空揚げ kara-age (fried chicken)

Today on our way home after a long walk, we bought bentou lunches at a local Chinese place. Here is a photo of my lunch, which cost a very reasonable Y520:

As you can see, chinese food in Japan means something quite different to what it means in, say, Ireland or America. No Beef in Black Bean Sauce, no General Tso’s chicken. In Japan if someone says, let’s go to a Chinese restaurant, and you go expecting any of those things, you will certainly be disappointed. In fact, chances are you wouldn’t recognise it as a Chinese restaurant unless someone told you. The menu will include delicious things like Nagasaki champon (ramen noodles with pork and seafood), ma-bo dofu (minced beef with tofu and chili), gyoza (crescent-shaped pork dumplings, steamed and fried) and ebi-chili (shrimp with chili sauce). You may think, “what is Chinese about this?” And the answer is probably, not much. I have never been to China, but I suspect a Chinese person would not recognise any of those food items as Chinese, any more than he would in a Chinese take-away in Dublin.

But top of any list of Japanese-Chinese food would have to be kara age. This consists of tasty pieces of moist chicken, coated in flour and deep-fried. You dip the piece of chicken in salt and pepper and eat it with rice. Simple and delicious.

Note on the word of the day:

According to a newspaper article Yuko explained to me yesterday, there is a bit of controversy about the name kara age. The original kanji 唐揚 kara age means “Tang dynasty fry”, implying a genuine ancient Chinese origin, part of the rich legacy of cultural borrowing that includes Buddhism and writing. But it seems somebody has pointed out that it’s not Chinese at all and therefore the name is misleading. So the Japanese newspapers and publishers association say it should be written as  空揚げ instead. Same pronunciation, but with characters that mean something like “empty fry”. So I have duly used this version for the title of this blog post.

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