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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