Yoshoku

Tonkatsu

In Japanese cuisine, yoshoku [yoh-shoo-koo] (‘western food’) refers to a style of Western-influenced cooking which originated during the Meiji Restoration (1868, a period of rapid industrialization and Westernization). These are primarily Japanized forms of European dishes, often featuring Western names, and usually written in Japanese. It is an example of fusion cuisine. Another, more contemporary, term in Japan for the Western food is ‘mukokuseki’ (‘no-nationality’ cuisine).

At the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, national seclusion was eliminated and the Meiji Emperor declared Western ideas helpful for Japan’s future progress. As part of the reforms, the Emperor lifted the ban on red meat and promoted Western cuisine, which was viewed as the cause of the Westerners’ greater physical size. Yōshoku thus relies on meat as an ingredient, unlike the typical Japanese cuisine at the time. Additionally, many of the Westerners who started to live in Japan at that time refused to touch traditional Japanese food, and so their private Japanese chefs learned how to cook them Western-style cuisine, often with a Japanese spin.

Seiyō ryōri mostly refers to French and Italian cooking while Yōshoku is a generic term for Japanese dishes inspired by Western food that are distinct from washoku (traditional Japanese cusine). Another difference is that seiyō ryōri is eaten using a knife and fork, while Yōshoku is eaten using chopsticks and a spoon.

Earlier dishes of European origin – notably those imported from Portugal in the 16th century such as tempura (inspired by the fritter-cooking techniques of the Portuguese residing in Nagasaki in the 16th century), are not, strictly speaking, part of yoshoku, which refers only to Meiji-era food. However, some yōshoku restaurants serve tempura.

Yōshoku varies in how Japanized it is: while yōshoku may be eaten with a spoon (curry), paired with bread or a plate of rice (raisu) and written in katakana to reflect that they are foreign words, some have become sufficiently Japanized that they are often treated as normal Japanese food (washoku): served alongside rice and miso soup, and eaten with chopsticks.

An example of the latter is katsu, which is eaten with chopsticks and a bowl of rice (‘gohan’), and may even be served with traditional Japanese sauces such as ponzu or grated daikon, rather than katsu sauce. Reflecting this, katsu is often written as a native Japanese word, rather than as ‘katsuretsu,’ ‘cutlet.’

Yōshoku began by altering Western recipes for lack of information about foreign countries’ cuisine, or adaptions to suit local tastes, but over time, yōshoku also evolved dishes that were not at all based on European foods, such as chicken rice and ‘omurice’ (‘omelette rice’). Elaborate sauces were largely eliminated, replaced with tomato ketchup, demi-glace sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.

During Japan’s modernization, yōshoku was often too expensive for the common man. But after World War II, ingredients for yōshoku became more widely available and its popularity grew. A yōshokuya is a restaurant where yōshoku dishes are served. During Japan’s rapid economic growth people began eating yōshoku in department store restaurants, but now family restaurants such as Denny’s and Saizeriya are considered essential yōshoku establishments. In addition, there are also a number of upscale yōshoku restaurants in Japan, such as Shiseido Parlor in Ginza and Taimeiken in Nihonbashi (two areas of Tokyo).

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