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Edo Period Recipes: Video Introduction

This video, titled "[2] Edo Period Food: Making it Just Like the Original Recipe" (【2】江戸時代のご飯 原典(レシピ)通り作ってみた), was uploaded by "Gens Bookshelf Cafeteria."

This video introduces Edo Period food recreated based on recipes from three cookbooks published during the Edo Period: Ryori Monogatari, Tofu Hyakuchin, and Meihan Burui.

The Edo Period (1603-1868 A.D.) was a period of 260 years where Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The recipes are intriguing as they introduce meals that are similar to many found in present-day Japanese cooking, while reflecting the food culture of the time.

Be sure to check out what the dishes were like in the video.

How Many Meals a Day in Edo Period Japan? Shogun vs. Commoner Food Culture

Image of an oil lantern
Photo:An oil lantern

During the Edo Period, people generally ate two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. However, midway through the Edo Period, it's said that three meals a day became the norm. This was due to the improvement of lanterns, which allowed people move about at night.

Basic meals of the common people consisted of one soup and one vegetable dish. Side dishes consisted mostly of simmered vegetables and pickled vegetables, and fish was eaten only once every two weeks or so. The tenements where the common people of Edo lived were small and cramped housing complexes. Because of the cramped kitchens, rice was cooked only once a day to ensure efficient cooking.

Farmers paid a large portion of their taxes as rice, so they had little rice to eat themselves. They often ate katemeshi, rice cooked with various grains, or mochi (rice cakes) made from various grains.

The diet of a samurai varied according to rank. Low-ranking samurai had the same diet as common people, while high-ranking samurai ate a wider variety of food items and ingredients. Daimyo (feudal lords) and shogun enjoyed an even wider variety of side dishes, and some lords even enjoyed fish at every meal. Depending on their social status, they may also have enjoyed sake.

Another characteristic of Edo Period food was that many people began to eat out. Food stalls selling tempura and soba (buckwheat noodles) slowly began to pop up and became common among the general populace.

Other popular foods were kabayaki (grilled eel covered in a sweet soy sauce) and sushi. Together with soba and tempura, these are considered the four major foods of the Edo.

3 Edo Period Cookbooks – Cook Like They Did in the Age of the Samurai

Here are the three books on food in the Edo Period that were featured in the video.

●Ryori Monogatari (Tales of Cooking)
Ryori Monogatari is a cookbook published in 1643, in the early Edo Period. It's considered to be the oldest cookbook in Japan that provides specific cooking methods.

Dishes and ingredients are listed by category, such as "sea fish" and "river fish," and cooking methods are divided into "broths," "vinegared foods," etc. This method of compiling recipes influenced later cookbooks as well.

●Tofu Hyakuchin
Tofu Hyakuchin is a cookbook published in 1782, in the mid-Edo Period. It lists 100 recipes for tofu. The book introduces dishes divided into six classes, including "common" and "exquisite," and describes the cooking processes in detail.

The book also includes a note that a sequel was published the following year, which suggests that tofu was a popular ingredient among the people of the Edo Period.

●Meihan Burui
Meihan Burui was published in 1802, in the late Edo Period. It's a cookbook specializing in recipes involving rice, and introduces more than 140 recipes for porridge, sushi, etc.

It also includes columns on the characteristics of rice by production area, showing the high level of interest in cooking with rice during the Edo Period.

Fish? Meat? Vegetables? What Did People in the Edo Period Eat the Most Of?

Image of rice bran
Photo:Rice bran

The basic diet during the Edo Period consisted of rice, miso soup, and one side dish. From the mid-Edo Period onward, as rice production increased and rice-polishing technology improved, diets shifted from brown rice to white rice. This had an impact on food culture as well, such as the spread of pickled vegetables made from the bran produced in the rice polishing process.

Side dishes for the common people consisted mainly of beans and vegetables cooked in a stew. Natto (fermented soybeans) and tofu were also commonly eaten as a source of protein. Vegetables such as daikon, komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), and leeks were common, and these are eaten even today.

Soy sauce, an essential ingredient for flavoring meals in the Edo Period, also spread to the common people in the mid-Edo Period. Many of the dishes in the book are also flavored simply with soy sauce or miso.

Nebuka-jiru is a miso soup with green onions. Make broth with kombu and dried sardines, and add leeks. Once cooked, miso is added and the soup is complete.
[Video] 2:14 - Nebuka-jiru

●Ozasa Tofu
Tofu is cooked on a skewer, then cooked in a pot with broth, soy sauce, and mirin. Beaten egg is then poured over the tofu and simmered, and then sprinkled with sansho (Japanese pepper).
[Video] 3:00 - Ozasa Tofu

●Tofu Noodles
Tofu crumbles and komatsuna are stir-fried, then mixed with boiled somen noodles. Season with soy sauce and serve.
[Video] 4:11 - Tofu Noodles

In the Edo Period diet, common people ate fish dishes only a few times a month. The common people ate inexpensive and easily obtainable fish, such as sardines and tuna. Shoguns or daimyo on the other hand, ate high-end fish such as sea bream (which were said to bring good luck), sillago, and flounder. Although eating meat was prohibited for many years, it was sometimes consumed for medicinal purposes.

Summary of Food Culture in Edo Period Japan

In this article. we introduced a video recreating Edo Period food. By learning about meals during Edo Period Japan, you can better understand how people lived, the food culture, and the social dynamics of the time. Food is one of the many perspectives from which to understand the history of any given era.

If you're curious about Japanese cooking, maybe try making some of the recipes yourself! We hope you can use this article as a reference to create some delicious dishes!

Written By
Last Updated : Nov. 19, 2023
Born and raised in Osaka. Housewife & writer. I love Japanese culture and traveling.
Edo Period Food – Food Culture in the Age of the Samurai!
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