Finally Solved the Mystery of Washoku
Today I heard the news that Kyoto would adopt Washoku, Japanese cuisine, to school lunch. I thought TV people did not have to take the trouble to treat it as a surprising issue in a program. It may sound so strange but this was actually a news, unfortunately. In fact, this policy has been decided and will be fully discussed for a year in Kyoto Prefectural Board of Education.
OMG. Washoku has become absolutely an EN (endangered species) and I really hope that it will NOT be categorized as EW (Extinct in the Wild in the future. I guess there are many people who have this concern like me and that’s why they wanted it to be registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage on the list of UNESCO. While I, being a normal citizen, cannot do anything special but to write as many articles as possible to attract more people not to let Washoku be EW!
Therefore, the result of the survey was very close to that of the adults. (If you want to look at the results of the survey conducted to adults, go back to the previous article “Japan, the Country Where West Meets East and Mixed Up”.)
The chairman of the board commented, to appeal the importance of Washoku, that school lunch played an important role to create the tongue (to train taste buds) of children. I guess meals at home should play an important role as well as school lunch but he didn’t touch on it. Maybe there were some “political” reasons behind…
Anyway, I don’t understand why Yoshoku sometimes makes some people sad. Does Yoshoku do more harm than good?
As you know I am still not able to tell clearly what Washoku is and I would rather in the political stand to say Yoshoku is a part of Washoku. I’m very glad to find the statement that “Yōshoku is Japanese food.” in The Japanese Complete Cookbook published in 1898.
It is easy to say “Spaghetti is Italian cuisine” and there will be no one who makes a counter-argument to it although there will be some Italians who will add “They should be al dente!”. On the other hand, Washoku, Japanese cuisine, is hard to define because it has undergone three significant catalysts in the past.
The first one was in Sengoku period when Roman Catholic missionaries arrived to Japan and introduced their cuisine as well as Christianity. Tempura is the dish which was introduced by a Portuguese missionary. (Please refer to “Tempora, Tempurar, or Tempura?”)
The second one was during Meiji Restoration when Japan was exposed to Western (European) culture, especially French and British. Japan had to be ‘Westernized’ in order to survive in the great powers of the world and Western cuisine, especially “meat eating”, was strongly recommended by the government to increase the size of the body of people. However, people had some hesitation for eating beef and pork before it was reported on the newspapers that Meiji Emperor ate meat. The dish which was invented at that time is Sukiyaki (sliced beef with vegetable slowly cooked in a sweetened soy sauce based sauce in a pot at the table and eaten with beaten raw eggs).
The third one was after the World War II. The American culture was adopted to Japan and many ingredients were imported from USA. The food made with the American ingredients, especially wheat flour, was strongly recommended. At that time bread and milk were started to be served for school lunch.
During Meiji period when there were not enough imported food in Japan yet, it was difficult to cook Western cuisine. Many alternative ingredients were used, some modifications were made to suit the taste of the Japanese, and also there were some misunderstanding. And finally the Japanese original Yoshoku (Japanized Western cuisine) was created by Japanese cooks.
Yoshoku used to be a luxurious meal and only the rich or the foreign people who was staying in Japan could afford. But it became very popular even among normal citizens with a newly created word “Wayosecchu”, a compromise between Japan and West (和洋折衷) and in 1897 there were more than 1500 Yoshoku restaurants in Tokyo.
My family usually went to Kamiya to have Yoshoku dinner on a special occasion when I was a child. My favorite Yoshoku were (and still are) Beef stew (ビーフシチュー), Korokke (コロッケ), Fried prawn (エビフライ), Omurice (オムライス) and Hamburg. And now I’ve found that Fried oyster (kaki fry) (カキフライ) was invented in Japan and was one of Yoshoku!
When some people define Washoku, they usually use the word “tradition”. How many years do you think are needed to be called “tradition”? If Sukiyaki can be defined as Washoku, about 140 years are needed. But soon after Sukiyaki was invented other Yoshoku dishes were invented. So the oldness, (can I call it vintage?) may have nothing to do with the tradition. In that case, the difference between Sukiyaki and other Yoshoku dishes would be the ingredients. Soy sauce is used for Sukiyaki but for others not. So, my conclusion is that Washoku is the dishes which soy sauce is used for seasoning!
Restaurant Information of KAMIYA
Kamiya was established in 1926 in Taisho period. You can have an authentic Yoshoku in an elegant atmosphere. The price is not so low but I’m sure that you will not regret.
(Budget) lunch 3000 yen, dinner 5000 yen
Address: 3-18-18 Negishi, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: 10 minutes walk from Iriya station of Hibiya line (Tokyo Metro) or Uguisudani station of JR
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