Cooking The Washoku Way

Japanese Honor Nature and Harmony

Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel

 With hearth and home so important now, this is a good time to explore the Japanese cooking style of “washoku.”

This traditional method of Japanese cooking gets its name from the Japanese kanji character 和食 (wa), which means Japan and harmony, and 食 (shoku), the word for food.

SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel were drawn to washoku because of its harmonious approach to cooking that satisfies all the senses. The food is beautiful to look at and delicious to eat, in tune with the seasons.

Included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, washoku is a study in contrasts with food that is both simple and sophisticated.

A key aspect of washoku is its respect for nature and the four seasons. Food is prepared during its peak season (its “shun”) and cooked in a way that best showcases its flavors.

Spring is the time for asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, snow peas, shitake mushrooms and sanshou (prickly, green berries). Bonito tuna, cuttlefish and rock fish are plentiful then.

Summertime is the shun for edamame soybean pods, kyuri cucumber, and Japanese ginger. Fruits include cherries, peaches and watermelon (often blended into Kakigori, a shaved ice concoction). Eel, flounder, sea urchin and sea bass are in season.

In autumn, during harvest season, some of the fruits and vegetables in their shun include the Asian pear, Matsutake mushroom, persimmon, sweet potato, Japanese pumpkin, sudachi citrus fruit, and kuri chestnut.

The first rice of the harvest, shinmai (or “new rice”), is a softer and sweeter rice that’s greatly anticipated and only available from September to December.

In winter, yuzu, a citrus fruit like an orange, and strawberries come into their own, along with daikon, a winter radish. This is also the season for fugu, the Japanese blowfish that’s both highly desirable and potentially deadly, if improperly prepared.

Wagashi, Japanese traditional sweets often served with green tea, utilize seasonal ingredients, too, especially sweet bean paste.

Whatever the season or the dish, washoku always strives to embody the concept of “omotenashi” – hospitality – making friends and family feel warm and welcome. Things that are more important than ever now.

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