A traditional Japanese breakfast is very different from a typical North American breakfast that consists of a fast-food sandwich or a bowl of cereal.
Instead, a Japanese breakfast is a sit-down meal that features protein and starch accompanied by several other dishes.
An important component of a Japanese breakfast is washing your meal down with hot liquids, starting with a cup or bowl of miso soup and ending with a cup of hot green tea.
What is A Traditional Japanese Breakfast?
A traditional Japanese breakfast is a daily ritual with a specific format. The foundation of the meal consists of three basic foods: steamed rice, miso soup, and simply prepared protein such as grilled fish.
The meal is then accompanied by any one or more of the following side dishes: natto (fermented soybeans), nori (dried seasoned seaweed), or tsukemono (Japanese pickles.)
A typical Japanese breakfast also includes green salad and kobachi (steamed vegetables.) The meal might also have a Japanese fruit sandwich, Japanese pancakes, or Japanese rice balls.
All kinds of garnishes and condiments are also part of the breakfast, including pickled plum, sweet red bean paste, and chopped green onions.
A cup of warm green tea rounds out the meal, along with a square of homemade banana bread or custard cream with strawberry sauce. Dessert may or may not be served along with or after the rest of the meal.
Japanese Breakfast Foods Main Dishes
Here is a look at the core “must-have” breakfast foods that are the foundation of a Japanese breakfast.
Miso Soup can be made with any type of miso, white, yellow, or brown, but traditionally, white miso is served at breakfast.
Miso soup is an appetizer meant to whet your appetite for the rest of the meal. You can buy miso soup in packets or as a pre-seasoned miso paste.
Miso soup has many variations. You can serve it on its own or with a dash of soy sauce. Many people add shredded nori or wakame seaweed, chopped scallions, and cubes of firm silken tofu to miso soup.
Traditionally, short-grain polished white rice (hakumai) is used in Japanese cuisine, but you can also use unpolished brown rice (genmai.) The best type of rice to use is called koshihikari, which is white, short-grain rice that is slightly sticky.
Steamed Rice Porridge
Serving steamed rice is fine, but you can also serve traditional Japanese rice porridge. While regular rice is made with one to two cups of water to one cup of rice, Japanese rice porridge is made with six cups of water to one cup of rice.
Steamed rice porridge, also called okayu, usually has ingredients added to it at the last minute, so it is a good idea to cook it in a pot.
Ingredients often added to rice porridge include –
- A beaten egg added in at the last minute
- Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi)
- Pickled daikon radish (tsukemono)
- Sliced green onion
- Japanese parsley (mitsuba)
- Ground sesame seeds (surigoma)
Chicken broth, mushroom broth, or Dashi broth can also be substituted for water when creating your unique version of this Japanese breakfast recipe.
Grilled Fish (Yakizakana)
Any type of fish can be used as the foundation for a Japanese breakfast, but usually, it is broiled or fried salmon. Smelt (grilled shishamo) and horse mackerel are traditional choices. You can also use cod, tilapia, halibut, or any other type of fish.
Typically, fish served at breakfast has no seasoning, just a bit of salt.
A fast way to add protein to a Japanese breakfast is to present a lightly salted, sunny-side-up egg on a bed of hot rice.
The bottom of the egg should be a bit browned and the whites slightly crispy at the edges. The center of the egg should be bright yellow and runny so that the rice can suck up the yolk.
Japanese Omelet (Tamagoyaki)
The Japanese omelet (tamagoyaki) is also called a rolled omelet. This specialty dish requires a square pan and some skill at frying and rolling out flat layers of eggs.
Creating this elaborate dish can take an hour or longer, yet people eat it in Japan every morning like Americans eat scrambled eggs.
Most Japanese breakfast recipes call for eggs, salt, soy sauce, mirin (Japanese wine), and oil. This mixture is poured into the pan and cooked until slightly brown.
The egg layers are then placed on top of each other and rolled to create a log. The log is then sliced vertically and served hot or cold on its own or on top of hot rice.
Japanese Scrambled Eggs
You can greatly reduce the amount of time spent in the kitchen by serving a deconstructed version of the Japanese omelet. Simply use the same ingredients to make scrambled eggs and pour them over hot rice.
Japanese Boiled Eggs (Ajitsuke Tamago)
Sometimes a traditional Japanese breakfast consists of soft-boiled eggs (4-minute eggs) that have been soaked in mirin and soy sauce for a few days. The eggs are then served on their own or as part of a rice dish.
Japanese Raw Egg Over Rice (Tomago Kake Gohan)
Japanese raw egg over rice is one of the classic Japanese breakfast recipes. To make it, you crack a raw egg into a bowl of steaming hot rice, add a touch of soy sauce and whip it right in your bowl until it has a smooth consistency similar to rice pudding.
Fermented Soybeans (Natto)
Fermented soybeans (natto) are steamed-cooked fermented soybeans sold in a packet or can. When served together, beans and rice create a complete source of vegetarian protein.
The beans are already steamed and then fermented with a healthy bacteria called Bacillus subtilis. Natto is quite tiny and slimy and is often served with nori seaweed, chopped green onions, bonito fish flakes, and chopped green onions (negi).
Japanese Savory Pancake (Okonomiyaki)
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake made from flour and eggs. It is fried and then topped with creamed cabbage. The cabbage is then topped with shrimp, scallops, thinly sliced beef, bacon, or ground pork.
The pancake can be served in two ways. Kansai style describes a pancake with cabbage mixed into the batter. When the cabbage is placed on top of the pancake, it is called Hiroshima style. Both versions are dressed with a sweet, fruity sauce called tonkatsu.
Japanese Breakfast Foods Side Dishes
Here are the side dishes, often served along with the main dishes of Japanese breakfasts.
Who knew that avocado on toasted milk bread is actually a Japanese creation? Avocado is mashed with lime juice, olive oil, and sea salt, spread on milk bread that has been grilled on both sides, and then sprinkled with spicy flakes.
Traditional Japanese carrot salad is made with julienned or spiralized carrots and dressed with miso paste, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. This salad can also be made with cucumbers or a mix of both carrots and cucumbers.
Pickled Fruits and Vegetables (Tsukemono)
The Japanese breakfast often includes all kinds of different pickled fruits and fruit. Two typical side dishes served at breakfast are pickled plums and pickled daikon radish.
Sweet Potato (Satsumaimo)
Japanese sweet potatoes are thin long purple tubers with a creamy yellow to white interior. When baked at 325 F for 60 minutes, the inside of the potato becomes smooth and creamy like cake. It is naturally sweet and is often served with a shake of sea salt.
Seasoned Dried Seaweed (Ajitsuke Nori)
Ajitsuke nori is seasoned seaweed that can be eaten like toast in strips and dipped into soya sauce. It can also be crumbled up and mixed into rice to make it savory.
How to Prepare A Traditional Japanese Breakfast
Before preparing a traditional Japanese breakfast, you need to make sure you have the serving dishes ready to go. Almost everything is served in a small bowl, with the two largest bowls devoted to serving the rice and the main protein.
Grilled fish is usually the main protein served, along with a larger bowl of white rice or rice porridge. Most people cook the rice dish the night before and warm it up in the morning.
Fish can also be prepared in one batch and then warmed and served over the next few days. Almost all of the other dishes can be stored in jars or refrigerated and served over a period of weeks.
The meal starts with a cup of miso soup. Fresh miso paste can be bought at most health food stores and Asian supermarkets, as can some more exotic fare such as Japanese fish waffles, Tamago Kake Gohan, and dried bonito flakes.
Steps to Preparing A Japanese Breakfast
Here are the steps to laying out a traditional Japanese breakfast.
- Plan the scope of the breakfast that you want to prepare. Will it be just for yourself or several people?
- Place all foods that are side dishes in their bowls and set the table with condiments such as soy sauce and dried bonito flakes.
- Cook the rice or rice porridge and place it in its serving bowl.
- Grill the fish or fry the egg and place it in its serving bowl.
- Mix together a few tablespoons of miso soup paste into a bowl and stir into hot water. Garnish with chopped green onions.
- Serve the soup first, followed by the rice, the protein, and all of the side dishes.
- When everyone is done eating, clear the table of empty bowls.
- Serve the dessert (optional) along with whipped cream with a cup of green tea.
This Japanese version of breakfast may be elaborated on as you wish. You can even serve this yummy breakfast as brunch, lunch, or dinner.
The 3 Secrets to Preparing Japanese Breakfast
The three secrets to preparing a great Japanese breakfast are staying organized, preparing what you can ahead of time, and keeping the meal simple.
The first point to remember, staying organized, requires that you have all of the cooking and serving vessels to create the meal in place, meaning you should have a steamer and rice cooker ready to go in your kitchen, as well as numerous serving bowls and serving spoons.
Shop Ahead of Time
You also need to do all of your food shopping ahead of time, to make sure that you have soy sauce, seasoned seaweed, soybeans, and other ingredients on hand. Usually, you can find all of the ingredients for a Japanese breakfast at an Asian market.
Keep The Meal Simple
Just because you can make ten dishes for Japanese breakfast does not mean you should. Even one to two dishes besides your soup, rice, and protein will qualify it as an authentic Japanese morning repast.
A meal with ten dishes or even more might seem like a lot of food, but remember that the actual portions are quite small. The protein and rice are generally the largest portions at four oz. or even smaller. Side dishes can be as minimal as one oz. of food.
Keeping the meal simple also means using minimal seasoning and making sure that food is kept light and healthy. You don’t generally have deep-fried foods or high-calorie dishes on a Japanese breakfast menu.
Slow Down and Enjoy Your Japanese breakfast
Japanese breakfast foods are meant to be slowly consumed so that you can savor each bite. You are not meant to finish 5 to 10 dishes in a big hurry, so be sure to make this on a day when you are not in a rush.
The traditional Japanese breakfast is a bit of a ritual. Its very purpose is to remind you to live in the moment and celebrate the daily practice of eating a healthy breakfast.