Foreign Foods in Japan –
Kasutera!

Cake is a universally loved food. It’s enjoyed when celebrating the most festive of occasions, with elaborate tiers, layers of filling, and decorative frosting. It can be enjoyed with a humble cup of perfectly brewed tea, and comes in a variety of shapes, flavors, and textures.

Perhaps one of the most favored types of cakes is the classic sponge cake. These cakes have an interesting history, and can be found in food cultures spanning across the globe in countries such as Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. The sponge cake, as we know it today, was thought to have been invented during the Renaissance by a chef named Giobatta Cabona. Giobatta Cabona worked for the Genovese Ambassador to Spain in the mid-1700s and Cabona created the cake for a formal banquet that the Ambassador was hosting for the Spanish delegation to Italy. He named his light and airy cake Pate Genoise, which was then named Pan di Spagna in honor of the Spanish Court. His Pan di Spagna became popular throughout Europe, and was thought to have been brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants who were afforded special trading privileges in the port of Dejima in Nagasaki in the 17th century. The Portuguese called this cake Pao de Castela, meaning “bread from Castile,” in Spain.

That classic sponge cake was Japanized into Kasutera sponge cake.

Kasutera Cake is made using flour, eggs, sugar, and honey. Unlike European and American sponge cakes, Kasutera Cake does not use any additional fat, such as butter or oil, and as such, requires a high-protein flour such as bread flour, which has a higher gluten content, to help it maintain its light and airy structure. The airiness comes from the way the eggs are combined with the sugar and beaten until the mixture is full of air and falls off the whisk in ribbons. The bounciness of the cake also comes from combining double-sifted flour into the egg and sugar mixture and mixing it very gently. Kasutera Cake is most often flavored with honey, preserving one of the most delicious parts of making sponge cakes, which is adding a touch of flavoring. A classic Victoria Sponge Cake will have a bit of citrus zest while Malaysian Pan Dan Cake will be flavored with hints of coconut. In Kasutera Cake, honey adds a touch of earthy sweetness, which helps it pair with various types of teas.

The Kasutera Cake batter is cooked on low heat, another signature of sponge cakes, at around 320°F for about half an hour. When the cake comes out of the oven, it has a gorgeous golden-brown crust on the top and bottom and a soft yellow crumb on the inside. Like many other sponge cakes, Kasutera Cake is not served immediately. It is wrapped in plastic and stored for up to 12 hours before serving, in order to enhance the moistness of the cake. Also, unlike Western sponge cakes, Kasutera Cake is typically baked in a rectangular loaf pan, instead of a round cake pan, and served in approximately one-inch slices, without any garnish, curds, creams, or jams.

So many of the Japanized foods are savory and we’re so happy to have this sweet delicacy to add to our list. Have you tried it before? If so, share your love of this lovely cake with us below!

Foreign Foods in Japan – Tenshindon

Tenshindon is a yummy crab omelet served over rice and topped with a salty-sweet sauce and chopped scallions. Sounds like a simple dish, doesn’t it?

But tenshindon has some fun historical and pop-culture stories associated with it and we’re excited to share not only the recipe for tenshindon, but also the interesting facts about this Japanized Chinese dish!

During the 1800s and 1900s, Japan opened its borders to commercial, intellectual, and cultural exchange with Asian countries and Western nations. China was a major center for this type of exchange, and the city of Tianjin became a treaty port for interested parties. Many Japanese traveled to Tianjin, establishing a significant population there. With this exchange, Japanese travelers who returned from the city brought back new knowledge, culture, goods, and foods, which became part of day-to-day Japanese life. One such dish was tenshindon – which combines the Japanized word for Tianjin, “tenshin,” with the Japanese word for rice, “don.” Fumiyoshi Yokota, a professor of Chinese cuisine, researched tenshindon in the book titled The Research of Chinese Food Culture: Tianjjin, and found that there were strong ties to the food found in Tianjin. First, the use of salty soy sauce was common in Tianjin; Tenshindon also features a salty, soy-based gravy. Second, when Chinese people had to eat frugally, they would fish for crabs and prawns off the coast of the port city. Tenshindon features a crab omelet. Lastly, rice was popular in both cities.

Along with the historical connections, legend has it that after the numerous wars of that period, starving customers would come into a Chinese-owned restaurant called Taishoken in Osaka and order the quickest, cheapest item they could get – a Tianjin-inspired crab meat omelet served over rice and topped with a salty sauce.

Competing stories credit Tokyo as the birthplace of tenshindon, at the restaurant Rai Rai Ken, where shoyu-based ramen was popularized, when a customer who was in a hurry to eat was served the dish topped with the sauce used for sweet and sour pork. The owner of Rai Rai Ken called the dish tenshindon, in honor of the Japanese soldiers stationed in Tianjin.

More recently, tenshindon has become more popular at Chinese restaurants in Japan because of the reference to Tenshinhan, a character in the hugely popular Dragon Ball anime series. “Han,” which means rice in Chinese, is a play on don, a food-related pun that Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama often adds to his characters’ names.

Regardless of how tenshindon came to be, it is an ultimately fantastic comfort food and easy to make over white rice. Have you tried it before? If so, share your love of this dish with us below!