What Is Washoku?
Washoku is the set of culinary traditions indigenous to Japan. UNESCO recognizes Washoku as traditional home-cooked Japanese food prepared “with an essential spirit of respect for nature. These dishes are served on special tableware and shared by family members or collectively among communities. The practice favors the consumption of various natural, locally sourced ingredients such as rice, fish, vegetables and edible wild plants. The basic knowledge and skills related to Washoku, such as the proper seasoning of home cooking, are passed down in the home at shared mealtimes.”
Washoku dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185) where imperial records show that food ingredients and preparation methods varied from season to season. As Makiko Itoh of Japan Times remarks, “it is no wonder that seasonality plays such a strong role in so much of Japanese food culture given that much of Japan has four very distinct seasons.”
It was during the Edo Period (1603–1868), that Japanese society grew to new levels of affluence and Washoku flourished among commoners who embraced better diets with richer variety and the relative freedom to spend time preparing and enjoying meals together. Many more people could read and write so the proliferation of cookbooks and recipes helped bring Japan’s culinary culture to full maturity.
The philosophy behind Washoku, which literally translates to “Harmony of Food,” is to include a rich variety of foods in your diet – especially seasonal, plant-based foods – and to combine them in delicious and nutritionally-balanced ways. The primary categories of composing a balanced meal according to Washoku are: Color, Taste and Cooking Methods.
• The five colors – red, yellow, white, black, and green – bring immune-boosting vitamins and minerals into balance naturally.
• The five tastes – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, and bitter – play important roles in stimulating our metabolism and satisfying our palates.
• And the five cooking methods – water, tree, fire, earth, and metal – balance calorie-laden cooking methods with lighter, probiotic-rich ones while providing a rich depth of texture and flavor for our enjoyment.
In her award-winning cookbook Washoku, author Elizabeth Andoh insists that, “although the origins of Washoku are deeply rooted in Japanese culinary history and habits, the principles can be practiced and enjoyed outside Japan, by Japanese and non-Japanese alike. By selecting ingredients at the peak of seasonal flavor, choosing locally available foods, engaging all the senses by using a collage of color, employing a variety of food preparations, and assembling an assortment of flavors,” the benefits of Washoku can be enjoyed by all.