Get out of your international comfort zone with Japanese-style Western food.

Japan is utopia for any true foodie. The Japanese cook with an a ectionate artistry that makes every dish uniquely delicious, which is why they’re so famous for … omelettes and hamburgers? That’s right. In addition to high-class sushi and bite-sized mochi, Japan is a land of reinvented Western food, commonly known as yōshoku (洋 食). Yōshoku are adaptations of classic dishes from around the Western world, and they can be found all over the country, from a ordable, diner-style family restaurants, to pizza delivery companies, to upscale fine dining.

In Japan, the good ol’ American hamburger has become a hambaagu (ハンバーグ), which is a mix between a burger and a Salisbury steak served bunless with a demi-glace sauce. The hambaagu is a popular item in kid’s bento boxes too. If you have a late-night pizza craving, you can order in and choose from a huge range of specialty pies with an assortment of toppings, including seaweed strips, flavoured mayonnaise, potato chunks, avocado, sweet corn and lettuce leaves. Japan also has a range of delicious, French-inspired, cheesy recipes. Some common variations are guratan (グラタン) and doria (ドリ ア): guratan (or Japanese “gratin”) is a macaroni dish with béchamel sauce topped with cheese and oven-browned. “Doria” is similar, but with rice instead of noodles, and often with tender shrimp. There are many kinds of yōshoku, but the most famous is probably the omuraisu (オムライス), or “rice omelette,” a sweet, ketchup-cooked palm-ful of rice wrapped in a thin layer of egg. Another ketchup-based dish is the spaghetti Napolitan, which adds ketchup into the red sauce for a sweet, a affordable variation on fresh tomato sauce.

Japanese experimentation with Western food began in the late 19th century, but many of today’s most popular items were first introduced in the postwar period. For example, the Napolitan dish was invented by Shigetada Irie, a chef who served General MacArthur in the first days of the US Occupation. Wanting to accommodate his guest, Shigetada invented the dish using inspiration from a ketchup-based spaghetti offered as part of US military rations. Yōshoku began as an exploration of foreign foods, but has since become an integral part of Japanese cuisine. In fact, many of the standard items you find at local Japanese restaurants are actually yōshoku dishes, from tonkatsu to curry rice.

Cross-cultural eat-iquette

You could say that yōshoku is a kind of fusion food, but even experimental eating comes with rules. Here are three ways to get over the East-West divide and eat like a champ:

DO act like a native

It’s OK to eat your steak and spaghetti with chopsticks here! When in Rome … or Tokyo, rather….

Do NOT expect a copy of Western food

Yōshoku may be West-inspired, but these dishes have been reinvented for Japanese tastes.

DO point and order

Many yōshoku restaurants have picture menus, so you can still grab a bite even if you can’t read Japanese.

Illustrations by Reiko Ema