A new breakfast experience is on the rise, thanks to the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese breakfast is one of 2018’s big food trends—and it’s also a novel, tasty way to start your day, either at home or as a team breakfast in the office.
One bowl or many plates
Instead of the sweet cereals or more filling bacon-and-egg dishes that serve as the cornerstone of many American breakfast menus, Japanese breakfasts focus on salty, savory flavors that satisfy and energize you for the day.
The components of this hearty-yet-not-too-filling breakfast might seem more like lunch or dinner to Americans, and that’s by design. At its heart, the Japanese breakfast is based on a simple philosophy: Never eat anything for breakfast that you wouldn’t eat for dinner. However, dishes tend to be light on the palate and easy to digest.
Combining starches, light, healthy proteins, and umami flavors, a typical Japanese breakfast typically include several small dishes, such as:
- Mixed rice with either ikura or uni
- Eggs with furikake
- Pickled vegetable salad
- Grilled fish
- Miso Soup
- Miso for seasoning
While that list may look complicated, the beauty of a Japanese breakfast is in its flexibility. It’s easy to leave off, combine, or add ingredients into a single bowl or fun bento box.
Let’s break down the different components to inspire your forays into the Japanese breakfast.
Mixed rice with either roe or uni
White rice (hakumai) is the heart of the Japanese breakfast. Rice provides a toothy, starchy, nutritious, neutral counterpoint for the tang, richness, and complexity of other dishes. The traditional choice is plain short-grain rice—the same variety used in sushi—usually served steamed (known as gohan). You can also use long-grain white rice or brown rice (genmai).
To add color, texture, and saltiness, top your rice with Ikura, a bright orange, pearly salmon roe. Or go all-in with uni, the golden, briny, creamy sea urchin. If that doesn’t perk you up in the morning, what will?
Eggs with Furikake
Eggs are no stranger to the American breakfast plate. Instead of black pepper, ketchup, or hot sauce, the Japanese-inspired move is to add flavor and savor with Furikake.
Furikake is a dry mixture for flavoring rice, eggs, and other dishes. Just as the U.S. has different varieties of salsa and spice blends, Furikake takes many forms. A common Furikake combo might include:
- Ground sesame seeds
- Unseasoned roasted sea greens (nori)
- Bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- Dried shrimp (hoshi ebi)
- Dried anchovies (niboshi)
Other Furikake blends might include dried bits of omelet, powdered green tea (matcha), wasabi, or salmon.
Vegetables and salads
Japanese breakfasts make it easy to start your day with some veggies. Common vegetables include:
- Pickled vegetables (tsukemono) combine sweet, savory, and sour notes. Commonly made with daikon radish, cucumber, eggplant, carrot, cabbage, water lily root, ginger, or shallots, tsukemono elevate neutral foods, enhance flavors, cut richness, and keep stronger foods satisfying without becoming overwhelming. Pickled plums (umeboshi) and pickled daikon (fukujinzuke) are two examples.
- Other simple side dishes, or kobachi, are simple side dishes of steamed vegetables, sea greens, and cucumber or cabbage salads.
After a good night’s sleep, the body is ready for protein. Grilled or pan-sauteed fish (yakizakana) is commonplace at the Japanese breakfast table.
Rich in protein and omega-3s salmon or mackerel are popular choices, often simply prepared by a salting, then broiling or grilling on each side. Any fish will work, including smoked salmon or even tinned fish.
To start the day with a warmth that fills you inside and out, there is nothing like a good bowl of soup. Miso soup (miso shiru) is the most popular choice, simply prepared with miso (fermented soybean paste) and dashi broth.
Miso soup is versatile with common additions like:
- Sliced green onion
- Wakame seaweed
Are you game for advanced-level, hardcore Japanese breakfasting? Meet natto. The fermented soybean dish is rich in protein and nutrients. However, its savory, earthy kick comes with a price: a slimy texture and ammonia-like aroma.
Natto is funky, unique—and, yes, tasty. It’s often mixed with rice, egg, mustard, soy sauce, or other condiments. As an added bonus, should you visit Japan someday, liking natto can earn you major street cred.
Work-friendly tips and suggestions for ordering Japanese food for breakfast
Ordering a Japanese breakfast for your workplace? A growing number of restaurants and cafes offer traditional-style Japanese breakfasts. San Francisco-based 903, for instance, features ramen, bentos, and breakfast menus. They can walk your workplace through the ins and outs of the right breakfast. Here are some suggestions:
- Instead of many little dishes, serve individual made-to-order bowls
- Stick to the basics including:
- One type of fish (and if needed, a vegetarian option such as grilled tofu)
- One type of pickle
- One vegetable side
- A range of condiments so people can customize breakfast to their taste
- Hot beverages such as green tea
- Award prizes to anyone who tries the natto—we double dog dare you!
However you enjoy your Japanese breakfast, how you end it is as important as how you begin. Start your meal by saying “itadakimasu” (ee-tah-dahk-ee-moss-oo). The Japanese equivalent of “bon appetit,” itadakimasu expresses your gratitude and happiness for the food you are about to eat.
After the meal, say “gochisou-sama” (go-chee-so-sah-mah). This simple phrase acknowledges you are full and enjoyed the food—perhaps even the natto.