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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.


    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.

              1. I spent three years in Japan as a youngster, and grew to love the food. Here in the States, though, I basically have to make it myself to get the taste right. I have never heard anyone "rave" about a Japanese curry being "spicy." If it were spicy, it wouldn't be a Japanese curry. Like much else in Japanese culture, the food is very subtle.

                1. Is is a coincidence that the Japanese food naysayers are not from Japanese food strongholds like LA, NY and... Japan?

                  Like anywhere, Japan is a big place, with different styles of cooking. If you were in Japan, "Let's go out for Japanese food" means just as little as someone in Texas saying "Let's go out for American food". Oh yeah? What? Burgers? BBQ? Roasted chicken? Meatloaf? Pizza? And as for Japanese, sushi? ramen? tonkatsu? kaiseki? rice burgers? omurice? takoyaki? yakitori? Izakaya? What what? There's infinite variety above and beyond soy sauce, dashi, salt, sugar, mirin, miso, and a little ginger. All different kinds of meats, fish, charcoal, ponzu, sake, curry... I just don't see how you can make the "one note" argument when 1) you're Japanese and 2) by your own admission, you've already listed 7 notes :)

                  In my experience, the food gets better when there's a lot of local customers that can support high quality food that has not been dumbed down for the masses. Any random Chinese restaurant in any of the Chinese strongholds in or around San Gabriel, California (the massive, unofficial "New Chinatown" of Los Angeles), is far better, tastier, more authentic than the Chinese food you can get almost anywhere else in the country. Saying "Let's go our for Chinese food" means SO much more than orange chicken when you've got restaurants featuring regional cooking styles across thousands of miles of Chinese geography.

                  Mr Taster

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    You forgot to mention Taiwan as a Japanese food stronghold, and an extremely affordable and excellent one at that (compared and comparable to Japan) if you know where to go :-).

                    1. re: K K

                      I didn't forget Taiwan... I had listed the home boards of the Chowhounds that had responded to the initial query. I was noting that all the people supporting Japanese food came from places with huge variety of high quality Japanese restaurants and large Japanese populations exist, whereas the naysayers did not. Nobody with a home board in Taiwan had responded.

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        I'll chime in - living in Taiwan and married to a Japanese.

                        Japanese food here is very good - certainly a much larger variety than you can get in most places in North America and very affordable, but it is still adapted somewhat to local tastes. Fish floss on sushi, anyone?

                        I do really like Japanese food, but I find that many people have a fairly limited view of what Japanese food is, based on the stuff that has been exported most readily. I also find that a lot of Japanese food is of the type where the quality and freshness of the ingredients is of vital importance in the final product. Sushi of course is a prime example of this.

                        I most definitely do *not* find Japanese food one note or boring, any more than I would describe Italian food as a one note cuisine that's all based on garlic and tomato.

                        I have some very fond memories of meals in traditional Japanese inns, where you get a spread of small dishes based on local ingredients and specialities. Absolutely fantastic food in a lovely setting.

                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                          Yes the floss in sushi rolls (for example) is true. But that's one category of Japanese in Taiwan, which is as you say, Japanese catered toward Taiwanese.

                          Go to the Zhongsan N. Rd area of Taipei for example, where the Japanese expats congregate after hours from work (think of it as the Torrance and Gardena in LA), and you'll find really top notch restaurants, izakaya's, and supposedly hostess type bars, not specifically catering to the Taiwanese tastebuds, but rather Japanese Japanese. I don't know about other areas outside of Taipei, but you will find variations of kaiseki (even shojin) at the Taiwanese style B&Bs and their versions of ryokans that are equally stunning if not only visual but probably not as great as a real Japanese ryokan in rural Japan.

                          But I have to say though that even the top kappo and sushi places in Taipei, just based on blog photos and observations, there are still elements of Taiwanese somewhat scattered here and there, from the kobachi down to some of the more subtle touches, but at least it is not in your face like pork floss.

                          1. re: K K

                            Oh, they do have some very good Japanese restaurants that are pretty authentic, but they tend to be a lot pricier, and therefore saved for special occasions.

                    2. re: Mr Taster

                      Mr. Taster, please see my later posts. I haven't lived in Peoria all my life.

                      This is an interesting post in other ways.

                      No one in the US says they want to go out for American food. In the US, people do say they want to go out for Japanese food. Maybe that speaks to the homogeneity of the food. I've not lived in Japan but I wouldn't be suprised if they make distinctions and they go out for yakitori or sushi or shabu shabu instead of going out for Japanese food.

                      Yes, you are literally right that I listed seven flavorings/ingredients/seasonings. However, do you not agree that those appear in concert in a LOT of Japanese dishes? Miso shiru contains miso, dashi, shoyu, sugar and maybe salt and mirin. Perhaps I should have added sake to the list. However, in combination, those ingredients/seasonings/flavors comprise the "Japanese" flavor that is in basically all Japanese dishes.

                      Of course the Japanese use a protein and veg too. However, I'm talking about the basic flavor profile (how they season the protein or veg). Let's look at some classic Japanese dishes.

                      Sukiyaki: Soy, sugar, mirin
                      Teriyaki: Soy, sugar, sake
                      Sushi: Rice vinegar, salt, soy, wasabi (I did miss a couple here)
                      Yakitori: soy, mirin, sugar
                      Tempura: the sauce (seasoning) is salt or a mixture of dashi, soy, and sugar
                      Chawan mushi: dashi, soy, sugar

                      Here are the flavorings from K K's list of dishes that I gotta eat:
                      -sakana no nitsuke: shoyu and sugar
                      -ayu, saba or sanma shioyaki: salt
                      -goya chanpuru, tonsoku yaki, rafute: soy, sake, salt
                      -jidori baitan mizutaki: as far as I can tell this is basically ramen: salt, meat bones, maybe miso, maybe dashi, maybe shoyu - If I'm wrong and they use tarragon and basil, please so indicate
                      -kanburi nabe: it's a nabe: soy, maybe kelp, maybe dashi
                      -yakiniku: Usually soy and sugar
                      -unagi: usually soy and sugar
                      - Kappo style: dunno but I bet it is more likely to use soy and sake than tomatoes and oregano
                      - nabemono: dashi, soy, sugar, sake
                      -oden: kelp, soy, sugar, sake

                      1. re: toomuchfat

                        This is wrong on so many levels...

                        First, when I eat sushi or sashimi, I don't always dunk whatever in soy sauce, then wasabi. Especially with sashimi, I often just have the piece unadorned to appreciate its flavour. So there's no salt, no sugar, no soy - just the fish/shellfish.

                        Same thing with tempura - sure, there are times I use the dipping sauce - it tastes good! But there are items that again I eat just for themselves - shrimp especially.

                        And, wow, they use soy and salt a lot?! Have you EVER watched an American chef on Food Network? My kids used to howl whenever we watched Tyler Florence (he's a great cook, BTW, but still..) because as soon as he put down the salt, his next grab was invariably the pepper grinder. When Emeril was popular, he used to "bam" everything with his "essence".

                        I used to visit a Japanese spot in eastern Toronto every week. The chef's special included rice porridge, which was devoid of salt/soy/dashi to my palate, an amuse which was usually a pair of dumplings which would have a slight dressing of soy, but not an overpowering one, miso, salad, tempura (see above), and a large plate of sushi/sashimi which I would sometimes dip and sometimes not, followed by some yakitori and fresh fruit. Huge meal, many different flavours, didn't taste like the same notes over and over, as you seem to suggest. I think the fact that I went back every week (we got an hour for lunch on Friday as opposed to 30 minutes in the rest of the week) is testament to how good the food was, and how varied it was. I sure didn't visit McD's (across the street) every Tuesday.

                        1. re: FrankD

                          Frank D,

                          Let's deal with facts, not your personal preferences when eating Japanese food or what one restaurant does.

                          Look up the recipes for the classic Japanese dishes, then we'll talk about who is wrong.

                        2. re: toomuchfat

                          I have to disagree with your post. And agree with Mr. Taster that regional differences may be at play here. I live in south L.A., where Japanese food, broadly defined, is excellent and definitely my overall favorite cuisine. You wrote, "In the US, people do say they want to go out for Japanese food. Maybe that speaks to the homogeneity of the food." Here in L.A., I have never heard someone say that they want to go out for Japanese. Rather, they say they want to go out for sushi, or for ramen, or yakitori, or oden, or an izikaya, etc. I'm sure that what you are saying is accurate in some regions of the U.S., but that doesn't mean that Japanese food is homogenous and blah. From my perspective, it is anything but.

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


                        Come again?

                        Those aren't flavors, necessarily, but ingredients.

                        But I quibble.

                        Going back to your post ... By your same analysis one could argue that American food is overrated because, you know, the "flavors" (to use your definition of the word) are ketchup, mustard, mayo, sugar, American cheese, and a little bacon., right?

                        I mean, c'mon, seriously. There are no cusines that are truly overrated -- in the strictest sense of the word. Some cuisines maybe overexposed -- e.g. the "cusine du jour" like Spanish tapas in late 90s or sushi back in the 80s -- but none are overrated.

                        Each cusine is unique all onto itself, and really doesn't need a menagerie of flavor profiles to make it something not only to be savored, but cherished.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          "There are no cusines that are truly overrated "

                          If you truely believe that, then you also believe no cuisine is ever underrated. I think even by the logics of possibility, you know that there are things which are underrated and there are things which are overrated. Almost everything is like this. Houses, cars, movies, cookware..., cuisine is no exception. Were Toyota cars underrated in the 1970's. Absolutely. We don't live in a perfect world where everything is perfectly rated at all times.

                          Keep in mind that Japanese cuisine has enjoyed an upswing of appreciation in the last 30 years. So either it was underrated before or it is overrated now, maybe both. It cannot possibly be properly rated at all times. So who is to say we are living at times where things are all properly rated, and not 30 years in the past or 30 years in the future.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Folks, we've removed a number of replies from this thread. Please try to keep the focus on the chow rather than nitpicking people's word choices or the logic of their argument. That kind of meta-discussion doesn't help anyone eat better.

                          2. re: ipsedixit

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


                            Come again?

                            Those aren't flavors, necessarily, but ingredients. "

                            funny, i can't recall the last time i had a flavorless version of any of those things, besides sugar and salt...

                          3. In my opinion, Japanese food -- most especially sushi! -- has taken on the hysteria of The Emperor's New Clothes! When anything is massively successful and "chic," there is a degrading process of sheer numbers and rush to duplicate that takes it down. I've been eating Japanese food in America since before World War II. There was a time when I could get good Japanese food. REALLY good Japanese food. Subtle, eat-with-your-eyes-then-with-your-mouth drop dead gorgeously delicious Japanese food. In today's world, and to my taste, there are precious few Japanese restaurants left that serve GOOD Japanese food. And sushi is to cry over. I've had sushi made with long grain rice that has developed the hard center to it. Short grain rice will not do that. Wrong rice, guys! It has been at least five years since I had sushi that had crisp flaky nori wrapped around it, which is the way nori is supposed to be. Today I'm served soggy nori that has turned into yucky black bubble gum. Sooooo... When I want Japanese food to my liking, I make it myself. And in this day and age, if I want kaiseki dining, I'd damned sure better make it at home because in a true kaiseki restaurant, I will have to mortgage my house to pay the tab! <sigh>

                            18 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              Hold on there, Caroline.

                              What you are saying is more directed at Japanese "restaurants" and not Japanese "food".

                              It's one thing to say that Japanese restaurants are failing to produce quality, authentic sashimi; it's quite another thing to say that authentic, quality sushi is terrible.

                              Unless I am mistaken, you are referring to the former, while the OP is targeting the latter.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                You may be partially right, but okay, let's split hairs! '-) When it comes to Japanese COOKING, there is HUGE risk in trying to learn to cook traditional Japanese food today. Classic Japanese cooking required skill and simple ingredients that the cook fine tuned adeptly to produce something exceptional. Today walk into any supermarket, Japanese, Asian, or Safeway, and what do you find? A gazillion already-made-for-you no-skill-required ingredients that are confusing at best. Which to use? I do love the flavor of ORIGINAL Kikkoman shoyu, and fortunately it has not evolved that much through the years. It still has that unique flavor that sets it apart from all other shoyus. BUT...! Look how many sauces Kikkoman makes today? I take pride in my traditional teriyaki chicken. I make my sauce from scratch. But thanks to Kikkoman (and others like them) if I made teriyaki using their ready made sauce, not only could I make it, but a gazillion other people could make chicken teriyaki that tastes exactly like mine! It's a slippery slope. As I said in my first post on this subject, any time something becomes hugely popular it is on its way down because the rush to duplicate and the sheer number of duplications ain't gonna bring about nothing good...!

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  Chicken teriyaki, the dish, was basically invented by Kikkoman in the U.S. It’s not a traditional Japanese dish. It’s a relatively recent recipe to sell more bottled teriyaki sauce in this country. Traditionally, teriyaki is a glaze put upon fish or squid. This wasn’t appreciated by Americans and so Kikkoman began marketing the sauce for meat to increase sales. It has since made its’ way back to Japan, but it’s not traditional. My wife, who was born and raised in Tokyo, said she had never heard of teriyaki on meat until she encountered it overseas. There is an interesting article (in Japanese) on Kikkoman’s introduction of the dish here: http://www.mmjp.or.jp/gyoukaku/toron/....

                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                    I knew that! '-) (jokingly) Didn't get my recipe from Kikkoman. Got it from Sadako Khono's 1977 "Home Style Japanese Cooking In Pictures" cook book. I loved it because it tasted so similar to the teriyaki chicken thighs a Japanese American girlfriend's mother made when I was... Well, just before WWII and they were rushed off to a "relocation" camp. That would make Mrs. Sase's teriyaki somewhere around 1941, early '42?. But maybe it was a Japanese American dish? Or she was a very creative cook who didn't want to waste good fish on spoiled and picky kids? That's my guess. But all of my JA friends and native born Japanese girlfriends used teriyaki sauce, as you say, as a glaze, usually but not exclusively for fish. It's great on abalone, but not much chance of me ever cooking another 8" diameter red abalone again in my lifetime. <sigh>

                                    As I said in a post further up thread, I do love the unique flavor of Kikkoman's traditional shoyu, but boy, what they have done to mess up any hope of "Murican's ever learning to appreciate classic Japanese cooking is a crime! But hey, I don't have to buy all of it... And obviously many people like it or they wouldn't keep making it. Time marches on. Damn it!

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      The Kikkoman origin was from 1970, when they built a factory in the U.S. But just from reading, for example, Sam Fujisaka's contributions over the years, it's clear that Japanese-American communities modified existing or in some cases innovated completely new Japanese dishes....My mother in law makes good buri-teri or basted teriyaki fillets of yellowtail. When my brother, who doesn't eat seafood, visited from the US, she made him chicken teriyaki- which I'll admit we all gobbled up pretty quickly.

                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                        I think a driving force with all people, but especially true of the Japanese, is that when you relocate, whether a few miles or a few continents, you adapt to your new surroundings based on what's available. I recall "The Three A's" that were pounded into us in junior high school social studies during the 1940s when studying Japan: The Japanese Adopt, Adapt, and are Adept! And it's true. Often with great results, but not always.

                                        In all of California -- in the south where I grew up and farther north in the Fresno area where Sam grew up -- the most characteristic trait of the *sometimes* insular Japanese communities was always always always premium fresh fruits and vegetable were the driving force! I remember girlfriend's mothers making incredible home made pickles (it seemed as if everything could be pickled and often was!) and then sharing the bounty with others. And if there were fruits or vegetables that weren't native to the area, they often brought them in and tried growing them locally. My mother wasn't a bad cook. Certainly not "gourmet," but she could make taste buds dance on occasion. But an excursion into the kitchens of Japanese American girlfriend's homes was a trip to the magic kingdom! '-)

                              2. re: Caroline1

                                Yep Caroline, good kaiseki is very very expensive, and that is not only here in NY where there is very few decent kaiseki places. But also in Kyoto where the best are,but you do pay dearly,but the meals are quite memorable.

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  wow caroline...
                                  Sushi rice is supposed to be made with round rice, not long grain...

                                  Japanese restaurants in the states have positively progressed immensely in the past decade.

                                  Prior to WWII, i am certain that quality of imported japanese ingredients and quality of it must have been sub par. Now adays there are many food vendors including NY Mutual, JFC, and other giant food importers that enables the cuisine to evolve.

                                  There are things such as classical american cooking that may have been better prior to WWII. But to say Japanese food was better back in the days is just too much of a personal preference.

                                  1. re: atomusmaximus

                                    Oh, it is ABSOLUTELY a personal preference! But I'm going to say something here I would like you to think about before you react to what I say. I must conclude from what you've written that you are fairly young. If you had a longer time line of experience on which to base your assertions, I don't think you would not be making them. The point you're missing is that where I grew up -- southern California, and I quickly want to clarify that it was a southern California UNLIKE southern California today! -- the things required for traditional classic Japanese cooking were almost all grown and/or created locally with no need for import. Now, granted, no one was growing Kobe or Mishima beef, but how many Japanese (in Japan) have that as a regular part of their diet? We certainly had plenty of kelp and other traditional seaweeds on our side of the Pacific that were harvested and preserved or used fresh. Bonito? The fishing fleets brought in a fresh catch daily to be eaten fresh or dried for katsuobushi. I don't eat tuna of any kind in sushi today simply because taste and smell are the most accurate memories man possesses, and there is no tuna today at any price that can match the tunas I ate regularly in my youth. The oceans are overfished and polluted and I can taste it in today's tuna. I grieve over the loss, but grief will not turn back the hands of time.

                                    My point is that truly excellent Japanese classic cuisine WAS produced in California PRIOR to World War II, and it was not reliant on imported goods. Japanese restaurants were rare, indeed, but Japanese home cooking was alive and well and had some excellent practitioners! REAL wasabi does NOT have to be grown in Japan to taste right. And some of the greatest (short grain) japonica rice in the entire world is grown in California and demands a premium price in Japan, where it sells like hotcakes.

                                    So I'll close with a question for you: How can you make a valid assessment of things you have never experienced? If you find a way to time travel to go back and experience these things for yourself, take me along! '-)

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      From what I know, no rice from California is being sold in Japan. It does not command a premium price, either.

                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                        Japan makes their own rice. In a country that crams a third of the US population into 1/9th the space.
                                        They make it for PRIDE. And that's why they won't buy Californian.

                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                          Japan is required by international trade laws to import rice. About 50% of it comes from the U.S.- most likely California. The majority of it is probably used to make senbei or mochi in large commercial food processing. Some of it is probably stored away or perhaps passed off as charity merely to fulfill the trade agreement. The domestic rice industry is artificially protected to sustain many rural communities that depend on it.

                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                            I was thinking I'd read something to that effect in the mid-90's, apparently it was accepted under a large sense of haltered national pride that they were no longer self-sufficient. but the imported would be used for more 'industrial' (bulk food) purposes.

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              Self-sufficiency has not been an issue for a loooong time. Certainly well before the 90's. Rice consumption is declining in Japan. The people who grow rice are older and in the countryside. But they are part of the LDP's constituency and help keep them in power. They are also part of a traditional culturally connected trade. It's complicated. Here is an article I found-http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bi.... It says the Japan imports 5% of it's rice- which is almost definitely obligated to do under the agreement. It doesn't mention the relationship with the LDP, but everyone knows this.

                                  2. re: Caroline1


                                    In short, you are indeed saying that today Japanese cuisine in US is overrated. Afterall, what you said is that the Japanese foods were better 50 years ago than today. Yet, Japanese foods enjoy a better rating/liking today than 50 years ago.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Ck, to use a pool shooting term, you're putting some English on my words that I didn't put there! I am not necessarily saying that Japanese food is overrated today. What I am saying is that many are producing it but few are producing it well. That was not the case fifty or sixty years ago. Indeed, fifty or sixty years ago one was hard pressed to find a Japanese restaurant in the U.S.! There were a few in select locations in California, and I will assume there may have been some in other areas of the country that were home to a substantial community of Japanese Americans. But go back to that time and ask the average American what sushi is and you'll get a whole bunch of blank stares! And probably a few answers like, "Is it a legal term?"

                                      And yes, you are certainly correct in saying that Japanese food today is better known and better liked than it was half a century ago. It's damned hard to experience what isn't available! But what I'm also saying is that the popular demand all over the U.S. and indeed, the rest of the world, is a curse on quality. As a result of that curse, there are also a lot of people walking around who THINK they have had great Japanese food who may have experienced nothing above mediocre. But it's true. For them it may well be "great." I just have to wonder what they would think of truly exceptional Japanese food if they ever had the opportunity to experience it. Mass popularity is ALWAYS a two edged sword!

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        Yeah, but you certainly implies that the averaged quality of today Japanese sushi is lower than that of say 40-50 years ago, yet the averaged opinion of Japanese sushi is higher today than before. So, it does read like one of the following: "Japanese sushi was underappreciated in the past" or "Japanese sushi is overappreciated today". If you did not say modern Japanese sushi is overrated, then the Japanese sushi in the past must had been underrated. Afterall, the sushi in the past is better yet less people appreciate it.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          Yes, in back in those days there were NO commercial passenger jet aircraft, television was a dream medium that had been done but was yet not widely available to consumers, there was no internet, there was no instant global network to spread information so WHY would you POSSIBLY expect ANYTHING to have the fans that things can have today? There is no way of knowing with any surety, but I would guess that among those in the 1940s and early 1950s who had experienced Japanese food, there may well have been an even greater appreication that there is among those who have experienced it today. Ck, you're trying to compare apples and oranges and it just doesn't compute, Babe! '-)

                                  3. As others have said, Washoku only? Ignore Yoshoku? How about the tremendous tradition within Yoshoku of learning so many other cuisines and bringing them to perfection in-country? Isn't that a food tradition worthy of consideration? (How many other countries do this at the level it's done in Japan?) I could eat the world's best cream puffs, right in Japan - and say that I'm technically staying within the cuisine insofar as it's now such an integral part of it. As is the best batter fried food in the world, etc.

                                    But to say that Washoku is too simple - even that misses the point. Perhaps your taste buds have Americanized to the point where you expect huge assaults with every bite. Subtle, clear, differentiated... bincho charcoal, not Kingsford and American smoke (which has its place - just not Washoku). Just thinking back to the smells of my grandmother's kitchen - the nukazuke under the sink, the fish on the broiler... Have you even had real Kobe, just by itself - without any of the flavors you mention? How come that appreciation developed in Japan? How many other cultures discovered and differentiated a taste? An entirely new taste - I mean there are only 5. I dunno - to each their own, of course. But your question is like asking how come Italian cooking is only about garlic and tomato sauce?

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

                                      Are you sure you're not talking about Asian food in the American shopping mall?

                                      1. Yes, I think so, and I am not directly this to the food as much as to the people. Sometime when a small movie get an important award and it gets a lot of attentions and praises. Well, the film remained the same before and after the award. It was the people's attitude that changed. Either the film was underappreciated before or overappreciated now.

                                        Sometime, even a very good thing can be overrated when it is rated incorrectly. Lipitor is a very beneficial drug for lowering blood cholesterol. However, if a person says Lipitor can help loss weight, then he is overrating it. He is not appreciating what it is. If a person says quantum mechanics clarifies gravitational force, he is overrating quantum mechanics. This is not at all trying to take anything away from Lipitor or from quantum mechanics.

                                        A lot of people say great things about Japanese foods. The question comes down to: How many of them truely appreciate Japanese as it is? vs How many of them just feel like they have to like it? It is my believe that there is a much higher percentage of people who say they love Japanese but they don't truely appreciate it. That, I believe, is why it is overrated.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          I think you're concentrating on the PR - the impression or the impact in terms of the public eye. The question wasn't whether the food was overrated in the mind of Americans, but whether the cuisine, itself, was overrated, based on what the OP describes as a small taste sample.

                                          First off, his taste sample is way off - he simply hasn't had enough Japanese food. Second - it's not always about the variety or strength of the base flavors. Simplicity and freshness is a virtue in any great cuisine. But that doesn't limit the complexity of cooking styles and techniques in Japanese cuisine.

                                          I understand where you're coming from in terms of appreciation and public acceptance, but I don't believe that that speaks to the actual level of Japanese cuisine, and whether that can be overrated.

                                          1. dutch imported japanese soy sauce (15.570 liter all together) from 1737 to 1760.
                                            it was used in french cuisine. some researcher even say that Louis XIV enjoyed it because it brings out the taste of beef.
                                            they preferred japanese soy sauce because of its high quality.
                                            so kings and queens enjoyed the japanese flavor.
                                            so why it is overrated?
                                            btw, imari was used to ship and it did not damage the quality at all.

                                            1. toomuchfat, should you ever make it to NY, LA, Taiwan, or Japan, please try:

                                              -sakana no nitsuke (simmered fresh fish, preferably something seasonal)
                                              -ayu, saba or sanma shioyaki (in Taiwan or Japan only, over bincho tan/Japanese charcoal grill)
                                              -goya chanpuru, tonsoku yaki, rafute (Okinawan dishes)
                                              -jidori baitan mizutaki (milky white chicken broth hotpot for chicken shabu shabu, then pour rice over it to cook longer so it becomes zosui/congee)
                                              -kanburi nabe (go to specific region of Japan to get a soymilk hotpot, during winter, and eat local fatty winter yellow tail slices as shabu shabu into this delicacy)
                                              -find a good place that does yakiniku and try it out
                                              -go to an unagi specialist restaurant in Taipei or Japan, you will be converted. Try grilled unagi liver. Or a properly done ni-anago, anago tempura.
                                              -taste the flavors of a Kappo style restaurant in Taipei or Japan, the ones that look like Urasawa in LA but 1/3 of the price. Don't call it kaiseki.
                                              - find a place that does authentic regional style nabemono (JPN/TW has some solid places for them), it is not just sukiyaki or miso salmon tofu cabbage carrot onion like Hokkaido style...there's way more.
                                              -oden (Taiwan or Japan)
                                              -experience true Kyoto style shojin Japanese Buddhist vegetarian

                                              Hopefully you will be tasting more than just soy sauce, dashi, and salt etc, but they will be crucial in bringing out the regional and seasonal flavors. I left out some potentially hardcore regional things that may involve fermentation and then some :-)

                                              1. Japanese restaurants in America are, for the most part, nothing to write home about. There's virtually nothing out there that tastes any better than what I grew up with and we got our ingredients off the local Asian grocery shelves. Other than sushi I've never, ever had the desire to eat out for Japanese food in America. However, the food in Japan is on a different level.

                                                1. For the record, I have lived in the SF Bay Area and LA. I have eaten inexpensive and expensive Japanese in NYC, other major American cities, and Japan. I have eaten tons of home-style Japanese-American food from my grandmother and relatives (a la Sam Fujisaka) as well as a wide variety of kaiseki, cooked items, and raw items.

                                                  Thus, for those of you who think I have not eaten enough Japanese food to be informed, my experience is well beyond Yoshinoya and Benihana. Quite honestly, unless you have lived in Japan, given the fact that I come from a Japanese family, in sheer volume, I find it unlikely that any of you have eaten more Japanese food than me. Given that a lot of the Japanese food I have eaten has been made by a few family members, I think you can argue that much of the home cooking I have eaten does not explore the diversity of the cuisine. Fair enough. However, I have eaten lots of Japanese restaurant food in many different areas.

                                                  I agree with many of the posters, most of this is subjective and what floats your boat floats your boat. I tend to like flavor and texture contrasts...when I said Japanese food and tiramisu are one note, I mean that they tend not to have a lot of that.

                                                  With regard to my statement about the main flavors being soy sauce, dashi, salt, sugar, mirin, miso, and a little ginger, I stand by that statement. Someone called them ingredients...sure, that's true but it's semantics. By and large, shoyu, etc are the seasonings for Japanese food. Do they use other things (yuzu, shiso) as well? Of course. However, most of the time, one or more of the ingredients/flavors/seasonings I mentioned are along for the ride (e.g. ponzu).

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: toomuchfat

                                                    Well said. Wasn't it amazing that a simple statement from you managed to generate so much rancour and hair-splitting analysis?

                                                    1. re: toomuchfat

                                                      There is the possibility that your relatives are lousy cooks.:) I have a few in my own family.

                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        Picca, like you, I have a few bad cooks in my family. However, I can distinguish good food from bad and I do not eat the food of the bad cooks.

                                                    2. If you don't think those flavors/aromas are strong enough, you need to treat yourself to a big bowl of natto.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. So your basic complaint is that there is no oregano in Japanese cuisine?

                                                        There is indeed a basic flavor profile, and your list pretty much covers it other than some use of garlic and onion (mainly in the form of bo-negi). Dashi is very important - you'd expect a fish stock to be at the core of lots of cooking on an island that eats lots of fish. But how is that different from basic flavor profiles of other cuisines? Is Mexican cuisine one note because of the chillies?

                                                        The real and most essential flavor profile of classic Japan is actually fish and rice. Salt is a natural preservative. Everything else has been added over time - including fermented sauces of soy beans brought in from SE Asia through China. It's a wonder that so much has been made from so little!

                                                        I still think that by sticking mainly with the "classic" flavor profiles you miss centuries of more recent development. Kare (curry) is very important, as are lots of other European influences. The modern extremes of beef and pork have created their own cuisine. If you want to argue purity, don't you have to say there's no tomatoes in classic Italian cuisine?

                                                        There has always been the desire to bring in spices and flavorings from outside. The years of isolation and insistence on purity especially brought on a real hunger for outside influences - from philosophy to flavors. Ignoring the results of that great awakening is convenient for making your argument, but it ignores what the cuisine is today.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                          No, you missed my point entirely. I don't know why you would focus on oregano. My use of oregano, tomatoes, and basil in that post was to emphasize that the main flavoring components in Japanese food are consistent with my assertion (soy/sake/sugar/dashi).

                                                          My point is that many, many people including people like Ripert and Bourdain think Japanese food is sublime...one of the best cuisines on earth.

                                                          I think it's pretty good for what it is but it is missing some of the interesting and varied flavors in other cuisines such as Chinese, Italian, French, and Vietnamese.

                                                          Take a dish like bouillabaisse. The broth contains small fish, tomato, garlic, onion, wine, fennel, orange peel, basil, bay leaf, saffron. It is served with a rouille flavored with garlic, olive oil, saffron, and cayenne. That is a symphony of flavors. Plus, it is served with a crouton...with a nice toasted flavor and textural contrast.

                                                          I wouldn't want to eat Japanese every day for even a week; the classic Japanese flavors of soy, sugar, dashi, and mirin/sake are too ubiquitous. I could easily go weeks eating VN, Italian, or Thai.

                                                          1. re: toomuchfat

                                                            Good point, but who listens to symphonies all the time? Sometimes you want a piano or violin solo, or even a quartet. Sometimes you want bouillabaisse, sometimes you want clam chowder, sometimes you want split pea soup.

                                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                              Agree. Once in a while I get a hankering for Japanese and the combo of soy/sugar/dashi/sake hits the spot.

                                                              My point is that, at least to me, a great cuisine should be more varied and (to my mind) more interesting.

                                                            2. re: toomuchfat

                                                              chinese and italian are not one cuisine but many cuisines. the food from sicily is nothing like the food rome. the food from beijing have nothing to do with the food from hunan. that sn't really a fair comparison.

                                                              1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                despite what I wrote about Japanese food being for the eyes and not the mouth nor belly, I ate Japanese ramen for four days straight in San Francisco. I like to walk, and nothing's better than soup after that much sweating!

                                                            3. This post is just a tiny bit silly to me. I have only lived in Japan for 33 years, but the question of Japanese food being overrated is a bit ludicrous. I mean, ask Japanese people, and you can imagine the answer. I get the impression that the OP is not fully up to speed on the sheer diversity and expertise that goes into modern Japanese food. It is truly an incredible rainbow of flavors, for sure. From the totally trashy quick street foods to the deep flavors of kaiseki, there is truly something for everyone here.

                                                              36 Replies
                                                              1. re: Tripeler

                                                                I trail behind you a bit in years in Japan, but totally agree. This thread is the type of knuckleheaded discussion you get into all the time when you tell people you live/lived in Japan. Often with Japanese cuisine, as la2tokyo noted above, it comes down to the flavor of the ingredients. Japanese food tastes like asparagus or young bamboo shoots or mackerel or winter fattened adult yellowtail. Miso, by the way, happens to be an amazing ingredient. There are dozens, if not hundreds of different types. Dishes prepared with miso can range from sweet to savory to spicy to nutty to combinations of them all. It can be used in soups, stews, salads, basted on meat, fish, or vegetables. It’s easily possible to prepare, say 10 different dishes with miso and not be able to come away with an even remote sense of homogeneity in flavor.........Oh, and I wouldn't trade anyone's bouillabaisse for the homemade winter kaisen nabe I enjoy every New Year's with my in-laws in Tokyo.

                                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                                  Silverjay, since you threw around the term knucklehead first, let's look at your statement, "...it comes down to the flavor of the ingredients." REALLY??!! A dish tastes like its ingredients.

                                                                  I think you meant to say something trite like "the Japanese like to let the flavor of the main ingredient shine" or something like that. That's fine...lots of Italian cooking is like that...so is Cantonese. My contention is that the Japanese do not use a variety of seasonings...thus, except for the fact that the main player is a mushroom or asparagus or pork or whatever, the food tastes pretty similar.

                                                                  Maybe you could respond in a factual way to the following. You assert that the Japanese have hundreds of types of miso. Obviously you are a splitter and not a lumper because if there are hundreds, probably most people would only disginguish a few (shiro and aka being the most common). Given the size of a refrigerator in Japan, I would venture that, the vast majority of Japanese have one or two types of miso in their fridge. As an analogy, I only have Heintz ketchup and Hellman's mayo in my large side-by-side refrigerator. I don't have several brands of olive oil mayo, Miracle Whip, Hellmans, Dukes, Kewpie, and 30 more in the fridge.

                                                                  So, I will assert that, on a daily basis, the average Japanese is very unlikely to be tasting a vast kaleidoscope of miso flavors...they're eating a widely available shiro miso and aka miso.

                                                                  So could you list the wide variety of seasonings used by the Japanese? That would actually refute my contention.

                                                                  1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                    Garlic, onions (many types), konbu, nori, sesame, chili, curry, yuzu, oysters, clams, sansho, squid, anchovies, sardines, bonito, shrimp (many kinds), black beans, red beans, macha, plum, shiso, milk, cream, cheese, many types of mushrooms. So many more. Seriously, how much dining in Japan have you actually done? As Tripeler asserts, modern Japanese cuisine is incredibly diverse. You can name many ingredients or flavors or "symphony" of whatever and it can possibly be found, perhaps with a different twist than you would find in the West- most probably accentuating the base ingredient. If you're desperate for specific examples of dishes, you should read accounts of restaurant visits on the Japan board or peruse menus from Tokyo restaurants. Most Japanese menus written in Japanese are not comprised of dish names as simple as “tonkatsu” or “yakisoba”. They tend to be descriptions of the dish. Reciting some off the top of one's head is a pain when you can just go online and read up.

                                                                    On miso, the contention is not the home consumption of a kaleidoscope of flavors everyday, but a broader comment about the cuisine and the flexibility of the ingredient. There are dedicated miso specialty shops with a myriad of types, including aka and shiro, varying degrees of consistency, aging, salt content, spiciness, flavoring, blended, etc. And if you've every lived in Japan, you will know that you so have small kitchens and storage areas and smaller container size, but you shop much more often then you do in the U.S. So the fact that you personally keep a big jar of mayo or container of ketchup in your home in the U.S. is not really analogous.

                                                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                                                      As silverjay has noted, there are as many types of seasoning in Japanese food as in most other cuisines. Also, as he said, his list is a short list. We could add another fifty things without thinking too hard.

                                                                      Unfortunately many people who have agreed with the OP that Japanese food is overrated have not experienced what a good Japanese chef is capable of. If the OP was a post about whether people in Peoria should be impressed by the Japanese food available there, I wouldn't be surprised if they all thought that Japanese food is over-publicized. The fact that Kikkoman teriyaki sauce is even mentioned in this thread shows the divide that we are attempting to cover. I wouldn't mention Spaghetti-O's in a discussion about whether Italian food is overrated.

                                                                      Nobody can a country's food by claiming the seasoning is the essence of the cuisine unless they have tasted the gamut of the flavors of that cuisine. One of the problems with the argument as presented in this post is that many people in the U.S. have limited experience Japanese food. Lots of people could just as easily say "I think Italian food is over-rated. Pizza, spaghetti, lasagna...Olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and cheese dominate everything." In any country with a refined food culture, nobody could stand to eat one-note cooking every day of their lives. Japanese people eat food that is just as varied as anywhere else, although the one point I will concede is that it is focused somewhat on seafood.

                                                                      "Soy sauce, dashi, salt, sugar, mirin, miso" Yes these are some of the building blocks of Japanese flavor. How they are used is up to the chef. Soy sauce is often used to add salty flavor to a dish. Do you want it to taste like soy sauce? Add dark soy sauce. Do you want it to taste less like soy sauce? Add light soy sauce. Do you want it to taste very faintly of soy sauce? Add white soy sauce. Do you not want it to taste like soy sauce? Add salt instead. The stock in a Japanese kitchen is dashi. There are as many kinds of dashi in Japan as there are stocks in France. Probably more. The reason the OP thinks that the food just tastes like the "main player" is that when a Japanese chef makes a dish, that is precisely the point. The seasoning is never intended to get in the way. Maybe I use dark soy sauce and sugar in the preparation of a dish, but I would say that it's only about once a week. The incredible lack of high-quality fresh ingredients available to many people in the U.S. makes this discussion difficult because so many people are dependent on condiments to make their food have some flavor. When I eat good Japanese food, I taste focused flavors of fish and vegetables, just like I do when I eat French and Italian food. If you are eating somewhere thinking everything tastes like soy sauce and mirin, you are eating in the wrong place.

                                                                      1. re: la2tokyo


                                                                        Please list the 50 additional seasonings that you referenced in paragraph 1.

                                                                        1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                          yuzukosho, togarashi, chili oil, sesame oil, sudachi, wasabi, vinegar, pine nuts, chesnuts, poppy seeds, kinome, mitsuba, daikon oroshi, shuto, karashi, ingenmame, shiokara, kinako, sake kasu, tade, soy milk, rakkyo, nira, chrysanthemum, tomburi, myoga, kabosu, amanaga, neri uni, kuchinashi no mi, cherry blossoms, asa no mi, yukariko, persimmon, hama bofu, hasu no mi, konowata, seri, junsai, mentaiko, shiso no mi, shishito, benitade, uruka, shottsuru, yomogi, kanzuri, hakobe, gogyo, daidai...

                                                                          soy sauce, dashi, salt, sugar, mirin, miso, and a little ginger.

                                                                    2. re: toomuchfat

                                                                      some cultures are relatively poor in ingredients and spices. they can be appreciated for what they are -- and they're really trying!! Japanese cooking is one of them. I imagine Inuit is probably similar?

                                                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                                                        WTF? You're equating Japanese cuisine with subsistence eating of whale blubber? I hope you're trying for sarcasm here. (If so, you failed.)

                                                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                                                          Japan is like the breadbasket of the ocean and a major crossroads of all Asia and until the mid-90's sort of an economic powerhouse and still is even by conservative estimates. they're not exactly lacking in the area of resources and influences.

                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                            and that is why you see them importing cuisine from everyplace! Mongolia, china, "western" ...

                                                                            hamburga croquettes, need I say more?

                                                                            Not to mention Christmas Cake from Colonel Sanders...

                                                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                                                              importing is about wealth not dearth.

                                                                              1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                so we could also make a blanket statement about the US (and many other countries) as being culinary wastelands because of accepting and assimilating other palates and refining/altering them into something more local and homogenous.

                                                                                sorry Pika it looked like I was replying directly to you)

                                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                                  difference: between carib/creole cuisine, where the flavors are radically different...
                                                                                  and american pizza [judging by 50s style, yeah, culinary wasteland.]

                                                                                  think thew made a better point than me. touche thew!

                                                                            2. re: pikawicca

                                                                              nope. not really. though I probably could have found a less radical choice to compare it to.

                                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                Pikawicca, right there, you raise a Zen quandary:

                                                                                "What is the sound, when chewing the blubber, of one single jaw masticating?"

                                                                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                    Tripeler, what a nice morning chuckle you gave me. It took a few seconds, to recall the Japanese phrase of "zenzen mo nai". A phrase that was useful in so many places.

                                                                                    But somehow, methinks that the quest
                                                                                    for the sound of ingestion
                                                                                    of single jaw upon blubber,
                                                                                    will end not with a consonant,
                                                                                    but instead with a vowel.

                                                                        2. re: Tripeler

                                                                          Tripeler...your post is condescending but, on the surface, if you've lived in Japan for 33 years, you have much more experience with Japanese food than me.

                                                                          However, your post lacks any detail to support your assertion. Exactly what are these different seasonings that comprise the incredible rainbow of flavors? If you're trying to assert that the Japanese use a wide variety of fish and vegetables, that's not my point. My point is that they use a very limited of seasonings with those main ingedients.

                                                                          1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                            Why are you so arguementative? You asked us to discuss; we did. That doesn't involve agreeing with you.

                                                                            1. re: mamachef

                                                                              I expect people to disagree; things like this are all a matter of personal taste. However, given the condecending tone of some of the responses, I have asked people who disagree to support their assertion.

                                                                              Had someone written, "C'mon toomuchfat...how about all of the use of lemon or cilantro or almond paste or what have you" and could cite some widely recognized dishes that are definitely Japanese and use those flavorings, I would eat my words. At this time, no one has.

                                                                              While it has taken some time to crystallize my thoughts, over the course of this thread, I have asserted that I do not think Japanese is a great cuisine because I find the food to be monotonous in flavor due to a limited number of seasonings.

                                                                              Most of the posters who have disagreed have merely said that they think it's varied but, when I ask, do not seem to be able to actually articulate why. Unfortunately, many of those who have been the most condescending have been the least articulate or specific in refuting my assertion.

                                                                              1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                You can sit in the batting cage and swing away - clearly, you're in the minority and you're going against Ripert and Bourdain, as you say. I do think it's you that is missing the basic point and starting with a false premise - that is that good cuisine has to use lots of different spices.

                                                                                So what if we agree on my premise and include Kare, and thus include all the curry spices. That changes nothing in terms of why the cuisine is special. There are flavoring components in every bite - daikon-oroshi, gobo, and on and on. These aren't spices, that's true - but the final product has complex flavors that if made well, go well beyond the shoyu/mirin base. As to dashi - there are so many variants and it is so basic, that the use of dashi itself cannot be called monotonous any more than the use of chicken stock in anything and everything western.

                                                                                By all means, we should keep arguing - the dialectic is how we learn best. I love this site for teaching me so much. But you've hit a monotone - prove to you that you are wrong. To many, it's just self-evident.

                                                                                1. re: applehome

                                                                                  Applehome, as with all of your resonses in this thread, you are clear and articulate. I'm not sure if I accept your premise but you have every right to have it and, I think the articulate and inarticulate posters in this thread would agree with you.

                                                                                  I wasn't trying to be argumentative; I was trying to have a better understanding of why people were so enthusiastic about the cuisine. Thank you for your thoughts.

                                                                                2. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                  >>While it has taken some time to crystallize my thoughts, over the course of this thread, I have asserted that I do not think Japanese is a great cuisine because I find the food to be monotonous in flavor due to a limited number of seasonings.<<

                                                                                  I think what may be at debate here is your definition of what makes a great cuisine. From what I've read throughout this topic so far, it seems that what you define as a great cuisine is variety - variety in just about every way.

                                                                                  Your contention about, "The main flavors are soy sauce, dashi, salt, sugar, mirin, miso, and a little ginger.", I think, carries a lot of truth in that one would be hard-pressed to find a Japanese kitchen without such basic ingredients. I think we can all agree that not every dish considered to be Japanese will have all of these ingredients or even some, but there is a common profile to many more popular dishes that one could identify as being Japanese, and that is because of the ingredients that you have mentioned.

                                                                                  I went through a period of boycotting Japanese food (I too am a JA - fourth generation, twice-removed - kibei father and grandfather) because I referenced Japanese food as having a "ghost flavor" profile in general - just too light-handed in general when it came to flavors from seasonings. So many other cuisines - ones you've mentioned, as well as the flavors from the Indian subcontinent, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Mediterranean, etc., are lively, vivid, exciting. I'd often defer when friends would want to go eat "Japanese." Give me al pastor, falafel, jerk, tajine, seco de cabrito, dal makhani, laksa, Sichuan hotpot - anything but Japanese! Well, while I still enjoy variety, I feel my palate has come around to appreciate and enjoy things Japanese again.

                                                                                  I think cuisines are defined by their identities. And while you do make a good point that so so many of the dishes traditionally found in Japanese cuisine can be identified with those trademark ingredients, what I find to be even more identifiable is the common notion of respecting and highlighting the freshness and quality of the ingredients of which those basic seasonings often will frame. I think many Japanese dishes where the said ingredients you mention are used tend to highlight (but not mask) the food. I think kaiseki is the hallmark for the Japanese reverence for exquisite ingredients, reflecting seasonality (sometimes as short as a week or two), local sourcing and often-excruciatingly detailed preparation and presentation.

                                                                                  Another trademark of many Japanese dishes is umami. The Japanese are umami-holics. MSG is not a dirty word many Japanese circles. I recall more than one occasion of seeing someone take a hit of Ajinomoto (from one of those squat Ajinomoto glass jars with the small spoon more associated with snorting coke) just because. Buta no kakuni neat or layered on to some ramen to me is a serious contender for umami bomb of the week. The mouth-filling flavors make one's tongue an erogenous zone.

                                                                                  Both of those dishes I just mentioned seem to draw their roots from China, but the Japanese have been well known for their adaptive prowess. Many of the basic ingredients have already been mentioned as having their roots from some other land - many from China. And I think Japan's geographic location and history tends to lead one down the path to where they are in terms of flavor profile and identity. Had Japan been more open to foreign influence pre-Perry, I think the spice trade may have continued on right through China into Japan. Because the spice trade never really punched into Japan, I think this is why the Japanese are relatively meek when it comes to heavily seasoned or spicy food. Other cultures often used large quantities and varieties of spices to enhance food that may have been much better the day or week before. I don't think the Japanese really had a chance to catch on to this notion because of its insular nature during the spice trade and the Dutch trading through a lot of Asia.

                                                                                  Because of its insular stance prior to the Meiji Restoration, I think Japan's food culture was built on the general flavor components that mention. I also think that much of it was by necessity. The inability to properly store fresh items meant that either eating them fresh, using ingredients that kept (miso, soy sauce, etc.), or using these same flavor ingredients to reduce their perishability after preparation, pickle or store them was born out of practicality.

                                                                                  So in essence, I kind of agree and disagree with you. I think you feel that one of the hallmarks to a great cuisine is variety in terms of flavor. You may have a point there in that the vast majority of Japanese food does not derive its flavor by punching you in the face with massive amounts of turmeric, chile, oregano, or wildly complex sauces or soups are the rule. I think you feel that in general, the flavor profile in Japanese cuisine is kind of a one-trick pony. In that respect, I feel that so many of the dishes that the general flavor profile are associated with may have a common thread, but to me, the more important facet is the way that those seasonings highlight and subtly enhance the flavors and freshness of the food ingredient(s) being displayed on the pedestal.

                                                                              2. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                Perhaps it's because the Japanese feel those main ingredients don't need a lot of seasonings. You're looking at a limited palette of seasonings as a liability instead of an asset. Some foods--like steak or fish or oysters--need very little to bring out their flavor. Is a steak drowned in sauce more interesting than one done au poivre? How about grilled fish with a little lemon versus one smothered in mornay sauce? Or take Charlie Trotter, some of whose recipes add upwards of 40 ingredients. When I smoke brisket, all I use is salt and pepper. That way, I'm tasting more of the beef and the smoke than I would had I sauced it heavily or used a complex dry rub. I was reading the Antoine's Restaurant cookbook, where some French visitor to New Orleans raved about everything he'd had at Antoine's, with the notable exception of the oysters. The feeling among the French at the time was that an oyster is perfect as it is and needs nothing to enhance it. Having had them done dozens of ways--bbqued, roasted, smoked, a la Foche, in soups, stews, etc.--I'm inclined to agree.

                                                                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                  I think this is a great response.

                                                                                  However, it seems to me that many of the cuisines that have some very simple dishes such as French (a Belon oyster with just a squeeze of lemon) also have some very complex dishes with layers of flavor (cassoulet). Their whole cuisine is not just a simple grilled meat with s/p.

                                                                                  At least for me, that's what makes a great cuisine great...the diversity and the quality of the food.

                                                                                  1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                    Well, there's always okonomiyaki: pretty much anything you want thrown on top of a pancake and smothered in mayo? THAT'S flavor country!

                                                                                  2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                    You make a good point. I just want to point out that I never said Japanese food was boring or horrible, but I do know most people I know (either online or in person) who rave about Japanese food being incredible always go on and on about the "strong flavors", which...sort of perplexes me, that's all. And even though I've tried ramen, various types of sushi and Japanese curry, that's not all I've eaten ever in Japanese cuisine.

                                                                                    I'm all in support of subtlety of flavor and simplicity. Japan has been high on my list of places to travel and stuff my face for a while now. It's just not the cuisine I think of when I want that "there's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited" feeling. LOL! It is a very "quiet" cuisine, and there doesn't seem to be bursts throughout like in other cuisines. Rather, there are just more and more layers of subtlety without amping anything up. I hope that made sense. Doesn't make it less or more than any other cuisine. It's just what it is and doesn't seem to elicit the same reaction in me than it does for so many others. Again, personal taste and all...

                                                                                    1. re: yfunk3

                                                                                      if you had just typed this last paragraph at the start, thi would have been a very different conversation.

                                                                                      it IS a quiet cuisine. it is all about simple elegance. which fits exactly with the japanese central philosophy and culture. in the world of food japanese is the moscino little black dress. which is exactly why it is so beloved and enduring.

                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                        But like a luxury designer brand, don't you also think that that fervent love for Japanese food can be a little superficial at times? It was sort of what I was trying to get at with the "Japanese food has so much FLAVOR!" support I so often hear from its die-hard fans.

                                                                                        I have an inkling that's what the OP was trying to get at: that people see liking Japanese cuisine as a sort of "status symbol" in the gastronomic world and was really just looking for some persuasive reasoning to be able to see the other side.

                                                                                        1. re: yfunk3

                                                                                          maybe 30 years ago there was a status thing to ebjoying sushi, as it was trendy, but i see no status seeking in it now, at least not here in NYC.

                                                                                          and japanese food does have a lot of flavor, just as the little black dress has a lot of styling. it just isnt in your face, hit you on top of the head. it's subtle. and as i always say subtle elegance is far harder to achieve than baroque glitz.

                                                                                          1. re: thew

                                                                                            "it just isnt in your face, hit you on top of the head. it's subtle. and as i always say subtle elegance is far harder to achieve than baroque glitz."

                                                                                            Nice analogy.

                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                              Nice analogy, thew. I like the little black dress bit. EXCEPT there are times when Japanese food can be over-the-top explosive to anyone who is not familiar with it. About thirty-some years ago, when both of my parents were still alive and my kids were late elementary school age, we made a trip to San Diego and ended up staying with my parents longer than planned. As a thank you, I took them to a very special Japanese restaurant and made arrangements ahead of time for a tatami room and full kaiseki meal. My father had spent a fair amount of time in Japan after WWII, but while my parents had a lot of Japanese American friends they always ate out together, and somehow always went to Chinese restaurants, so I thought it would be fun to finally initiate my mom. It was a lovely evening. Our server was in full geisha regalia, including white face makeup and a beautiful kimono. Shojis, tokonoma, ikibana, the whole nine yards with the only concession to westerners being a well under the table so we didn't have to sit on our heels and could still walk when the meal was over. My mother was across the table from my dad and me, with the kids on each side of her. I think we were on about the fourth course when I glanced across the table and my mother appeared to be choking to death! Her face was bright red, her eyes were bulging, she was gasping for breath. I told my son to hit her really hard in the middle of her back, hoping for the best. He was too young to do the Heimlich maneuver on her. She shook her head no violently and gasped for water. The waitress (or whatever the proper term is) was just entering the room and quickly returned with water and handed it to my mother. She drank it all down and her color began to return to normal. "What on earth was wrong?" I asked. She blinked back her remaining tears and croaked, "That Japanese guacamole sure it hot!" Yay, wasabi!

                                                                                              So much for little black dresses. And I swear, this IS a true story! I come from a family of jokers.

                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                I once showed up late for an open house celebration. The snack offerings were almost all gone, but I felt lucky that there was still some guacamole left. So I grabbed a chip and scooped up a big blob of it. Popped it into my mouth and thought the roof of my head was going to blow off!

                                                                                                That's right. Wasabi.

                                                                                                1. re: Sharuf

                                                                                                  Poor baby! I think all open bowls of wasabi should be liberally sprinkled with black sesame seeds or such as a visual warning.

                                                                                  3. My experience with Japanese food is limited to what is available in LA. I think I've made a good effort to go to the most "authentic" places available from the best Japanese chefs. But to my flavor loving Korean palette, I find most of the food I have tried to be bland. I love sushi, and the subtlety and technique really excels here. But soba, yakitori fare, izakaya fare etc seems to lack flavor and be dull. I am especially not fond of Japanese versions of other people cuisine like yakiniku, curry, pasta. Obviously your taste is developed on what you were brought up on. Having grown up on dengjang (Korean fermented bean paste), miso just will never stand up in flavor. Shiso is great, but will it ever match the funk and flavor of ggehnip (korean perilla leaf)? I don't think I can ever make a overall statement about Japanese food or any cuisine as a whole being overrated or bad, but I can say that most times I'd rather choose another restaurant than one serving Japanese food.

                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: peppermonkey

                                                                                      As someone who grew up eating a lot of Japanese AND Korean food, I'll just say I don't go to a Japanese restaurant expecting bold, strong, spicy flavors and I don't go to a Korean restaurant expecting subtle, muted flavors. Sometimes I want Chopin, sometimes I want Grand Funk Railroad.

                                                                                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                        I don't either. I was just trying to explain why I do not care for a lot of the japanese food I've had. I love the quiteness and the details of sushi. Maybe there is just too many similarities between the two. The korean version almost always being more funky, spicy and powerful than the Japanese version. Another example would be the difference between izakaya and sool jip (korean drinking place). I always prefer the second.

                                                                                        1. re: peppermonkey

                                                                                          It doesn't sound like you have much experience with Japanese cuisine, nor do you properly understand the term "izakaya". You admitted to the former above at least......

                                                                                          I happen to really love Korean cuisine, but I could easily characterize it in trite, unspectacular, unflattering generalizations as it's pretty often knocked and has nowhere near the reverence, influence, and popularity that Japanese cuisine enjoys.

                                                                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                            You're right as I already stated above, I have limited experience with Japanese food to what is available in LA. So I am definitely making generalizations from my experiences here. I never said the food was bad, made without care, precision or love. But that does not mean I have to like it. From what I have had at popular izakaya places in LA: musha, shinsengumi, torehei, honda ya, furaibo (all board favorites), I would prefer to go a korean drinking place, especially with the high prices. I am always open to be proven wrong. Let me know if you have any other places in LA that are better examples of izakaya My simple definition of izakaya would be a Japanese drinking place. What is your definition?

                                                                                            1. re: peppermonkey

                                                                                              As a simple definition, that's correct. But it's taken on a much broader meaning these days. So when one thinks about how many different types of places are considered izakaya or can at least be referred to as an izakaya, it sounds strange to categorically bunch them together when stating broad preferences....I can't speak to the LA restaurant scene. I spend more time in Tokyo than California. May visit Korea this year though- in which case, I will enthusiastically dive headlong into the sool jip experience.

                                                                                              1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                I'll give you my korea notes. holy chigae.

                                                                                    2. I wonder what Morimoto would think about Japanese food in response to this thread ...

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                        Why him? He’s recognized in Japan for his Western influences and is not considered a classic Japanese chef- although I understand that was his initial training. I wonder more what Shizuo Tsuji might say if he were still alive, as he was by many accounts, the great 20th century ambassador of Japanese cuisine.

                                                                                      2. I suppose that depends on your viewpoint. In mine it certainly is not overrated.

                                                                                        When I was first learning to cook my mother imparted this wisdom. If your main ingredient is good you do not need to throw a hundred other things in there. It muddles the experience. You want that to shine through. I fully agree with this. When you are an island nation and much of your subsistence is based on the bounty of the sea you would also fall into this category. Your main assumption is wrong. Japanese food is not based upon those seven flavours. The flavours you are forgetting are the hundreds of types of fish, of crustaceans, of molluscs, etc.. These are the true flavours of Japanese food. Japanese food reveres seafood. Seafood is very diverse in flavour and needs little to accompany it whether it is raw, grilled, steamed or fried. The main ingredient is the star as it should be, one need not gild the lily.

                                                                                        Other countries with great maritime traditions do something similar. Greek seafood is also modestly adorned with lemon, olive oil and maybe oregano. They too eat raw seafood with salt, lemon or olive oil.

                                                                                        The wide array of cooked seasonal dishes further play off of this theme. Fresh, in season ingredients are at their best and are also best enjoyed minimally prepared. The US is trending in this direction as well.

                                                                                        Japanese cuisine also has a long tradition of using organ (sea and land)meats and showcasing them very well. There are also strong tasting fermented products that appeared for necessity but have grown to become highly desired as well. I love fermented squid guts for example.

                                                                                        I do not have time to get into every particular dish and style of cooking but these themes are what attract me to Japanese cuisine and what I would gather attract people like Bourdain and Ripert.

                                                                                        1. I don't think we need to be overwhelmed by strong flavors and should learn to appreciate the subtle differences in taste, texture. In raw fish alone, you could claim it is all one note, but you can taste and feel the textural differences. Sometimes just a plain bowl of rice is good (and I love the textures and flavors of different bowls of rice). White space can define the picture.

                                                                                          1. As I have understood the Japanese kitchen the taste palettes is very much based on the umami side of the scale, especially with the seasonings, and also the noodle and miso dishes. That might lead some people to think that the kitchen is more nuanceless than it really are, while the real fine Japanese cooking is some of the best in the world with a special focus on really high quality ingredients.

                                                                                            The BBC program with Rick Stein in Japan I found quite inspiring:


                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: jostber

                                                                                              I can't believe in a discussion of Japanese food it took 71 posts before someone mentioned "Umami'.

                                                                                              1. re: bigjeff

                                                                                                Personally I'm not sure it exists but I am also an agnostic who enjoys other folks discussions of religion.

                                                                                              2. I'm gonna have to come down on the side of the OP. I think what he's trying to get at is that for an American in a sizable metropolis who has access to what essentially amounts to the cuisines of the world, Japanese cuisine lacks a really exciting/challenging range of flavors. I worked in Japan for a couple months and while I had some of the best meals of my life there, ultimately even after that short period I was getting a little bored.

                                                                                                The range of flavor/spices is far more limited than you find in Mexican or Korean cooking. Don't get me wrong, I love Japanese food and eat it all the time but if I had to pick a single cuisine to eat for the rest of my life while trapped on a desert island (with full commercial kitchen and a personal chef) - it wouldn't by Japanese.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: mrgreenbeenz

                                                                                                  >>...but if I had to pick a single cuisine to eat for the rest of my life while trapped on a desert island...<<

                                                                                                  For me, that would apply to any single cuisine - I can only take so much of any single one before it's time to change gears. For me, I would rephrase by stating, "what single cuisine could I not live without?" And if that were the case, it would be American - just kiddin'.

                                                                                                2. At the risk of being accused of being argumentative....

                                                                                                  In response to Silverjay's question, I've spent about 4 weeks in Japan over the past 5 years or so. Given SJ's snarky tone, for an American, I think that is a decent sampling. However, while there, I ate cuisines other than Japanese for reasons I have discussed in this thread. I found the French food and pastries very delicious in Japan, BTW. However, I found most of the Japanese food, as it came from the kitchen, had the classic Japanese flavor defined by the ingredients I listed + rice vinegar (which I should have listed).

                                                                                                  So, after getting my @$$ reamed here, I cannot really say I have a great deal of experience eating real, modern Japanese food. I have eaten a lot of my Japanese grandmother's and my relative's cooking. I have eaten at many "Japanese" restaurants in the US from Nobu to Sasabune to Azuma (Japanese joint in Cupertino, CA) to Ippudo to mom and pop places in Torrance, CA to Makoto (Washington DC).

                                                                                                  Maybe the modern Japanese in Japan are using clams, sardines, black and red beans, and mushrooms to SEASON dishes; I dunno...got any recipes? I'm familiar with the use of azuki for anko but a big blob of anko in an anpan or a wagashi can hardly be considered a "seasoning."

                                                                                                  And, while I am not familiar with everything la2tokyo listed, personally, I think some of them are condiments (togarashi). BTW...is rakkyo is a seasoning?...I thought it's a tsukemono. We can argue semantics but, to me, condiments are not the core seasoning of a dish...they are to be added per the eater's preference. For example, I like to put Tabasco on my eggs. Would anyone say that Tabasco is a core seasoning of scrambled eggs? I think not. The core seasonings of scrambled eggs are salt and pepper.

                                                                                                  So, Silverjay and la2tokyo (two Americans who have CHOSEN to live in Japan) say I am full of sh!t. Fine. Applehome has made a good argument that the Japanese have invented a cuisine that emphasizes the flavors of the main ingredients, fish and rice. Also fair. I don't agree with the premise that a cuisine given that merely complements the natural flavor of the pristine main ingredient is the equal of another cuisine that does that and MORE.

                                                                                                  However, as far as I can tell, CH has a heavy US readership. So, while two very respected CHers who have chosen to live in Japan (as well as other highly respected CHers) have said I'm wrong. What if I amended my assertion to "'Japanese' food in the US is overrated?"

                                                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                    A lot of folks' responses can definitely be taken as snarky. I've felt the same way many times, and yes, by some of the same folks that you feel are snarking things up. At the same time, if you respond in a manner where lobbers feel you are digging in and lobbing back, the tit-for-tat soon becomes Hatfields vs. McCoys. IMHO, it's pointless to counter in an retaliative manner, as any such response will draw a counter.

                                                                                                    >>I don't agree with the premise that a cuisine given that merely complements the natural flavor the the pristine main ingredient is the equal of another cuisine that does that and more.<<

                                                                                                    That's fair - you are entitled to your opinion, as we all are. You did mention above how e.g., the French will often serve up complex sauces and soup bases. This is so true. The French have quite a broad range of tastes; some complex, some simple, and everything in between. I was viewing an "Avec Eric" episode on PBS yesterday, and he was preparing a salmon dish. He poached the salmon in nothing but enough slightly boiling water to reach half way up the filet, leaving the upper most layer of the salmon in a warmed but uncooked state. He mentioned that this method originated in Scandinavia and emphasized that that it was exceptional at capturing the true taste of the fish. With that, he also prepared some leeks in a simple julliene and slowly sauteed these to ultimately use as a bed for the salmon filet. Finally, he created a red wine-based sauce, incorporating shallots, tarragon, salt&pepper, and some generous quantities of butter at the end. He laid the barely cooked fillet on the bed of tender leeks, garnished the fillet with some minced shallots and tarragon, and salt&pepper, in order to mimmic the flavor agents in the sauce. In the end, he then generously spooned the sauce around the bed of leeks. A truly wonderful and beautifully presented dish. But I wondered how much of the natural salmon flavor would actually be picked up in the dish after the generous saucing - of sauce that I thought (my opinion) was maybe a bit heavy-handed given is emphasis on how he prepared the filet in said manner in order to capture the true taste of the salmon. This brought me back to this post. And it brought me back to my statement above:

                                                                                                    >>That's fair - you are entitled to your opinion, as we all are.<<

                                                                                                    I would find it hard to argue with Eric Ripert on the fine nuances of a salmon dish that he has prepared. But at the same time, he'd be damed if he were to tell me that my love for salmon prepared far neater and laid onto a lightly formed neta would be any better or worse. I think we can all be respectful of each other's opinions. At the same time, it's obvious that this site is built on a deep and burning passion for food. And sometimes that deep and burning manifests itself in posts that are worded with varying degrees of pungency. It doesn't matter how right you think you may be, and how wrong you may think others are - been there, done that. Opposing views will fight to the death on their stance, no matter what the negative consequences are on how they practice this, or eat that. You're the OP on a subject that has obviously kicked up a fair amount of dust, so you've got the bull's eye on your chest. Just roll with it.

                                                                                                    1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                      I'm half Japanese, having grown up there in the 50's and 60's. In the 80's I worked with Japanese businessmen and cultivated relationships at Izakayas in NYC - two chefs became good friends. The Izakayas were unmarked, totally unknown from the street, always full of Japanese clientele. It was a time and place that has long gone from America - there are few ex-pat Japanese salarymen left in NYC and there are almost no dedicated places left for them.

                                                                                                      I remember cherry tomatoes wrapped in shisho and bacon, grilled till the bacon is crisp. I remember kobe beef (before the first ban) grilled lightly - tataki style - but with only salt and crushed garlic. I remember dish after dish without shoyu, mirin, osu...

                                                                                                      I can no longer afford the legacy of this cooking - the Sasabune, Momofuku, Morimoto, O-ya (in Boston) - but I can't imagine that it's all turned to teriyaki.

                                                                                                      You don't sound like someone that's comparing the Americanized shitty multitude supposedly Japanese crap, to real cooking - you sound like you've had better stuff than that. But you also sound like someone that's comparing the Americanized shitty multitude supposedly Japanese crap to real cooking. I definitely wouldn't pop into some burb, Chinese-run, yaki-udon specialty take-out joint, and expect Japanese cuisine to compare to your best French bistro. But I do wonder where you're coming from. Young wagamama, self-deprecating... you get the point. But then, I'm just an old geezer. Like I said, I dunno - to each their own.

                                                                                                      1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                        many people are not convinced with your logic.
                                                                                                        please prove why cuisine A that has very limited flavors cannot be called great.

                                                                                                        1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                          >>I don't agree with the premise that a cuisine given that merely complements the natural flavor the the pristine main ingredient is the equal of another cuisine that does that and more.<<

                                                                                                          IMHO Japanese cuisine often does exactly what you say it doesn't. I think this is the root of our disagreement. I think that Japanese cuisine very often takes what other cuisine does with an ingredient does and makes it better. As an example I would cite something simple like grilled fish seasoned only with salt. Grilled fish is elevated to an art in Japanese cuisine. When compared with the way other western chefs basically throw a piece of fish on a grill, I believe Japanese cuisine does more. When people in this thread wonder what it would be like to eat Japanese food every day, I think they are focusing too much on certain dishes rather than the way ingredients are handled in different cuisines. If you were to eat plain grilled fish somewhere every day, where would you eat it? If you were to eat fried fish, would you eat the best fish and chips or would you eat the best tempura? If you were to eat grilled vegetables in the US, and eat the same vegetables grilled in a robata restaurant in Japan, how would they differ? I personally feel that when I eat simple food like grilled fish in Western countries the execution is sloppy - and the reason is because Japanese technique to grilling fish is superior. The technique used in Japan is just as much a part of the cuisine as the seasoning, if not more so. There are things that we love in the US that just don't exist in Japan, roasted meat for example, that Japanese cuisine has no strong answer for. However, my two cents is that Japanese cuisine does so many things so well that it's kind of ridiculous to call it overrated.

                                                                                                          As far as your last question "Is Japanese food in the US overrated?" goes, I quickly answer that many, many Japanese restaurants in the US, especially those that aren't considered our handful of elite sushi bars, are absolutely overrated.

                                                                                                          1. re: la2tokyo

                                                                                                            Cannot be better said than that

                                                                                                            1. re: la2tokyo

                                                                                                              If I can put it in a slightly different way.

                                                                                                              In Japanese cooking nothing is considered simple. What might be considered simple in Western cooking is simply a failure to step up to the challenge of really giving an ingredient its full due.

                                                                                                              Above all it could be said that true Japanese cooking is nearly a calling where one humbles themselves to their ingredients, and not the other way around.

                                                                                                              A cultural parallel can be found in Haiku, where the poet humbles themselves to the inherent power of words, striped bare, in such scant number that they must stand on their own.

                                                                                                                1. re: cgfan

                                                                                                                  Nice--it's like comparing the simple lines of Japanese architecture to Victorian style and saying it's boring and simple.

                                                                                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                    ...with the caution that visually simple or apparently simple never means that it's simple...

                                                                                                                    Witness the simplicity and refined but also rustic beauty of Sukiya architecture. Just consider how the wood is traditionally sourced: Each Sugi tree from entire forests throughout Kitayama are doted upon individually, starting as a sapling over two centuries of growth before being individually harvested by traditionally-trained foresters to result in wood that is radiant with a natural soft glow and is absolutely straight and knot-free.

                                                                                                                    Each tree is visited multiple times throughout the year, being manually climbed and pruned and carefully de-barked on-site as it stands, felled as individual trees chosen one at a time rather than being clearcut, with each log being worked on by a small team of dedicated polishers per log using their bare hands, first with river gravel then later with river sand to a smooth and glowing polish, then aged in curing sheds before even receiving its first use...


                                                                                                                    1. re: cgfan

                                                                                                                      That's amazing.

                                                                                                                      It's not just all the work that can go into a piece of Japanese art or architecture but simple lines are the most difficult--a lot of white space will show flaws quickly but if you fill a page with dots, that one misplaced one will not matter. There is much difficulty in well done simplicity. Just look at some of Picasso's line drawings. It's not less artistic than Van Gogh's. Sometimes we need to appreciate the white space more.

                                                                                                              1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                What if I amended my assertion to "'Japanese' food in the US is overrated?".....toomuchfat

                                                                                                                I don't know if I would call it overrated as much as I would identify it as the current culinary Pet Rock. No specific reason for wanting it other than that so many others want it too. That kind of "dead dendrite thinking" always irritates me. And then there are those who say they hate sushi, and when you ask them what kind, they reply in amazement, "There's more than one kind?" The world is strange but some of the people in it are stranger still.

                                                                                                              2. I like Japanese food, but I can definitely see how one can find it "overrated or bland."

                                                                                                                I grew up on Korean food, food that's heavy on chiles, garlic, soy bean paste and soy sauce. Because of that I find that Japanese food isn't as flavorful or robust to my palate. I do enjoy things like natto, hiyakko (very clean flavors) and karashi though.

                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                                                                  I enjoy Japanese food very much and I grew up eating southeast Asian dishes .
                                                                                                                  I like the simplicity of the flavours.

                                                                                                                  Of course I don't eat it everyday.
                                                                                                                  I guess if you ate Japanese food everyday and grew up eating it, it loses it's pizazz.
                                                                                                                  I certainly don't eat southeast Asian food everyday ...my palate would tire from it.

                                                                                                                  1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                                                                    i honestly don't see the correlation. i adore spicy foods, and heavily flavored robust foods like korean. i also adore the clean simplicity of japanese. in fact, just as having houses both in NYC and upstate NY enhances my appreciation of both, my loving of each style of cuisine seem t enhance my enjoyment of the other

                                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                                      There is no correlation, I'm just giving an example of why someone wouldn't be crazy about Japanese foods.

                                                                                                                      ex: growing up with heavily seasoned foods and then tasting food that is a lot cleaner and more pristine.

                                                                                                                      Then again not all japanese food is like that. A lot of homestyle Japanese foods are more flavorful to me, versus washoku style. Please don't think that I don't like japanese food. I enjoy it a lot, but it isn't my favorite cuisine.

                                                                                                                  2. You either get it or you don't. One of my pleasures is toasting a piece of nori over a flame, mixing a raw egg with shoyu, incorporating the egg mix with hot white rice and making a very basic norimaki. I guess it's cultural; I've never understood matzoh brei.

                                                                                                                    1. To propose that Washoku is somehow over-rated
                                                                                                                      riles FoodFuser, leading to nostrils dilated.

                                                                                                                      soft subtleties sheen
                                                                                                                      midst those island's cuisine

                                                                                                                      It's best to kick back
                                                                                                                      and take one dish at at a time.

                                                                                                                      To consider just first the core of the dashi
                                                                                                                      means to fondle the stick of the smoke-dried bonito.
                                                                                                                      Strike that rascal, it rings, with full-flavored pings
                                                                                                                      and the efforts of fish purveyors just to get it there.

                                                                                                                      Glide that stick 'cross the blade
                                                                                                                      of the home cook's kezuri
                                                                                                                      hear and feel as it shaves
                                                                                                                      to the flakes that will render to Dashi.

                                                                                                                      The Kombu kelp taken from beds in the sea
                                                                                                                      the Shiitake, from stacked oak, under hinoki canopy
                                                                                                                      the cultivated sheets of the Nori
                                                                                                                      the rhythm of rice hand planted in paddy

                                                                                                                      The fragrance of Miso in stone-topped cedar vats
                                                                                                                      that percolate puddles of Tamari
                                                                                                                      The salted ferment of that Koji-laced soy
                                                                                                                      are but part of the Washoku Joy.

                                                                                                                      I'd just say that a culture and cuisine that is dated
                                                                                                                      to go back more than 7 thousand years
                                                                                                                      has foundations that give strength
                                                                                                                      'gainst it gaining a rep "over-rated".

                                                                                                                      12 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                                                                        So like yeah, recorded Japanese history really only goes back less than 2000 years. And modern Japanese cuisine, as considered traditional by today's standards, goes back about 400 years when the "sakoku" closed-country policy came into full force. Before that it was still strongly influenced by China- or at least the legacy of Chinese influence. It wasn't even until the 18th century when shoyu became so ubiquitous as to be the principle seasoning. Sashimi used to be dipped in vinegar actually. Or vinegar and miso. There are still some dishes around from this tradition including takosu-miso…

                                                                                                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                          dipping sashimi in vinegar sounds so good. Sounds similar to the Korean's method of dipping it in chogochujang or daengjang.

                                                                                                                          1. re: bitsubeats

                                                                                                                            This style (vinegar and hot pepper, etc.) is most likely to compensate for lack of freshness and consistency. In Japan, as Tokyo grew as a center for the shogunate and a large urban culture, there were impressive fishing fleets in Tokyo Bay that could provide fresh seafood to the city. This is the origin of Edomae sushi and the beginning of the affinity for and mass consumption of fresh, raw fish that was accentuated and lightly seasoned or preserved with shoyu- not masked in vinegar.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                              True, I bravely had some uni at a family friend's birthday party that could only be saved with a healthy dose of chogochujang (:

                                                                                                                          2. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                            For years I've enjoyed your posts, Silverjay
                                                                                                                            on status of cuisine in Nippon in present day.

                                                                                                                            My thoughts took me further back into the past
                                                                                                                            when chanting planting females in paddy assured the repast.

                                                                                                                            Give a bit of investigate to the time called "Jomon."
                                                                                                                            when in northern Kyushu, Japan was begun.

                                                                                                                            As to recorded history to things been wrote' down...
                                                                                                                            Jomon's many-K history's from things dug from the ground.

                                                                                                                            I've never been bothered to date back the stats
                                                                                                                            of miso that's perking in those huge cedar vats

                                                                                                                            I'll accept aboriginal climb from Jomon
                                                                                                                            from the culture that claims umami as its own.

                                                                                                                            1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                                                                              Thanks...but Jomon and Yayoi are neolithlic and prehistoric eras. Rope strands, pottery shards, and burial mounds are more the legacy of the inhabitants of the archipelago rather than the roots of the culture.

                                                                                                                              For anyone interested in the history of Japanese cuisine and food culture, I recommend the researched works of Dr. Naomichi Ishige (probably the foremost expert on the subject) and Dr. Katarzyna J. Cwiertka. Both have published books in English as well as various academic papers.

                                                                                                                              Most of modern Japanese cuisine and dining culture came about from the mid to late Edo Era when a dynamic urban society and restaurant culture flourished in support of the growth of Edo (Tokyo). The "sankin kotai" system, which required an immense amount of domestic travel and support services for travelers, also helped both spread and unify the cuisine into a more distinct national identity.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                Thanks for the tip of Naomichi Ishige.

                                                                                                                                Are there best links that go right to his work?

                                                                                                                                From Jomon through Yayoi
                                                                                                                                to Hokkaido's bearded Ainu
                                                                                                                                the pulse of old ropes and potshards
                                                                                                                                still be source of joy.

                                                                                                                                1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                                                                                  I have his English hardcover book. It's out of print and a little hard to find, but should be available. I think most of his online stuff is probably in Japanese. Might have links saved on my other PC. I will check.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                      Silverjay, am looking for an English Ishige text, and the only one I found is "The History and Culture of Japanese Food," which is $290 on Amazon. I probably won't be buying it at that price, but if I do purchase one of his books is that the best one to look for? Any ideas on finding it cheaper somewhere else?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: la2tokyo

                                                                                                                                        That's his only published book in English. It is out of print and hard to find. The publisher was a British house called Kegan Paul. I suppose there might be cheaper copies available from British used book purveyors.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                          Thanks Silverjay. I found it from some sellers in the UK for about half of what Amazon is selling it for.

                                                                                                                          3. I don't try much Japanese food as I avoid all meat and fish, but there are a few things I love:

                                                                                                                            * onigiri
                                                                                                                            * udon
                                                                                                                            * inari sushi (fried tofu stuffed with sushi rice)
                                                                                                                            * miso soup
                                                                                                                            * sesame-cucumber salad (what is it called? fairly standard at sushi places)
                                                                                                                            * kappa makki

                                                                                                                            I have a tendency to make my own udon, onigiri and miso soup.... While certain flavors appear often, the overall emphasis seems to be simplicity, fresh ingredients and appreciating the subtle flavors of rice and wheat in the starch-based dishes.

                                                                                                                            1. What's overrated is the idea of trying to rate an entire category of cuisine.

                                                                                                                              22 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: The Professor

                                                                                                                                Just like everything here, it's a judgment call.

                                                                                                                                I was operating under the premise that, as a whole, Japanese food is homogeneous and one-note. If that is true, it does not seem unreasonable to lump it.

                                                                                                                                IMO, I did not get persuasive arguments to counter my assertion that soy/dashi/etc are the primary seasonings in Japanese cuisine. I got a long list of legitimate flavorings (yuzu, kombu), common and esoteric condiments, and (what appear to me to be) actual ingredients. I got no recipes to demonstrate that any of these "things" are used as seasonings to the extent that the "ubiquitous" seasonings I enumerated are.

                                                                                                                                With regard to the enumeration of seasonings, I also note that many of those posters seem to live primarily in Japan, which most North Americans will not have the opportunity to visit more than 2-3 times in a lifetime. As far as I can tell, most CHers live in North America.

                                                                                                                                So, if modern, high quality Japanese food is using a wide variety of seasonings unknown to me, unless they are used in North America in restaurants that are within the budget of most CHers, I think they are a curiousity but not particularly relevant to most of us.

                                                                                                                                With regard to the greatness of the cuisine, in this thread, I have been advised that I am a philistine by Japanese food lovers who appreciate the nuances and meticulousness of preparation and the clean natural flavors of the food. Some posters even related it to the philosophy of the people and took the time to write poems to accentuate their point. Personally, I don't think philosophy or poetry has anything to do with the instrinsic greatness of a cuisine but, that's how I roll.

                                                                                                                                According to the Japan cuisine fans, if one has a sufficiently sophisticated palate to appreciate what Japanese food excells at, Japanese food is not homogenous and one-note. Apparently, my palate is too coarse and unrefined to appreciate this. Fair enough.

                                                                                                                                1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                  toomuchfat said:
                                                                                                                                  "With regard to the enumeration of seasonings, I also note that many of those posters seem to live primarily in Japan, which most North Americans will not have the opportunity to visit more than 2-3 times in a lifetime. As far as I can tell, most CHers live in North America."

                                                                                                                                  So basically, we're back to my original point which I made way back at the beginning of this thread


                                                                                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                                    Paragraph 2 is not grammatically correct; I don't understand what you are trying to ask. It seems to be a question but is not punctuated as such.

                                                                                                                                    Are you trying to say that the only people who agreed with me live outside Japanese food meccas?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                                                                      I guess I would be the excpetion, if you consider LA a Japanese food mecca

                                                                                                                                      1. re: peppermonkey

                                                                                                                                        You are the exception that proves the rule :)

                                                                                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                                                                                                    2. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                      It's not necessarily your palate, but your vocabulary and understanding of major differences in the construct of flavors within cuisines. You do yourself a disservice by continuing to insist that Japanese (or any other foreign) cuisine has to be analyzed by what makes western cuisines good or bad. A seasoning list doesn't always make sense, even in western cuisines.

                                                                                                                                      Is bacon a seasoning? It flavors whatever food it goes into but bacon salt aside, (and that's where it belongs), it isn't actually a seasoning. Daikon and Gobo are not seasonings, and yet when they are in a nabe they provide unique high-notes of flavors. Dashi being a seasoning makes as much sense as chicken stock being a seasoning.

                                                                                                                                      But ultimately, whatever your scope of reference in terms of your tongue and what it senses, that's what matters - to each their own. You don't like something, nobody's going to convince you that you're wrong to not like it. You are wrong to make a universal judgment against it -
                                                                                                                                      but you will have to live with being in the minority, with going against some of the best known palates in the world, with going against your own heritage. So it be.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                        Remember Monty Python and the Holy Grail? This thread is starting to feel like the segment, "The Black Knight." No comments as to who represents which characters, but at this point, I think some levity would be good.


                                                                                                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                                                          I see it more as the segment in Life of Brian, where his followers are arguing over whether to follow the Holy Sandal or the Holy Gourd.

                                                                                                                                          I'm in the camp of people not-impressed-by-Japanese-cuisine. I understand the OPs stand and I'm pretty much in agreement with it. Japanese food is not really that widespread in this country - I find it far easier to find good Korean or Vietnamese or Thai restaurants. If you discount Beni Hana and it's ilk (I have no idea if that's spelled correctly but you know who I mean) then I've run across very few Japanese restaurants at all. I'm afraid that not being much impressed with Japanese food is more the norm than not. (of course McD's could be said to be "the norm" but that's another discussion altogether, LOL!)

                                                                                                                                          All of that doesn't really matter though. Obviously some people like the cuisine and that's fine. I do like a few Japanese dishes but not enough to bother learning to make them myself (in fact I've actually forgotten the names since moving away from the one good Japanese restaurant I've ever seen). I think those people are looking for something in the food that they feel transcends the food itself. I don't share that tendency, nor, it would seem, does the OP. That doesn't make it any less valid as a criteria for judging the cuisine FOR THOSE PEOPLE WHO VALUE IT.

                                                                                                                                          I don't know if I'd have used the term "over-rated" in a discussion like this, but I do understand the OPs position. What it boils down to is Japanese food does not excite me. It doesn't engage my attention. It doesn't call to me like a siren, reeling me in with promises of sublime delights. (OK, I wax hyperbolic, LOL! A little levity IS a good thing, no?)

                                                                                                                                          Other people, it does all of that plus some.

                                                                                                                                          So it boils down to arguing over the Holy Sandal, or the Holy Gourd. (It's a seasoning! It's an ingredient! Less filling! More taste! LOL!)

                                                                                                                                          I couldn't find a clip of the Holy sandal/gourd segment by itself, but here's something else somewhat related. For a few laughs:


                                                                                                                                          (Actually I think the funniest part of the movie is the segment with the spaceship, but it's not exactly even remotely applicable)

                                                                                                                                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                            just curious where you live? here in NYC one cannot spit without hitting a japanese restaurant

                                                                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                              NOT in NYC, LOL! There is an entire country between NY and LA.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                i get that - that's why im asking where you are from

                                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                  Zen Sojourner, Once again, the point I made way back at the beginning of this thread is validated.


                                                                                                                                                  I had an awful, awful hamburger in Phnom Penh back in 2006. Do you realize how absurd it would have sounded to me if a local complained that he didn't like American food based on that experience? There isn't a significant enough American population (or money in general) to warrant good American food there. It is impossible in Phnom Penh to get a realistic, rounded experience of American food there.

                                                                                                                                                  Similarly, basing one's dislike of Japanese food on the "very few Japanese restaurants" near you (or Benihana... yeesh) comes off sounding so absurd as to be laughable. You sound like the Cambodian in my Phnom penh example. And I'm truly not saying this to be insulting, though I realize it may come off that way. It's truly not my intent.

                                                                                                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                    I grew up in the Midwest but I've lived all over the country, coast to coast, and Puerto Rico. My taste in food has developed over the course of my adult life (since leaving home). There's really very little I eat from my childhood. My favorite types of food/cooking come from the Asian subcontinent.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                Since I don't personally know any posters on Chow, I think the herd-mentality doesn't really apply for me at least - but I do really like all of these "Life of Brian" clips. And I do agree that each of us have to decide on our own terms what sings to us and what falls flat.

                                                                                                                                                What obviously irritates many is when some one with what seems to be a very limited exposure to a food, cuisine, culture, or anything else speaks out as if to be a well-versed expert on a particular subject. I feel the OP has a very strong opinion on this subject and can back up his assertion based on his experience. That's fine. If he feels that way after exhaustively searching to like something and walks away feeling otherwise, he's definitely earned his opinion in this discussion.

                                                                                                                                                If Bowser in Podunk has been eating Cup Noodle and Yoshinoya to develop his assertion, then I think this is the wrong forum for that level of discussion.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                                                                  my question is what exactly is the OP's point? looking for affirmation? if the OP don't like it, the OP don't gotta eat it. this really is a hot-button issue and personally I think the whole darn thing should be deleted if not for some interesting sociological perspective points made along the way.

                                                                                                                                                  I don't give the OP points for being Japanese American, I have blood relatives who are Japanese American. so what. I wouldn't rely on them for a grocery store recommendation. I'm mostly Belgian German French, but I wouldn't trust a rec for spaetzle from my own mother for crap's sake.

                                                                                                                                                  sorry bula, this looks like it's pointed at you, but it's not (and I too love most anything from the Pythons but the best scene is when Stan wants to be called Loretta or the guards are correcting the conjugation of the Latin verb in the graffiti)

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                    hill food said, "I don't give the OP points for being Japanese American, I have blood relatives who are Japanese American. so what. I wouldn't rely on them for a grocery store recommendation. I'm mostly Belgian German French, but I wouldn't trust a rec for spaetzle from my own mother for crap's sake."

                                                                                                                                                    tmf responds: I have been criticized for impugning an entire cuisine based, in part, upon my experiences growing up eating Japanese (actually Japanese-American) food. As part of a Japanese-American family, I have probably been eating Japanese food in restaurants longer than many of you too. Thus, I do think my ethnic heritage is relevant to this thread.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                      I doubt the Japanese restaurants are generally any more representative of the entire cuisine of Japan than are any other "ethnic" restaurants in this (or any other) country. I've had people rave to me about how "authentic" some Indian restaurant is and then I go there - and it's not. Most of the time its the same standardized fare. It may be very good examples of that fare, but it's still American Indian Restaurant fare. When I was in India, they had McDonalds there, and that's what people thought of as "American cuisine". You just can't judge a foreign cuisine based on examples of restaurant fare here. Personally I've not found anything to get all that excited about in anything I've eaten here, including the Japanese restaurant I went to with a Japanese friend. There was some good stuff there, but not exciting (to me).

                                                                                                                                                      You've got a lifetime of exposure to the cuisine. Trumps even someone who went there on vacation or even lived there for a few years.

                                                                                                                                                      So I think you get to make any judgment you want without people carping about it when most of them have far less experience with it than you do anyway.

                                                                                                                                                      For me, I wouldn't refuse to go to a Japanese restaurant, but I wouldn't particularly go out of my way to learn to cook it, either. That may very well be "unfair" to the cuisine as a whole, but I'm not in a position to make any other judgment based on my limited exposure to the cuisine. And people who have been extolling it's merits as being outside the realm of variety in flavor/taste (presentation, fresh ingredients, whatever) aren't presenting me with any evidence that would lead me to modify that decision. ANY cuisine can be made using the freshest of ingredients; ANY cuisine can be prettified to the point of being artistic. Freshness is great, but visual artistry is not something that matters much to me in choosing were I'm going to spend my limited energy.

                                                                                                                                                      I'm not saying Japanese food is BAD, and I don't think you are, either. Just lacking in some areas that are more important to me (possibly to you as well) than the Zen of it.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                        tmf: that you've been eating it all your life is a fair point, but one not entirely clear in your opening statement.

                                                                                                                                                        and I've been far too cranky of late.

                                                                                                                                              3. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                                This is exactly right. You do not need "seasonings" to have flavour. Vegetables, seafood, meat, mushrooms all have their own respective taste and bring that to a particular dish. You do not need spices to create a wonderful dish. Think of a European stew, very flavourful but it is the result of the meat and vegetables used to create the dish, maybe with some herbs added.

                                                                                                                                              4. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                If one wants to go back to spiceless times thought mo' bettah
                                                                                                                                                when all that we had was some salt and some peppah
                                                                                                                                                Then there might be paroxysm
                                                                                                                                                if I mention Zanthoxylum:
                                                                                                                                                both the spring leaves, and the seeds
                                                                                                                                                of the Prickly Ash, known as Sansho.

                                                                                                                                                Sansho's pretty contentious,
                                                                                                                                                as the places it takes us
                                                                                                                                                are akin to a culinary
                                                                                                                                                benzocaine buzz.

                                                                                                                                                It might not be for you
                                                                                                                                                as your most favored chew
                                                                                                                                                but eschewers of chewers
                                                                                                                                                can kiss upon my well-prickled ash.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                  Posts that have poetry don't confer or infer that the poster 'deed knows what he talks about.
                                                                                                                                                  And Philosophy mixed with ground-truth Archaeology may have little culinary clout.

                                                                                                                                                  But when considering culture, some give it breathe deep
                                                                                                                                                  and consider both ladle and cradle
                                                                                                                                                  of ways we've evolved to our present day space.

                                                                                                                                                  Issues at hand are the pulse of the people
                                                                                                                                                  and the way that they've lived on their land.
                                                                                                                                                  And cuisine that grew as they came to accrue
                                                                                                                                                  both foodstocks and socialization.

                                                                                                                                                  Sure, Kaiseki is new,
                                                                                                                                                  but the bulk of their chew
                                                                                                                                                  comes from what they got, what they are makin'.

                                                                                                                                                  And it seems true, with every nation.

                                                                                                                                              5. I totally get where you're coming from, tmf especially with regard to the incessant use of soy-dashi-mirin. But I'm not here to poop on Japanese food, I think it's quite delicious.

                                                                                                                                                I think it comes down to what you appreciate in food and the basic approach of the cuisine. This is obviously a generalization but... If I want a dish to be hot, salty, spicy, and punch me in the face I'm going with something like Korean, Indian, or Thai. If I want a dish to truly, respectfully showcase the majesty of the ingredients in question Japan is at or near the top of the list. (As la2tokyo said above, no one does a shio-yaki better than the Japanese.)

                                                                                                                                                Saying Japanese cuisine is overrated for this reason is like saying meditation sucks because it's boring compared to a fist fight.

                                                                                                                                                There's something delicious to be found in almost all cuisine, and IMO a true Chowhound should strive to learn what makes each dish worth having.

                                                                                                                                                By the way, I didn't really "get" Japanese food until I went to Japan...and then my mind was freaking blown. Something similar happened to me in France too.

                                                                                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                                                                  joonjoon: but meditation IS boring compared to a fistfight, it's just that one might come away with something more meaningful (just not as flashy - isn't it cool how bruises change colors?)

                                                                                                                                                  I feel the evaluation of a cuisine by its seasonings is an unfair system (Thai just has too much going on, Spanish relies too much on garlic...) it becomes an apple and orange argument at some point. it really comes down to the base ingredients used and how they are employed. not how they're seasoned (unless critiquing a particular dish).

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: joonjoon

                                                                                                                                                    Judging a Japanese dish by its flavor is like judging a perfume by its color. dumb.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                                                      I'm not sure that was your best choice of simile, as it lends itself better to the opposite of the interpretation that you want.

                                                                                                                                                      Perfume is about scent. Food is about flavor. Therefore NOT judging any food primarily by its flavor is like judging perfume by its color. . .

                                                                                                                                                      (for the sake of brevity we will make the assumption that minimal health standards are met by both substances, ie it's not caustic, no poisons, radioactivity, or other harmful consequences are involved)

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                        judge a food by the standards of its culture. in Japan, it is more for the eye than the mouth. to be fair, much of palace cuisine anywhere is supposed to please bored nobelmen.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                                                          Sorry, but *I* am the one eating it. Therefore I will judge it by my OWN standards, which are of course very heavily influenced by the culture(s) in which I was raised and in which I am living.

                                                                                                                                                          If I want to LOOK at something, pictures will do. If I want to EAT something, "pleasing to the eye" just doesn't figure into the equation with much weight.

                                                                                                                                                          "Bored nobleman" cuisine is yet a different discussion, LOL!

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                            and this is why I do not rate Japanese food highly, in terms of world cuisine. Better than cholent? ya.

                                                                                                                                                  2. It's underrated. The most misrepresented food in Australia.

                                                                                                                                                    The Japanese food available here is like what Pizza Hut is to Italian food.

                                                                                                                                                    Firstly, the emphasis on seasonality and regionality is completely lost.
                                                                                                                                                    Taste doesn't come from the seasoning or sauce you put on it, it comes from drawing the flavour out from good, fresh ingredients. To suggest the "flavour" comes from condiments misses the whole point.

                                                                                                                                                    Secondly, there are dimensions in Japanese cuisine that aren't in other cuisines.
                                                                                                                                                    I don't think any cuisine (except Italian, maybe) that has so much umami. And not many other cuisines (except Chinese, again, maybe) that places so much emphasis on texture.

                                                                                                                                                    1. your mouth does not deceive you!
                                                                                                                                                      Japanese food is designed for the eyes, not the mouth -- and they know it!

                                                                                                                                                      This is why Japanese cafes come clad in scantily dressed waitresses to entice you to buy.

                                                                                                                                                      Kodocha wants me to try ramen topped with corn flakes. Do I dare? ;-)

                                                                                                                                                      8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                                                          >>This is why Japanese cafes come clad in scantily dressed waitresses to entice you to buy.<<

                                                                                                                                                          Please let me know where these places are - I'm tired of going to Hooters for lunch. Where in this planet do you live?

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                                                                            HA! I was going to ask when did Hooters start serving yakitori?

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                              Perhaps they will. Just this month Tokyo got its first Hooters, in the Akasaka entertainment district. Perhaps yakitori will not be too far off...

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                                                                well, Akasaka-Ku, go figure.

                                                                                                                                                                one is inspired to started chanting USA, USA...until somebody (please?) shoots me in the head.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                  Akasaka is in Minato-ku. (There is no Akasaka-ku, but there are several Akasaka-cho areas)
                                                                                                                                                                  I checked the Tokyo Hooters website, and found their drink menu in Japanese, complete with decorative English phrases, such as "Cordest Beer in Town."

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                                                                    Careful now.

                                                                                                                                                                    The combination of Hooters, and "Cordest" of beers,
                                                                                                                                                                    could lead to a state of "Election",

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                                                                      Hmm, I had heard a couple years ago they were going to open in Yokohama. Guess that initiative stalled....My buddy told me about an izakaya chain that has similar business model. It's called "Hanako". Aww, cute name. They focus on fresh Hokkaido ingredients and of course 色っぽいギャルs. http://i-hanako.com/index.html

                                                                                                                                                          2. Japanese food is way too expensive and all you are really paying for is fresh ingredients with a little soy sauce. I do agree that it is Overrated, mostly by the general perception of Japanese food by the American public. Japanese food tends to be rather bland and focuses more on presentation than taste. The best thing about Japanese food is what I call anti-Japanese food. I'm referring to foods that are oily, pungent, and bold. Japanese ramen comes to mind. This is overly piggy, overly oily, and overly flavored. It is also affordable. Yakitori to me is anti-Japanese because you are looking for caramelization, for salty sauces that American people like, and something akin to a meat orgy with lots of beer. Sashimi, though as pure as Japanese food can be, is very good too, but not because that it is prepared in the Japanese way, but it's because they get very fresh fish.

                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: sohlkim

                                                                                                                                                              so these typical japanese dishes are actually anti-japanese, because they don't fit your preconceived notions of what japanese food is?

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sohlkim

                                                                                                                                                                >>Japanese food is way too expensive and all you are really paying for is fresh ingredients with a little soy sauce.<<

                                                                                                                                                                Japanese food - good Japanese food - does tend to be expensive BECAUSE fresh ingredients ARE important, like in so many other cuisines. A little soy sauce? That's it? Please - I'm still laughing...

                                                                                                                                                                >>Japanese food tends to be rather bland and focuses more on presentation than taste.<<

                                                                                                                                                                Plating and presentation is important - at least most well-respected chefs will agree on that. The eyes prepare one for what the mouth is about to experience. Visual stimulation has a way of heightening the other senses, if you know what I mean - at least I hope you do...

                                                                                                                                                                >>Japanese ramen comes to mind. This is overly piggy, overly oily, and overly flavored.<<

                                                                                                                                                                I don't know where you've experienced ramen, but what you are describing is not what most of my ramen experiences have been. For a thorough tutorial, please refer to this website:


                                                                                                                                                                >>Yakitori to me is anti-Japanese because you are looking for caramelization, for salty sauces that American people like, and something akin to a meat orgy with lots of beer.<<

                                                                                                                                                                Hmmm - again, it seems experience has betrayed you. Yakitori grilling is no simple burn-the-meat-on-the-stick proposition.


                                                                                                                                                                >>Sashimi, though as pure as Japanese food can be, is very good too, but not because that it is prepared in the Japanese way, but it's because they get very fresh fish.<<

                                                                                                                                                                So what's not Japanese about it? Please refer to your for sentence for fortification of my belief that you might need to reread your comments before posting.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sohlkim

                                                                                                                                                                  I personally think this is one of the most ridiculous threads on CH that I've seen over about 10 years here.

                                                                                                                                                                  Japanese food is overrated? According to who? TMF and a few sympathizers. It's now "trendy" to like Japanese food in the US? Where have you been for the last 3o years. Many food experts who know more than you and I consider Japanese to be among the world's greatest cuisines and generally ask for and gets a premium price...to say against cuisines like a bq brisket; which I also enjoy..:)

                                                                                                                                                                  As to the Japanese food being too expensive, ever catch a tuna? You'd be amazed at the amount of prime quality fatty toro is in even a large tuna. Fresh, hi quality ingredients ARE expensive. Same with many of the other items in Japanese cuisine..bought any Kobe beef lately? taste it next to USDA Prime. Is there a difference?

                                                                                                                                                                  Anyone is free to say they don't care for Japanese food; but to call it "overrated" is absurd and really merely represents your tastes. It's an outlier opinion to the international food world's opinion and what economics dictate.

                                                                                                                                                                2. Although I think this thread is rather silly, and I had hoped it would die out, it seems that we're sticking with it. So I'd like to ask the OP and everyone else who agrees with the OP that Japanese food is overrated because it's "one-note" a couple questions:

                                                                                                                                                                  In the last month I've had two of the best meals I've eaten this year at American restaurants in Los Angeles. One was at Craft, and one was at Cut steakhouse - I went to both restaurants with a group. All of us agreed that the food was outrageously good. Both meals started with a couple different salads of freshly picked garden vegetables in a simple vinagrette of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. At both restaurants we followed the salads with steaks, fish, and poultry that were cooked with only butter (and possibly some other type of fat), salt and pepper. We had a handful of different sides of hot vegetables that were all cooked with butter, salt and pepper. I honestly can't remember any other seasoning, herb, or other type of flavoring in any dish we had - the food was perfect as it was. I do not have an American friend who could not have immensely enjoyed either of those meals - and I certainly can't think of a single person I know who would have joined us and said afterwards that those restaurants were over-rated.

                                                                                                                                                                  So, my questions are: Do you consider any such American food, and any French food that only uses salt, pepper, fat, and maybe some vinegar to be one note? And if so, is such cooking (and any restaurant that cooks that way) always overrated to you?

                                                                                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: la2tokyo

                                                                                                                                                                    enough greens/salad fixings are flavorful enough to base something around. But butterfried steak is still one note, unless it's smoked.

                                                                                                                                                                    No point in going gaga over simple cuisine -- but when you want it you want it.

                                                                                                                                                                    Cilantro, like chili peppers, is wasted on some people. You might say simplicity is wasted on me.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chowrin

                                                                                                                                                                      Simple is good sometimes. Sometimes, simple is what we want.

                                                                                                                                                                      Simple over and over and over and over again is where the problem comes into play. Sometimes I just feel like setting my mouth on fire - bring on the kim chee!

                                                                                                                                                                      Simplicity is probably wasted on me as well, but at least cilantro isn't!

                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: la2tokyo

                                                                                                                                                                      It seems to me that posters who disagree with my position have pointed out that, to them, Japanese food is sublime for its simplicity and quality of ingredients. As I have said, fair enough...it is a judgment call. While have not lived in Japan and, naturally, I have not eaten the entire repetoire of Japanese food, I believe that my experiences are sufficient to make some kind of informed judgment.

                                                                                                                                                                      This post by la2tokyo is silly. If I'm wrong to impugn an entire cuisine based upon my eating experiences over a lifetime, how is it valid to state that two sublime meals that were seasoned with only S/P/O/V/butter justifies a conclusion that "less is more" in all cases?

                                                                                                                                                                      Some restaurants and some food manufacturers are famous for only one dish or product. If I agreed with the culinary excellence of that dish/product, I would not call that resto/manufacturer "overrated." My comment related to the cuisine as a whole, not one dish, one meal, or one restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                                      To directly answer the other part of your "one-note" question, I will say "it depends." I think that if a restaurant served a wide variety of ingredients seasoned simply, especially if cooked using different techniques, I would not call it one note. Maybe I would. I call Japanese "one-note" because of the fact that they use a limited number of seasonings in most of their dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: toomuchfat

                                                                                                                                                                        The reason i brought the example of these two restaurants up is that I don't think what most people typically eat in this eat in this country has a lot of different seasonings in it. If you go out to a lot of American restaurants you get served meat, potatoes and vegetables that are all basically prepared the same way, and nobody says "this just tastes like chicken" or "this just tastes like potatoes," and it's one-note and boring. Food in many countries, including ours, usually tastes like the main ingredient it's made out of. You have Chez Panisse listed as one of your favorite restaurants, and a lot of what they serve is ridiculously simple (maybe that's why it's my favorite restaurant in the US). I am not going to make a blanket statement about French food saying that it's all salt and butter, but I do think that a lot of French food has just as few seasonings as Japanese food, and nobody thinks it's bland or over-rated - and I think the reason is it prepared with fat.

                                                                                                                                                                        I have a few friends that don't like to eat Japanese food that much. They say sometimes they don't feel satisfied when they eat Japanese food. I believe this is not because the cooking is one note, but because there's not enough fat in Japanese food to satisfy their palettes. The typical American person eats food that is so rich and high in calories that when they eat traditional Japanese washoku they feel like they're eating raw iceberg lettuce for dinner. I think this is the reason that "Japanese" food in the US has become so focused on meat, and also why a lot of sushi in this country has been transformed into high calorie rolls with mayo, eel sauce, and tempura. When I'm living in the US my diet is different than when I'm in Japan - and my cravings are different too. When I'm living in the US I love to eat a half-pound cheeseburger and fries every ten days or so because my body gets used to the rich food here. When I'm in Japan for an extended period of time the same thing would make me sick. I often hear a similar thing when I have Japanese company with me in the US: After a while they start saying everything tastes like grease and they can't take it any more. What people think of a certain type of food is greatly influenced by what they eat on a day to day basis. I don't think it's a coincidence that some people who have chimed in here saying that Japanese food is bland have been eating Korean food or other spicy food their entire lives. I was in Thailand for a couple months and for weeks after I left everything tasted flavorless to me. I know at least a few Thais that would think that the a lot of the food at Chez Panisse is bland because of the lack of seasonings compared to the food they typically eat in Thailand. What would you say to a Thai or Indian person if you took them to eat at Chez Panisse, one of the best restaurants in our country, and they went home and told everyone it was over-rated because they used a limited number of seasonings?

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: la2tokyo

                                                                                                                                                                          I guess the Japanese would not agree with the commonly accepted dictim of chefs and food critics: "Fat equals flavor"?

                                                                                                                                                                          What about the prized fatty Japanese delicacies Kobe beef and otoro?

                                                                                                                                                                    3. This thread has sucked all the fun out of the Japanese noodles i was eating.

                                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Joishii

                                                                                                                                                                        I'm sure they were delicious! Don't pay any attention to people who just don't get it -- their loss.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. Live & let live. There are people who liked Japanese food, and there are people who hated it (not necessarily "don't get it").

                                                                                                                                                                        I've lived & worked in Japan in the 60s/70s/80s. Now I visit it every other year as one of my children lived there & has a family (Japanese daughter-in-law & grandchildren). I liked Japanese food, and have dined in quite a few top-rated ones (some gained their Michelin-stars with the advent of the French guide into Tokyo and then Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto). I must admit that not everyone goes for Japanese food. Even top kaiseki restaurants in Osaka & Kyoto can be pooh-poohed by non-appreciative diners from, say, Beijing or Mumbai.

                                                                                                                                                                        My wife prefered a bowl of mediocre Chinese noodles more than the most exquisite bowl of Japanese ramen, but that's her preference, not because she "doesn't get Japanese cuisine". She prefers Chinese noodle soup stock over Japanese ones which she also said was too "simple", i.e. konbu-katsuobushi-soysauce flavoured. On a similar note, none of our Japanese friends/relatives liked American food - they felt it was bland, coarse & too carelessly prepared. When it comes to Western cuisine, it'll always be French or Italian. To each their own taste then.

                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: penang_rojak

                                                                                                                                                                          Most of what are considered "exquisite" bowls of ramen in Japan these days are very bold, viscous, hearty broths made from long simmered pork, chicken, and seafood. They are topped with marinated pork shoulder and a gooey half boiled egg. It's a very dense, hearty, and flavorful meal. What you ,or your wife, described sounds more like soba tsuyu.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                                                                                                                                                            My memories of said ramen
                                                                                                                                                                            are pretty astounding
                                                                                                                                                                            recalling where Oliver softly implored
                                                                                                                                                                            "Is there more?"

                                                                                                                                                                            The deeply dense soup
                                                                                                                                                                            to be had in Hakata
                                                                                                                                                                            is a pleasure and treasure
                                                                                                                                                                            whereupon my mind roars.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. For me, the izakaya is what Japanese food is all about.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. I am an american mutt. Blood from almost every culture besides the Far East. Born and raised in the U.S. I've only ever been out of country once (that's if you even count a Bahaman Resort..) I am no food ignoramus however. I have sampled foods from all corners of the globe, and I am a fan of most all of it. I love the soul of German and Southern (US) food, the bravado of Thai and Mexican, the decadance of French and well.. French. I was raised to try anything at least once, and I make it a point to try to sample everything. That said, my favorite cusine, by far, would be Japanese. You can argue the taste, I don't like the way mole tastes. You can argue the diversty, is not the summation of many great Italian dishes the juggling of garlic, olive oil, cheese.. You can even argue excitement i would agree that a Japanese curry is dare-say ho-hum next to a perfect Thai coconut curry. You can't however argue as to the 'greatness' of any one cusine.. Greatness I would posit, is in the eye of the beholder, but more to the point, every cusine has something great about it. I fear alot of this argument is simple semantics. Is Japanese food generally overrated? Quite possible, yes. But consider the source, most of this country would venture that all of Japanese is sub-par sushi.. and some teriyaki. Is is over rated by me? No. I value the exquisite art of simplicty and discovery exemplified in the cuisine. It need not be spicy and wild to be great. Yes, there is a set list of staple building blocks that comprise the dishes, much like a mirequox, the roux, butter, and herbs but Ratatouille tastes only vaguely related to Coq au Vin. In the same way that Okonomiyaki and Chawan Mushi share vaguely familial profiles. Simplicity is not a road block or obstacle to greatness. Just the opposite, a perfectly done (re: mostly always) shioyaki beats lemon pepper fish ala pasta carbonara anyday.. But the last note of my messy rambling postion would be to say that at the end of the day the art of cusine serves as a guise to bring us nourishment (albiet partly emotional) in a way that we find favorable. I eat Japanese, in some form, everyday. There is no other food that so consistantly and so greatly fills me with satisfaction and emotion. However you want to get your calories is your choice. I just don't think there is any supremely 'great' way to do so. There are good dishes and bad dishes, just like good people and bad people, but no culture or cusine is ulitimately good or bad.. it is a matter of which happen to be in your palate or sensibility.

                                                                                                                                                                            SO a concise answer.. Is it overated? Culturally/generally in the US, possibly.. By me? By afficionados? not so much.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. Nice thread ...
                                                                                                                                                                              "There is an entire country between NY and LA".
                                                                                                                                                                              Yes, but can the resident historian or poetaster place an *exact* date of succession?

                                                                                                                                                                              Sensibilities are what they are. Point \b\?

                                                                                                                                                                              1. Just want to say I don't think the mods are overstrict here. I've been dinged a few times, but so what? Almost everybody has