Have you ever tried Japanese breakfast in Ryokan (Japanese style hotels) or restaurants? If your daily breakfast is a slice of toast with coffee or simply cereal and milk, you must have been surprised by the traditional Japanese breakfast.
Obviously, not all Japanese people eat a luxurious Ryokan breakfast every day at home. So what is an authentic Japanese breakfast, and how do you prepare it? We’ll take you through a few easy Japanese style breakfasts to cook for yourself, your family, and your friends.
What is a Traditional Japanese Breakfast?
With a Ryokan style Japanese breakfast, you’ll feel like a king or queen from the moment you wake up. A Ryokan style breakfast includes about 10 side dishes, white rice and miso soup. While it may seem excessive to the unfamiliar, the food is not pan or deep-fried, so it will keep you feeling light. However, this fancy breakfast is not representative of what most Japanese eat in their daily life.
Japanese cuisine, known as “Washoku,” is actually quite simple, with a nutritious balance of protein and vegetables served in individual small plates and bowls. Traditionally, a balanced diet surrounds a meal called “Ichiju Sansai”, which is one soup and three side dishes (with rice, of course). For instance, miso soup, grilled fish, pickled vegetables and one more veggie dish of either seaweed or natto (fermented soybeans).
Even as simple as Washoku is, preparing three dishes with soup and steamed rice would be too much before heading to work. To save time, a rice cooker is often set the night before, with some side dishes prepped in big batches or bought already-made.
Nowadays, most young families and single people tend to have more simple, western-style breakfasts, unless they’re really keen on cooking. However, Washoku is still well-loved throughout generations and carries fond memories for many.
How to prepare an easy Japanese Breakfast
What do you need for a traditional Japanese style breakfast at home?
* Bowl of rice
* Miso soup (with green onion, wakame; seaweed, tofu or any vegetables)
* Grilled fish (Salmon or any other fish)
※ Pickled vegetable
※ Yaki Nori (seasoned dried laver)
※ Natto or/with a raw egg (additional soy sauce)
Natto is quite a peculiar dish. This traditional breakfast staple is made from soybeans fermented using a bacteria called “Bacillus subtilis”, well-known for being highly nutritious and rich in probiotics. It has a pungent odour, is sticky and somewhat slimy in texture. As its taste and texture is very distinctive, opinions vary widely from person to person. My own personal recommendation is to mix it with lemon and soy sauce. This helps take away some of the stringy texture and smell. Another popular option is to mix natto with raw egg.
A much simpler Japanese breakfast can also be miso soup and rice with a fresh raw egg plus soy sauce, eliminating the fish (though most miso soup contains fish broth and is not suitable for vegetarians.)
Casual Japanese breakfast
・Onigiri (rice balls with assorted fillings)
・Miso soup (with seasonal vegetable)
Rice balls for Japanese people are as ubiquitous as a sandwich for most Westerners. Universally loved and edible anytime, what you put inside is totally up to you. There are many varieties at most convenience stores, such as a pickled plum (umeboshi), canned tuna, salmon, only salt with nori (seaweed) or pickled vegetables.
To prepare a tasty miso soup, one of the most important ingredients is Dashi (dried bonito broth). Dashi gives you an extra hint of that elusive prized Umami, or a “pleasant savoury taste”. Typically, dried fish, Konbu (seaweed) or Shiitake mushrooms are used. While you can always make it from scratch, for ease of preparation we recommend you use Dashi powder. You can find Dashi powder in any supermarket in packets or shakers, and are really reasonable and easy to use.
In this video, you can see how to prepare a simple miso soup using powdered Dashi.
For Vegans/Vegetarians, homemade Japanese food is pretty easy to adapt. For miso soup, you can choose Konbu (seaweed) dashi or Shiitake dashi, (though in many restaurants fish will be the norm). Also to add more nutritional value, white rice can also be switched to brown rice!
What to eat for Japanese Breakfast from Convenience Stores
To make the classic convenience store combo, simply choose one or two onigiris and an instant miso soup cup. Instant miso soup is easy– just pour in hot water and you’re good to go!
Also in the side dish isle, you can often find small portions of pickled vegetables or salad– an even easier Japanese breakfast!
Where do you want to start with your Japanese breakfast at home? You don’t have to be overwhelmed in an effort to prepare it perfectly. Just start with steamed white rice and a bowl of miso soup made with your favourite Dashi powder. Then add pickled vegetables, and if you’re feeling brave, try a raw egg with soy sauce or natto (fermented soybeans) for a truly authentic Japanese experience.
What is your favourite Japanese breakfast? Share what you think about our recommended Japanese breakfast and follow us at Expat Japan Life for more articles about Japan. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for blog updates and information about living in Tokyo!