If you have ever watched anime or read manga, you have likely encountered yoshoku. Yoshoku food is a popular substyle of Japanese cuisine. The term yoshoku translates to “Western food,” but the literal translation doesn’t give you a full picture of what this means. Simply put, yoshoku is not just burgers, fries, and pizza. It’s actually something else entirely, really more of a marriage of Japanese and Western food combined to create something new.
The origins of yoshoku can be traced back to the Meiji era when Japan opened up to the West and subsequently experienced a lot of cultural influence from Western countries. With an influx of foreigners came the establishment of restaurants and hotels that catered to Western tastes. The chefs at these establishments went on to open their own, over time adjusting recipes to fit a Japanese palette.
The traditional Japanese diet is largely focused on meat and vegetables, but yoshoku, because of its Western influence, is much more meat-centric. Before the Meiji era, meat consumption and animal slaughter was taboo and had been banned. Influence from Shintoism and Buddhism taught that slaughter was an impure practice. It wasn’t until the Meiji Restoration that the government began promoting a more Western diet with more meat consumption to fortify Japanese people.
The Origin of Yoshoku Food
However, yoshoku cuisine in the form that we know it today didn’t start appearing until World War II. A lack of supplies made it harder to cook authentic Western cuisine. This meant that Japanese chefs needed to create dishes using whatever was available, which sped up the culinary experimentation that led to many popular yoshoku dishes. The US Occupation meant that ingredients like ketchup and bacon were more readily available resulting in the invention of hambagu steak and omurice. Once yoshoku dishes like spaghetti and stews were added to school lunch menus, yoshoku cuisine became widespread and even nostalgic for many Japanese.
Favorite dishes include Napolitan pasta, curry rice or Japanese curry, hayashi rice, among others. You’ve probably seen at least one of these dishes mouthwateringly depicted in your favorite anime or manga.
Napolitan pasta is a spaghetti dish made with ketchup. It was prepared by a hotel chef who was inspired by seeing American military men eating a dish of spaghetti and ketchup. The hotel chef subbed tomato puree for ketchup, and as it became popular throughout Japan the tomato puree was replaced with ketchup. It can include meat and vegetables, but ketchup is a key ingredient.
Curry was introduced to the Japanese via the British. It was adopted by the Imperial Japanese Navy to solve a severe case of nutrient deficiency and grew so popular that Japanese curry became a common Japanese dish. If you walk through any Japanese grocery store you’ll see boxes or pouches of instant Japanese curry. The Bokksu Market also has a wide selection of Japanese curry from premium curry like the Miyazaki Beef Curry to regional specialties like the Yokohama Green Curry to cute Marumiya Pokemon curry.
Hayashi rice, sometimes referred to as hashed beef, is a beef stew-like dish. It consists of thinly sliced beef, onions, and mushrooms in a demi glace sauce served with white rice. The origins of the dish are unknown, but it’s thought that a chef named Hayashi created the dish to feed his staff. Other theories are that hayashi became shorthand for hashed beef. Though the mystery of how hayashi rice got its name may never be solved, we can still enjoy this rich and hearty stew.
If you’re hungry for yoshoku food, the Internet is a great resource for easy yoshoku recipes. However, if experimenting in the kitchen isn’t quite to your taste, you can find high-quality pre-prepared yoshoku dishes like hayashi rice, Japanese curry, and Napolitan pasta at Bokksu Market. The Yokohama Yoshoku Set will give you a taste of yoshoku cuisine without having to break out the pots and pans. Each set comes with hayashi rice, Japanese curry, and Napolitan pasta sauces. All you have to do is heat up the sauce and cook the rice or spaghetti. The set makes a great gift for anyone who loves Japanese food but isn’t a fan of cooking.
Yoshoku continues to be widely consumed with many Japanese having fond memories of eating yoshoku food as children. Many restaurants in Japan are dedicated to preparing yoshoku cuisine for Japanese people looking for that nostalgic taste. But yoshoku food isn’t just nostalgic, it’s delicious too. Give it a try!