History tells us that prior to the 16th century Japan was closed to the world. For 200 years Japan isolated herself from foreign intrusion and influence. By the 16th century she began trading with Portugal and it was the start of western influence. And so it was that Japanese cuisine evolved with
Take bread, for example. It was the Portuguese that introduced ‘pao’ (pronounced “paon”) or their bread to Japan. Japanese adopted bread and it was called ‘pan.’ Japan’s popular pound cake called ‘kasutera’ is derived from the word which means ‘castilla’ or kingdom, referring to a western kingdom that may be of Portuguese or Spanish origin. Those small, colorful sugar candies called ‘kompeito’ found in Japanese sweets or souvenir shops are also from Portugal.
A vegetable that the Japanese are very fond of is pumpkin, found in many of their dishes. Did you know that it is not of Japanese origin though it is called kabocha? It came from Cambodia, brought to Japan by the Portuguese. Even the world-famous tempura is not a true Japanese invention, but Portuguese also.
When they were trading with Japan, the Portuguese were cooking and eating Quatro Têmporas, battered fried veggies or seafoods because meat was forbidden during their Lenten season.
Certainly it is known that ramen is Chinese in origin and curry is indian, but the Japanese have transformed these popular dishes making them their own. Another is the crunchy tonkatsu or pork cutlets that takes their origins from French “cotelette”.
Now there’s this famous Japanese favorite that first began halfway around the world. In California USA, a Japanese chef in an LA restaurant crafted a roll of sushi with avocado, cucumbers and crab sticks with mayo. It was aptly called the ‘California roll’; it found its way back to Japan and has become since enormously popular.
Enjoying the Non-Japanese Japanese Classics
Japanese cuisine is what it is now due to centuries of outside influences that only enriched the classics we know now. When dining at Sushi In Joy in Bellevue, taste a little bit of Portuguese, Spanish, French, Chinese, or Indian, but remember it is now all-Japanese and better.