If you think that Japanese cuisine is only limited to traditional ramen and sushi, you’re absolutely mistaken! Japan is such an innovative country with multiple outside influences that there’s no way that its traditional cuisine won’t be fused with another region’s cuisine. In fact, the Japanese have adopted various foreign dishes and turned them into their own kind of unique cuisine, collectively known as Japanese fusion cuisine.
This special genre of Japanese cuisine is undoubtedly a work of art. You can never get such dishes anywhere else in the world — only in Japan! And to top it off, the Japanese are mad for this local fusion cuisine! Let’s look into how the Japanese fusion cuisine came about and explore the various types that exist to this very day.
What is Japanese Fusion Cuisine?
What exactly is Japanese fusion cuisine? As its name suggests, it’s basically a type of cuisine that has both Japanese cuisine elements as well as other foreign cuisine elements. Hence the word “fusion” as both regions are fused together in a dish.
Most of the type, Japanese fusion cuisine combines the type of dishes often found in Western countries like steak, hamburger and omelettes with only Japanese ingredients. This technique not only adds a Japanese twist on the original dish but it also alters the flavours to suit the Japanese people’s taste palates.
The Japanese put a tremendous amount of changes into these Western dishes that they have basically modified them completely! What they regard now as Western food is so significantly different from genuine Western food. Hence, it became their very own type of cuisine, the Japanese fusion cuisine!
The birth of yoshoku
Yoshoku (洋食) is a term that refers to the Western-style dishes. It originated during the Meiji Restoration when there was a huge demand for modernisation in Japan. The country had the mentality that they needed Western ideas to further advance in society, so they adopted various Western dishes. However, it was difficult to get foreign ingredients back then, so the people had to make do with what they can, and that was using local ingredients.
A lot of the time, yoshoku is often written in katakana as it features Western dishes. Even though they may look slightly familiar, the flavour is undoubtedly different. Take omurice (オムライス) for example. Just from a glance, the omurice looks like an ordinary omelette with sauce topped on top, but in actuality it has stir-fried rice in the middle!
Wafu, the Japanese style
While yoshoku refers to the Western-influenced dishes, wafu (和風) just generally means “Japanese-style”. The Japanese have been inventive ever since the exposure to the western culture. The higher level to the yoshoku is basically the wafu, where dishes inspired by yoshoku are created with even more Japanese elements — be it traditional cooking techniques to even more emphasis on local ingredients.
Common Types of Japanese Fusion Cuisine
There’s not only one foreign cuisine that influenced the Japanese fusion cuisine. In the present day, almost every other type of cuisine is being experimented with by the Japanese! However, there are a handful of foreign cuisines that have significantly influenced the Japanese fusion cuisine scene. Let’s take a look at the various common types of fusion cuisines in Japan!
The Japanese have a long, intimate relationship with the French when it comes to their culinary affair. Hundreds, if not thousands, of well-known chefs in Japan today have at least once in their careers travelled to France to work under a skilled French chef. This has been going on since the Meiji and Taisho eras in the 1960s. These Japanese chefs bring back the unique flavours and traditional culinary techniques of the French cuisine and implement them into their own cuisine that’s ultimately a Japanese-French fusion cuisine.
Some notable Japanese-French fusion dishes here in Japan include the croquette — which is a ball covered in breadcrumbs and filled with vegetables, fish or meat — and the foie gras — a staple dish of the French made from the liver of a goose or duck. Of course, they’re all twerked to suit the taste palates of the Japanese here by using locally sourced ingredients and adjustments to flavours.
You’ll see pastas and pizzas everywhere in Japan, but they’re not the kind you get in Italy. The ones here are Japanese-Italian fusion, which means how they’re made and what they’re made of are customised for the Japanese people. Italian food is extremely popular in Japan, so much that ingredients important from Italy directly are easy to find now. But the Japanese are extremely inventive — they created Italian-inspired dishes like the “naporitan” (ナポリタン) and doria, which is more like a French gratin than it is an Italian dish. The naporitan is the Japanese take on the spaghetti bolognese, while the doria is a stir-fried dish consisting of rice, ketchup and cooked meat or seafood, topped with layers of cheese and white sauce.
Even though Mexican cuisine came much later to Japan in the 1980s, it still has a strong influence in the Japanese fusion cuisine now. Taco rice — a Japanese-style Mexican dish that started in Okinawa to cater to the U.S. military — boomed significantly and that’s when the Japanese showed interest in the Mexican dishes like tacos and burritos. It’s apparent that the flavours of Mexican cuisine is far different from the flavours of Japanese cuisine. So don’t expect Mexican restaurants in Japan to cater to your spicy taste buds — they’re pretty much wafu-style.
The biggest influence in the Japanese fusion cuisine is none other than the Chinese cuisine. The Chinese played a huge role in Japan’s history, so naturally, they had quite an influence in the Japanese food scene. Ever since the 1600s, which was when the first Chinese scholar introduced their local cuisine to Japan. The most famous Japanese-Chinese fusion dish that we now know and love is none other than the ramen (ラーメン). It actually originated from China, but over the years, the Japanese combined their own unique style of cooking as well as ingredients to create their very own version of ramen.
Gyoza (餃子) is also a Chinese dish that the Japanese reinvented with their own take. In Japan, you can get all sorts of Japanese-Chinese gyoza, from boiled to deep-fried.
The all-famous Japanese curry didn’t just come out of thin air. It is in fact inspired by the Indian curry, introduced in the late 1800s. The Indian curry is traditionally spicy and hot, but the Japanese taste is nowhere near that. It is actually quite the opposite. The Japanese prefer sweet, and even their type of spicy is not the same as the Indian cuisine. Hence, they created their own unique take on the Indian cuisine, which comes in all forms in the present day. From sweet curry to omelette curry, nothing is quite like the Japanese-Indian fusion cuisine.
When you find yourself in Japan, don’t only try out the local traditional Japanese cuisine. You should also have a taste of their unique Japanese fusion cuisine which you cannot find anywhere else in the world! It’s like having two different regions in one dish — how spectacular is that?