Yohshoku in the New York Times (but it's not Hambagoo!!!!!)

The New York Times has an article today about yohshoku_, Japanese-style western food. Long time readers of Just Hungry will know that I've been slowly introducing you all to yohshoku for some years now. Here's the original article where I explained what it is back in 2004, which links to all the _yohshoku style recipes on the site, such as omuraisu (omu rice or rice omelette) and hayashi rice. Unless I missed listing something, the number of recipes is pretty small yet. This is because most yohshoku dishes are pretty high in calories, especially from fat, and in recent times I'm a bit more into rather healthier eating. But I'll try to increase the number, yes yes I will.

A couple of things about the New York Times article: first of all, it isn't hambagoo (which I think most people would pronounce as ham-Ba-GOO....wtf), it would be correctly pronounced hambaagu - though I would dispute their assertion that hambaagaa is reserved for the Golden Arches meat-on-a-bun variety and hambaagu for the Japanese kind. Both terms are used for either kind really. As several readers over the years have pointed out, a Japanese style hamburger is very much like a "hamburger steak" or a Salisbury steak. Given that we do actually have hambaagu for dinner quite often, it shames me that I still haven't put up a recipe. I'll remedy that ASAP.

I'd also dispute the claim that spaghetti for napolitan is cooked and then left for a while. Restaurants may do that but home cooks don't (and I would say good restaurants don't either). The key difference between Japanese style spaghetti and Italian style spaghetti is simply that Japanese people prefer their noodles to be a tad softer than al dente. This is because traditional noodles like udon and soba are a tad on the soft side. Until fairly recently, even so-called Italian restaurants in Japan would cook their pasta a few more minutes beyond the al dente stage to suit their customers.

As I noted in my original article about yohshoku, the main reason why it's become newly popular and hip in recent years is because of nostalgia. Japanese 'gourmet' magazines (food mags that focus on eating out more than cooking, aimed at a mainly male audience) like dancyu and Shokuraku frequently have features about 'Showa retro' yohshoku cooking. This nostalgia is a little like the one for '50s diner food in the U.S., or 'good plain British food' in the UK. (I explained a bit about 'Show retro', a dewy eyed nostalgia for the good old times of the former emperor Hirohito's reign,
on Just Bento recently.)

And for me, a Japanese person who's lived so long outside of Japan, yohshoku still has a special place in my food life. Even if it is damn fattening.

Filed under:  japanese yohshoku

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Hi Maki! Sounds like you are feeling better! Tonight for dinner we had chicken fried steak, and tomorrow night we will use the leftovers katsudon style! It's really good, now that's some yoshoku! :). Anyway, I have a favor to ask. We go to a restaurant that serves a (incredibly fattening) hamburger patty cooked like a karoke (croquette sp?), but it's not just hamburger meat, it has a meatloaf like texture. I haven't been able to duplicate the creamy texture of the meat, so if you have any knowledge of this dish could you share it some time? Thank you, and glad you are back!

I can never think of the best way to romanize ハンバーグ (hamburg? hanbaagu? Japanese style hamburger?), but I certainly wouldn't have gone with hambagoo. Hambagoo sounds like a preschool age super hero or something. Whatis your preferred romanization?

That aside, I am looking forward to your Japanese style hamburger recipe.

I am feeling a lot better, thanks! :)

clover my preferred romaji would be either hambaagaa or hambaagu.

anon, it sounds like you had either menchi-katsu (a deep fried breaded hamburger), or a korokke (croquette) with a lot of ground meat in it. Did it have potato in it?

Hong Kong-style Western Food (although I think that's not even exactly right - more like 'Tea Cafe' food) also serves pasta past al dente. I would actually say soft. Because I grew up eating macaroni that way, it wasn't until very recently that I realised al dente was a lot firmer than I thought.

Would spaghetti and tarako or spaghetti with ume qualify as yohshoku? Most of the dried spaghetti in Japan seems just the same as the stuff you get in Spain, it's short, has no surface texture, and Spaniards don't usually want the 'al dente' bite either. It's sold in the UK too.
(Just to point out that I'm aware that real Italian pasta can also be bought in Tokyo, it's even easier to find, and cheaper, and in a bigger range, than in London.)

Similarly, katsu sando (my husband likes the pork ones and I enjoy Maisen's fried prawn/shrimp sandwiches), are they yohshoku too? And ebi burgers? How about the short lived, but much missed, McDonalds Tofu burger with ginger sauce?

I'll take the article with a pinch of salt though, apart from Dennys there are Royal Hosts, Jonathans, Skylark/Gusto, Bikkuri Donkey, etc. A lot of foreign visitors eat breakfasts at these places, and most people who pay a little bit of attention will see corn pottage as a winter option in the vending machines. Most visitors DO come across yohshoku foods, they just might not recognise them as such. Like the gracious lady on the station platform at Kamakura who served my partner a retro hambaagu he spent the journey back to Tokyo recollecting and drooling over (I had hot yuzucha which came from a tupperware container and tasted home-made...yum!), yohshoku isn't exactly hidden away. Perhaps the article is focusing those who visit as part of an "Experience Japan" organised tour, most of us who visit on a budget and make our own decisions as to where to go and eat are familiar with ebi gratin and curry rice.

Great questions Loretta (and I agree, the article sounds like it's written for one of those 'Japan in 14 days with optional sidetrip to Hong Kong' type of tourists). I think when Japanese people think of yohshoku, it's a specific group of Western-style dishes that first became popular after the Meiji Restoration and became most popular in the post-war Showa era - things like korokke and hambaaagaa and spaghetti napolitan and gratin and hayashi rice...etc. My mother used to have an old cookbook that was published sometime in the late 1950s (I wish I knew who has it now...one of my sisters probably, or maybe it's lost) which had quite a lot of Western-style food, such as steak pudding, homemade corned beef, and a whole lot more, presented all together with hayashi rice and korokke in the 'western food' section, but many of those have just faded away if they were ever popular at all, while a select few have remained.

Of course there are lots of other, more recently invented Japanese-style Western food - 'doria' I think is one, and many others.

Pasta with very Japanese ingredients is not quite yohshoku, though it is Japanese-Western fushion too. It's 'wafuu' (Japanese style) pasta.

But the thing that ties a lot of these foods together (including the shrimp sandwiches maybe though I've never had them so I'm not sure!) is that they are/were mostly served and popularized at kissaten or tea/coffee shops restaurants, which are traditionally run by individuals who are passionate about cooking but don't necessarily have formal training. I believe when Denny's went 'japanese' they more or less went for a kissaten type of menu. ('Family restaurants' also serve this kind of food, but they are more eclectic and kid-friendly.) Interesting that this is similar to what Chinalilly encounters in Hong Kong as 'Tea-Cafe' food, because that's really what it is in Japan too to a great extent.

I haven't quite worked out the parameters of yohshoku, just that they lie somewhere between Shabu shabu and a techno-emotional miso soup sphere. The article you linked to doesn't make it much clearer, but your comments certainly do.
I still can't draw a proper line around the boundaries as you and many other Japanese people understand them, but I think I'm getting closer now. Cheers!

Hi Maki, I've been visiting your site quite a bit but have never posted. My grandma was born and raised in Japan but came over to the United States after WWII (she's been back to visit quite a few times and all of her relatives are still in Sendai). I've always loved Asian food and have used many recipes from your site. The other night I made the hayashi rice because it sounded sooooooo good and I had never tried it before (I must admit that I tend to experiment and somehow ended up throwing small chunks of konyaku in with the hayashi... I don't know, it seems like a good idea at the time). I gave some to my grandma to try, since I had no idea what it was really supposed to taste like and needed her opinion, and she absolutely loved it! I just wanted to say thank you, thank you, thank you for posting all these recipes. You have been able satisfy the cravings from my "Japanese stomach" and help me earn brownie points with grandma! :)

Angie, I'm glad your grandmother liked the hayashi rice so much! That really made my day :)

It sounds like the sort of food the "Curry House" restaurants (Los Angeles and Gardena) serve.

It is very tasty! It is nice to learn the history behind it!