese food, it has to be said, is by far one of the most healthy and satisfying cuisines on planet Earth. Its combinations of fresh fish and seafood, rice, vegetables and fragrant broths coupled with a little food science leaves you feeling cleansed, healthy and satisfied.
From the most basic stocks, to the more elaborate combinations of delicately balanced sauces and soups, right down to the beautiful methods of eye-catching presentation, this cuisine ticks all of the boxes in the health and feeding of the soul departments.

Local and seasonal
Japanese cuisine is thoughtful, ethereal and always satisfying; it is beautiful in its presentation and simple in its execution but takes years to master correctly. The Japanese take their food extremely seriously and eat to feed their soul and mind as well as their bodies.
There is an emphasis on seasonality and locality of ingredients and these principles result in a dining experience that brings delight and calm on many levels. This philosophy has also influenced some of the most famous chefs in the world, including Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria. The Kaiseki Principle of a symphony of small seasonal courses is designed to bring harmony to a meal.
Generally, there is a perception in Western society of Japanese cooking that is way off the mark. People think the cuisine is difficult or impractical to achieve consistently or they may be scared of some of the exotic ingredients required.
Well, I am here to tell you that yes, the food is intricate and delicate and yes, there may be a few unfamiliar ingredients. But with a little practice and patience, and with the help of some of the wonderful Asian grocers that Australia has to offer, you too can create stunning and healthy Japanese dishes that will leave you wanting to know more about this fascinating food culture.

Delicious dashi
So what of the food science and what are these unfamiliar ingredients? First a question: what do seaweed, dried tuna or mushroom and water have in common? Combined correctly they form the base of a delicious and healthy stock called dashi. This simple broth is the cornerstone of Japanese cooking and the art of making it has been practised over centuries.
Dashi differs from most other kinds of stocks in that rather than using simple ingredients boiled over a long period of time as in Western cuisine, it uses carefully prepared ingredients, patiently matured, which are only soaked in water or heated briefly so as to extract nothing but their very essence.
The main ingredients of a dashi are kombu (dried seaweed), katsuobushi or bonito (dried tuna flakes) and water. A vegetarian version can be made by omitting the katsuobushi or substituting it for shitake mushrooms.
Now, here comes the science part. In 1908, Professor Kikunae Ikeda discovered a fifth taste sensation in dashi that was not represented in our basic tastes of salty, bitter, sour and sweet. He called this new taste ‘umami’ and the source of this is found in many foods but especially kombu.
Umami has been translated to mean ‘savouriness’ and its benefits include enhancing other tastes and leaving a satisfying feeling after eating. The professor identified the source of ‘umami’ as glutamate, and this is found in many ingredients around the world, from aged Parmesan in Italy, ripe tomatoes worldwide, fish sauce in Thailand and, surprisingly, Vegemite here in Australia.
Professor Ikeda went on to patent ‘monosodium glutamate’, which is used as an additive in many foods, especially in Far Eastern cuisine.
In its natural state, umami has many health benefits. Apart from the protein and amino acids, it leaves our bodies feeling full and satisfied thus regulating our diet. Its presence also reduces the need for the addition of too much salt and sugar in our food as the umami enhances other natural flavours.
Kombu can be found in Asian providores and health food shops and it is starting to appear in many local supermarkets, while bonito flakes are available from Asian supermarkets.