Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ketchup-flavoured rice and other delicacies

What's the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Japanese food? Raw fish, white rice and miso soup perhaps?

These are certainly the staples of any Japanese restaurant outside Japan. But it's a different story inside Japan, where the menu offers up so much more than just sashimi, sushi and tempura.

There is a whole style of Japanese cuisine that you will rarely find in North America. It's called yoshoku and it's a thousand times more popular than the stuff on offer at Japanese restaurants back home.

The word yoshoku literally translates as "Western food." But make no mistake: There is nothing Western about yoshoku. It is thoroughly Japanese. It is Western food taken apart and put back together to suit local tastes.

It includes dishes like spaghetti stir-fried in ketchup, curry devoid of spices, deep-fried pork cutlet sandwiches and omelets stuffed with ketchup-flavoured rice. It is Western food with a Japanese twist. And it is just as an integral part of Japanese cuisine as rice and fish.

The most ubiquitous yoshoku dish is Japanized pizza. The most popular toppings are squid, corn, potatoes and mayonnaise. Even the Western chains know that in order to sell pizza in Japan they have to beef up their menus with yoshoku. Want proof? Check out the flyer from Domino's that arrived in my mailbox the other day.

It's called "fondue pizza" and it's topped with Camembert cheese, ham, shrimp, broccoli and potato. None of this is at all weird.

I've been to a few yoshoku restaurants in Japan and I've found the experience akin to entering a parallel universe. Everything on the menu is familiar and foreign at the same time.

Personally, I find most yoshoku dishes to be a little too junky for my liking. Too much fat and not enough nutrition. I'll take the tuna sashimi and leave the fondue pizza for the Japanese.

No comments: