The World of Japanese Breakfast Food

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Most visitors to Japan are curious about the culture, especially Japanese cuisine. One of the most common questions they have in mind is what do Japanese people eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Traditional Japanese meals, including Japanese breakfast food, are unique and very different from most of the world. 

For those in Western countries, breakfast might involve some kind of bread. Although Japanese bread is delicious and varied, it is not really a traditional part of the Japanese breakfast. So what do Japanese people eat for breakfast? 

The answer is simple. They eat a whole variety of breakfast dishes like most of the world in this modern era. However, a traditional Japanese breakfast is a unique experience from your usual morning meal. 

A Japanese breakfast of a bowl of rice, miso soup, salmon, natto, and vegetable on a gray placemat.
Those who have been to Japan may recognize this Japanese iconic breakfast featuring salmon. Image via Shutterstock

What is a Traditional Japanese Breakfast

A typical Japanese breakfast usually consists of rice, miso soup, a few side dishes, and a protein, like grilled fish or chicken. Side dishes come in a wide variety, such as tsukemono (Japanese pickles), nori (dried and seasoned seaweed), natto (fermented soybeans), kobachi (a small side dish consisting of vegetables), or a green salad. 

If you are a health conscious person, you might have come across the idea of having a larger portion for breakfast compared to other meals. If you try out Japanese meals, you will notice that they are typically designed with various health benefits in mind. 

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The Japanese breakfast is made with foods that would normally make up a full lunch or dinner. However, the japanese meals are not very heavy. Each item is served in smaller portions to create a suitable meal for one person. Also, each of these items are very light and avoid being rich, oily, or heavy. 

It is also believed that the first meal of the day should be full of nutrition. A good breakfast helps to give your body a lot of energy to tackle the day. Japanese meals are usually well-composed when it comes to color, taste, texture, and most importantly, nutrition. 

Dishes Included In a Traditional Japanese Breakfast

The traditional Japanese breakfast is a smaller and simpler version of the famous Ichiju Sansai principle. Ichiju Sansai consists of a rice dish, soup, protein, and three other side dishes, usually consisting of Japanese seasonal vegetables. Let’s look at the most common breakfast items.

A Japanese breakfast of grilled mackerel, rice, miso soup, a salad with ham, half a boiled egg, and sausage on a wooden tray on a wood table.
The Ichiju Sansai principle is prevalent in any Japanese breakfast you might encounter. Image via Shutterstock

Gohan (rice): Plain, white, steamed rice or brown rice can be used. It is the most important part of a Japanese breakfast. The rice dish is what ties the protein and side dishes together. Toppings like sesame seeds, pickled plums, or small, dried fish can be added to change things up. 

Miso Soup: Miso soup is a traditional Japanese soup made from a fermented soybean paste and a dashi broth. Chopped veggies, green onions, tofu, mushrooms, or seaweed can also be used as ingredients or add ons for the soup. Miso soup is often made from scratch in Japanese households. But if you do not have the time to follow this long process, you can easily grab an instant miso soup packet readily available at the super markets. 

Natto (Fermented Soybeans): Natto is often served over steamed rice and it is considered a high protein Japanese breakfast. The fermented soybeans have a strong aroma and taste, and it is often seasoned with ingredients like soy sauce or mustard. This unique Japanese breakfast food contains proteins, minerals, fiber, vitamins k2 and a lot of other probiotics. You can buy pre-packaged natto from the cooler section in any Japanese supermarket. 

A bowl of rice topped with natto and chives.
Due to natto’s unique taste, a perfect combination of soy sauce and mustard is a must for visitors. Image via Shutterstock

Grilled Fish or Chicken: Non-vegetarian proteins are very common in Japanese meals. Japan being an island surrounded by water, fish is a very common form of protein and a popular breakfast item. Salmon and mackerel are often preferred for breakfast, and it is simply cooked in a pan or broiled in an oven. Chicken is also an option on the menu. 

Pickled Vegetables: Pickled vegetables, or tsukemono, are very common in Japanese meals, and are easily available in supermarkets. They are pickled using vinegar, salt, and sugar, creating a mixed taste of sweet, tangy, and sour. It is also believed that Japanese pickles help stimulate one’s appetite. They are usually eaten along with steamed rice and include vegetables like cucumbers, onions, carrots or cabbage. 

Seasoned Nori: Seasoned nori is also a Japanese staple for breakfast. It can be wrapped around steamed rice or dipped in soy sauce. 

Vegetable Sides: Also referred to as kobachi, it is a small serving of different vegetables and  very common in Japanese breakfasts. These small vegetable dishes are generally known as kobachi, and it can be either eaten fresh or as steamed vegetables. Kobachi may include carrots, beans, broccoli, spinach, tofu, or many other fresh vegetables.

A blue bowl of celery and green onions with an orange vegetable on top and seaweed on bottom.
Kobachi is a large category, but this one features celery and green onion in a simple sauce. Image via Shutterstock

How To Prepare a Traditional Japanese Breakfast

It may seem like you have to prepare quite a few dishes just for one traditional Japanese breakfast. One may wonder how Japanese people can actually pull themselves out of bed in the wee hours to prepare a full spread like that. However,  Japanese people use a lot of shortcuts. 

The best way is short and simple. It is absolutely okay to leave something out or substitute ingredients. Also, make good use of leftovers. Japanese people often use leftover rice or soup from last night. Rice can be reheated while preparing other dishes. 

Another hack is to use the timer setting on your rice cooker, so the rice is ready when you wake up. You can also resort to frozen or instant cooking options too. Pickles and vegetables can also be prepared beforehand to save some time. 

If you ever want to treat yourself to a nice breakfast, try making one with traditional Japanese breakfast food. After all, your mornings deserve the best, and there’s nothing better than a healthy, nutritious, and delicious breakfast.

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