Traditional bad food combos In Japan

By Hilary Keyes

There are so many great foods to enjoy in the world, and for many, food is one of the greatest parts of travel or even a long day of work. Following a traditional Japanese diet isn’t always easy, but if you do a little research into it, you’ll find lists of kuiawase (食い合わせ) or food combinations both good and bad.

What makes a given combination good or bad may not stem from any medical or scientific studies, either. Some are only bad because, historically speaking, eating them together was considered too luxurious and thus wasteful—matsutake mushrooms with expensive crab from Hokkaido, for example. Other reasons that a food combination could be bad stem from their temperature, so to speak.

What are Hot & Cold foods?

Chinese Food Theory basically states that food and medicine are the same, and that combinations of hot and cold foods can affect your health. This theory was brought to Japan and quickly shaped how the Japanese viewed food and combinations of dishes. Scientifically speaking this theory hasn’t been proven one way or another, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to back it up.

Hot foods refer to anything spicy or bitter, cooked under high heat, are a hot color (red, orange, yellow) or have high-calorie counts. For example, red meats, deep-fried foods, alcohol, and red peppers. Cold foods, on the other hand, are mild or sour, cooked in low/no heat, are a cool color (white, green, blue) and have low calorie counts. For example, green vegetables, tofu, yogurt, and so on.

Hot foods should be avoided in the summer because they heat up the body too much and that can make you ill, while cold foods should be avoided in the winter because they cool the body too much. You can also “take” hot foods to cure conditions caused or worsened by cold foods, and vice versa. 

There are a lot of rules to go through if you want to follow this sort of food theory, and sometimes those rules contradict each other, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, there is scientific evidence to the bad combos covered in this article, so you might want to think twice before giving them a try.

The most infamous bad combo

This is one of the first bad food combinations I learned about when I came to Japan, and I’ve seen what it’s done to enough people now to know instinctively to avoid it.

Tempura and watermelon.

Tempura is a wonderful, crispy veggie-based dish. Watermelon is a cool refreshing fruit.

Eating tempura and watermelon in the same meal is literally trying to mix oil and water in an acidic environment—it leads to indigestion, heartburn, stomach cramps, and explosive diarrhea in particularly unlucky people.

You’ll get the same results (or consequences, if you’re feeling spiteful) if you eat unagi (eel) and watermelon, or any other fried/oily foods with anything too watery.

Watermelon in general

Watermelon itself comes up in a lot of different rules, although most are for similar reasons mentioned above. As my one elderly neighbor put it, “if you want to eat watermelon, don’t eat anything else fun.”

One more modern food rule involves watermelon and beer. While a classic summer combination, watermelon and beer together are bad because of their double punch diuretic effect. You’re consuming plenty of water, but the two together make you go to the bathroom twice as much, and can cause dehydration.

If you want to avoid heatstroke, you may want to pick one or the other during the summer months.

Green tea and most meals

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© Savvy Tokyo

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A lot of this is common sense that people should know intuitively.

The stomach is not a garbage disposal unit. It is extremely tolerant but it's also easy to create trouble.

Hot greasy foods with chilled foods/drinks may taste great, but can be a nightmare for some. And many of these problems never reveal themselves until years / decades later.

The bad combinations of foods has been well researched and reported on by science.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Explosive diarrhea is never good.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Incompatibility of certain foods has roots in Chinese cuisine, but there is no scientific basis to this. What disagrees with some people has no effect on others.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

RecklessToday  11:46 am JST

My wife often prepares fish with other meats and I prefer fish only.

My Mrs did that too, particularly in my obentos. Grilled salmon and sausages was the tipping point for me recently and I had to very diplomatically let it be known that i'd rather not have them together, without sounding like an ungrateful sod!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

But the watermelon/Tempura thing

Combine it and make watermelon tempura just to shock people.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What about drinking beer with greasy foods? Fries? Fish and Chips etc? That's mixing stuff yet everyone loves it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I just hate when it’s over 38 degrees Celsius outside and someone gives me a “hot drink.” But the watermelon/Tempura thing....yeah, not so sure about that one....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I can see watermelon & beer going great on a summers day!! A nice light refreshing brew, say a pilsner & some watermelon sounds good to me!

Now that doesnt mean 10pints & a whole large watermelon LOL!!! Just use commonsense!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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