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Is Japanese food overrated?

I'm Japanese-American so I think the ultra-strict mods should let this post stand.

I don't get the hoopla about Japanese food.

The main flavors are soy sauce, dashi, salt, sugar, mirin, miso, and a little ginger.

I commented in the tiramisu thread but, to my way of thinking, that is very one-note.

I acknowledge that they use a variety of techniques...as demonstrated in a good kaiseki. And their plating and sense of esthetics is superb.

However, the taste....

Please discuss.

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  1. ...is delicious, and in my opinion, the only true analogue to Japanese cooking and traditions is found in Italian cooking. They both have an almost fetishistic drive to present great ingredients simply, and even their lower rent offerings have something to them that beat out other comfort foods, i.e. kareh and yakisoba, insalata di riso and gnocchi with pesto.

    Cheers!

    1. I personally find it kind of bland and one-note sometimes, too. It's basically adding salt (soy/tamari) and MSG to a lot of stuff... I mean, there's a lot of Japanese food I like (I think they do great savory snacks), but I vastly prefer an Indian or Malaysian curry to a Japanese curry any day. It sort of baffles me personally when someone raves about Japanese curry being so spicy and flavorful. It can be good and comforting, but flavorful compared to other types of curries from other regions? Hmmm...

      I also like Japanese ramen especially on cold nights/days, but at the same time...it's not exactly a flavor explosion either.

      Like everything, though...it's all about personal taste.

      7 Replies
      1. re: yfunk3

        Japanese curry and ramen might not be the best examples for this argument because they're not really Japanese...they're imported dishes from other countries, like American pizza.

        1. re: yfunk3

          I totally agree with you. I feel that japanese curry is not real curry in the sense that it's just a curry stock cube (usually made with one masala powder). No effort has been made to bring any depth of flavour into the curry. Ramen is pretty boring too and most of the time they use a soy sauce/miso broth. I find that when I go to a Japanese restaurant, the menu is just limited to tempura food (served with boring kewpie mayonnaise), ramen or sashimi. It's definitely overrated compared to other asian cuisines.

          1. re: ponta123

            Standard out-of-the-box curry is pretty much as you describe. But curry specialists and many mom&pops do make their own from scratch - utilizing 20-30 spices and herbs, various fruits and vegetables and stocks.

            You're certainly entitled to your own opinion, but if you feelJapanese cuisine is limited and overrated, maybe better and broader examples await you.

            1. re: bulavinaka

              It's like saying Italian food is bland because the stuff out of the jar is one dimensional. Not only curry but a good ramen has well developed flavors, far more than soy sauce/miso.

              The key is to find good Japanese food, not bad, overly Americanized restaurants and then think that is true representation of Japanese food.

              1. re: chowser

                I haven't looked up Ponta's profile so I don't know where he/she resides, but I'm in the L.A. area. We have a lot of Japanese food choices that fall in all the categories of good or bad, "authentic" or Americanized, specialists or generalists. The specialists usually shine, as these are players who put serious focus on ingredients and preparation on a relatively few dishes. I don't know if Ponta has ever experienced food from such specialists. Heck, Ponta might not even care for this cuisine no matter what or where it is experienced. But having gone to Japan with a more mature and experienced palate has confirmed to me that this cuisine shines. When one considers how much attention is paid to sourcing and preparing rice in this cuisine, subtleties like this can easily be overlooked. If one wants strong flavors or powerful chile kicks, Indian, Thai, Malaysian or some of the Latin American cuisines are some that Ponta may associate far better with. But if Ponta hasn't experienced food closely resembling Japanese cuisine in terms of quality and preparation, that may be where the problem is.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  I was basing my thoughts of the types of places Ponta has visited as generic Americanized type places since they only have tempura w/ kewpie mayo, ramen or sushi. Curry is from a cube and ramen is soy/miso flavored. That doesn't speak of good quality Japanese food to me.

                  I agree that Japanese food is more subtle than some cuisines. I appreciate the nuances of flavor, just as, say a solo violinist can be far more musical than a loud hard rock band; not worst but more subtle.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I'm practicing my feeble diplomatic skills. :)

        2. Just like any other national cuisine, I think it comes down to a matter of personal taste. Is French food really that good? Is Italian food really that good? I think they all are, but some people don't care for certain things.

          Personally, after living in Japan I would have to say yes. I prefer Japanese food to any other food in the world, although I am often swayed by Italian.

          The main flavors in Japanese food are the flavors of the ingredients themselves, not the seasonings. Good Japanese flavor is not defined by soy sauce any more than French food is defined by butter or Italian food is defined by olive oil.

          To me Japanese food is more special than other cuisines because it accomplishes the same result, showcasing ingredients, but does it without making it heavy.

          1. there are many strong unique flavors that japanese like, that I love, that most americans can't deal with, such as fermented squid liver. or fermented guts "watta". So it's just a matter of taste. Salt happens to be an excellent flavor for tempura and for sea eel. shiso leave goes great with uni, yuzo goes great with scallops. The japanese have flavor compliments down to a simplistic science and art. You can go to some Italian places that will over power you with too much garlic. Or pseudo gourmet places that try mixing flavors that dont mix and overpowering the dish. For me Japanese RULZ

            1 Reply
            1. Japanese food runs the gamut. Here in the U.S., we typically think of only sushi, for example, which you might have in Japan maybe one night a week.

              The topic of Japanese food is too broad to really label it en masse, IMO.