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!

Foreign Foods in Japan – Chanpon (ちゃんぽん)

Students. Hungry and poor. The history of higher education is irrevocably intertwined with the history of starving students and the cooks who figure out innovative ways to feed them healthful, nutritious foods for very little money. Chanpon is one of those perfect student meals, and now, a great regional dish from Nagasaki, Japan that was originally created for Chinese students visiting Dejima Island in the area.

As with many beloved foreign foods in Japan, chanpon was developed during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). During this era, Japan had opened its borders to the world, sharing knowledge and information, along with culture and food. Students from China would visit Nagasaki, a port city, and head to a local Chinese restaurant called Shikairo. According to the restaurant, the dish was based on a Fujian specialty called tonniishiimen. Korean jjamppong is very similar!

Chanpon is made with pork meat, seafood pieces, and seasonal vegetables, served in a bone broth with noodles. The meat, seafood, and vegetables are sautéed in lard, and the soup base is made using pig bones and whole chickens. The meat, seafood, and vegetables are fried first, then the broth is added directly to the pot. Finally, the thick, chewy noodles are added to the broth mixture and everything is cooked together to seal in the flavor.

Chanpon has become such a popular dish in Japan that different regions have created their own versions. In Shimane and Hyogo Prefectures, a version called ankake chanpon is made using a thick soy sauce soup base while in Akita Prefecture, the soup base is made with miso broth.

Have you ever tried chanpon? Ready to cook packages are available in most Japanese grocery stores in the US, so we hope you decide to make it one day! Be sure to share your story with us in the comments below.

Foreign Foods in Japan – Hayashi Raisu (or Rice)

We love Japanese food. All kinds. Traditional home cooking. Haute cuisine. Festival food. Seasonal comfort food. Regional specialties. Sweet. Savory. Spicy. But even we can’t get over craving yoshoku food.

Yoshoku is one of the two main categories of Japanese cuisine – yoshoku and washoku – and refers to foreign foods that have been adapted to Japanese tastes, using ingredients typically found in Japanese cooking. Simply put, yoshoku food means “Western food” whereas washoku food means “Japanese food”.

Yoshoku food is so prevalent in Japan that many cooks believe it is now Japanese. But its origins are much more recent than traditional Japanese food culture. Yoshoku-style cooking became prevalent in Japan during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), and continued on through the post-World War II years. During the Meiji Period, emissaries from many nations, including China, England and France, visited Japan, bringing resources and sharing knowledge. Also, during that time, Japanese delegations traveled the world, learning about the cultures and habits of much of the West. This vibrant time resulted in an exchange of foods and this year, we’re going to delve into the deliciousness of popular yoshoku dishes.

Hayashi raisu

Hayashi Raisu (or Rice) is one of the easiest and most familiar yoshoku dishes. It can be ordered at yoshoku-ya, restaurants that specialize in adapting Western dishes, and is often made at home for a savory, comforting meal. Hayashi Raisu loosely translates into “beef stew over steamed white rice” and is heavily influenced by the French demi-glace. The stew part of the dish is made from beef broth, a browned flour and butter roux, and a port wine-Worstershire sauce-tomato paste-ketchup-soy sauce demi-glace. Added to this amazingly aromatic sauce is thinly sliced bite-sized beef, mushrooms and onions, garnished with boiled green peas. Hayashi Raisu is so common that the Hayashi Raisu sauce mix are even found in konbini, or Japanese convenience stores. And the dish comes together very quickly when you use these sauce mixes.

No packaged sauce mix used here!

The blend of foreign ingredients such as ketchup, butter, wheat flour and Worstershire sauce, along with cooking methods such as a roux based gravy, were new to Japan. Many chefs encouraged the use of these foreign ingredients to supplement what was available to the Japanese people, but in the case of Hayashi Raisu, no one knows who that chef might have been! Legend has it that an unknown chef, whose last name was the commonly used Hayashi, made the dish for the employees at this restaurant. Legend also states that the name for this dish came from the mispronunciation of “hashed beef”. Regardless of how the dish came about, we modern eaters are indebted to the yoshoku chefs of the Meiji Period!

We’d love to hear about your favorite yoshoku dishes. Be sure to share in the comments below!