By Rosie Conroy
It would come as a shock to very few that Japanese food is big business in the UK, with sushi having been regularly enjoyed as a grab-and-go lunch for the best part of a decade now.
Back in 1997 Itsu peaked our interest in Japanese fare when it opened its first set of doors to its first paying customers and they've been riding that Great Wave off Kanagawa ever since. In the interim since their inception this lunchtime bolthole has expanded 6800% (that's precisely 69 restaurants, but everyone knows percentages are more impressive looking), and have sold more salmon than you can shake a stick at. To put that in perspective Itsu's sales totalled an eye watering £82.6m this year - so it looks like we're not alone when it comes to our love of Japanese food.
But beyond now-regular doses of ramen and the occasional rice wine new Japanese foods are set to be the next big thing - and here's why.
Basically, it boils down to us being spoiled. And our insatiable appetite to out-Instgram each other when it comes to our food prowess. A new generation of millennial diners have typically been introduced to sushi from a young age, and consumers bore easily, meaning that never again will we be satisfied with supermarket offerings. Plus, Japanese food offers a winning combination of healthy options and rich umami flavours that appeal to hungry, hurried Brits.
But where do we go from here, you might be wondering. Despite our familiarity with many a tasty treat from the other side of the world we're still playing it pretty safe with familiar, comforting flavours, but that's about to change. 2017, we're betting, will be the year of Japanese food - and these are the things set to become weird and wonderful family favourites over the next 12 months. Unagi, anyone?
Burosu | Bone broth
Rather depressingly one of the highest search rises on Google in 2015 was foods to help acid reflux. For generations of people who are constantly on the cusp of overconsumption vs clean eating bone broth could be the answer. Rich in flavour and packing a seriously savoury punch this miracle liquid is being heralded the latest in a long line of superfoods. Traditionally simmered low and slow for hours in Japan and used as the base for all manner of satisfying soups, stews and sauces this traditional pork bone broth contains body-beneficial compounds like collagen, glutamine and glycine which work to heal you guy lining and reduce intestinal inflammation.
Hirayachi | Savoury onion pancakes
A very loose cousin of the crepe this delicious savoury snack is made from eggs, flour, salt, black pepper and spring onions. This one doesn't offer any particular health benefits unfortunately, aside from the kind of happiness only carbs can provide. The plus side is these are easy to make yourself, with ingredients you can get from your local supermarket. And in case of any hesitation these are delicious acting as a sort of glamorous assistant to ice cold beer.
Kaiseki | Traditional multi-course dinner
This traditional multi-course Japanese meal was originally a simple-fare offering made to guests at tea houses because it was thought that the hot drinks would taste better if the customers weren't hungry. Fast-forward a few thousand years and this ancient art has been transformed into the highest-end fine dining experience in Japan. Restaurants offer dinners multiple intricately crafted courses, akin to Michelin dining. Typical dishes include things like miso soup, sashimi and Japanese pickles, usually served with a little theatre and a lot of decoration.
Unagi | Freshwater eel
Unagi, or freshwater eel, was once considered solely a plebian pleasure but from humble beginnings it grew to be one of Japan's greatest exports. It now graces the menus of some of the country's finest restaurants and it won't be long until it's being served up as a staple here, too. Critics consider it at its peak when cooked over charcoal and served smoky with the smallest smidge of wasabi.
Shabu-Shabu | Hotpot
There's something ultimately satisfying about preparing some aspect of your meal yourself, even when you choose to eat out. Perhaps it's the way it makes you feel connected to what you're about to eat in some way or perhaps it just eases the guilt of being waited on. Whatever it is, it feels good. This DIY dinner is made up of a rich meat stock, thinly sliced top quality raw meat (usually Kobe beef) and an assortment of freshly prepped veggies and dipping sauces. In Tokyo pureists will skim the scum from your broth as you go. If you can't quite face the jetlag needed to experience the real deal then happily you can now get a fix of this Japanese delicacy at Whole Foods - just don't expect any scum skimming from the staff there.
Mochi | Sweet glutinous rice balls
If you've ever seen mochi being made you'll know it's a somewhat labour intensive and violent process that involves pounding glutinous dough within an inch of its life. Happily this perseverance pays off when you're left with deliciously chewy, flavoured rice balls. Traditionally these Japanese delicacies are filled with fermented red bean paste and enjoyed at New Year but thanks to an increased interest from Western consumers we can now enjoy them all year round, and filled with ice cream.
Sata andagi: Deep fried dough buns
Literally translated as 'deep fried sugar' it's hard to resist the charms of Sata andagi, especially when the smell of warm fried dough and hot sugar comes wafting towards you. Similar to a doughnut these lovely little creatures are denser in texture with a cakey centre and crisp, dark brown crust. Their origins lie in Okinawan cuisine, which comes from a little collection of islands to the South of mainland Japan.
Takoyaki | Octopus balls
Mentions of takoyaki on restaurant menus have increased by 16.7% since last year, Technomic reported. Their new-found popularity probably has something to do with their rich umami taste and powerful popcorn like snackability. A thick batter is made from rice flour, eggs and dashi broth before being mixed with chopped octopus and grilled on a high heat, in special bobble shaped pans. They're then garnished with sweet soy, kewpie mayonnaise and dried fish powder. The problem is, you can't just have one.
Calpis Cocktails | Soft drink mixer
Calpis is an uncarbonated Japanese soft drink that has a distinctly sour flavour, a bit like yogurt. After 97 years of being a go-to drink for our neighbours across the Pacific Ocean this is hardly a new trend, but for us, well - we've added alcohol. The latest in mixology madness combines soda water, calpis, exotic fruits and a good glug of something to spike it with, making a refreshing, sherbet like drink.
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