Posts Tagged ‘yakuzen’

2012: Food and drink trends in Japan

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Whether it be moldy salt, lunch in a cup or frozen soup on a stick, the thriving Japanese food scene spawned a diverse array of surprising culinary wonders this year. Behind the fads, a pragmatic consciousness about healthy eating and a desire to economize were major factors affecting food and drink trends during 2012.

Eating out

According to Nikkei Trendy, the poor economy and the aging population have dealt blows to the high end of the restaurant trade. Enter the low-cost posh restaurant. Massively successful in 2012, a chain of restaurants run by Value Create is serving up top-end French and Italian food designed by “super chefs” in a bistro environment. There are now five “Ore no Itarian” (My Italian) and four “Ore no Furenchi” (My French) restaurants in the Ginza area. Meals cost around  ¥3,000 to  ¥4,000 per head, a huge saving compared to the ¥30,000 per head charged at the poshest restaurants. Nikkei Trendy says that other high-end restaurants are cutting costs and following suit.

A new casual restaurant called Tanita Shokudo turned up on Jiyu Kokuminsha’s 50 top buzzwords of 2012. Run by Tanita, a company that manufactures scales, this hugely popular restaurant in the Marunouchi area of Tokyo serves up the same menu — and nutritional advice — as the company’s own cafeteria to health-conscious customers. This year has also seen a revival of interest in restaurants serving yakuzen (Chinese medicinal) cuisine. Some of these restaurants also advise customers on what dishes might have a beneficial effect on their health. This is a trend we feel might spread in 2013.

Keeping trim

The inevitable diet fad surfaced in 2012 with the appearance of the tomato boom. It was kicked off by the publication of a study that appeared to indicate consuming large amounts of tomato juice would help alleviate metabolic syndrome. Though the trend has slowed somewhat, just as the notorious banana boom did, tomato sales stayed higher for longer than your typical fad.

Continuing on a health tip, one of the most successful new beverages to emerge in 2012 was a health drink — at least according to the Japanese government. Endorsed as the Japanese equivalent of a FOSHU (food for specified health use) by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency, Mets Cola sold so well that its manufacturer, Kirin, met its annual sales target in just two weeks. Popular with health-conscious men and women in their 30s to 40s, the cola contains an ingredient that helps reduce the absorption of fat. Other tokuho (health) drinks that deliver the fizzy pop experience without the calories have also been popular. The trend looks set to continue with more and more products gaining accreditation.

Spicing things up

Another versatile ingredient that’s still trending is koji salt. Combined with salt, koji, a domesticated fungus used in the production of miso, soy sauce and sake, can be used as a marinade that increases the umami (savory) flavors of meat or fish. It also turned up flavoring packaged foods like potato chips and drizzled on salads and grilled vegetables as a dressing at trendy restaurants. Following salt koji’s huge success, salty yogurt also enjoyed a mini boom with a number of cookery books utilizing this rather odd ingredient. Both savory sauces can be homemade, meshing with the trend toward cheaply producing food at home.

Taking it with you

Hot on the heels of the phenomenon of bento danshi (guys who bring a packed lunch to work), home-made lunch boxes continued to be popular in 2012. This time it was women who were behind a trend to pack their lunch into plastic tumblers. Colorful, versatile and fun, the trend for tumbler bento was also great for keeping portion sizes under control and was popular with dieters as well as the budget-conscious.

Keeping things interesting

As well as economizing, the Japanese food and beverage industry continues to innovate, producing a range of weird and wonderful new products. Among our favorites this year were Gari Gari Kun corn soup on a stick and frozen beer suds. In keeping with that, we’d like to raise a glass of the recently released limited-edition Coffee Porter hot beer coffee (got that?) and wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year — a year which will no doubt be filled with delicious new treats.

Yakuzen cuisine makes Chinese medicine easier to swallow

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Chinese medicine is so commonly considered an effective way of treating ailments in Japan that pharmacies here often stock traditional Chinese remedies alongside Western drugs. Believing in it is one thing, but getting it down is another: many Japanese have an aversion to actually consuming the stuff, because the taste and smell can be totally icky. Enter yakuzen (薬膳), the Japanese term for a form of Chinese cuisine that blends Chinese medicinal ingredients (kanpō, 漢方) into meals, turning hard-to-swallow powders and teas into delicious meals. Though yakuzen has been around for awhile, there are indications that it might be ripe for a revival.

New on the yakuzen scene is Oriental Recipe Cafe, an establishment that opened in Harajuku this April. They serve up dishes that vary with the season and the physical condition of the customer. Under the management of Yukari Arai, a master of oriental medicine, dishes are made with ingredients that can help with particular health issues. Eye strain, for example, can be eased with a tea made with a blend of kuko (a shrub that is purported to act as a tonic) and chrysanthemum. A key element of dishes served in Oriental Recipe Cafe is that they are made specifically to please the Japanese palate, so a curry that is made to improve the condition of the kidneys, for example, contains the traditional Japanese fish stock dashi.

They’re not the only ones giving a Japanese twist to yakuzen food. Reset Cafe in Toranomon offers a hormone broth, while in Osaka, Goshiki is making some noise about the organic ingredients and homemade sauces in its yakuzen cuisine. 10Zen (read “juuzen”) in Tokyo’s Shinagawa offers up hotpots for detoxing, improving your skin, or slimming down. In the same space, they offer both consultations, prescriptions and products, as well as regular classes on kanpō.

Since the food is tailored to treat specific ailments, it’s not uncommon for yakuzen eateries to have an expert on hand to consult about which foods best suit your health needs. At Reset Cafe, customers fill out a medical questionnaire as they’re ordering their food. Much of the menu is based around soups, and there are six available to suit ailments such as inflammation, dry skin or bad circulation.

News Searchina is going so far as to proclaim a “yakuzen boom.” Indeed, products containing ginger, a common kanpō ingredient, were trending last winter, indicating that people are open to incorporating traditional remedies into their diets. The interest in yakuzen complements the recent attention on organic vegetables and overall healthy eating that we’re seeing.  The only downside is that a lot of yakuzen food seems to come in the form of soup or steamed dishes, which is not necessarily appealing during Japan’s excessively hot and humid summer months!

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