The Meal’s Not Over ‘til the Carb Lady Sings


Kamameshi, an oven-cooked rice with bits of vegetable

It’s a wild, unbridled world of culinary freedom out there nowadays. The act of mixing previously unacquainted ingredients on a lark passes without incident, and so does — for the sake of juxtaposition — rearranging the order in which you eat foods at a traditional meal. You want your fried food before you eat the sashimi? There are people who will attend to your wants and desires. And yet, there’s something comforting for foodies about tradition, especially when it comes to when to eat your carbohydrates.

When it comes to a traditional dining experience, the time to eat your carbohydrates is at the end. In fact, for traditional kaiseki ryori (the most elegant of all dining in Japan), you know the meal is about to be over when the rice appears. Eating rice is partially saved until the end so that you don’t get full too soon — you wouldn’t want to fill up on rice and not enjoy that melt in your mouth toro sashimi, right?– but also because the rice metaphorically puts a cap on the whole dining experience. There’s something very soothing, settling, and just right about finishing up that Japanese meal with rice.

The carbohydrates that appear at the end of the meal are called “shime” (pronounced “she-may”), and the definition is broader than white rice alone. In the context of fine Japanese dining, you may also find it as kamameshi, an oven-cooked rice with bits of vegetable or even seafood in it. More casual meals get their “shime” from pan fried noodles or even the Chinese style of fried rice. Potatoes, alas, rarely feature as the primary carbohydrate in a meal.

Filling up at the end of your meal with carbohydrates is not only a traditional and delicious way to wrap things up, but it is also economical too. Next time you have a Japanese meal, spare a thought for the order in which you eat your dishes.

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Sushi at restaurant Sushi Ken in Asakusa

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