As you are here to know about the food in the Edo period, first let’s know about this period in brief.
The Edo period is the time between the years 1603 to 1867 in the history of Japan, a period of economic and social growth.
Quite a long time it was!
Rising from the chaos of the Sengoku period, the Edo period was characterized by a stable population, isolationist foreign policies, and popular enjoyment of arts and culture besides socio-economic improvements.
So, it seems like there was persistent peace in this era.
The specialty of this period was that the shogunate (dictatorship) was officially established in the Edo Period in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Then what is Edo called today? Or, Does Edo become Tokyo?
If you are curious to know all these, let me answer.
Yes! The ancient Edo is present-day’s Tokyo.
Why is food in the Edo period a widely discussed topic?
You will surely want to know its background details, right?
Then keep going through.
Most Popular Food In The Edo Period
Rice was undoubtedly the most popular food during this period. Common staples of Edo period cuisine included cooked “azuki” or red bean paste, inari sushi, “unagi” or eel, and noodles either served hot or cold. “
Soba” or buckwheat noodles were the most popular type of noodle and were often served with tempura or in one of the many stews, such as the chuka-soba. Rice, or “gohan”, was the staple and was served in a variety of ways, from steamed in a “rice cooker” to “meshi” or rice porridge.
As the Edo period continued and the inhabitants of the era embraced modernity, more and more foreign delicacies made their way into the Japanese diet, including dried and salted “sardines”, “spam”, and “ham”.
Interestingly enough, beer drinking was also introduced to the Japanese during the Edo period and remains popular to this day. It’s a testament to just how innovative the Japanese cuisine has been throughout history.
Seafood was especially popular in the Edo period, with many different dishes making their way onto dinner tables. Some of these dishes included grilled salmon, fish eggs called “ikura”, and salty, crunchy “tempura maki”.
Meat was also a major part of the Edo period diet, with “gyudon” or beef bowl, “yakitori” or grilled chicken, and “yakiniku” or grilled beef being some of the most popular dishes.
The Edo period also saw the introduction of tofu and many different varieties of mushrooms into the Japanese diet.
These were often prepared in soups, curries, and stews, such as the famous miso soup.
Pickles were also very popular in the Edo period, with different types including radish, cucumber, and eggplant.
Sweet foods were also enjoyed, especially during festivals like the New Year and “hanami” (cherry blossom viewing season). Common snacks included “dango” or sweet dumplings, “manju” or sweet buns, and “yatsuhashi” or sweet rice cakes.
The Edo period saw a variety of dishes, drinks, and snacks become popular throughout Japan, many of which are still enjoyed today. From regional dishes and regional food cultures, to foreign delicacies, to pickles, tofu, mushrooms and so much more, the Edo period was a time of culinary exploration and innovation–all of which endured the test of time.
Four Staples In The Edo Period
The ‘yatai‘ or mobile food stalls served ready and affordable meals. Their breakfast dishes included dried fish, rice, boiled beans, and fried tofu.
These are very ordinary dishes, but you still have something interesting to know.
They are the big four of Edo dining!
The most notable and grand four of Edo dining were soba noodles, eel, tempura, and sushi.
These four foods are still now the most popular among Japanese people.
They are so delicious that every Japanese has eaten these at least once in their life. And they enjoyed these foods more often when eating outside the home.
Now, I will talk about these popular Edo foods one by one.
Once soba was the food of temples.
Then, will you get a holy vibe like me after eating it? Oh, dear! I was just kidding!
Anyway, this temple’s food became widespread among commoners when the great fire of Meireki burned down most of Edo in 1657.
At that time, eating out became popular, and soba was a great solution for quickly served food.
At first, it appeared as round-shaped dumplings, which is called sobagaki (soba-flour).
Then it was transformed into noodles.
Even the strands were cut shorter to make it easier to eat in crowded places. It was served in a hot broth made of soy sauce and bonito flakes.
They were known as kirisoba.
Another popular type was soba hanamaki, which was topped with torn nori sheets.
The Sumida River and Tokyo Bay had an abundance of eels.
Firstly, they were eaten as a whole. After grilling on a skewer, they were used to serve with either salt or miso paste.
But later, eels were cut open into rectangular pieces, butterflied, grilled, steamed, and again grilled battered with a tare (sweet soy sauce, mirin, and sugar).
It was known as kabayaki.
The Portuguese dish tempora more or less influenced Edo’s tempura. It was something like fried vegetables or fish battered with flour.
Cooking oil became cheaper as production increased during the Edo period. So, tempura stalls began to appear throughout the city.
Edo-style tempura is different from that of western Japan.
It was cooked in a mixture of vegetable and sesame oils rather than the plain vegetable oil of Kyoto.
Therefore, the heavier sesame flavor stands up to the stronger, more pungent seafood flavor, whereas Kyoto tempura was mostly vegetables.
Kyoto tempura was served with just salt, where Tokyo tempura was dipped in mentsuyu sauce that was made of bonito broth, sugar, mirin, and soy sauce.
Edo was the birthplace of sushi. Sushi originally started as Edo-Mae sushi (Edo-style sushi). It consisted of red vinegar rice and a slice of fish.
The fish was sometimes flavored in salt or vinegar, boiled, and sometimes it was soaked in a soy sauce marinade to avoid spoiling.
That Edo-style sushi was two or three times larger than the modern sushi. Hence, it was considered as a complete meal on the go.
It was the overall food scenario in the Edo period.
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But what about the Edo castle?
As you know, the shogunate was officially established in this era.
So, What food did the Shoguns eat? I know you are curious to know that too.
However, before that, let me tell you what Shogun means if you don’t have any clear concept.
Shoguns were ancestral military leaders in feudal Japan who were appointed by the emperor technically.
Now, get an idea about their meal from the below section.
Meals in Edo Castle
The main part of Edo castle had three major portions- front, middle, and inner.
In the middle section, the daily meals for the shogun were prepared.
After the poison tasting by the food taster, the meals were delivered to the shogun’s dining room in the middle section of the castle.
A book from the Edo period described the breakfast served on one spring morning.
No doubt, you will be surprised by its statements!
How someone can eat so much might be the question on your mind after reading it.
It consisted of one tray with steamed rice, a tofu dish, miso soup with an egg, a dish of steamed walnut and fish paste, kelp, finely shredded egg crepes, and a dish of sliced sea bream.
There were grilled fish, fried egg wrapped in dried seaweed, stir-fried tofu with vegetables, pickled quash, and daikon radish pickled in miso on another tray.
What a great arrangement! What do you think?
Apart from that, meals were so simple at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate.
The fifteenth, as well as last shogun of Japan, was Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
According to the testimony of people who served food to him, his meals were just simple steamed rice with few or no side dishes.
While the diet of the last shogun was unexpectedly modest, the record shows that the eleventh shogun, Tokugawa Ienari’s eating habit, was somewhat luxurious.
For example, he used to eat two varieties of soup and seven different dishes during the first three days of the New Year.
Even on an ordinary day, one soup and four dishes for breakfast and lunch, and five dishes, with no soup, were served for his dinner.
Ohh! Isn’t it ridiculous? I am getting curious about his fitness!
Okay, let’s keep this topic aside for now.
Other than eel, soba, sushi, and tempura, some popular dishes of the Edo period were dojo (loach) nabe, anago (conger eel), miso, oden, etc.
The harvest from the sea was bountiful at that time, which included seaweed, shrimp, fish, clams, whale meat, and octopus.
When the ban on meat was lifted later in the Meiji Period, sukiyaki, sakuranabe , and other horse meat dishes gained popularity.
Nevertheless, how did this Meiji Period come out of nowhere?
Actually, it was the period after the Edo era.
As we discussed the foods of the Edo period all this time, you might be curious about how did Edo period end?
Okay, let’s find it out.
History of Foods in The Edo Period
Except for the social and economic stability, another key aspect of the era was evolutions in cooking culture, with changes in dietary habits.
The modern-day cuisine in Japan was heavily influenced by the customs developed during the Edo Era.
This Edo Era changed the conception of food from a means of survival to something for enjoyment. ‘Gourmets,’ which means foodies, began to influence food culture.
Sounds interesting, right?
Let’s see what happened next!
A seasonal food calendar known as the Hatsumono calendar, cooking books, and side dish rankings were printed. It is to keep people on the track of current and upcoming seasonal foods.
People started eating three meals a day instead of two while also incorporating the holy trinity of Japanese flavor.
This alteration also took place in the upper class of the society, but it was the streets where the real changes were happening.
The culture of food stalls and restaurants was also introduced to feed busy commoners and travelers on the go.
Some practices disappeared over time, but many continue to expand today.
With the increasing population, food stalls (yatai) and restaurants multiplied at an unprecedented scale.
Consequently, the competition among the owners went up to a high level.
So, what did they do to survive this high competition?
They began to put emphasis on quality products and ingredients. Along with the culture of dining out, it seems like the modern Tokyo food scene.
I hope now you have a broad idea about the food in the Edo period.
Though all those dishes were introduced during the Edo Era, they are still a way of connecting to the past. They even provide the roots of Japanese cuisine.
The dishes might have changed over time, but the experience is what we share with the people from the Edo Era.
So, you can also try these delicious foods as well.
Always remember that good foods are the foundation of genuine happiness.
Lastly, have a good day.