Author: SAVOR JAPAN / Y93 Kitchen

The Japanese diet is said to be one of the healthiest in the world, and the traditional Japanese breakfast of rice, fish, and vegetables is often given as an example of an ideal, nutritionally balanced morning meal.

While breakfast foods are often seen as their own category in the West, the distinction is not as finely drawn in Japan. The traditional Japanese style of breakfast is structured in a similar way to the core format of a Japanese meal, which is referred to as ichiju sansai (一汁三菜), or “one soup, three dishes.” A “one soup, three dish” meal normally consists of rice and pickled vegetables, which are indispensable enough to go without mentioning. For breakfast, miso soup is the most common soup. Other dishes could include grilled fish, egg dishes, nori (seaweed sheets), natto (fermented soybeans), and vegetable dishes.

Japanese Breakfast Foods: Fish

As an island country, seafood has long been the most readily available source of protein for Japanese people. While processed meats like bacon or sausage have become more common in the West today, fish is still a strong breakfast staple in Japan.

A common way to prepare fish for breakfast in Japan is to simply grill a smaller fish like mackerel or pike with simple seasonings like salt. Fish left over from the night before can also be repurposed in a quick stewed dish. Otherwise, topping a bowl of rice with tiny whitebait, called shirasu in Japanese, is an easy fish dish that provides plenty of protein and minerals like calcium.

Japanese Breakfast Foods: Salads / Kobachi

Salads are another standard addition to a Japanese breakfast menu that surprises some visitors. A traditional Western breakfast might include some cooked vegetables like fried tomato or spinach with eggs, but it’s unlikely you’ll encounter a garden salad before lunch in the West.If you order a breakfast set meal or visit a breakfast buffet in Japan, you’ll likely come across some salads as standard. Any type of salad can be eaten for breakfast, but common types include lettuce or cabbage-based mixed salads, hijiki (a kind of seaweed) salads, or cucumber salads.Japanese people are known worldwide for having a long life expectancy and lower rates of lifestyle diseases, so if you struggle to get your seven servings of veggies per day, why not take a leaf out of Japan’s book and add a side salad to your breakfast?

Japanese Breakfast Foods: Rice / Onigiri / Chawanmushi / Egg

It goes without saying that rice is the heart of any traditional Japanese meal. While it may seem a little labor-intensive to prepare rice for breakfast, especially for many households in the West that normally cook rice on the stove, most Japanese households have rice cookers that make cooking up a batch a relatively simple, hands-off process. Some households simply microwave rice left over from the batch cooked night before for breakfast, too.

A bowl of plain rice can be eaten alongside dishes like fish, eggs, or vegetables for breakfast the same way it is eaten with other meals. Rice can also be eaten for breakfast as a one-bowl dish. Tamago-kake gohan, which is a hot bowl of rice topped with a raw egg, is a common breakfast dish. While this may bring up concerns of salmonella in the West, Japan is known for their stringent quality standards when it comes to their eggs, so most Japanese people do not fear eating eggs raw. Another popular one-bowl breakfast dish is rice topped with natto. It’s often said in Japan that adding some natto makes for a perfectly balanced dish that covers all your nutritional needs.

On busy mornings, many Japanese people also opt for onigiri from the convenience store as a portable and affordable breakfast. This triangular rice ball can be flavored with fillings like fish, seaweed, or pickled plum.