In the Western world, canned food often gets a bad reputation for being more unhealthy than its less preserved counterpart. However, in Japan, canned food is cheap, long-lasting, and convenient for those who live alone. Furthermore, it's useful to keep on hand for emergencies. Since canned foods vary dramatically around the world, let's take a look at the unique varieties of canned food we find in Japan.
Fish and seafood
One of the most common canned items in Japan is fish. You’ll find plenty of options like tuna, salmon, and mackerel, along with many other options of seafood. Unlike its Western counterparts, you can find fish canned in liquids other than water and oil, like miso or soy sauce. Canned fish cooked kabayaki style is also quite common. Common canned seafood you might also find is squid, oysters, and even sea urchin which can also be popular choices for otsumami, small side dishes often served at traditional izakayas.
Fruit and sweets
As fresh fruit can be quite expensive in Japan, canned fruits are also common. Not only can you find your usual fare of mandarin oranges, peaches, and fruit medley, there are also variations such as mango, lychee, and pineapple. You can also get mitsumame in a can, which is an old-school Japanese treat made of fruit, red beans, and cubes of agar jelly.
Otsumami and novelty items
Many dishes that are considered otsumami also come in canned form such as yakitori, tsukune (chicken meatballs), quail eggs, and more. Canned yakitori comes in a variety of flavors including soy sauce, yuzu pepper, salt, and garlic pepper. These cans are sometimes packaged in cool bar-themed designs. Novelty items that often surprise visitors to Japan include canned soup that is dispensed from hot vending machines, tinned bread, and even canned oden (fish cake stew).
Unlike the Western world, full dishes like niku jaga, curries of different cultures, and even gyudon (beef over rice) can be found in canned form. Canned gyudon is sold at the popular franchise Yoshinoya. Though the can contains a smaller serving of gyudon than the typical restaurant portion, it’s perfect for those who want to enjoy the taste of Yoshinoya without having to go out.
About the author:
Samantha is currently a 5th-year JET in Okinawa, originally from Hawaii. She has been somewhat connected to Japanese culture her whole life despite being Chinese American. She's had the privilege of traveling to Japan and experiencing Japanese culture at a young age. She loves food and is always looking to try new places. When she is not working or out eating, she is an avid baker at home and has been known to feed her colleagues an excessive amount of baked goods.