Recently, I had the good fortune to be invited out for dinner. My companion for the evening decided she wanted something a little different from the usual Japanese fare. Having spent a lot of time in Southern Spain holidaying in my youth, and knowing of my friend’s love of seafood, I thought Paella might be a good idea.
Luckily Osaka has no shortage of good Spanish restaurants and we were soon able to find a good place to eat. As we enjoyed our meal, and as is often the case with writers such as myself, a random thought struck me. European food in Japan is, in a number of ways, quite different from what we would expect to find back in Europe itself.
The differences are often subtle, sometimes a little more blatant. So, if someone is new to Japan, what are some of these distinct differences from conventional western cuisine that one can expect to find here?
Here are a few of the more common ones.
Now, I don’t know for sure if this is a purely Japanese thing, but having visited Spain dozens of times in my younger days I can honestly say I’ve never seen Sangria made from white wine in any place other than Japan. The taste is quite good though. As anyone who has ever tried a “Buck’s Fizz” (Champagne and Orange Juice) will tell you, white wine’s sweet flavour and lighter palette does lend itself well to being combined with citrus fruits in particular. That being said, it still doesn’t quite feel right.
For me, Sangria should only be made from red wine, otherwise it is a distinctly different drinking experience. Have any of you readers ever seen white sangria outside of Japan? I would be interested to hear if you have.
Chilled Red Wine
Ok, now as someone who occasionally enjoys a good red with dinner from time to time, I have to say this is something about European restaurants in Japan that I take issue with. Whilst, it is expected in Europe that white wine should be chilled in order to fully realize the flavour, the same cannot be said of red wine. Perhaps I’m being a bit snobbish, but growing up with 2 parents who worked in the hospitality industry, I’ve always been taught that red wine must always be served at room temperature.
I’m not going to lie, I really thought someone was winding me up the first time I ordered a glass of red wine in Tokyo, many years ago, only to find upon arrival my glass was chilled to the point of being ice cold, with two huge icy orbs plopped into the glass alongside the wine, seemingly adding insult to injury.
As that irritating foreign “talent” (and I use that term in its loosest possible sense) I see on Japanese TV from time to time, who’s name escapes me, is so fond of saying: “Why, Japanese people?!”
I love the food and the drink here in Japan, but seriously, please stop putting the red wine in the fridge!
Would you like some Pizza with your Mayonnaise?
I think any foreigner who lives in Japan does, from time to time, get a craving for a more familiar food, a taste of home as it were. For many of us, this comes in the form of a Pizza. Indeed to those of us who hail from the UK or the US, brands like Pizza Hut and Dominos have a very reassuring familiarity to them.
However, once you actually look at the menu, things get a bit weird to say the least. Unless you stay with the harmless old favourites like margherita or ham and pineapple, you’re in for something of a shock.
What often turns up on my plate seems less like a pizza and more like the bizarre bi-product of a drunken liaison between an okonomiyaki pancake and a garlic flatbread.
Strong in garlic, lots of sauce and almost always drenched in corn and mayonnaise. It’s a fairly delicious dish in its own right, but whatever it is, it sure isn’t what one would expect. To paraphrase the late, great Leonard Nimoy: “It’s pizza Jim, but not as we know it!”
I have to admit, upon arriving at one of my junior high schools to begin teaching English many years ago, I was shocked to find “cider” on sale at a vending machine outside the school gates. Back in Scotland not only is cider alcoholic, it is also perceived as a harder drink for those who find lager or ale a bit too pedestrian!
Of course I later realized that in Japan cider is actually a sugary, carbonated, mixed fruit flavour soft drink. In fact, truth be told, it’s not a million miles away both in taste and overall presentation from “Scotland’s other national drink”, the world famous Irn-Bru.
Food culture, be it of domestic or foreign origin is one of those little quirks that makes Japan such an interesting place to live. Every meal is an adventure, every taste is an experience. Long may it continue.