Let’s start with a truism, because from there the only way is up: In life, it’s all about balance. A piece of chocolate will do no harm (and just maybe even help your heart), but twenty pieces is probably not a good plan. This holds true with meat in Japan, where fat is king (skinless chicken breasts?! Bleh!), but portion size is smaller. Along these lines exists the concept of the balanced, (generally) five dish meal that includes rice and soup. In Japanese, this is known as “Ichiju Sansai.” There won’t be a test, so there’s no need to get memorizing.
Dish one is rice. Of course it’s rice. Rice is the lifeblood of Japan, be it steamed, made into a sticky mochi dessert, or consumed as sake. Rice is always a given. Dish two is a soup with vegetables, and sometimes maybe even a bit of protein. Miso is a popular choice.
Dish three is a solid protein dish. Usually this will be meat or fish, but it could be an egg dish. It could be something fried, but in the grand ribbon of time and evolution, fried food is a relatively recent concept in Japan. Grilled works, like a nice piece of saikyo-yaki fish.
The remainder of this model meal, comprising dishes four and five, is to be chosen from vegetable or bean dishes. Of these you get two. Leafy greens, mushrooms, even eggplant are all very viable candidates. Steamed is healthiest, but we can keep a quick pan frying a little secret between you and me.
Ideally, the meal should be in the 600 to 700 calorie range, with close to half of that most likely coming from the rice alone. Staying healthy means avoiding the use of too much salt, something that can be achieved through the help of vinegars and, to a lesser degree, spices.
Dining out can sometime lead to, as a famous man once said, irrational exuberance. The five-course meal described here, however, is designed to give you nutritional balance while also providing contrasting, pleasing flavors.