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Peter: Hi everyone, and welcome back to JapanesePod101.com! This time we’ll be talking about Japanese cuisine! The Japanese really love their food. The world of Japanese cuisine is absolutely huge.
Natsuko: It really is! It’s hard to summarize Japanese cuisine in just one lesson!
Peter: Natsuko-san, I couldn’t agree more. Also I think when most people think of Japanese food, they have an image that they just can’t shake.
Natsuko: Hmm… sushi?
Peter: Yup, a lot of it probably begins and ends with sushi.
Natsuko: Mm, right.
Peter: But there is so much more to it! And we’re going to cover a lot of them in this lesson.
Natsuko: So, maybe you shouldn’t listen to this on an empty stomach!
Peter: Excellent advice. First, before we get into the food, we want to touch on the phrase you hear when you have a meal with Japanese people.
Natsuko: First, it’s customary to say “itadakimasu” before starting a meal. It literally means “I will humbly receive” and it’s a nice way to show gratitude for the meal.
Peter: Natsuko-san, can you just break that down quick?
Natsuko: I-ta-da-ki-ma-su.
Peter: Itadakimasu. And after the meal, it’s customary to say
Natsuko: Gochisou-sama.
Peter: …which is like saying “thank you for the meal”.
Natsuko: Go-chi-so-u-sa-ma. And if you’re having a drink, you can say “Kanpai!” as you touch glasses, which means “cheers!”
Peter: And let’s just break down “cheers”.
Natsuko: Ka-n-pa-i. Kanpai.
Peter: And, if you want to impress your friends, the Chinese characters for this wordm “kanpai”, actually mean “dry glass”. So it’s kind of like saying “here it is – let’s make them dry. Let’s drink them all.” Okay, can we hear them one more time? What do we say before the meal?
Natsuko: Itadakimasu.
Peter: And after the meal?
Natsuko: Gochisou sama.
Peter: And “Cheers”…?
Natsuko: Kanpai!
Peter: Okay Natsuko-san, where shall we start?
Natsuko: Um, I’ve got the list of “Top 5 Foods to Try in Japan”
Peter: Who chose them?
Natsuko: Well….The staff who works at Japanesepod101.com…. so it’s not based on official research or anything…
Peter: So basically these are the foods we think the listeners should try. What’s the fist food on the list, Natsuko-san?
Natsuko: Sushi!
Peter: After we went through all the trouble to debunk myths, and tell you that there’s so much more than sushi, the first thing we start with is…?
Natsuko: Sushi.
Peter: Now, sushi almost doesn’t need an introduction, but we’ll explain it anyways because I have heard that there are some misconceptions about sushi.
Sushi refers to the combination of vinegared rice and raw fish or some other topping.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: It’s not the raw fish by itself!
Natsuko: Raw fish by itself is called sashimi.
Peter: Yes, so it’s important to make that distinction. If you visit Japan, there is one place you must go to have amazing sushi.
Natsuko: That’s Tsukiji Fish Market, right? It’s the largest fish market in the world!
Peter: It’s surrounded by sushi restaurants where you can try the absolute freshest sushi anywhere. It really doesn’t get much better than that! Although, Natsuko-san, I must admit, there’s probably quite a few people around the country who would disgree.
Natsuko: Yeah, right, But, it’s definitely one of the best places.
Peter: One of the best. Now, if you’re in a local town that’s right on the seashore with the boats coming in everyday, yes, you probably have better sushi, but you can’t go wrong at Tsukiji Fish Market.
Natsuko: Yes. Something else that’s really fun is Kaiten zushi! It’s sometimes called conveyer belt sushi in English.
Peter: It’s a type of sushi restaurant where the sushi is put on plates that are set on a moving conveyor belt that makes its way around the restaurant. So, you can take the sushi that looks good to you as it passes by! And depending on where you go and what you have, it can be cheap!
Natsuko: Yes, so it’s cheap and also entertaining.
Peter: I like that! Okay, what’s the second food on the list? Number 2 of our Top 5 foods you have to eat in Japan.
Natsuko: Soba and udon!
Peter: Two types of Japanese noodles, and the epic battle of “which do you like better?”
Natsuko: You’re right. Soba are thin buckwheat noodles that have kind of a grey-ish brown color, and udon are thick wheat noodles that are white.
Peter: There are so many different varieties of soba and udon, and you can get them hot or cold!
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: It really makes for a perfect meal for any time of the year. In the winter, it’s hot to warm you up, in the summer it’s cold to cool you down.
Natsuko: Yes, and there are also many toppings to go with it.
Peter: Absolutely incredible. Natsuko-san, which do you prefer?
Natsuko: Um, that’s a hard question. I like both, but maybe soba. And you?
Peter: When I first came to Japan, it was soba. But now, it’s udon.
Natsuko: What made you change?
Peter: I don’t know, um… who knows, I guess maybe it’ll change back one day, but…
What’s next?
Natsuko: Next is… tofu. 
Peter: Now, we realize that tofu doesn’t have the best reputation in the west. Which is partly why it made this list. Japanese cuisine uses tofu in so many different ways that give it a lot of flavor. Even if you’re not crazy about tofu, you’re sure to find a way to prepare it that will change your mind.
Natsuko: There are dishes like agedashi tofu, where the tofu is deep fried, and mabo dofu where tofu is mixed with ground meat and a spicy sauce.
Peter: …which is actually from China…
Natsuko: Yeah, right!
Peter: But much like many things, the Japanese kind of borrow things, and adapt. So their copy, I would say, has a different taste to it than the Chinese version.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Both are amazing. So, when you try Japanese food, you owe it to yourself to try a variation of tofu, and kind of forget the "tofu burger" that's kind of geared towards people who are trying to be healthy.
Natsuko: Ah, now I understand. And then, Shabushabu is next on our list.
Peter: Yes!
Natsuko: Peter's favorite?
Peter: One of them.
Natsuko: This is a dish where thin slices of meat are dipped in boiling water or broth to cook, and then dipped into a flavored sauce and eaten.
Peter: So, if you've been to a delicatessen, what they do is thinly slice the meat super thin, kind of... not paper thin but a couple of slices of paper thin. And then you have boiling water in front of you. You may know it as "hot pot" if you're familiar with Chinese. And you take the meat, and dip it in the water, and it cooks within about 15 to 30 seconds.
Natsuko: Yes, instantly.
Peter: Instantly cooks it. Then you take it out, you put it in the dipping sauce, and you eat it. Absolutely phenomenal.
Natsuko: You can eat it, like, you know, endlessly.
Peter: That's why the all-you-can-eat places here work so well with this type of food.
Natsuko: Yes. And last on our list is ramen!
Peter: Now, you might be wondering about this one because ramen is originally from China, but ramen is a dish that the Japanese have really made their own.
Natsuko: It's not actually the same with, you know, the original Chinese dish, right? It's a completely different type of food.
Peter: Again, I think adapting and making their own is what the Japanese excel at. I’ve even heard that ramen from Japan has been re-imported back to China...
Natsuko: Really?!
Peter: ...under the name… Japanese-style ramen.
Natsuko: Wow! That's funny. Japan has done so much with it – there are a lot of different flavors you can try. The most popular ones are shoyu (soy sauce), miso, shio (salt), tonkotsu (pork bones)…
Peter: Yeah, and what we're referring to here is the soup base, so there's shoyu: soy-sauce based ramen, miso based ramen, and shio, salt based ramen, and tonkotsu, pork bone based ramen.
Natsuko: But there are really much much more different kinds.
Peter: These are kind of like the four staples.
Natsuko: Yes. Which one do you like?
Peter: I like them all except tonkotsu. The smell is a little too strong for me.
Natsuko: Ahh, I agree. I prefer shio.
Peter: Ahh, it's so good. Shio's like... sappari, right?
Natsuko: Right.
Peter: Kind of leaves you a bit refreshed. Now, when you go to eat ramen, you're going to hear a sound. Natsuko-san, can you make the sound for us?
Natsuko: Ehhh?! (makes slurping sound)
Peter: Kind of hard to do without the noodles, but the Japanese slurp their noodles. And I think one of the main reasons for this is because the soup is so hot. If you don't take in air at the same time you eat it, it's going to burn your mouth. And I think it's especially important with tonkotsu, because you know how pork kind of congeals? So the hotter it is, supposedly the better it tastes.
Natsuko: Right.
Peter: So it's important to eat it while it's hot, otherwise it'll kind of, uh.. anyway. So that's one of the reasons why you'll hear the slurping noises - not just with noodles, but with other things. When Japanese eat and drink, they tend to take in air at the same time as a cooling effect on the liquid.
Natsuko: Interesting analysis. I never, you know, thought [about] it that way. So, making noise is not really rude... well, it depends on the food, but not necessarily rude.
Peter: Which is the point. So if you do eat it, try the slurping. One: to do as the Romans do when in Rome, and two: so you don't burn your mouth.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Natsuko-san, other than this list, what food do you recommend to our listeners?
Natsuko: Hmm, there are so many, but... how about yakitori!
Peter: Outstanding. Grilled chicken. It's like a mini shish kebab.
Natsuko: Oh yes.
Peter: And picture a shish kebab, now cut it in half or by a third, and that's yakitori.
Natsuko: Yes. They're really good. And how about you, Peter?
Peter: Kare.
Natsuko: Oh yes.
Peter: Japanese curry, which is night and day different from Indian curry.
Natsuko: Again, something borrowed.
Peter: And this is absolutely incredible. I think many foreigners come to Japan and wind up absolutely falling in love with this dish.
Peter: All right, now on to probably a more fun topic.
Natsuko: What?
Peter: Top 5 Foods for the brave!
Natsuko: Oh yes, the foods on this list require some bravery to try.
Peter: A lot of bravery to try.
Natsuko: Okay, what’s the first one?
Peter: Natto! Natto is fermented soy beans that have a really strong pungent smell, although recently there is natto without the smell, but it's traditionally associated with a strong smell. Think laundry basket. I think in many cases the smell alone is enough to scare people away.
Natsuko: And it’s also really sticky – so hard to eat. You have to mix it up with your chopsticks a lot before eating it. And most people eat it together with rice.
Peter: Now, this is probably the most infamous food on the list. When you start talking about Japanese food with Japanese people, they'll surely suggest you try natto.
Natsuko: Yes. There are even many Japanese people who don't like natto. And next is nama tamago, which is just a raw egg. This is used in quite a few Japanese dishes.
Peter: Yes, sukiyaki is a famous one - it's vegetable and meat cooked together with a sauce, and when you eat sukiyaki you get a raw egg and you're supposed to dip pieces of meat into raw egg before eating it.
Natsuko: There’s also tamago kakegohan - that's raw egg mixed with cooked rice and some soy sauce.
Peter: I think the concept of eating raw egg might be really hard for some people to get used to.
Natsuko: I see.
Peter: I know in the US, if raw egg dropped on the kitchen counter, we had to clean it for a little while, like "salmonella, salmonella!"
Natsuko: I see. Yeah, some people might be surprised when they see these kinds of dishes!
Peter: But, I can say that it took me a little while to get used to it, but I've been eating raw egg for a long time in Japan now, and - knock on wood - so far, I've been okay.
Natsuko: So there's Peter's guarantee.
Peter: Okay, now the next one might top the list for me. It’s called shiokara, and simply put, it’s Japanese fermented seafood, with lots of salt added.
Natsuko: Shiokara literally means salty and spicy, and so yes, it's very salty.
Peter: Okay, let's move on. Next we have:
Natsuko: Reba sashi.
Peter: And this is raw liver. Natsuko-san, have you ever tried this?
Natsuko: Yes, I've tried it several times. This dish can be found at many yakiniku restaurants in Japan. Yakiniku is sometimes known as Korean barbeque.
Peter: Now, I want to put a bit of a disclaimer here - we're talking about these because we've tried them all. So I wouldn't take our word for it - what we're doing is introducing you to these, but we recommend that you try everything once. Okay, and the last one on the list is actually not widely eaten. But it definitely deserves a spot on the list of food for the brave.
Natsuko: The food is kusaya. This is salted-dried fish, and the problem is the smell, right? The smell of kusaya is very strong, it's really strong – andthe name kusaya is actually related to the word “kusai”, which means “smells bad”. Amazing, isn't it?
Peter: It's pretty incredible. You know it must be bad when the name actually comes from the word “smells bad”.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: I'll be honest, I haven't tried this one yet.
Natsuko: Me neither.
Peter: Okay, so there you have it. The Top 5 foods for the brave. If you’re feeling brave, give some of these a try! Natsuko-san, do you have anything you’d like to add to the foods for the brave list?
Natsuko: Hmm, well, some people must be brave to try wasabi.
Peter: Ahh~
Natsuko: You know, that's a pretty unusual experience, right?
Peter: And this is an excellent point. It's the green stuff that comes with sushi. It can make your eyes water, it can have some adverse effects, because it is pretty strong, but it's very very good.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: And, what's interesting is most people are eating the kind of, um, "factory-produced" wasabi, which has an extra kick to it.
Natsuko: Yes.
Peter: Whereas freshly grated wasabi is absolutely amazing.
Natsuko: It has a good flavor.
Peter: So, Japanese cuisine has a huge variety of food for you to try. You’re sure to find something you like! That does it for our lesson on cuisine!
Natsuko: And don’t forget the two phrases you say before and after a meal.
Peter: Itadakimasu and Gochisou-sama.
Natsuko: Right.
Peter: See you next time!
Natsuko: Ja mata ne!