If you’ve been to a best Japanese food and restaurants in Singapore or Chinese restaurant lately, you may have noticed that it feels like there are two types of food on your plate. One is traditional, the other modern.
As with many aspects of life in Japan and China, this dichotomy has existed for generations, but it seems like now, with the advent of fusion cuisine, the tension between the old and new is starting to ease. As we learn more about each other’s cuisines, we can begin to appreciate what they brought to us and build upon them together.
Fusion cuisine isn’t something that happens overnight; it takes time and experience to understand how different cultures fit together. For example, when Japanese restaurants first started showing up all over America, the dish that was most commonly ordered was teriyaki chicken (chicken marinated in soy sauce, mirin (sweet sake), and brown sugar), which originated from the Japanese terakoya (tavern) culture. It wasn’t until later that Americans began ordering their own take on sushi, which came from a similar tradition of “fishmongers” who sold seafood at low prices in an area called Tsukiji, where fish markets were located near Tokyo Bay. Today, people still order sushi at restaurants across the United States, but they also often get yakitori (grilled skewers of meat or vegetables).
A History Lesson About Japan and China
Before we can understand how these two countries are beginning to fuse their cuisines, let’s look back at history.
The oldest known civilization was the Sumerians, who were based out of Mesopotamia before developing into the Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and eventually the Persians. The Persian Empire dominated much of the Middle East and was in turn ruled by several empires. When the Greeks conquered Persia in 334 B.C.E., the Eastern Roman Empire took control of the region, which eventually became known as the Byzantine Empire. In 539 C.E., the Byzantine
Empire fell to the Arabs, which led to the rise of Islam, followed by the Ottoman Empire, and then finally the Russian Empire. The end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 marked the start of a long period of foreign influence—the Republic of China governed the territory until 1949, when the country split into the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Japan didn’t exist for very long during this period, but they did manage to gain some influence in the form of Buddhism. Buddhism arrived in Japan from China sometime after A.D. 645, and it remained one of the primary religions in the country until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. During this time, Japan experienced tremendous growth and modernization, thanks to Emperor Meiji. However, things went downhill when World War II broke out in 1939, and Japan lost its sovereignty in 1945. After the war, the country was occupied by Allied forces and underwent rapid economic development, becoming the dominant economy in Asia. In 1952, Japan joined the United Nations, and in 1964, they hosted the Olympics for the first time ever.
After a brief period of stagnation during the 1970s, Japan experienced significant economic change during the 1980s and 1990s. This included the opening of Disneyland Park in 1983, the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979, and the creation of the video game industry in 1985. Japan’s economy is expected to grow further due to their high standard of living, low unemployment rate, and high birth rates. Despite all of this progress, Japan remains largely isolated from the rest of the world, which is why I say that they haven’t really begun collaborating with other countries yet.
China, meanwhile, has seen a lot of turmoil over the past few decades. They experienced periods of great prosperity (such as the late Ming Dynasty), political upheaval (during the Cultural Revolution), foreign occupation (by the European powers in the 19th century and Russia, Japan, and Korea in the 20th century), and economic stagnation (due to the Great Leap Forward in 1958 and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966).
In the last decade, however, China has made great strides in both government and the economy. Their GDP per capita is growing faster than any other country in the world, and they’re currently ranked second worldwide in terms of total number of billionaires. They’ve also improved their infrastructure, including the expansion of railroads, highways, airports, bridges, tunnels, dams, and power plants. All of this makes it easier for businesses to operate in China, which means that they can produce more goods and sell them to customers throughout the world. This has resulted in a surge of global trade, which is one reason that the U.S. is trying to improve relations with China.
Modernizing Traditional Foods and Creating New Ones
When it comes to cuisine, the two countries have been experiencing a shift in recent decades. Traditionally, Japanese foods consisted mostly of raw fish, rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, and soy products (which include tofu, bean curd, and miso paste). On the other hand, Chinese cuisine includes a wide range of ingredients that are used to prepare rice, noodles, dumplings, soups, vegetables, and sauces.
However, today, both countries are increasingly focusing on innovation. To understand this better, let’s look at two famous Japanese chefs: Nobu Matsuhisa and Masa Takayama, who opened restaurants in New York City and San Francisco respectively, bringing Japanese dining to America. These chefs aren’t just experimenting with new flavors, though; they’re also using innovative techniques such as molecular gastronomy, which involves cooking food at extremely high temperatures while adding substances such as acid or salt.
Molecular gastronomy might sound complicated, but it actually allows chefs to make complex flavors without sacrificing quality. For example, a chef might create a broth that tastes salty, sweet, sour, or bitter, depending on the amount of salt, sugar, vinegar, or citrus juice added. Another technique involves cooking food in a vacuum, which helps retain its moisture and flavor.
Chefs in Japan and China have experimented with these methods since the early 2000s, so it’s no surprise that they’re leading the way with innovation in cuisine. That said, they’re also taking inspiration from each other.
For instance, Masa Takayama learned about Japanese cuisine from his wife, Etsuko Shihata, who is originally from Japan. He also uses her recipes in his restaurants, and he even introduced the concept of kaiseki ryori (multi-course meals) to America. Similarly, Nobu Matsuhisa is known for serving elaborate multi-course meals in his restaurants. His menu changes every year, and he always includes items that represent the seasons of the year.
It turns out that people want to eat delicious, creative food, and both of these countries have figured out ways to satisfy this desire. Now, it’s time for the rest of the world to do the same.