A Flavorful History of Japanese Sandwiches
Japanese sandwiches, a delightful fusion of Eastern and Western culinary traditions, have captivated the hearts of many people across the nation. While sandwiches are often associated with Western culture, Japan has a unique history and relationship with these delectable treats. This blog will take you on a journey through time, exploring the fascinating history of Japanese sandwiches and the role they play in the country’s food culture.
The Birth of the First Sandwich Ekiben
Our journey begins in 1899, during the Meiji period, when the first sandwich ekiben (station bento) made its debut in Japan. Sold by Ofuna-ken at Ofuna Station in Kamakura, this sandwich was the brainchild of entrepreneur Tomioka Shuzo. The inspiration for this sandwich came from his close friendship with Kuroda Kiyotaka, who would later become the second Prime Minister of Japan. Kuroda had encouraged Tomioka to sell sandwiches at the station after experiencing the delightful taste of sandwiches during his travels abroad.
At the time, Japan was experiencing a fascination with Western culture, and the public embraced this novel food item with enthusiasm. The sandwiches quickly gained popularity, becoming a sell-out hit and prompting Ofuna-ken to begin producing their own ham to meet the high demand.
For over a century, the simple yet delicious Ofuna-ken sandwich ekiben, filled with ham and cheese, has remained a favorite among travelers in Japan. Its nostalgic taste, encapsulated in soft, sweet bread, has secured its place as a staple in railway stations, contributing to the nation’s love for sandwiches. The Ofuna-ken sandwich ekiben’s timeless appeal continues to warm hearts and satisfy taste buds.
A Nation’s Love for Sandwiches
In Japan, the love for sandwiches runs deep. According to a survey, approximately 90% of respondents in the country enjoy sandwiches, with more than 40% stating they “like them very much.” This appreciation for sandwiches transcends age and gender, with women generally more likely to enjoy them than men, and older people being more inclined to appreciate the satisfying taste and convenience of sandwiches.
The widespread popularity of sandwiches in Japan can be attributed to their versatility and the ease with which they can be prepared and consumed. With an array of fillings and flavors to choose from, there’s a sandwich to suit everyone’s taste buds. As a result, sandwiches have become a staple in the daily lives of many Japanese people, whether as a quick breakfast, a convenient lunch, or a satisfying snack.
The Irresistible Appeal of the Tamago (Egg) Sandwich
The same survey revealed that the most popular sandwich filling in Japan is egg, with one in four respondents naming it as their favorite. The delicate balance of the fluffy bread and egg salad creates an irresistible combination that appeals to many. The vibrant yellow color of the egg salad also adds to the visual appeal, making it even more appetizing.
Convenience stores across the country have taken note of this preference, offering a wide range of egg-based sandwiches, including extra-eggy varieties, boiled eggs, and scrambled egg options. They understand that the Japanese public’s love for the tamago sandwich is deeply rooted and ensure that this classic favorite remains a staple on their shelves.
Aside from the popular tamago sandwich, other fillings have also captured the hearts of the Japanese people. The classic bacon, lettuce, and tomato (BLT) combination is another favorite, followed closely by ham and cheese. Standard ingredients, such as tuna and ham and eggs, also rank highly, as do vegetable-based options like lettuce and other greens.
Meat-based fillings like tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), teriyaki chicken, and chicken cutlet, as well as fruit fillings, make appearances further down the rankings. This showcases the diverse tastes of the Japanese public and their willingness to embrace different flavors and textures in their beloved sandwiches.
The Evolution of Japanese Sandwiches
Over the years, Japanese sandwiches have evolved, incorporating a variety of innovative ingredients and presentations. This is evident in the rise of unique sandwich types, such as the katsu sando (a breaded pork cutlet sandwich), fruit sando (a sandwich filled with fruit and whipped cream), and even onigirazu (a cross between a sandwich and a rice ball).
This evolution reflects Japan’s ability to adapt and transform global food trends into something uniquely their own, creating a diverse and delicious range of sandwiches that cater to various tastes and preferences.
Kewpie’s Role in Japanese Sandwich Culture
For almost 100 years, Kewpie has been closely associated with Japanese food culture. Our products have become essential condiments among professional chefs and home cooks, and are a frequent staple in many popular kinds of Japanese sandwiches. Kewpie’s smooth, creamy mayonnaise is often used in egg salad, adding a rich flavor that elevates the classic tamago sandwich to new heights.
Our commitment to high-quality ingredients and dedication to the art of mayonnaise-making have earned us a place in the hearts of the Japanese people. Kewpie’s influence extends beyond just sandwiches, as our mayonnaise can be found in various other culinary delights across the nation. As we would celebrate our centennial anniversary, we look forward to 100 more years of contributing to Japan’s unique food culture.
The rich history of Japanese sandwiches reveals a culinary journey that is rooted in both tradition and a fascination with Western culture. As these sandwiches continue to be a popular choice for many in Japan, their history and development reflect the nation’s culinary curiosity, adaptability, and love for diverse flavors. Today, Japanese sandwiches stand as a testament to the country’s ability to embrace and adapt global culinary trends, creating a unique and delicious fusion that continues to delight the taste buds of people across the nation.