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B-class Cuisine and Japanese Culture

Text: Chef Rika Yukimasa

There are many types of Japanese food.
If you want to enjoy Japanese food in a formal way, you can try kaiseki-ryori, a multi-course Japanese meal. If you want to experience local cultures through food in Japan, there are many famous local specialties you can try. If you want to enjoy Japanese food in a casual way, though, I recommend what we call "B-kyuu gurume," or B-class cuisine in English.
B-class cuisine dishes are similar to street food but more like soul food. To be more specific, B-class cuisine refers to various dishes that cost less than 1,000 yen, and which may be considered Japanese fast food. For example, common B-class cuisine dishes include don-buri, a bowl of rice with various toppings; yakitori, grilled chicken on skewers; ramen; udon; yakisoba stir-fried noodles; takoyaki; horumon dishes (dishes with organ meats); and gyoza, pot stickers.

Once you step into the world of B-class cuisine, you will find many delicious dishes at prices as reasonable as in other countries. For example, let’s talk about ramen. There are various kinds of soups for ramen, and ramen chefs search endlessly for the perfect one for Japanese people in terms of flavor and color. If you have seen the Japanese movie Tampopo, which is all about ramen and the people around it, you will understand how passionate some Japanese people are about ramen. There are many people in Japan who bring an incredible amount of passion to a bowl of ramen or a don-buri rice bowl. I think that such attention to detail by some Japanese people, which is almost obsessive, may be one of the elements that makes Japan an attractive country, even though it may look like a concrete jungle with no individuality.

B-class cuisine has been always for the people. When the economy collapses, when local areas suffer from depopulation, and when towns are completely destroyed by disasters, as happened with the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, B-class cuisine helps revitalize those areas. When a new expressway is built, bypassing a little town, the people who used to visit may not go there anymore. As in other countries, young people tend to leave the countryside, especially after natural disasters, leaving the area with a high proportion of older residents. In some cases, small towns have tried to attract people by building a big hotel or a museum, but many rural towns have failed using that strategy. People who run small restaurants also suffer greatly in such situations. So, people in some rural communities have applied their ingenuity to solve these problems.

For example, some said, "let's revitalize this town with delicious horumon yakisoba." Then, they worked together to create the perfect recipe. Once they developed the recipe, all of the restaurants and cafés in town started serving horumon yakisoba, regardless of their specialty. As a result, they made their town "famous for horumon yakisoba," and attracted people by using flags and creating a mascot. You may think that a strategy that uses a simple dish like yakisoba might not work, but in fact, there are many towns in Japan that have successfully revitalized their areas by launching such new businesses. Little businesses in local areas need to work together, rather than competing with each other, to attract visitors, and it works even if they start with only a single dish. The dish should be B-class cuisine, not high-end food. I think B-class cuisine is very interesting

I was born in Japan, spent my college days in the US, worked as a commercial film producer at an advertising agency for about 17 years, and traveled all over the world before becoming a chef. My hope is to connect with people here through food, especially Japanese dishes: not formal and expensive ones, but more affordable and readily available ones like B-class cuisine, which can be easily made in any kitchen in any country. It would be my great pleasure if you were to try cooking something new and have fun using my recipes.

Incidentally, I'll be in Seattle in July to attend the Bite of Seattle on the 21st and 22nd. I'm looking forward to meeting fans of Japanese cuisine and people who watch Dining with the Chef while I'm there! I'll be introducing some Japanese cooking that uses Seattle's delicious oysters, and I'll be appearing on local media, as well!

Groupon Bite of Seattle
(You will leave the NHK website)