But more exciting than the seeming quirkiness, they led me to discover the concept of Yõshoku (洋食). It translates directly as "Western Style Meal" but I think it's really about western foods that have become Japanese. The saucy burger with no bun is a great example. It's not just a kooky thing that they do at Royal Host, it's an established form, ハンバーグ (Hambāgu) and is essentially Salisbury steak. (I just figured that out. I learn so much researching these posts).
These sorts of cultural crossovers are fascinating. Especially if you come from the source culture. It gives you a window into the values of the borrower culture. What they keep and what they leave can be telling. This does need to be tempered with some history though. For instance, to understand Japanese curry you need to know that it was filtered through British Navy culture before it got to Japan. Speaking of curry...
カレー (curry) is the big, obvious example. It's hugely popular in Japan. It has evolved so far from indian curry that it's completely it's own thing (for one, it's often beef). And it's the best thing to eat before you go to prison.
I've made Japanese curry before from those roux packets you can get at the asian grocery. Makes my head go all funny (not in a good way) and rakka has made it from a Japanese cookbook recently. But my first taste of the real deal was at CoCo 壱番屋 (CoCo Ichibanya).
|Fried Chicken and Veg Curry|
Then there is Omurice (オムライス). It's just what it sounds like. It's an omelette on rice. Usually with ketchup. I got a cheap one from Lawson and it was really tasty.
|Lots of ketchup|
|You can see it's just rice with egg on top, but it's おいしい (Oishī - Delicious)!|
Oh, and speaking of Lawson. Like 7-11, it's a conbini (convenience store) that started in the US and is now a Japanese company. Unlike 7-11 they don't have any stores in the US anymore. Also unlike 7-11 they are everywhere in Tokyo. Near our hotel in Hamamatsuchõ there was one 7-11 and four Lawsons. Like, they're everywhere.
There is another dish that I've been enthralled by ever since I saw the 深夜食堂 (Shinya Shokudō) movie on the plane. The movie, based on a show based on a manga, is about a diner that's only opened from midnight to 7am (english title "Midnight Diner"). The dish is Spaghetti Naporitan.
Sadly I didn't find any in Japan, but we don't let that stop us around here. Since we've been back there are already two new Japanese cookbooks in the house. One of them has a recipe for Naporitan, and rakka just made it last night. I stupidly didn't take a picture because I'm stupid, but it seems pretty easy. Just spaghetti, some veg and sausage, and a sauce made from ketchup and a little sake and stuff.
Yep. Ketchup again. I guess you can't really avoid the war completely. This dish is said to be inspired by the rations at GHQ, the US's head office for the occupation. (Related, I've heard that the popularity of ramen started after the war too, because the US imported lots of wheat to help with shortages.)
The process of making western foods into Japanese foods is, of course, still ongoing. My favorite new innovation that we found was the モスライスバーガー "海鮮かきあげ (塩だ れ)" (Moss Rice Burger "Seafood Tempura (with salt)) (sorry for the western quotes there, effin' blogger).
|Moss Rice Burger|
|フレッシュネスバーガー FRESHNESS BURGER|
It doesn't really count as Yõshoku, because it's just a burger. Hokkaido pumpkin buns not withstanding. It was so oishī though. Better than most fast food burgers I've had in the states. Seriously, In-n-out is like ashes in my mouth compared to even the most basic Freshness Burger.
Add to that all the other stuff we sampled, from various conbini sandwiches, to ice cream (hokkaido melon ice-cream!), chips, and pastries (oh, god the Totoro cream puffs! OMFG, say it twice more) and you can only come to one conclusion: Japanese food is amazing, even when it's western food.
I will talk about "Traditional" Japanese food in a forthcoming post, but honestly I don't know if I'll be as excited about it.