Foreign Foods in Japan –
Gyoza!

Supagetti Naporitan. Hayashi Raisu. Kasutera. Japanese cuisine is full of foreign foods with a Japanese twist…and they’re ones that we all love!

Dumplings are no exception, and in this month’s series, we are excited (and hungry!) to talk about Japanese gyoza. Gyoza are a relatively “new” food in Japan, entering the cuisine during World War II, when Japanese soldiers stationed in Northern China fell in love with “jiaozi”, the Mandarin word for dumplings that “stick to the pot”.

Chinese jiaozi, more commonly known as potstickers in the US, are made with a wheat flour dough, rolled out and stuffed with meat and/or vegetables. The dough is on the thicker side, and the finished dumplings are typically of the size that they can be eaten in three to four bites. Jiaozi are made using the fry-steam-fry method, where they are first pan fried in oil in a wok, then steamed in the same wok with the addition of a little water, and then finished by cooking in the wok without the lid on so that the water evaporates and crisps up the dumpling.

When jiaozi were imported into Japan, they were modified to be more subtle and delicate, as much of Japanese cuisine is. The wheat flour dough, or wrapper, is much thinner for Japanese gyoza. And they are smaller, along with being crimped and folded differently from jiaozi. The fillings are chopping up to be much finer than the Chinese version and a dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar and ra-yu, or Japanese hot pepper oil, is a common accompaniment. Japanese gyoza are often filled with pork, chicken, cabbage, nira or chives, scallions, garlic, ginger, shiitake mushrooms and other vegetables. And the best part is that when making a big batch of gyoza, leftovers can be frozen!

Cooking gyoza is similar to cooking jiaozi. The gyoza are placed in a skillet or pan with a little bit of oil, until the bottom has pan-fried. A small amount of water, just enough to steam, is added to the pan, which is covered until the wrappers are translucent and the inner filling has cooked through. Then the lid is removed and the gyoza bottoms are allowed to crisp up in the pan. Served hot with dipping sauce, they make an amazing savory dish. Our skillets and griddles are great for making gyoza, as the convenient lids help to steam the dumplings.

In Japan, gyoza are ubiquitously available. They are great as snacks and appetizers, are eaten as main meals and are found at izakaya or bars, ramen shops, grocery stores and festivals.

Have you tried Japanese gyoza? Tell us about your favorite filling in the comments below!

Foreign Foods in Japan –
Japanese Curry!

“It seems that everyone in Japan loves curry.” These words from Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat are certainly true.

Here at Zojirushi, we’d argue that everyone who loves Japanese food loves Japanese curry! Our foreign food this month is the much loved Japanese curry, in its glorious, savory wet form.

Curry is not native to Japan. It was imported to the country a mere two centuries ago. And not, as you’d assume, by South Asians from India, where curry, or “kari”, originated. Indian curry is a blend of fresh spices and aromatics that are blended into gravies using tomatoes, cow’s milk, coconut milk, and other liquids. Indian curries are generally spicy and hot, full of chilis and cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger and other spices. Families in India carefully guard their own curry blends and pass them down generation to generation. During the centuries of the spice trade by the Dutch, Portuguese and British, curry transformed into a dry powder that was able to be transported by ship to Southeast Asia and China, the Caribbean and South Pacific, Africa, Europe and Japan.

Rakkyo

Because dry curry powder was imported into Japan by the British, it was originally considered a European food! And as it was transported ship-to-ship, sailors were the first ones to fully adapt Britishized Indian curry powder to Japanese tastes.

Japanese curry is made of many fewer ingredients – and in a much less complex way – than Indian curry. The base is made with a roux, or mix of curry powder, chili pepper, garam masala, butter and flour. Often, curry roux can be found in specialty Asian grocery stores. This roux is mixed with water until it reaches the consistency of a gravy, and to the gravy are added vegetables, beef, chicken, apples and less commonly, seafood. The entire mixture is eaten with cooked Japanese white rice and condiments such as fukujinzuke, or pickled radishes, pickled rakkyo, or Japanese scallions, or raisins. The spiciness of Japanese curry is quite mild compared with Indian and Southeast Asian curries, but hot chili oil can be added to increase the heat. The result is the popular karēraisu.

Fukujinzuke

While Japanese curry is easily found in restaurants, it is home-style cooking prepared for lunch at schools and at home for families. It is considered easy food for dinner, and one of the first dishes Japanese children learn to make.

One of our favorite recipes is Japanese Beef Curry. Our own secret recipe includes a touch of Worcestershire sauce for some savoriness and honey for sweetness. Paired with white rice made in one of our rice cookers, and it’s a perfect meal!

Have you tried Japanese curry? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!

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!