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Dining Out, Japanese Style

Whether or not you're watching your carbs, there's one problem with Japanese food. When properly prepared, it's almost too beautiful to eat! Of course, its artfully matched flavors and textures make it too delicious not to eat. Japanese food does have a major drawback for Atkins followers. As with every other Asian cuisine, rice is a staple. But you can skip the rice and still get plenty to eat.

It should come as no surprise that Japan, being an island nation, has many seafood dishes, prepared in a variety of ways. But a number of other protein sources have also found their way into Japanese cuisine, all delicious and perfect for healthy eaters—that would be you.

Typical Ingredients

Most Japanese dishes include various combinations of the following ingredients:

  • Shoyu: Japanese soy sauce, which tends to be milder and sweeter than the Chinese variety
  • Mirin: sweet rice wine (usually contains added sugar)
  • Dashi: broth made from dried bonito (a kind of fish) flakes; used for flavoring and as a sauce base
  • Ponzu: dipping sauce made from soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar, dashi and seaweed
  • Wasabi: Japanese horseradish. Careful. Even if you're used to American horseradish, this is ferocious. But unlike the heat that comes from Mexican peppers, the fire of Wasabi diminishes quickly.
  • Pickled ginger: a distinctive, surprising flavor much milder than fresh ginger
  • Miso: a paste made from fermented soybeans
  • Sesame seeds: Toasted, they have a nutty flavor.
  • Sesame oil: Made from toasted seeds, it's golden brown and very flavorful.

Don't miss miso soup (“mee-so"). It's a rich, light but flavorful soup made with miso and dashi broth. You'll often find it served with a few cubes of tofu and perhaps some seaweed, along with a garnish of green onions.

A Vast Variety of Vegetables

Use the opportunity of dining in a Japanese restaurant to try some new vegetables. They're almost always served crisp, and with the exception of tempura, which you'll want to avoid because of the batter, vegetables are usually grilled or blanched briefly. Try burdock (a relative of the artichoke), daikon (a delicious radish), lotus root and Japanese eggplant. Also sample the pickled vegetables, including seaweed, which are most often served as a snack or appetizer. Oshinko means “pickle" in Japanese, but these are unlike any gherkins you've ever tried.

Avoid eating sushi because of the white rice; instead, enjoy the same wonderful flavors in the form of sashimi, artfully sliced raw fish. Chances are it will be the very best the chef has available because there's nothing to disguise any flaws in appearance.

And for a fun-to-eat, satisfying main course, try Shabu-Shabu, which consists of thin slices of beef and vegetables that you cook at the table in a broth—it's the Japanese version of fondue.

Have This Instead of That

  • Instead of Edamame (steamed whole soybeans), whet your appetite with pickled vegetables (Oshinko).
  • Replace the fried vegetable dumplings called Gyoza, with steamed vegetables, or grilled Japanese eggplant.
  • Instead of Sukiyaki, enjoy Shabu-Shabu.
  • If you've always been fond of Shrimp Tempura, try the broiled fish of the day with soy or ginger sauce.
  • For any of the seafood noodle dishes, substitute grilled squid.
  • Try Negamaki, green onions (or asparagus tips) wrapped in paper-thin slices of beef, dipped in plain soy sauce. This is a great alternative to Beef Teriyaki, which is sweetened with corn syrup or sugar.

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