Creating an ensemble of Japanese food is like walking a tightrope. It requires a delicate sense of balance.

Balance in flavor.Balance in texture.

And balance in presentation.

Basic flavoring agents from the sea and the land contribute to the Japanese taste. Bonito (dried fish flakes) and seaweed simmer to brew simple stocks. Brewing the land-grown ingredient, rice, produces sake, an integral part of Japanese cuisine.

Sake, Japan's oldest drink, is not a wine. Wine ferments naturally, but yeast is added to boiled rice water to initiate the fermentation process. Sake, traditionally served warm or from a chilled square cup, both complements a meal and serves as a recipe ingredient.

Soybeans, another versatile ingredient, appear as soy sauce, tofu and the soup base, miso.

Water, fish stock (dashi), soy sauce, sake and miso are the elementary components of Japanese cooking. These basic elements combine with a collection of fresh vegetables to produce a flavorful plate.

Subtle flavors underscore the Oriental cuisine. Occasionally a hint of pungent ginger or shichimi (seven-taste pepper) punctuates the meal or wasabi horseradish offers a biting contrast as a condiment to sushi.

Though identifiable flavors may be elusive in Japanese cookery, a variety of textures is obvious and intentional.

Varied combinations of texture distinguish a Japanese entree. Slivers of fish or meat coordinate with bias-cut vegetables. Leafy vegetables, like spinach or cabbage, soften in a stir-fry. A multitude of mushrooms lend a variety of shapes and textures to a Japanese meal. Noodles range from crunchy to soft and gelatinous. Short-grain rice finalizes any Oriental dining experience.

Presentation of food commands attention in Japanese cuisine. The Japanese people are sensitive to nature, and this sensitivity is powerfully expressed at the table.

Jon Spayde, author of "Japanese Cooking," compares the sensitivity to Japanese poetry. "Japanese poets focus upon subject matter and pay attention to individual ingredients. Their poems are linked to real places, real events and the changing seasons, as is Japanese eating."

The simple themes of Japanese cuisine incorporate individual ingredients aesthetically arranged before and after cooking.

Each vegetable prepared for sukiyaki, for example, rests in an artistic placement on a tray. Ingredients, methodically added to the wok, are rearranged after cooking. Composition of the plate is as important as the taste.

Readers are invited to sample the bounty of Japanese cooking at the Oriental Food Bazaar, Salt Lake Buddhist


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