What is Washoku?

What is washoku? What makes it so special? And can I make it at home?

Japanese-style food

Simply put, washoku means Japanese-style (wa) food (shoku).

Washoku was inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013. UNESCO defines it as “a social practice based on a set of skills, knowledge, practice and traditions related to the production, processing, preparation and consumption of food.” This means that washoku isn’t just food, but also the attitudes and traditions surrounding it.

Kaiseki ryouri

Okay, that sounds good. But what is this food? Most research will point you in the direction of kaiseki ryouri, which is, according to Japan Magazine, “the most refined form of washoku”.

Kaiseki is the traditional haute cuisine of Japan. It is based on the style of dishes served at the Imperial Court, Buddhist temples, the homes of samurai lords, and tea ceremonies. The kaiseki aesthetic requires the use of local, seasonal food, with an attention to the balance of flavours and artistic presentation of each dish. Japan is an island nation surrounded by a bounty of seafood, and generally followed the Buddhist tradition of forgoing meat until the 19th century. Consequently, traditional kaiseki meals focused mainly on fish, vegetables and rice. Ichiju sansai, or “one soup, three side dishes”, was the basic structure of the traditional kaiseki meal, though nowadays it comprises a number of elaborate dishes.

You can usually find kaiseki at high-end traditional restaurants or ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). And it’s often made by masters who have studied their art for years! The fact that most people don’t make kaiseki at home goes without saying…

 Japanese home cooking

So… we want to talk about traditional washoku that Japanese people have passed down for generations. The kind of food that people make in the comfort of their own kitchen. And the kind that you can learn to make in the comfort of yours! Yes, Japanese home cooking is washoku too! Like kaiseki ryouri, homemade washoku bases itself on the principle of ichiju sansai. It also uses ingredients according to their local and seasonal availability. Some home-cooked washoku dishes may look a little different from those of centuries ago. But homemade washoku most certainly embodies the traditional spirit of hospitality, community, sustainability and food appreciation. And finally, even the at-home washoku chef strives to bring out the subtle essence of each ingredient.


So read on, enjoy the cooking, and eat up! Welcome to Oishi Washoku Recipes.

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