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Japanese Comfort Foods That Go Beyond Sushi Or Ramen

tamagoyaki
Photo: Laura Tomàs Avila

I didn’t realize how much Japanese comfort food is slept on. I’ve had it many times, but usually just order the same things. Like any culture, the cuisine is vast, and Japanese cuisine is more than just sushi and ramen. Many familiar dishes have existed for hundreds of years. Sushi in particular is estimated to have been around for 1,800 years. So just imagine all of the dishes you’ve yet to try.

pikunico kuniko yagi

With Los Angeles having the second highest Japanese population in the United States, it’s the perfect place to experience Japan’s world of comfort food. One person that’s making an impact in Los Angeles' dynamic dining scene is Chef Kuniko Yagi. As the former executive chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Sona, contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, and current owner of karaage (Japanese-style) fried chicken spot Pikunico, Chef Yagi knows delicious Japanese food. This deliciousness is confirmed by a slew of glowing reviews Pikunico has received since it's opening. In hopes of sharing the dynamic world of Japanese comfort food, below is a list of six lesser known types you might enjoy — all with Chef Yagi's own recommendations on where best to try them in Los Angeles.

Photo: Buenosia Carol on Pexels, Free to use

1. Japanese Curry

Hugely popular in the country, curry was introduced to Japan by way of Europe’s spice imports from India in the late 1800s. It’s typically served with rice, potatoes, carrots, and onions and is a milder, sweeter counterpart to Indian curry. Japanese curry also varies from Indian in that beef and pork are more commonly used rather than chicken and mutton.

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Coco Ichibanya - The place to go when you're craving any type of curry and want it ASAP! It's a Japanese fast food franchise, so expect a Burger King vibe, but with one of the most creative and extensive curry menus in LA.

Photo: untitled_folder on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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2. Japanese Omelet

A unique take on the French creation, the Japanese omelet, mostly known as “tamagoyaki,” or grilled egg in English, is commonly served alongside sushi. Unlike western omelets, tamagoyaki isn’t served with filling but rather is rolled together using layers of egg. There are two types of tamagoyaki: atsu-yaki-tamago and dashi-maki-tamago. The first type is a thick fried egg and the latter is a rolled egg with dashi (cooking stock). Each type can be prepared sweet or savory. 

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Otafuku - When you're in the South Bay and craving Japanese, Otafuku is a must! It's very low-key and unassuming, but they have an extensive, delicious menu. Their Japanese-style omelet is a must. Their seasoning with mirin, dashi, and salt make each bite so delicious.

Photo: Arnold Gatilao on Wikimedia commons, CC by 2.0

3. Potato Salad

Potato salad is a staple of Japanese home cooking. Differing from American-style in texture and taste, Japanese potato salad is mashed with chunks of vegetables and sometimes ham. While the ingredients are similar to Western potato salad, the  version here is made with Japanese mayonnaise and rice vinegar, giving it more of a tangy twist.  

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Nijiya Market - An unassuming storefront leads into a well-stocked Japanese grocer, complete with produce, ready-to-eat foods and specialty snacks. Our favorite thing by far is the Japanese potato salad at the prepared foods bar: mashed potatoes coated lightly with Japanese mayo create a unique combination of creamy, sweet and tangy flavors!

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Photo: Nakano Mune on Flickr, CC by 2.0

4. Yakisoba (Stir Fried Noodles)

Yakisoba, or “fried buckwheat,” is a popular Japanese stir-fry dish which originates from China. Although “soba,” which means buckwheat, is a part of the word, it is actually made using wheat flour. Yakisoba is typically prepared stir-fried with bite-sized pork, vegetables (usually carrots, onions or cabbage) and flavored with yakisoba sauce, salt and pepper. Yakisoba sauce is made from sake, mirin, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, Tonkatsu sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar, giving it a sweet and sour taste.

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Ichimi - Characterized as a "soba-intensive noodle shop" by the LA Times, this restaurant, tucked away in the Rolling Hills Plaza, will fulfill all your soba dreams and needs. They import their buckwheat from Japan and take care in creating each dish — and it shows. 

 
Photo: Ernesto Andrade on Flickr, CC by 2.0

5. Karaage (Japanese Fried Meat)

Karaage is a style of Japanese cooking involving deep-frying breaded meats like fish and more commonly, chicken. Meats are typically marinated in soy sauce, rice wine and ginger beforehand, resulting in a juicy inside and crispy outside. Commonly sold at open markets on skewers, karaage comes in variations that include sesame, garlic or pepper. Karaage is often accompanied by veggies or a bed of rice with a range of dipping sauces.

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Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Pikunico - Chef Kuniko Yagi's first stand alone project at Row DTLA centers around Japanese fried chicken (karaage), a dish she would get every Sunday from her grandma's favorite Tokyo department store for a Sunday picnic supper with the family. Yagi's nostalgic take on her favorite Japanese comfort food brings to life the delicate flavor and umami of karaage with more of an American fried chicken crunch through her homemade organic brown rice flour and potato starch batter.

 

Photo: Guilhem Vellut on Flickr, CC-BY

6. Cha-han (Stir Fried Rice)

Thought to have originated from Chinese immigrants, Cha-han is a fried rice dish which includes a wide assortment of ingredients: vegetables, onion, garlic, shitake mushrooms, tofu, pork, various seafoods, scrambled egg, and ground beef to name a few. The dish’s seasoning can vary between soy sauce and oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt, pepper or katsuobushi, a dried and flaked tuna product. 

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Kouraku - This is the place to go when you're in the mood for some comfort food. It's a Japanese style diner and open until 3 am Monday-Saturday, making it perfect for a late-night stop any day of the week. Just keep in mind it's cash only!

Additional Chef Kuniko Recommendation:

Yakitoriya - This is truly one of the hidden gems of Japantown in Los Angeles. When passing by, it might not appear to be much, but venture inside this family-owned and operated Japanese grilled chicken joint and you will not be disappointed!

As you can see, Japanese comfort food goes far beyond mere ramen and sushi. With Little Tokyo so close, us Angelenos are spoiled with many options. But for those who don’t have pockets of Japanese communities in their cities, recipes and local restaurants are an easy Google search away. The next time you’re in need of some Japanese comfort, perhaps try something new, instead of a familiar go-to.