Growing up, my dad would cook omelets for me and my brothers.. This was our weekend morning tradition– for the boys only. Later on this tradition shifted to me cooking omelets for Dad and the brothers. I learned a lot from those weekend morning breakfasts. Leaving home and working in the restaurant business, I became curious about food, worldly cultures and traditions. Breakfast, being the first and most important meal of the day, I was on a quest as to what it is about the Japanese breakfast that is so healthy. I had read about the traditional breakfast, this would include: fish, pickles, Miso soup and of course, rice. Not exactly what an American from the suburbs of Chicago, thinks of when breakfast is mentioned! All this talk about breakfast has made me hungry. Let’s eat! Pictured below is what I had for my first Japanese breakfast. Let me describe it for you.
Warning: napkin needed in case of drooling!
The day began at a hotel near Kyoto Station. The breakfast buffet was fully stocked with all the
Japanese breakfast essentials. I was starving to know what a Japanese breakfast tasted like. The first thing I noticed was a beautiful assortment of pickles, all the colors and textures. I immediately recognized Umeboshi. I have developed an affinity for them, while working at The Taste of Tea. I also know Umeboshi pairs with rice, and to me, it is the best way to end a meal. The Ume was tender and sour but had a faint sweetness, making the back of my mouth slightly salivate, but not sour enough to pucker. It was the best Ume I had ever had. Next, I had to taste the pickles we serve at The Taste of Tea. To get an idea for how they should taste, as they had cucumber, and eggplant pickles. I tried them all. Both the cucumber and eggplant pickles are strikingly similar to what we have served. The cucumber had that familiar crisp crunch with slight vinegar and nutty sesame. The eggplant was tender and vinegar sweet well rounded with sesame. Then, I tried Mizuna which is a Japanese mustard green, another elusive ingredient that brings me curiosity. The delicious leafy crunch followed by mustard spice, but soothed out with nuttiness from sesame seeds. A very traditional New Year’s dish of sweet black beans or kuromame was to follow the well-rounded acidity of the pickles. I didn’t know beans could be so rich in flavor and balanced with that perfect sweetness! At this point I feel that it should be stated that I do not like food that is “sweet”. Each component I have described so far was not too sweet, not too salty, perfectly balanced. Then came the fish, something as an American I never imagined eating for breakfast. Each day was different fish, but cooked perfectly and seasoned with salt. Even having been under a heat lamp to keep it warm, it still had a little bit of crunch on the outside yet flaked wonderfully and the flavor of the fish was not overpowering in the least. Then, as tradition the rice and Miso soup. Each morning, rice was self served from a rice warmer along with a few accompaniments. Choices were green onions, ginger or shirasu. Shirasu are little anchovies or sardines, I am not a big fan of either of those fish normally. To be honest, I have never bought them at the store for my own consumption. These were deliciously different. There was no oil, no strange fish smell, you really wouldn’t know they were fish from their taste alone. They were almost candied. There are many sizes and styles of Shirasu as I later learned. The Shirasu was the biggest hit for me being that it was a little crunchy, but the sweetness and savory combination on top of rice was to die for. Did I mention that this was also the best rice I had ever eaten? A bold statement, I know, but little did I know what’s coming next on the trip. Miso soup was the final dish I had that morning. The broth was perfectly salty and creamy with a slight smokiness. I put in a couple pieces of medium firm Tofu and a piece of Fu, which is dried gluten. I had never experienced Fu but heard lots of good things about it. The Fu tasted like bread. Imagine if you put a crouton into your soup, but saved it until it was completely saturated. That is what it tasted like, delicious. I have had many culinary food experiences but it was most exciting having them in Japan. Trying the unknown breakfast ingredients that I have only heard of. Ingredients I have never tasted before and yet having the combination of bringing the most memorable flavors from the Japanese past all together. That’s what makes a memory!