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Header image courtesy of Grill Tajimaya グリルタジマヤ
In a similar fashion to how Hong Kong cooking absorbed a plethora of Western influences to adopt into and appropriate as its own, the interlinkage of Japanese dining and Western-style food is another perfect coupling that has also resulted in a fully formed cuisine of its own. Known as yōshoku (洋食)—which translates to “Western food” in Japanese—this reinvention resulted in the creation of many familiar dishes that radiate a strong sense of warmth and pleasant homeliness in their appetising simplicity.
Although Japan encountered their first intrusions from Western civilizations during the sixteenth century, it was not until the Edo period during the nineteenth century that their influences began to appear in Japanese culture, mostly as a result of the settlements established by the invading “black ships” from American forces.
Many foreigners set up hotels and restaurants of their own, serving as spaces where Japanese chefs learnt cooking skills and received culinary training before heading off to launch their own restaurants. Little by little, concepts from Western cuisines were integrated into traditional Japanese meals, and the fascinating fusion of Japanese reimaginings of Western dishes began to gain massive popularity.
After the dissolving of the shogunate system, and conversely the rise of sociopolitical reform in the Meiji Restoration that drove the country towards Western standards of modernisation, the Japanese government made it a state directive to advocate for the consumption of meat-laden and supposedly nutrient-filled Western cuisine. It was done mostly for the purpose to strengthen the general physicality of the population. Following the mandate, French-inspired fare was the preferred style of dining that started to integrate its way onto the dinner plates of the Japanese elite and the military.
In fact, it was the military that had brought yōshoku to common meals. Due to their close contact with outsiders, it necessitated their familiarity with the Western palate and dining etiquette. Additionally, the streamlining and efficient process of producing yōshoku food in high quantities meant that it was easily adaptable into naval kitchens, gradually being doled out at roadside stalls and casual diners not long after. After a few lapses that came during the Kantō earthquake of the Taishō period and the Second World War, the Japanese public finally became privy to yōshoku food as a part of their daily offerings.
Yōshoku proved to be in the vanguard of merging the best of both worlds, and the cuisine remains immensely beloved in both Japan and outside the nation. Read on to find some handpicked spots around Hong Kong that showcase the tastiest of yōshoku dining that the city has to offer.
“Shokudo” (食堂) in its name is a direct reference to the many hole-in-the-wall diners dotted all around Japan. Dai Jou Bu Shokudo is a casual cafeteria that dishes up a selection of rice sets topped with your choice of meats. Notable dishes include the staple deep-fried breaded pork loin cutlet ($100)—perhaps the most renowned item of the deep-fried series presented in yōshoku cooking. Also on offer is a bang-for-your-buck deal of unlimited salad and rice refills, as well as inclusive beverages to wash it all down with.
Dai Jou Bu Shokudo, 541 Fuk Wing Street, Cheung Sha Wan | (+852) 2338 0780
A beautifully wrapped pocket of flavour, omurice (オムライス) is a crowd-favourite. It combines two simple yet delicious main ingredients for a comforting treat. At Cat’s Eye Bistro, the signature dish visually resembles the shop’s name, and their best-selling tri-colour omurice ($82) swims in a flavourful glaze of curry and white Béchamel—arguably an iconic iteration of what Cat’s Eye Bistro is known for and executes impeccably.
Cats’ Eye Bistro, 24 Swatow Street, Wan Chai | (+852) 2891 8986
Helmed by chef Fujita Kenta, Camper’s (坐忘) distinguishes their yōshoku eats by ramping up on the health advantages and nourishment aspects. Skipping additives entirely and adding more vegetables whilst cutting down on fat, the menu manages to provide the same satisfaction whilst promoting clean eating.
Although you may encounter traditional eats like ramen and udon, a special yōshoku spin has been applied, like in the roasted chicken & mushroom udon in cream dashi soup ($69). One dish you must try, however, is the ever-so-wholesome slow-cooked pork cartilage & vegetable curry with rice ($69).
Potentially the most ubiquitous form of deep-fried goodness to come out of yōshoku cooking is tonkatsu, and tonkatsu is the name of the game at Ca-tu-ya. Despite its modest setting and affordable fare, the steaming and crunchy tonkatsu presented by this Japanese chain is all you need to satiate your yōshoku munchies.
Famed for their deep-fried pork cutlet bowl (starting from $59) served on a bed of pearly rice and a mountain of refreshing shredded cabbage, other notable additions to the menu include the deep-fried chicken cutlet & egg bowl ($42), which showcases a beautiful contrast between the restaurant’s signature crunchy coating versus the smooth and velvety scrambled egg underneath.
Another spot that offers both yōshoku and traditional Japanese washoku (和食), Kyukoku Do (究極堂) provides everything from fresh sashimi and sushi tableaus to freshly prepped home-style staples like the Japanese beef rice bowl with soft boiled egg ($68).
Aside from their creative convergence of omurice with mapo tofu & fried chicken ($98), another international fusion is the humble potato croquette ($38), which reminds the palate of the influences of British recipes in yōshoku that were passed on from the post-Meiji-Restoration days.
Kyukyuko Do, Shop D, Seabright Plaza, 9–23 Shell Street, Fortress Hill | (+852) 3596 7848
First gaining popularity in Japan during the 1960s as a foolproof way to serve quality meats at lower costs, the hamburg steak is a breaded meatloaf of succulent juiciness, and a hearty main dish to savour in its full meaty glory. Specialising in piping hot hamburg steaks served on a sizzling griddle amidst a cloud of fragrant smoke and luscious accompaniments, Grill Tajimaya is a grill house that’s definitely worth a visit.
Feast on their scrumptious Japanese Wagyu hamburg steak ($189) with your choice of demi-glace sauce, gravy with half-boiled egg, homemade wafu sauce (Japanese-style dressing), or black pepper mushroom sauce with a decadent heap of rice or bread on the side.
Grill Tajimaya, Shop 2A–1, 2/F, Sun Hung Kai Centre, 30 Harbour Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2838 9971