The Homogenization of Western Food Culture in Japan
Those of you familiar with Japanese cuisine will no doubt know that many popular dishes had their roots in traditional Western cuisine. A trip to a ski resort, or any shokudo (dining hall) and you are guaranteed to find deep fried pork cutlets, croquettes, beef stews and hamburgers.
The history of Western food in Japan dates back to the 16th Century when trading routes through ports like Nagasaki were opened up to the Portuguese and Dutch. One dish you might be forgiven for thinking is Japanese is Tempura. In fact the concept of batter and deep frying was introduced by Catholic missionaries. The word “tempura” is thought to have derived from the Portuguese word tempero which means to season. There is a second theory that “Tempura” derived from a Latin phrase ad tempora cuaresme or possibly an early Portuguese word têmporas, which indicates abstinence from meat during Lent.
Early forms of Tempura would utilize readily available produce such as fish, eel and squid and this new cuisine became a favourite of the first Shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Iyeyasu.
Also popular in Japan is a traditional Japanese sponge cake called Castella (Kasutera), a must try for anyone visiting Japan. Once again this is an adaptation of the Portuguese Pão de Lo, a simple cake made from eggs, butter, sugar and flour. Over the Centuries, the Japanese perfected the recipe and it is a far cry from traditional Western sponge cakes, being extremely light and moist, whilst honey gives it a natural sweetness.
As you may know, the Tokugawa shogunate basically shut down all trade with the West and it was only after and American expedition led by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry that diplomatic relations were officially established in 1854. This so called “gunboat diplomacy” ultimately ended the 264 year Tokugawa Shogunate in 1876 and heralded the start of the Meiji Restoration.
The new Emperor Meiji had succumbed to the thinking that Western ideas were of vital importance for the modernization Japan. He promptly began to promote Western philosophy and encouraged his people to embrace Western culture. This included Western food, which he considered played a major part in the size and strength of the “Gaikokujin” (foreign people).
Japanese food can be catagorised into three main groups, Kaiseki, Washoku, and Youshoku.
Kaiseki is the formal meal beautifully presented in numerous dishes of very small portions. This is perhaps not too dissimilar to haute cuisine but is not very popular amongst Westerners as Kaiseki often includes numerous cold dishes like eel and tiny fish.
Washoku (literally Japanese food) refers to homogenous food recipes (Sashimi, Oden, Chanko Nabe, Soba/Udon, Ochazuke etc).
And finally Youshoku (literally Western food) refers to Japanese food that originated in the West. As an example, the extremely popular Tonkatsu derives its name from the word for pork, and the English word cutlets (pronounced katsuretsu). Whilst you can find exceptional restaurants representing every country imaginable all over Japan where the food is as authentic (and often better) than the real thing, separate to this you can also find Washoku restaurants serving uniquely Japanese style Western food.
Next time you check in to a Japanese hotel, make sure you know the difference between a Hambagu and a Hambaaga when you order room service. The former is succulent hamburger served on a plate with no bun, some boiled vegetables and exquisite demi-glace sauce (with plate of rice on the side). The latter, well it is a beef patty in a bun with pickles, relish, slice of tomato etc, and French fries!
Dean Owen is Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment.
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