- 1. The history of Yoshoku
- 2. Yoshoku dishes
- 2-1. Curry rice カレーライス
- 2-2. Om-rice オムライス
- 2-3. Korokké コロッケ
- 2-4. Hamburg ハンバーグ
- 2-5. Hayashi rice ハヤシライス
- 2-6. Napolitan ナポリタン
- 2-7. Doria ドリア
- 2-8. Okosama lunch お子様ランチ
- 3. Japanese-turned Yoshoku dishes
- 3-1. Tempura 天ぷら
- 3-2. Tonkatsu とんかつ
- 3-3. Ebi fry エビフライ
- 3-4. Curry udon カレーうどん
- 4. Restaurants serving excellent Yoshoku in Tokyo
- 4-1. Where to have Curry rice
- Curry House CoCo-Ichibanya
- Bistro Kirakutei
- 4-2. Where to have Om-rice
- Tamago to Watashi
- 4-3. Where to have Hamburg
- Tsubame Grill
- Grill K
- 4-4. Where to have Tempura
- Tempura Dining ITOI
- 4-5. Where to have Tonkatsu
- Shinjuku Saboten
- 4-6. Where to have Curry udon
- Shusaisoba Shodai
Yoshoku is a branch of Japanese cuisine that resembles Western influence but has developed into a unique cooking style of its own.
Oil, beef, pork and other ingredients that are traditionally not part of the Japanese cooking vocabulary are used, seasoned with salt, pepper, consommé and other condiments and flavors which are again not part of the traditional Japanese repertoire.
Here, let me explain how Yoshoku came about, give you a taste of all the Yoshoku dishes there are to taste, and introduce the best restaurants you can enjoy the most authentic Yoshoku in Tokyo.
1. The history of Yoshoku
Yoshoku has a history of around 150 years. Until the 1850s, Japan had been closed to other countries due to government policy for about 200 years and therefore foreign influence was extremely limited.
After Japan openned up to trade with America, England, France and Russia, numerous Western-style restaurants and hotels started business at ports of Yokohama, Hakodate, Niigata and Nagasaki. However Western dishes served at these first Western-style eateries were not affordable for ordinary people in Japan – it cost like $250 per meal in today’s prices. This was around the 1870s.
When foreign visitors were invited to eat at the emperor’s palace at this time, French cuisine was served at banquets. So lessons on Western table manners were held for the emperor’s family, mainly focusing on learning how to use a fork and a knife. You can imagine how alien Western food must have been for ordinary people.
Because the Western world was far more developed than Japan at this time, anything of Western origin was considered cutting edge. So eating Western-style dishes was like a symbol of sophistication.
For a while, Western dishes were cooked and eaten in their authentic forms, but as the general public started to make Western dishes at home, they were adapted to better meet Japanese people’s preferences.
The French côtelette, omlette and croquette, and the Anglo-Indian curry started to be served with rice, Japanese condiments were used to season them, and they each acquired a Japanese name, respectively:
- Katsuletsu カツレツ
- Om-rice オムライス
- Korokké コロッケ
- Curry rice カレーライス
This fusion between rice and Western dishes came to be called Yoshoku 洋食. It is typically eaten with a fork and a knife and the decor of Yoshoku restaurants resemble European interior design.
But there are some dishes of Western origin that fused so well with the Japanese eating style that they are eaten with chopsticks and the restaurants that serve them go with Japanese interior design. Such dishes include Tonkatsu とんかつ, Katsudon カツ丼 and Chicken namban チキン南蛮.
There is a record stating that there were 42 Yoshoku restaurants out of a total of 251 restaurants in Tokyo in 1902. In 2004, there were around 18,000 Yoshoku places out of a total of 258,901 restaurants in Tokyo. Since it’s first introduction, Yoshoku has kept a significant position in Japanese people’s diets.
2. Yoshoku dishes
Here are some common Western-style Japanese dishes you should try eaten if you haven’t yet.
2-1. Curry rice カレーライス
Inspired by Indian cuisine, the English invented curry powder, which was brought into Japan through trade. The English and American missionaries brought cooking books with recipes for “curry and rice” around the 1860s, so from the eyes of the Japanese back then, curry was thought to be of Western origin.
Among the Japanese, curry and rice was called “rice curry” first and through evolution in its own right, it eventually came to be called “curry rice.”
Curry sauce (which tends to be thicker than authentic Indian curry supposedly because the English navy made it so to prevent it from spilling while their ships rocked) is cooked often with diced potatoes, carrots and meat, and sliced onion.
Restaurants and household cooking enthusiasts let the curry they cooked sit for a night so that the umami of the ingredients will seep and mix with the sauce, creating an even richer flavor.
Like horse radish comes with roast beef, pickled white radish called Fukujin-zuké 福神漬け (it will typically look brown because it’s pickled in soy sauce) often comes with curry rice. This can be replaced with some other type of pickle, but anyway the sweet-and-sour taste and crunchiness adds a nice little accent to your curry.
Curry rice is made at home quite frequently because everyone (especially kids and men) love it.
2-2. Om-rice オムライス
The French omelet fused with rice and chicken stir-fried with ketchup, and became Om-rice. There are many variants both in taste and looks, but by hearing the word Om-rice, most people would envision ketchup-rice covered over with a thin layer of egg, which is topped with ketchup or demi glace sauce.
Because it’s easy to make and is another absolute favorite among children, Om-rice is often cooked at home.
2-3. Korokké コロッケ
The Western croquette was introduced to Japan most likely after the 1870s when Japan was making an effort to learn from advanced Western civilizations and find ways to imitate and adopt Western culture into life in Japan. When Japanese people back then tried to imitate the Western visitors when they pronounced the word “croquette,” it became “Korokké” and that is what it’s called today.
While the French croquette is made by cooking breaded white-sauce-based ingredients in an oven, the Japanese Korroké is made by deep-frying breaded mashed potatoes, onion and minced beef. It’s crisp on the outside and soft in the inside.
There are quite many variants as you can bread and deep-fry whatever combination of ingredients that would probably work. Here is a list of the most common ones:
Breaded minced beef and onion
|Cheese iri menchi katsu||チーズ入りメンチカツ
Menchi katsu with cheese in the center
|Kani Cream Korokké||カニクリームコロッケ
Breaded white sauce with crab meat
The basic Korokké but using mashed pumpkin instead of mashed potatoes
Breaded mashed potato and curry
Breaded white-sauce macaroni usually with shrimp
These are extremely popular as a side dish or snack and there is literally no supermarket that does not sell Korrokés. Local butchers also tend to sell it as a snack and it’s a real treat when you eat one that’s just made.
2-4. Hamburg ハンバーグ
“Where are the buns?” you may ask. As with most other Yoshoku dishes, Hamburg is made to go well with rice. Having a bun and rice is just too many carbs.
The official name is “Hamburg steak,” but “Hamburg” for short. It’s assumed that the dish originated in the port city of Hamburg, Germany, traveled to America with the German immigrants, and eventually came to Japan after the country opened up for international trade in the 1850s. The dish became a household favorite in the 1960s when ready-to-be-cooked hamburg patties began to be sold.
Being another extremely popular dish among kids, it is very commonly cooked at home. It often comes with boiled or grilled vegetables and it’s seasoned with one of the following sauces:
- Tomato sauce
- Demi glace
- White sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Wafu oroshi 和風おろし – A light soy-sauce based sauce with shredded radish
2-5. Hayashi rice ハヤシライス
Hayashi rice is basically rice topped with beef and onion (and sometimes mushrooms) which were simmered in demi glace sauce. The rice can be white rice or butter rice.
How it came about in the Japanese cooking repertoire is unclear, but because “Hayashi” is a common family name in Japan, many Japanese would think that a Mr. or Ms. Hayashi invented the dish once upon a time. The most likely theory is that the English “hashed beef with rice” eventually got abbreviated and modified and became Hayashi rice.
2-6. Napolitan ナポリタン
Stir-fry some boiled pasta, onion, ham and green pepper with ketchup, and you get a Napolitan. For some reason, the pasta used for Napolitan is not supposed to be cooked al dente. It’s supposed to have no firmness. That’s how it has always been served since World War II ended.
There is no spaghetti cooked with ketchup in Italy, but because Napoli was a city famous for tomato farming, perhaps spaghetti cooked with tomato sauce was called Napolitan. You can have Napolitan at many casual restaurants nowadays.
2-7. Doria ドリア
It is said that the Swiss master chef Saly Weil of Hotel New Grand in Yokohama city made the first Doria in the 1930s.
The story goes that a Swiss guest was under the weather and requested a dish that would be soothing for his throat. Wiley put rice in a pan and put shrimp cooked with white sauce and parmesan cheese on top, then cooked it in an oven. The guest asked what the dish was called, and Wiley quickly took the name from the famous and wealthy Doria family of Italy.
Doria can be eaten at many casual restaurants in Japan.
2-8. Okosama lunch お子様ランチ
It can take time for children to appreciate some purely Japanese dishes, but as you may have guessed, children love Yoshoku. Yoshoku dishes taste like how they look and there is no acquired taste to acquire.
So some casual Yoshoku restaurants serve Okosama lunch (literally meaning “lunch for children”) which is a combination plate of a little bit of everything – hamburg, om-rice, french fries, sausages, napolitan, etc. Typically, it even comes with a small toy. And by the way, you can order it for dinner, too.
It is said that Okosama lunch was invented in 1930, during the Great Depression. Japan was hit hard by the recession, and the head chef of a department store called Mitsukoshi (located still now in the central area of Tokyo) wanted to create something that would delight children.
Other neighboring department stores in the area followed suit, and one of them called Matsuzakaya tried giving out an action figure for each order of Okosama lunch. This resulted in a great hit.
Oftentimes, there is an age limit to ordering Okosama lunch, so don’t expect much if you look like a big bald 40-year old.
3. Japanese-turned Yoshoku dishes
Dogs and foxes share ancestors, but through evolution they came to look and behave so differently that they were eventually considered to be different species.
Same goes for some Japanese dishes. Particular dishes with Western influence blended with Japanese food culture so well that Japanese people ate them with chopsticks, and considered them to be Japanese food.
3-1. Tempura 天ぷら
The origin of Tempura is most likely Portugal. Guns were brought into Japan from the West in the 16th century, and along came the recipe for Tempura. However oil, which is used to deep-fry vegetables and fish, was expensive and Tempura had been considered gourmet for the rich for the longest time.
By late 18th century, Tempura had evolved into its current form and was sold at street vendors, targeting ordinary people (frying indoors was prohibited back then, in an effort to prevent fire). Because of its past of being sold in the streets, Tempura is not served in formal Japanese-style restaurants. It is instead served at restaurants specialized in it.
There are quite a few types of ingredients that are fried: shrimp, fish, asparagus, sweet potato, onion, carrot, shitake mushroom, pumpkin, eggplant, etc. There are both cheap and casual fast-food Tempura eateries and luxury, quiet restaurants.
3-2. Tonkatsu とんかつ
“Ton” refers to pork and “katsu” refers to cutlet. Tonkatsu was a Japanese invention inspired by French cuisine.
Cutlets came into Japan as the French côtelette somewhere around the 1870s to 1910s, and at the time, the term referred to sautéed veal, but in 1899, a Yoshoku restaurant called Renga-tei 煉瓦亭 (which is still in business now) started serving a dish called “pork cutlet.”
Instead of being sautéed, pork slices were deep-fried, and served with cut lettuce, miso soup and rice. The meal has since been eaten with chopsticks.
There is no flavor other that of the pork itself, so Tonkatsu is dipped in sauce, mustard or salt before it is eaten. The crisp breading heightens your appetite and helps you chug down more rice.
A popular dish that is closely related to Tonkatsu is Katsudon カツ丼, which is basically a bowl of rice topped with Tonkatsu and sliced onions boiled in sauce and egg. Also in the past two decades, Gyukatsu 牛カツ, a beef version of Tonkatsu, made its appearance and is gradually getting popular.
3-3. Ebi fry エビフライ
Ebi fries, which are basically Japanese shrimp flitters, look quite similar to shrimp tempura, but they taste pretty different. While the shrimp is not flavored and is deep-fried with just egg and flour for shrimp tempura, when you make Ebi fry, the shrimp is flavored, plus you’d put on bread crumbs on top of egg and flour before it’s deep-fried.
Whereas you dip tempura in a light soy-sauce-based sauce called Tentsuyu 天つゆ, you typically pour tartar sauce onto Ebi fry.
It’s assumed that Ebi fry made its first appearance in the early 20th century, and it has been popular especially to children ever since.
Another popular flitter called Kaki fry カキフライis deep-fried oyster instead of a shrimp.
3-4. Curry udon カレーうどん
In Japan, household cooking is very common, and choosing to cook curry rice is also very common. Because one would cook a big pan full of curry at a time, there is almost always leftover curry and it could last another 2 or 3 meals.
But having curry rice for 3 consecutive meals is mild torture. Because there are so many choices of cuisines especially in metropolitan Japan, sticking to the same taste for days deprives happiness quickly. So leftover curry is often reformed into soup by adding Japanese condiments and water, and finally udon, thick Japanese noodles, is thrown into the soup to make Curry udon.
It is said that a soba restaurant called Sanchou-an 三朝庵 invented Curry udon in 1904. Unfortunately due to aging of its employees, Sanchou-an closed in 2018, after being in business for 112 years.
Now, Curry udon can typically be eaten at any soba restaurant, and it may be named Curry namban カレー南蛮 alternatively.
4. Restaurants serving excellent Yoshoku in Tokyo
Here, let me suggest two types of restaurants for some of the most popular Yoshoku dishes:
- A casual chain restaurant you can find almost anywhere in Tokyo
- A restaurant I personally recommend for those who wish to have quality Yoshoku for a reasonable price
I’m sure these recommendations will give you a good idea of why each dish has been eaten for decades in Japan.
4-1. Where to have Curry rice
Curry House CoCo-Ichibanya
Called “CoCo-Ichi” for short, this is an affordable franchise mega chain that serves its signature curry rice with a choice of dozens of toppings.
They have over 180 stores just in Tokyo, over 1,200 in Japan, and 150 outside Japan, in countries such as the US, Thailand, Philippines, Hina, HK, Singapore and Malaysia.
The price of a plate of curry will be under 1,000 yen.
Bistro Kirakutei is located in a residential area one train stop away from Shibuya on the Den-en-toshi Line. It serves its signature curry rice with a variety of toppings. At the end of the meal, I always end up telling myself “That was a good meal.”
I personally recommend their Hamburg Curry. One knife stab into the juicy meat and its juice will start flowing out like a river and the flowing will not stop literally for about a minute.
Kirakutei is also famous for its Curry bread, which is basically their curry stuffed in deep-fried breading. A satisfying snack to take home with you.
The price of a plate of curry here will be under 2,000 yen.
4-2. Where to have Om-rice
Tamago to Watashi
A small chain specializing in Om-rice with 9 restaurants in Tokyo, serving Om-rice with a wide variety of sauces: ketchup, demi glace, tomato sauce, cheese cream, beef stew, white sauce.
The price of a plate of om-rice will be around 1,000 yen.
Taimeiken has been in business since 1931, and its signature Om-rice called “Tampopo Om-rice” has been featured on TV quite many times and therefore it is well-known among citizens of Tokyo.
The restaurant has two floors. The first floor is more casual and you’d order just one plate and maybe a drink. The second floor serves the same dishes but they taste very much like a seat upgrade on a flight. You can also enjoy a full course.
You should expect to pay around 2,000 yen for a plate of Om-rice on the first floor, and around 3,000 yen on the second floor.
4-3. Where to have Hamburg
Tsubame Grill is a German-themed Hamburg specialty restaurant chain with 20 locations in Tokyo. They’ve been around since the 1930s and therefore its brand is a familiar name for many.
Their most popular hamburg is the Tsubame hamburg steak, which comes in steaming-hot beef stew wrapped in foil.
The price of the Tsubame hamburg steak is around 1,300 yen.
The supposed owner-chef of this hamburg specialty restaurant, Mr. K, humbly admits that because he is not the greatest chef in the world, he has focused all his years cooking into meat. Commentators online unanimously agree that this hamburg tastes worlds different from the average hamburg.
The restaurant only has 8 seats, and therefore it’ll be difficult to get seated at peak times. Also, no children are allowed here because there are limited seats.
Prices of hamburgers range from 1,300 yen to 2,500 yen depending on how big you want your hamburger to be.
4-4. Where to have Tempura
Tenya is a casual tempura specialty restaurant chain with over 90 stores in Tokyo. They serve tempura in fast-food style, and what’s special about them is that they train their employees in using the English language to provide their service to foreign guests. You can expect to have almost no problem ordering and getting what you need/want without speaking a word of Japanese.
Tenya is super affordable, and the bill for a single person will typically not go over 1,000 yen. There’s one located inside Haneda Airport, so if you’re interested, try it out.
Tempura Dining ITOI
Restaurants specialized in serving quality tempura tend to be very formal and overly expensive, but this little place lets you have gourmet tempura for around 3,000 to 4,000 yen.
It looks and feels more like a cafe. Recommended for a nice and quiet date.
4-5. Where to have Tonkatsu
Shinjuku Saboten is one of several Tonkatsu restaurant chains that have presence in Tokyo, with around 10 restaurants. They also have a bunch of take-away shops.
Shinjuku Saboten comes up with creative products such as Tonkatsu with melted cheese inside and Tonkatsu eaten with pink salt. A typical meal will be around 1,200 yen to 1,800 yen.
Tonta consistently ranks in the national top 5 Tonkatsu restaurants on the most widely-used restaurant information website in Japan. Their Tonkatsu tastes satisfying yet delicate.
Because it’s a restaurant everyone wants to eat at and it’s open only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (it’s only open for dinner on Saturdays), you should always expect a long cue.
A meal will cost between 1,500 – 2500 yen.
4-6. Where to have Curry udon
Senkichi is a Curry udon specialty restaurant chain with 11 shops in Tokyo. At first glance, you’ll agree that their curry soup looks creamy and very appetizing, and it tastes as great as it seems.
As their restaurants are typically spacious, you can almost always get seated without waiting.
You can get a basic Curry udon for 700 yen, and add toppings like tempura, cheese and fried rice cakes for an additional fee. I personally recommend topping it with fried rice cakes.
If Curry udon is something you love and you want to try a little variety, Shusaisoba Shodai is the place to go. They serve curry udon that’s not only tasty but colored white. The white comes from foamed mashed potatoes and white sauce.
Shusaisoba Shodai is a soba restaurant and does not specialize in Curry udon, by the way.
A meal will cost around 1,500 – 3,000 yen.
Hopefully the information above will get you intrigued in the world of Yoshoku. Enjoy!