When you think of Japanese food, what do you normally think of? Maybe sushi and a clear broth soup, or how about sitting at a large table with people you don’t know with a chef that cooks your meal in front of you? Like many other foods from around the world, America has changed and tweaked dishes that are traditionally Japanese to make them fit the American palette and lifestyle.
“Most often a set meal that combines white rice, miso soup, and main ingredients uniquely called side dishes are eaten daily,” says Chef Akinobu Matsuo, Director of Culinary, Marugame Udon. The result of playing with food? Pseudo-Japanese cuisine that’s not actually eaten in Japan. In fact, sushi isn’t eaten in Japan every day. “It’s a misconception that Japanese people eat sushi every day. Japanese people eat sushi for celebrations or as a special event,” says Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi, executive chef, Kata Robata in Houston.
Here are some of the Americanized Japanese foods that no one actually eats, according to Japanese chefs and experts. (Also check out 6 ‘Mexican’ Dishes No One Eats in Mexico.)
This probably isn’t a shock, but California rolls didn’t originate in Japan. The American favorite actually came about in the 1960s at Tokyo Kaikan, a restaurant in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. As the story goes, the chef at the restaurant was looking for a replacement for tuna and used avocado and cooked crab to give the roll seafood flavor without actually using raw fish, which most Americans were not comfortable with yet.
Sweetened Green Tea
Green tea, or matcha, is a trendy ingredient that Americans will add to just about anything thanks to the impressive list of health benefits and the deep grassy flavor. But Japanese people never drink sweetened green tea. According to Matsuo, “Japanese people do not add sugar to green tea. Rather, they prefer bitter tea.”
Another sugar-filled ingredient that’s never found in Japanese pantries is teriyaki sauce. This thick brown sauce is often ladled over chicken, steak, vegetables, and anything else Americans can think of, but in Japan, it’s not used. Matsuo explains that it’s too sweet for the Japanese palette. “In Japan, teriyaki is a term used for the process of roasting chicken or pork, and very seldom includes a sauce.”
In America, hibachi restaurants are a staple in most communities. Diners sit around a flat griddle with other people they do not know, while a chef prepares their meal of steak, shrimp, chicken, vegetables, fried rice, noodles, and other American favorites. But in Japan, the hibachi-style grill is used to make okonomiyaki and monjayaki, which are savory pancake dishes made from wheat flour batter. The two dishes have toppings and other ingredients mixed in like cabbage and sprouts to make a more filling meal.
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Spicy Fish Sushi Rolls
In Japan dishes are made with very little spice. So any sushi rolls that have ingredients like spicy tuna, spicy yellowtail, or spicy crab aren’t served. “There is very little spice in Japan,” says Horiuchi. Instead, Japanese people prefer to eat sushi with just a few ingredients such as seaweed, raw fish, and vinegared rice.
Sushi Sauces and Extra Ingredients
American sushi is often served with a ton of extra ingredients like spicy mayo and eel sauce. In Japan, the sauces are frivolous ingredients that are not added to sushi. Extra toppings like avocado, mango, crunchy bits, and tobiko are also never added in Japan.
Read on for more eye-opening food revelations: