A couple of years ago, Mireille Guiliano, in French Women Don’t Get Fat, explained just how French women manage to enjoy food without gaining weight. Needless to say, it was a runaway bestseller. Well, French women are not alone. Just take a walk through Tokyo.
I have not seen one obese person in Japan. I have seen very few overweight people. And the Japanese are not jogging down the streets, or pumping iron. They also do not eschew sweets, carbs, ice cream, fried foods, cheese, alcohol or meat. There are also copious amounts of snack foods, most of them sweet and salty, and outrageous versions of western desserts, often piled with gobs of cream-like substances.
But these foods are eaten sparingly. When we sit down to a meal, there are a minimum of two veggie dishes, usually greens. Often these dishes are accompanied by two or three types of pickles - again vegetables. Often soup. Then, of course, rice, served up with nearly every meal. And a bit of protein, though not necessarily meat. More likely grilled fish, or a bit of fresh tofu, served up in bowls, with a bit of ginger, scallions and shoyu. The meat or fish portions are also quite small - a serving the size of your palm would be on the large side. And that’s pretty much it.
Here's a picture of a quick lunch I got at a department store, as an example, with miso soup, barley rice, sweet fried chicken, a tofu veggie burger with sauce, salad and pickles.
So, am I, at nearly 6 feet, not going hungry? No. I definitely eat more than my Japanese cousins but I’m not going hungry. All I really do miss here are whole grain breads, since the Japanese spin on bread is exceedingly light, airy, and white.
Breakfast in Kyoto
At our hotel in Kyoto, they served up the usual eggs and bacon on the buffet, but also miso soup, hot tofu, three salads, some fish salad, grilled fish (the serving the size of a credit card cut in half), some danish and croissants, and yogurt -- a mishmash of options. OK, fish for breakfast is a bit much, though the salads were fresh and delicious. I looked over to what two Japanese women were eating. A bit of egg, salad, two type of pickled vegetables, miso soup and fruit. That was it.
Made me think of Pollan’s dictum: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That’s the diet here. It’s not something you think about. It’s just the way you eat.
- Samuel Fromartz