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Try the Trend: Japanese Food Beyond Sushi

It’s time to take our relationship with Japanese food to the next level. We’ve been through a lot together, (an Instagram search for #sushi pulls more than 16 million posts). Parents have been swept up in the craze for kyaraben lunches, bento boxes with foods arranged into cute shapes like animals and cartoon characters. Now, matcha lattes have taken over mornings, and Eater has just named chawanmushi — savory egg custard made with fish stock called dashi — a “dining trend that will define 2017.” It’s clear we’re ready to take an even deeper look into Japanese cuisine.

History of Japanese Cuisine in America

Japanese flavors were scarce in the 1930s — only basic menus of tempura and sweet, soy-flavored sukiyaki and teriyaki were available to Americans. In the late ’50s, the first sushi bars began popping up, but it wasn’t until the inside-out California roll hit that popularity soared. Sushi rolls were a sign of sophistication in the ’80s — and mainstream by the ’90s. In the new millennium, ramen was elevated from the college dorm to the chef’s table. The “It” noodles brought with them the concept of umami — also known as the savory, earthy “fifth taste” — in new ingredients like shio konbu (salted kelp), miso (fermented soy paste) and tonkotsu (pork bone broth). That opened the door for the glut of Japanese street foods and seasonal, farm-to-table cuisine we’re seeing now.

Photo: Courtesy of Genji

Now We’re Hungry. Let’s Eat.

You don’t need to dine in a restaurant to get your Japanese fix — though if you’re in the mood, we suggest TamTam Ramen, a Whole Foods Market joint venture with Genji in Mill Valley, CA that serves ramen, bao sliders, mochi and matcha tea. Then, hit the shopping aisle for snacks and ingredients to master modern Japanese eats at home. Don’t forget cucumbers, red chile peppers, rice vinegar and rice syrup for making Japanese Style Pickles, and toppings for savory Japanese breakfast bowls made with leftover rice (think avocado, smoked salmon, nori, and a soft boiled egg.

Here, some other picks to try at home:

  • Self-serve Mochi ice cream. This popular dessert — bite-sized balls of ice cream surrounded by a layer of sweet Japanese rice dough — is now available in many Whole Foods Market stores. Check out a variety of flavors, including chocolate, mango and matcha green tea.
  • gimMe Organic Roasted Seaweed Snacks. They’re salty and crispy like potato chips, but instead of fat, they’re packed with fiber, essential amino acids, and vitamins A, B, C, and E.
  • Republic of Tea Organic Lean Green SuperGreen Tea Bags. This spicy and sweet tea has a blend of Japanese matcha powder, green tea leaves, cinnamon, and skin of the tropical fruit Garcinia cambogia.
  • 365 Everyday Value® Sweet Sabi mustard. When honey mustard meets wasabi, this oishii (delicious) condiment is born.
  • Lotus Foods Shoyu Arare Rice Crackers. One of the most popular snack foods in Japan are crunchy crackers made with rice flour. This version is made with three types of organic rice and traditionally brewed, gluten-free soy sauce called shoyu.

DIY IT: Bring Japanese Cuisine to Your Kitchen

Whipping up modern Japanese food doesn’t require the patience of Jiro Ono. Time-honored ingredients and classic techniques do much of the work for you — the rest is cake (mochi cake, to be exact).

Coconut Mochi Cake: Mochi ice cream is one of the most popular Asian desserts in the US, and the first place most of us encountered the sweet, glutinous treat. This spongy cake leaves out the dairy, but not the deliciousness.

Shishito Peppers: A spicy alternative to edamame, these tiny, blistered peppers are just as fun to eat. Just say, Itadakimasu (a traditional way to convey “Bon Appetit”), hold one by the stem, and bite off the rest of the pepper.

Nori Omelet: This rolled omelet’s unique presentation makes for a nutritious, Instagram-worthy breakfast.

Want to know what else you’ll be eating in 2017? Check out our trend forecast