Even in this era of globalization, modern Japanese people tend to incorporate elements of the traditional breakfast with their more contemporary takes on the meal. Japanese breakfast is a healthy meal to start the day. It typically comprised of a rice-based dish, some form of protein, miso soup, and various side dishes.
First things first. Every Japanese breakfast—really, any Japanese meal at all—starts with a rice base. (Rice is ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine; the Japanese word for rice, gohan, can actually mean “meal.”) You can steam breakfast rice, either white (hakumai) or brown (genmai). When dining at home, this is often dictated by whatever rice is leftover from previous meals. This component can also take the form of okayu, a kind of rice porridge made in the same way one would make oatmeal: by boiling the grains in water on the stove with a pinch of salt.
Like American breakfasts, most Japanese breakfasts have a protein component. This could be an omelet or fried egg served over rice, or it could be natto, a somewhat slimy, strong-smelling mixture of fermented soybeans. As Japan is an island nation, it is also likely that fish may be on the menu. Yakizakana, or grilled fish, is extremely popular for breakfast in Japan. It is sometimes served whole, and often seasoned with salt alone. Salmon is popular for Japanese breakfasts, along with horse mackerel (known as aji), although regional variations take a tip from the surrounding waters; you’ll likely find whatever the local catch is, be it sea bass or rainbow trout.
Miso soup is the third common element of Japanese breakfast. Traditionally made by simmering fermented soybean paste (this is the miso part) in dashi broth—a basic stock made from dried seaweed with kombu and dried bonito fish flakes (which lend the broth its umami flavor)—miso soup might also include tofu, seaweed (wakame), clams, or vegetables such as green onions, mushrooms or bean-curd cubes. Japanese dashi itself has many variations, as does the miso paste. Most miso soup is made with red paste, although there are various other kinds, such as mild, sweet white and earthier yellow. Instant miso packets are also available if you’re not up to making it from scratch first thing in the morning.
A selection of side dishes usually rounds out a classic Japanese breakfast. These almost always include tsukemono, or pickled vegetables. One example is umeboshi, a sweet, salty pickled plum that goes great with rice. However, diners might also encounter pickled seaweed, carrots, cabbage, cucumber or white radish. It is not unusual to see other forms of veggies on the menu, either. Kobachi (small side dishes) usually consist of either fresh or cooked vegetables. Additionally, you’ll see seaweed (nori) as is natto as a typical side dishes.
No Japanese meal would be complete without a pot of green tea. Finish your breakfast with the mild, earthy taste of Japan’s favorite drink and get ready for the day!