Nikujaga: A taste of home

Washoku and all its incarnations is now loved around the world, especially in the form of standard favorites like tempura, sushi, and sukiyaki.But beyond these well-known culinary all-stars, Japanese cooking contains a whole other world of classic home dishes. Cookpad, Japan’s largest recipe site, recently conducted an online survey in which they asked for the dish respondants would most like to prepare for foreigners. The answer? Nikujaga. Here, we take a look into the dish that’s synonymous with the taste of home.

Nikujaga is a low-key dish of simmered beef (niku) and potatoes (jaga). The salty and sweet simmering sauce is built out of the same component of its high-brow cousin, sukiyaki. The umami-rich juices from the beef are cooked into the potatoes, giving this simple dish a delicious depth. Like a bowl of your mom’s favorite mashed potatoes, the taste of nikujaga is synonymous with the taste of home. It’s not a dish that’s widely known overseas, but the bold yet comforting flavor of those soft potatoes and

Nikujaga Meat and Potato Stew

This is just normal nikujaga, although a little on the sweeter side compared to the standard sweet and savory seasoning.

The recipe we’re introducing uses pork, but some recipes use beef. In fact, the variety of meat used in nikujaga actually varies by region. One theory says that the eastern regions of Japan goes with pork, while the western regions go with beef.

Japan is known for its love fish, so where did nikujaga come from, in all its meaty glory? A number of competing theories exist, but one of the most popular ones is the beef stew theory. Under this theory, it’s said that many centuries ago, a captain of the Japanese navy asked one of the his cooks to recreate the beef stew that he had during his time studing abroad in England. The dish that his cook came up with after trial and error? Yes, nikujaga. The two dishes don’t resemble one another, but that was another time and age, when western seasonings were extremely hard to come by. Although the cook might have missed the mark in recreating a good English stew, he was definitely onto something with his nikujaga. The soft, seasoned potatoes, the juicy slices of meat — nothing says “home” like a little bowl of nikujaga. (TEXT:Akiko Takyu)