CNN International writer Yumiko Watanabe explores B-grade cuisine: Japan’s version of what America calls comfort food, country cooking, soul food, haute burgers, gourmet hotdogs, or gastropub.
Watanabe explains that B-grade cuisine is not the “mainstream ‘quality’ stuff that’s simpered over on countless TV shows or put forward as an emblem of the ‘unique’ Japanese food culture, but instead it’s food with its own identity, usually a regional one.”
As one astute commenter points out: “It doesn’t have to be different or strange, just inexpensive ‘regular’ food. Tonkatsu, curry, ramen, yakisoba, all of these working class favorites are considered pillars of B-kyuu cuisine — as long as it is good. The hallmark of B-kyuu is humble food made well, and lots of it.”
Here are just a few of the tantalizing examples Watanabe provides:
Turkish Rice, Nagasaki
Neapolitan spaghetti, curry-flavored rice pilaf and Hamburg steak. Curry-flavored pilaf is from India, which is in Asia. The Turkish rice is flavored with ketchup rather than tomato sauce. “The notion goes that ‘bridging’ these two continents with a main dish, such as Hamburg steak, a pork cutlet, or fried shrimp, is what led to the dish being called ‘Turkish’ because Turkey spans Asia and Europe.”
Shrimp and Rice, Okayama
The shrimp and rice combination resembles a black pilaf. Ingredients like onions and shrimp are stir-fried with rice and seasoned with a spicy sauce that appears to be a blend of demi-glace, ketchup and caramel.
Generally, kinshi tamago (golden threads of egg) are sprinkled over the black rice, which is then garnished with peas, mashed kidney beans and other toppings. The tender shrimp provide a slightly sweet, slightly salty accent.
Bokakke Omelet Soba, Hyogo
On an iron plate, thick, homemade noodles and cabbage are skillfully stir-fried in bokkake and wrapped in egg. Watanabe says that in Tokyo, you can enjoy bokakke omelet soba at Nagata-honjoken in Tachikawa Station on the Chuo Line. “In one corner of the open kitchen, there’s a huge stockpot that one could barely fit an arm around, and the massive amount of bokkake boiling inside looks delicious.”
Richard Kim, an article commenter notes: “Bokkake is a dish that poor Japanese-Koreans and Burakkumin living in the Nagata neighborhood of Kobe made out of horumon (beef offal and non-primal cuts, literally “things thrown away”). The fact that bokkake is now celebrated as a kind of classic Japanese soul food is a testament to these long-discriminated against groups and how far Japan has come in accepting them.”
A combination of thick noodles and gentle beef and tomato stew. The sauce is a tomato-base beef stew, rich with the aroma of herbs, along with tender beef, soft-boiled egg, asparagus and melted shredded cheese. The noodles are served on a side plate. A lemon is provided to squeeze over the noodles.