Foreign Foods in Japan –
Hanbāgu!

“Haan-baa-ghu”.

It’s delicious. It’s uniquely Japanese. And it’s not a hamburger!

Hanbāgu!

Our Foreign Food this month is a delicious Japanized version of steak, with similarities to Salisbury Steak, Steak Tartare and the Hamburg steak from Germany. Hanbāgu is a ground meat patty made from beef and pork, served like a steak, topped with a sauce and typically accompanied by rice and vegetables. This type of chopped meat steak became popular in the United States in the late 1800s, when German immigrants from Hamburg came to live in American cities like Chicago and New York. They made a “steak” with chopped beef mixed with onions, garlic, salt and pepper and cooked until tender and juicy.

Eventually, these steak patties were adapted to be eaten between two pieces of bread, creating the modern American hamburger, and both the chopped beef steak and hamburger were brought to Japan during World War II with the influx of foreign soldiers into the country.

Hanbāgu patties

Hanbāgā evolved to become Japanese hamburgers – beef patties served with various toppings served in a bun. Hanbāgu evolved as a rich and savory steak dish, cooked by countless Japanese home cooks, becoming a favorite dish among children and adults.

Hanbāgu is made with a blend of beef and pork called aibiki. This mixture is commonly mixed at a ratio of 7:3 and is typically found prepackaged at Japanese stores. Into the meat are added sautéed onions, egg, panko breadcrumbs, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg. The mixture is mixed by hand into a gruel-like consistency and formed into patties. The Japanese technique of forming the patties adds a special touch to the meat. The patties are tossed back and forth in the hands, removing air pockets and then indented on the middle to foster even cooking. The patties are also rested in the refrigerator prior to cooking, allowing the slow absorption of flavor from the seasonings.

Pan frying some Hanbāgu!

Once the patties are ready to cook, they are pan fried, instead of grilled, similar to a steak. Red wine or another liquid can be added to the par-cooked patties, and they’re finished covered, having absorbed the liquid for extra flavor.

Traditionally, hanbāgu is served topped with a demi-glace sauce, but a red wine reduction or other savory sauce is also commonly served along with rice and vegetable accompaniments.

Mini Hanbāgu are perfect for bento!

Hanbāgu is such a cultural staple and easy to make using our electric skillets. Try our Mini Hamburger recipe for your bentos, and share your favorite way of enjoying hanbāgu!

Foreign Foods in Japan –
Omuraisu!

Chicken rice. Omelet. Ketchup.

Our Foreign Foods in Japan series keeps getting better and better!

Omuraisu!

This month we’re featuring omuraisu, or Japanese omelet rice. It’s not found on most menus in the United States, but it’s hugely popular among those who love Japanese food. Omuraisu is a combination of rice, cooked with chicken, vegetables or ketchup, covered by a thin omelet and topped with a savory ketchup. The rice often contains chicken, but can be made vegetarian with items like onions, corn, carrots and peas, and is seasoned with garlic, soy sauce, tomato ketchup and salt and pepper. Home cooks often prefer leftover rice for this dish, so it’s a great way to make an entire meal from a few components.

Chicken rice

The omelet used when making omuraisu is usually thinner and softer than a traditional French or American omelet. Beaten eggs are quickly shirred in oil heated in a skillet and folded over, thin and soft. The cooked rice is plated and the omelet laid on top, both covered with thin drizzles of savory ketchup, usually a mix of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.

Omelet

There’s nothing more comforting, unless it’s the delicious variations on omuraisu! Omuhayashi, or omuraisu made with hayashi sauce is deeply satisfying. The base of the dish is the cooked and seasoned rice, the soft, draped omelet and then a cooked sauce made with beef, mushrooms, butter, wine and lots of savory seasonings. The hayashi sauce is poured around the omelet, surrounding it like a moat. Every bite is delicious!

Hayashi raisu

Omusoba marries the best of yakisoba and the soft, tender omelet. Yakisoba is prepared as usual, with noodles and vegetables cooked, then stir-fried in a soy-based sauce. Then, the noodle mixture is topped with the omu-style omelet and drizzled with okonomiyaki sauce and creamy Japanese mayonnaise. (Mouth watering, yet?)

Yakisoba

We have a great recipe for omuraisu on our website. Our special version adds mushrooms to the chicken rice along with other delicious ingredients, and uses rice made in our rice cookers. Check it out and tell us how you like it. Wasn’t it the most delicious thing ever?

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!