Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Japanese Cuisine, Part One -- Teppanyaki

Japanese food may be a bit of a mystery for many people and there are many who may think it consists only of raw fish, something they would never want to eat. Well, the good news is that there are many different forms of Japanese cuisine and most of them involve cooking.

In fact, unless you live in a area that has access to really fresh fish, the Japanese restaurants in your town will have a hard time presenting top-quality sushi and sashimi, the most common forms of raw Japanese cuisine. This is because sushi and sashimi are dependent on having both high-quality fish and extremely fresh fish. A real sushi or sashimi aficionado would turn up his nose at a dish that wasn’t prepared with only the freshest of fish.

But that’s okay because there are many other forms of Japanese cuisine that depend on the talent of the chef and the skillful preparation of ingredients that include beef, fish, shellfish, shrimp and vegetables. These ingredients are used in a variety of cuisine styles including tempura, sukiyayi, teppanyaki, hot pots, shabu and more.

Probably one of the more popular styles for western audiences is teppanyaki since it involves grilling and beef, vegetables and seafood are used the most. This type of cooking is what you will find at the popular chain Benihana’s, for example, although at these restaurants you will also be treated to a show by the chef as he prepares the dishes.
That’s because teppanyaki is prepared at large tables that are basically flat metal grills with seating around them in some sort of arrangement. Customers are literally sitting right in front of the chef and watching as he prepares the dishes. This provides diners with a show as well as a meal as it can be very entertaining seeing how the chefs actually cook. This aspect of teppanyaki is also undoubtedly one of the reasons why it is a popular form of Japanese cuisine.

Be advised, however, that not all Japanese restaurants have teppanyaki tables. Smaller establishments may not because these tables are both quite expensive and rather large so they need a lot of room. Smaller Japanese restaurants will most likely have to cook teppanyaki dishes in their kitchen. This doesn’t mean the food won’t taste as good; it just won’t be as entertaining an experience.

Generally, you’ll pick which items you want grilled from the menu and maybe even what type of preparation you want as well since different sauces are sometimes used. Depending on the restaurant, you may see pork or chicken on the menu as well as the standards — beef, seafood and vegetables. Some upper-tier restaurants may also have some of the more exotic varieties of Japanese beef such as kobe or wagyu. These are premium forms of beef and are very rich, tender and flavorful as well as being quite a bit more expensive than even the best forms of American or Australian beef. If you’re a fan of great beef, however, you owe it to yourself to try them as the taste experience is well worth it. Just don’t eat too much, though, as they are quite rich due to the extensive fat marbling.

This is but a brief look at teppanyaki, one of the more popular forms of Japanese cuisine and one that almost every Japanese restaurant will have in some form. It’s also a great example of Japanese food that is cooked and not raw, so anyone should be happy with ordering it.

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