I’m a new writer to this site, but after living in Japan for 4 and a half years, I thought I’d like to share my experiences through the eyes of a third generation nikkei (Japanese descent but born and raised in the western world). I was born and virtually lived my whole life in Canada. With Japanese-Canadian parents and grandparents who immigrated to Canada at a young age, I was exposed to many aspects of the Japanese culture. Even so, there were a number of things (often in the area of food) that surprised me when I actually came to Japan.
For one, I was quite surprised how much Japanese people like fried food. Every shop, whatever the theme, whether it’s a Japanese, Italian, Chinese, or Spanish restaurant seems to sell their own version of kara-age. This is basically fried chicken, usually using marinated bite-sized pieces of thigh meat, coated with katakuriko (potato starch) or a housemade seasoned batter. Traditionally the marinade includes soy sauce, garlic, and/or ginger but for use in an Italian restaurant, I’d imagine it might be something different. To give it an Italian flare it might be served with a tomato or basil sauce dip.
Aside from tempura, I never knew of any other fried Japanese foods in my childhood. These days there may be more variety in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, but when I was growing up, there was only tempura. On top of that, my mother’s homemade fried Japanese food consisted of only this.
Another fried dish they seem to sell a lot in teishoku-ya’s (Japanese fast food restaurants) and kissaten’s (Japanese coffee houses) is tonkatsu. This is a pork steak, dipped in egg or a batter, covered in panko and fried. It’s usually served with tonkatsu sauce or if you’re in the Aichi area, miso sauce. Then there’s the similarily panko-coated fried shrimp, ebi-furai.
Next on the list to mention is the croquette, a ball, or oval-shaped patty, breaded and fried. The most common type is made with mashed potatoes mixed with various ingredients such as ground meat, onions or other veggies. Then there are the kani kurimu kurokke, or the crab cream croquettes. When you bite into one of these, the bechamel sauce inside oozes out and the flavor of crab fills your mouth.
Aside from these staples, you can also find izakayas (Japanese bars) specializing in fried skewered food, or kushikatsu. They skewer all different things from vegetables to meat, eggs and cheese, cover them in bread crumbs and fry them. The most traditional of garnishes might be a Worcestershire sauce-based dip, where you are only allowed to dip once because the next customer will use the same sauce-filled container.
I have a feeling that you can find more people eating fried foods in Japan compared to where I grew up in Toronto. From kids and skinny women to the elderly or salarymen, everyone seems to like the deep fryer here.