Japanese food in Seattle that you won't see in Japan

Japanese sushi.  Photo: L / Flickr

Japanese sushi. Photo: L / Flickr

BY YUNA KIKUMA / JCCCW GANBARU INTERN

It has been three years since I arrived to the United States as an international student from Japan. Seattle had already given me a huge impression about the dynamics of the cultural term "melting pot," and one place I have keenly observed this is with Japanese cuisine. Two foods in particular caught my attention in the different style and interpretation of Japanese food: sushi and teriyaki.

Sushi is one of the most popular Japanese foods in the world, and its evolution in American culture is evident here in Seattle. Here, sushi, in terms of size, wrapping style, ingredients, and name, differs from Japan.

American style sushi often has the seaweed hidden.  Photo:  Clotee Pridgen Allochuku / Flickr

American style sushi often has the seaweed hidden. Photo: Clotee Pridgen Allochuku / Flickr

SIZE: Usually, sushi is a one-bite food in Japan. However, since sushi in Seattle tends to contain multiple ingredients, it is generally bigger than Japanese sushi.

WRAPPING STYLE: Original Japanese sushi rolls are rice and ingredients wrapped with seaweed on the outside. However, many Seattle sushi rolls are wrapped inside out. And a very unusual sushi style in Seattle is a sushi burrito! The sushi burrito is basically a sushi roll, but presented in burrito, where the sushi is very large and not cut into slices. The sushi burrito is the funniest styles of sushi from what I have seen! And definitely, something you don't see in Japan.

INGREDIENTS: Seattle sushi is very colorful. Japanese sushi is very simple, and usually, it has only one or two fish or vegetables inside. However, in Seattle, you find cheese, avocado, chili sauce, and tempura as sushi ingredients — very rare in Japan!

NAME: Many sushi in Seattle has funny and entertaining names. For example, many include a place in their names, such as California roll, Seattle roll, and an Alaska roll. Moreover, some include Japanese words, such as ninja roll. Spicy spider roll, sexy lobster roll, hamapeño (hama in Japanese means beach or seashore) are also some funny examples I’ve seen. Instead, most original Japanese sushi have simple names that describe the ingredients like maguro-maki (tuna-roll) and tamago (egg). 

From these four categories, you can tell how Japanese sushi and sushi in Seattle are different. When you have a chance to visit Japan, explore the differences!

Teriyaki is extraordinarily popular in Seattle. It’s a Japanese food that is not that common, especially at restaurants. Photo:  Matt Westervelt / Flickr

Teriyaki is extraordinarily popular in Seattle. It’s a Japanese food that is not that common, especially at restaurants. Photo: Matt Westervelt / Flickr

Have you ever wondered why teriyaki is famous? It is really surprising for me that teriyaki places and teriyaki food are everywhere in Seattle. Compared to the food culture in Japan, teriyaki is quite different.  In Japan, people think teriyaki is homemade food. They don't usually have teriyaki meals at restaurants. Teriyaki sauce is not famous either; instead, each household has their own family recipe for teriyaki sauce. However, in Seattle, teriyaki is considered as the food you can eat at Asian restaurants. I wondered why teriyaki is very popular in Seattle? Why specifically teriyaki, not other Japanese food? Why there is a different recognition of teriyaki in Japan compared to Seattle?

The soy sauce company Kikkoman played a significant role in spreading teriyaki to American food culture. Soy sauce had been imported to the US for Japanese communities on the West coast. Around 1957, Kikkoman was trying to promote soy sauce beyond Japanese and Japanese Americans, but also the broader public. However, it did not go as well as they expected. Then, a Kyoto immigrant to Seattle, Junki Yoshida, tried to advertise soy sauce by giving food samples at supermarkets. His particular recipe for teriyaki was from his mother's homemade dishes. His teriyaki became a success, so much so that he published some recipe books of foods using soy sauce and opened cooking classes. His success led to the spread of soy sauce and teriyaki sauce in the American food culture. 

Since I came to Seattle, not only studying abroad experience, but also how people think about Japanese culture is very interesting for me. If you have a chance to visit Japan, please try sushi and teriyaki food. You will note the difference.