Did you know Japanese cuisine isn’t specifically limited to traditional dishes like sushi or ramen. Japanese culture and food are both influenced highly by multiple countries, making Japan an EXTREMELY innovative nation! Japan has taken inspiration from various foreign cuisines making its own unique cuisine: Japanese food fusion!
Traditional Japanese food vs Fusion Japanese food
Traditional Japanese food is so delicious and diverse, you can probably go on for weeks just visiting new restaurants and sampling different types of Japanese food. But, if you feel like trying something a little modern and different (yet equally amazing), get ready for our list of Japanese fusion dishes!
Japan didn’t open up their borders until just a couple of hundred years ago in 1853, which is when Western influence seeped into Japanese culture. Since then, Japan has adapted and put their own spin on other cuisines. In fact, many traditional Japanese dishes are actually adaptations of dishes from other countries. For example, ramen is adapted from China, and sushi is adapted from Korea. Japan is amazing at taking something and then creating something new and fresh from it.
Recently, more Japanese fusion dishes have been popping up: Western dishes with a Japanese twist. This is done in the spirit of innovation but also to create a taste that is more suitable/appealing to Westerners’ tastes. As a result, some traditional Japanese dishes have been modified, ushering in a hybrid of Western-Japanese fusion dishes. Some of them might sound weird, even a bit disgusting, but we assure you, they are definitely worth trying!
What is Japanese Fusion food?
Basically, food fusion is the infusion of elements of traditional dishes from a variety of foreign cuisines. Food fusion can also refer to the combination of different types of cooking and be presented in a mixture of forms. Fusion dishes can also be based on one particular culture but prepared with the ingredients and combination of flavours linked with another culture. The purpose of fusion food is to provide diners with unique and imaginative dishes that offer new flavours and culinary experiences. Fusion food has become so popular over recent years that it has even been recognised as a national cuisine in itself. Japanese fusion cuisine combines the type of dishes often found in Western countries like steak, hamburger and omelettes with only Japanese ingredients. This technique not only adds a Japanese twist on the original dish but it also alters the flavours to suit the Japanese people’s taste palates.
Types of Japanese Fusion Dishes
In Japanese fusion cuisine, there are different types. Japanese fused with French, American, Indian, Mexican and whatever else not. Now, let’s take a look at the several types of Fusion cuisines in Japan!
Wafu, the Japanese style
What is meant by the term “Wafu”? It simply is defined as ‘Japanese Style’. Ever since the Japanese have been exposed to western culture, they have been more and more inventive. This has led them to add variations in their Japanese style food.
Yoshoku is a term that refers to the Western-style dishes. During the Meiji restoration, in Japan there was a high demand for modernisation. This began a policy of active importation of Western Food culture. The Meiji Restoration was a set of structural reforms aiming to Westernise every institution from state systems, industries, and military, to education and culture. The adoption of Western food cuisine was also triggered after the reforms. Yoshoku is often written in katakana as it features Western dishes. Even though they may look slightly familiar, the flavour however is a completely different story. An example can be omurice; by observing it looks like an ordinary omelette with sauce topped on top, but in actuality it has stir-fried rice in the middle!
The Japanese- French culinary affair is extensive and an intimate relationship. Japanese chefs travelling to study in France during the 1960s have brought back tonnes of flavours, techniques and styles of cooking. Implementing the traditions and cultures of French cuisine into Japanese food has created a fusion of Japanese-French. A couple of notable Japanese-French fusion dishes here in Japan include the croquette — which is a ball covered in breadcrumbs and filled with vegetables, fish or meat — and the foie gras — a staple dish of the French made from the liver of a goose or duck. However, they all are adjusted to the liking of the Japanese here by using sources from Japan.
Pastas and pizzas can be found all around Japan but they are not the types you will find in Italy or anywhere else globally. When super mario (Italian plumber character) was introduced to Japan, it became a significant icon in Japanese culture at a time when other aspects of Italian culture were taking root, especially cuisine. Italian food is extremely popular in Japan, to the extent that important ingredients from Italy are available now. The Japanese being immensely creative and inventive have introduced Italian inspired dishes like the “naporitan” and doria, which is more like a French gratin than it is an Italian dish. The naporitan is the Japanese take on the spaghetti bolognese, while the doria is a stir-fried dish consisting of rice, ketchup and cooked meat or seafood, topped with layers of cheese and white sauce. High-class Japanese chefs have preserved many Italian seafood dishes that are forgotten in other countries. These include pasta with prawns, lobster (a specialty known in Italy as pasta all’aragosta), crab (an Italian specialty; in Japan it is served with a different species of crab), and pasta with sea urchin sauce (sea urchin pasta being a specialty of the Puglia region).
Mexican cuisine was introduced in the 1980s, a while later after the majority of the other foreign cuisines were. Taco rice — a Japanese-style Mexican dish that started in Okinawa to cater to the U.S. military — bloomed significantly and that’s when the Japanese showed interest in the Mexican dishes like tacos and burritos. Clearly, the Mexican flavours oppose Japanese flavours, So don’t expect Mexican restaurants in Japan to cater to your spicy taste buds, they’re pretty much wafu-style. The popular Mexican sushi roll is finding its way into many sushi restaurants around the world.The roll usually contains a tempura shrimp and some type of salsa or spicy sauce. Tomatoes, avocado and nopales are also sometimes added.
Japanese Chinese cuisine or Chūka is a style of Japanese cuisine served by Chinese restaurants popularised in Japan in the late 19th century and more recent times. There is much confusion as both Japanese and Chinese reject that this food is the pure form of their own cuisine, however, it is clear this food is found primarily in Japan. The Shippoku style of cooking displays heavy influence from Chinese cuisine. Chinese influence is the biggest in Japan’s food fusion culture. The most popular Japanese-Chinese fusion dish that we know of and love is none other than the ramen; ramen originated from China however over decades and centuries, the Japanese have combined their own style of cooking and flavours which has made a unique version of Japanese ramen. Gyoza is also a Chinese dish that the Japanese reinvented with their own individual style. In Japan, you can get all forms of Japanese-Chinese gyoza, from boiled to deep-fried. Japanese-style Chinese cuisine is now commonly available all over Japan. As Japanese restaurants are often specialised to offer only one sort of dish, cuisine is focused primarily on dishes found within three distinct types of restaurants: Ramen restaurants, Dim sum houses, and standard Chinese-style restaurants.
Japanese curries have all been inspired by Indian cuisine also known as Desi cuisine. Indian cooking was introduced to the Japanese in the late 1800s. Different from the spicy and hot Indian curries, Japanese curries have their own style and taste. The Japanese usually prefer sweet over spicy, which makes Japanese curries sweet. Sweet curry or omelette curry, no cuisine is quite like the Japanese- Indian fusion. A popular, delicious dish is the classic Japanese Chicken curry, Tender pieces of chicken, carrots, and potatoes cooked in a rich savory curry sauce, this Japanese version of curry is a must-keep for your family meal.
The word, ‘Nikkei’ is used to describe people of Japanese descent who live as immigrants in a foreign country; however nowadays the word ‘Nikkei’ is usually referred to a fusion cuisine. The Japanese- Peruvian cuisine. In 1899, when the first group of immigrants migrated to Peru, they started to adjust in and adopt the Peruvian culture quite quickly. These Japanese- Peruvians, slowly started to establish small community business, salons, shops as well as restaurants (of course). Nikkei cuisine is a combination of distinct techniques and flavours of Peru and Japan. Seafood is a major way in which this fusion works out. Peruvian ingredients such as lime, corn, chili, cassava and potatoes went into forming the core of Nikkei. Chefs and experts now note how well both the cultures blend in together creating a FANTASTIC food fusion. The chili-soy flavor combination appears to be a perfect match. In this period of time, Nikkei cuisine is slowly becoming recognised for the powerhouse that it is. Ceviche is often considered Peru’s favorite dish. When it comes to the Nikkei approach to ceviche, lime is added only for a few minutes on the fish before serving, keeping it from “overcooking.” Additionally, ginger is added to provide additional flavor as well as soy sauce.
Japanese fusion dishes
I’m sure you’ve seen videos of a perfect omelette laid over rice. Well, that is omurice (derived from the Japanese pronunciation of omelette (omuretto) and rice (raisu)). The rice is usually tomato rice or fried rice, mixed with various ingredients. But, the real challenge of this dish is the omelette: it has to be cooked for just the right amount of time, with the right amount of stirring while it’s in the pan to get its fluffy, runny texture.
Omurice is said to have originated in a Western-styled restaurant in Ginza, in the year 1900. While the original omurice (omelette over tomato rice) is delicious, there are other options now as well. In some restaurants, you could have omurice with curry, or with tempura, or even an omu-lasgane. If you like omelettes, especially fluffy ones, then you definitely won’t be disappointed.
2. Japanese pasta
Japanese chefs can be very creative with their pasta and there is a wide range of Japanese-style pasta for you to choose from. As mentioned in this list of every Japanese food you must try, natto is one of the healthiest foods in the world, and it’s also one of the most unique and interesting Japanese-style pastas.
Seafood is also used a lot in Japanese-style pasta, such as tarako (cod roe), squid, ikura (salmon roe), and all kinds of seaweed. These pasta choices might sound weird, but they are extremely delicious.
3. Japanese pizza
Although you can get your typical types of pizzas in Japan, some shops and restaurants add a twist to their pizzas. From teriyaki chicken pizza to seafood pizzas, there’s a wide range of odd pizzas in Japan (And, yes, there is also the famous Japanese corn pizza).
Japanese pizzas usually have very thin crusts, but they also have the classic stuffed crust. And, though it’s bizarre, you can even have dessert pizza! Chocolate pizza, apple custard pizza, pizza with ice cream… It might not be authentically Japanese, but they are definitely interesting!
4. Japanese desserts
Japanese people love their sweets and it is not surprising to see Japanese fusion dessert dishes everywhere. The Japanese crepe is probably the most famous. You can’t say you’ve been to Harajuku if you don’t try a crepe from one of their many crepe stores.
Japanese crepe is very different from the original European kind. In Japan, you can get the simple crepes, such as sugar or chocolate crepes, but you can also go wild: crepes with brownies and a mountain of whipped cream; crepes with red beans and green tea ice cream (and again, with a mountain of whipped cream); crepes with cookies and sliced bananas. Other desserts that are popular in Japan are custard puddings, cakes (especially Mont Blanc) and more.
5. Taco rice
This is one of the signature Japanese food dishes in Okinawa, an island prefecture in the south of Japan. Since Okinawa has the biggest U.S. military bases outside of the U.S., it’s been largely influenced by American cuisine, and several Okinawan dishes have been tweaked to suit American tastes.
Taco rice has basically the same ingredients as the usual taco: taco-flavoured minced meat, shredded lettuce, tomato and cheese. It has everything but the taco. Instead of taco, you get rice. It is a delicious dish that is perfect for the hot weather as it is usually served cool, like a salad.
6. Hamburg steak
Hamburger steak (pronounced hambāgu sutēki) is a Japanese take on the Salisbury steak from Germany. It is a patty made with minced meat and is usually a main dish, not a side dish. You can get it usually in family restaurants, or in steak restaurants as a more affordable alternative.
Hamburg steak is usually served with a side of vegetables, as well as toppings such as tomato, cheese, avocado and more. All kinds of sauces can accompany the hamburg steak, from gravy to onion sauce, tomato sauce, demi-glace sauce… Hamburg steak is also commonly eaten with rice and it’s a popular meat bento.
Where do we even begin? We’d have to go all the way back to the 1600s, when a Chinese scholar brought it from China to Japan. Japanese people even referred to gyōza with its Chinese name (jiaozi) up until 1868. Since then, Japan has switched up the recipe, ingredients and sauces, and different versions have been invented..
Boiled, grilled, pan-fried, deep-fried, you can get gyōza in all sorts of ways in Japan. In recent years, some restaurants have gone a step further and added even more foreign twists to gyoza by creating coriander gyoza, chilli gyoza, basil sauce gyoza and more.
As mentioned at the beginning of the blog, ramen originated from China. Combined with Japanese styles of cooking, you have what is now the Japanese version of ramen in Japan. However, did you know that this amazing Japanese food can be mixed with all kinds of foreign influences? One famous Japanese fusion ramen dish is cheese ramen. It might sound weird but trust me, it is extremely addictive.
There is also ramen with tomato and onion broth, squid ink ramen, tom-yum ramen, curry ramen, ramen with basil-based broth and more. There are new ramen places popping up all the time and, if you haven’t already, check out our blog post on “Every single kind of ramen in Japan“.
9. Japanese curry
Since it was introduced in the late 1800s, Japanese curry has become one of the most popular meal choices in Japan, both at home and in restaurants. Japanese curry tends to have fewer spices as compared to South East Asian curries. Onions, carrots and potatoes are usually used in Japanese curries, along with chicken, beef or pork.
Omelette curry is also an option that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. Though usually served with rice, you can also get curry udon and curry bread!
Buns are originally from China and although you can get authentic Chinese buns in Japan, you can also get Japanese fusion buns such as pizza buns, curry buns, tom yum buns, black sesame buns, gyoza buns and lots and lots more seasonal options here in Japan. These Japanese fusion buns are unique and you can usually get these buns from convenience stores at a very affordable price (some are just USD$2). Just go up to the counter, look for the hot-food section and voila. Try each one out!
11. Western sushi
This doesn’t really come as a shock but, to accommodate foreigners’ tastes, many Japanese fusion sushi dish have been added to restaurants’ menus. You can get cheeseburger sushi, tempura sushi (although both Japanese, tempura was rarely, if ever, eaten on sushi), sushi with canned tuna mayonnaise and so on.
These were just a few of the Japanese food fusions that we introduced you to, the list of more fusion cuisine goes on and on! So, if you visit Japan for the first time or even if you’re a regular visitor, traditional Japanese food isn’t the only food you should try. Take your taste buds to an adventure and explore the art of unique Japanese- fusion cuisines.
Japanese food is amazing and if you want to try something different, give one of these dishes a shot! Many foreigners visit Japan and, as a result, Japan has created many different versions of foreign cuisines. We’ve listed only a handful; there’s much more to be found and tried in Japan. Most if not all of them are delicious, and they are definitely unique, so keep an eye out for them and try them when you get the chance to!