With the illustrious history of Japanese food and culture, Japan is home to a dazzling variety of cuisine and it’s not surprising that many Michelin starred restaurants are concentrated in Tokyo. Even the latefood connoisseur Anthony Bourdain declared,"If I had to eat only in one city for the rest of my life, Tokyo would be it."
History of the Meiji Period (明治時代)
Japanese food has been evolving over the years and to understand the evolution of Japanese cuisine, it's important to revisit the period of Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). With the Edo Era coming to an end, the Emperor Meiji moved from Kyoto to Tokyo to set up the new capital.
Food Culture from the Meiji Period
During the Meiji period, the opening of borders led to modernization of Japan and modification of food culture. This resulted in changes in the Japanese’s diet and popularization of Japanese cuisine that we enjoy now.
The Japanese word for bread “pan” comes from the Portuguese “pão” as the Portuguese traders and missionaries brought bread with them. During the Meiji period, the demand for bread increased and the ubiquitous Japanese anpan (あんパン), sweet buns stuffed with red bean paste called anko (あんこ), was invented.
The mass production of different types of Japanese flour during the rapid industrialization of the Meiji period resulted in the proliferation of bakeries. Other bakery favorites like curry pan (カレーパン)and melonpan (メロンパン) were also added to the confectionery craze.
The energized exchanges between Japan and other countries during the Meiji period gave birth to yoshoku, Japanese food adapted from foreign cuisines. While the Japanese still embraced and respected traditional Japanese food, washoku (和食), they relished in modern Japanese cuisine with western influences.
Japanese curry rice (カレーライス) is a gentle adaption of the British-Indian curries that inspired this hearty dish. Another beloved fusion food, tonkatsu (とんかつ), a breaded and fried pork cutlet has its origin in Europe.
Yoshoku dishes usually have western-sounding names written in katakana. Learn more about some westernized food names here!
Meat was reintroduced into Japanese meals when the ban on eating meat, for both religious and practical purposes, was lifted during the Meiji period. Protein staples like pork and beef started to be featured in many yoshoku dishes.
Sukiyaki (すき焼き), a stew with beef and vegetables, appeared in many restaurants and home kitchens, as affordable, convenient home-cooked food became more common. The rising demand for beef helped to regulate and accelerate the breeding of cattle and the term “Wagyu” was created for premium quality of Japanese beef.
Hope the journey through the Meiji period has inspired you to create innovative Japanese dishes. Start exploring how to create your own Japanese dishes with our Creative Beginnings: Redefining “Wa” Care Package.
About the author:
Wendy writes about her travel experiences to escape from her city life in Singapore. Her content creator’s journey started when she had the opportunity to live and teach in Okinawa and circumvent the world with Peace Boat. A compulsive-obsessive traveler and culture enthusiast, she believes that when we know more, we travel better. Or in true foodie spirit, when we eat more, we travel better.