Mayonnaise: Traditional Japanese Food

Most people have a pretty idealized image of Japanese food. When they think Japan, they think of sushi, yakitori, bento and the like.

But Japanese food is much more globalized than most people realize. One of the most obviously foreign influences on Japanese food is mayonnaise.

Japanese people put mayonnaise on a huge amount of foods. It’s not just foreign foods that typically have mayonnaise in them, like sandwiches or potato salads; even traditionally Japanese foods aren’t spared.

kewpie

Mayonnaise is definitely a familiar ingredient to most people, but its use in Japanese cuisine is a little different than you might be used to.

How is Japanese Mayonnaise Different?

The difference between Japanese mayonnaise and mayonnaise from, say, the USA, is subtle, but noticable.

A lot of people say that Japanese mayonnaise is thinner and sweeter than US mayonnaise, and that’s because it’s prepared a little differently. Japanese mayonnaise tends to use different types of vinegars (like rice and apple cider) instead of distilled vinegar, and sometimes only uses egg yolks instead of the whole egg.

Plus, since Japanese people don’t have the same kind of aversion towards MSG that Americans do, Japanese mayonnaise has MSG and more of that yummy umami flavor.

Instead of coming in the squat, glass jars most Americans are used to Japan’s most successful brand, Kewpie, comes in a very distinctive, taller, squeeze bottle with a Kewpie doll on the front.

What Food Do the Japanese Put Mayonnaise On?

The short answer: damn near everything.

The long answer is that there are a lot of Japanese foods that commonly use mayonnaise as a condiment.

Almost anything with “yaki” in the name can benefit from mayonnaise, including okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and other fried goodies.

mayonnaise-okonomiyaki

A lot of pizza uses mayonnaise as a topping. Major pizza restaurants like Pizza-La and Domino’s commonly have pizza with mayonnaise on it, and currently Pizza Hut offers a pie called the “MayoQ.” It’s hard to think of many other dishes that feature mayonnaise so prominently as the main ingredient. Maybe one day, Iron Chef will do a mayonnaise battle.

pizza-la-no-highlight

A while back, What Japan Thinks posted a survey asking Japanese people what unusual food they liked to garnish with mayonnaise. Topping the list was fried chicken, continuing on with foods like bread, natto, and sashimi. I’m not sure that mayonnaise will make natto any more appealing.

There are also mayonnaise oddities that lie at the edges of Japan’s culinary world. Tokyo’s Mayonnaise Kitchen puts mayo on everything from cocktails to spaghetti, and was odd enough to be able to make it onto the Colbert Report’s “Craziest F#?king Thing I’ve Ever Heard” segment.

mayonnaise-cocktail

Mayonnaise cocktail, anybody?

If you’re not used to Japan’s gratuitous usage of mayonnaise, it might seem a bit gross at first; and at least with the mayonnaise cocktail, I wouldn’t blame you for getting a bit queasy.

But in other applications, like on okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and other foods, you might want to give it a try before you completely dismiss it. Be careful when it comes to beverages, though.

  • http://twitter.com/Coryographies Coryographies

    This clears up why Japanese mayonnaise tastes so good… I was wondering if I just liked the squeezy bottle and was kidding myself! I make a terrible (but delicious) version of okonomiyaki and love to smother it in mayonaisse :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessengatai1 Jesse Ngatai

    I would also note that if you had some fried ready to eat goodness and you put american mayo on it, It would probably be terrible and destroy your taste buds. The difference while mentioned above, is in my own opinion, huge.

    Man… just thinking about kewpie on anything gets me going! The best part is I can buy it where I live in the biggest damn bottle they sell it in.

    Also, a guilty pleasure of mine is putting fries on a cheese burger and some kewpie… sounds gross – is gross – taste amaze balls – kills you.

  • Jon

    Bleh! I hate mayonnaise!

    I also hate being a picky eater. I don’t even like red bean paste. :(

  • DAVIDPD

    I rock my Kewpie Mayo shirt all the time. Only legit people nod when they see it. // Agemono cuisine and mayo go together like cinnamon and sugar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/meg.datsameh Meg Datsameh

    I would most definitely love to try okonomiyaki with mayo on top. Just looking at it makes my mouth water and yet I’ve never had it before. How is this possible?! Also, Clobert Report is awesome, and I shall give you many virtual hugs for mentioning him in this article. *huuuugggg* :)

  • Mescale

    Sweeter than US Mayonaise? Is that even possible, those Japanese scientists need to be stopped at all costs!

  • Tora.Silver

    Wow, Tofugu posts are quite often relevant to my life. Am I that predictable?
    After I reread the post on Okonomiyaki, I made some, but substituted the harder-to-find Japanese ingredients with approximate American goods. Now, one of my Japanese friends is going to buy me some actual Japanese goods, including mayonnaise!

  • Yuume

    I’m really not fond of US mayonnaise…is it possible that there’s enough of a difference that I’ll like Japanese mayonnaise? The process of making it sounds a bit more appealing…

    Is there anyone out there that dislikes US mayo, but like Japanese mayo?

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.alexander.980 Joel Alexander

    Yes. Kewpie mayonnaise is so very yum. Western varieties are just blegh. These days, supermarkets around me all sell Kewpie mayonnaise – we put it on all sorts of things.

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/GreenFox59 Michael Warren McDonald

    Mayonnaise is one of my favourite things to put on food. I think I will be right at home.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    Interestingly, if you’ve seen Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, they do NOT use mayonnaise that often. I’ve seen YouTube videos of okonomiyaki made at Hiroshima’s famous “Okonomi-mura” and most of them don’t use mayonnaise as a topping.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joel.alexander.980 Joel Alexander

    I don’t seem to have taken any photos of the exterior of the building, but near as I can recall (with the assistance of Google street view) I ate at a place right next door to Okonomimura when I was in Hiroshima. In my defense, I didn’t know what Okonomimura was at the time, and by that point in the day, we were happy with any place that looked like it was selling okonomiyaki.

    In any case, ours didn’t come with mayonnaise. =)

  • Funbit

    Hmm, I would disagree that they put mayonnaise on “huge” amount of foods.
    I ate hundreds of different pizzas around Tokyo and there was no mayonnaise at all on them. So Pizza-La’s and Domino’s pizzas are just special crazy kind of pizza. It does not mean that Japanese like mayonnaise, it just because that there are enough hentai people who wants to try hentai food :)
    Also, you won’t find any salad with mayonnaise in Kombini. They have special dressing based on oil. Even in bento sets it’s rare to see mayonnaise.
    To summarize, Japanese people don’t eat mayonnaise more often than any other country (Russia for example, or USA…).

  • hjordisa

    Maybe you just got pizzas that don’t use mayonnaise? From what I understand, it’s used as a sauce to replace(or alongside) tomato sauce, and only on set pizzas with toppings that complement it, so it would only be on a couple of pizzas in the whole place. Sort of like the place I used to work had a pizza that used bbq sauce as a base and one that used buffalo as a base. It was only 2 pizzas from the whole menu. But I wouldn’t know I only ate one pizza in Japan and that’s because my host got some. I was still working at a pizza restaurant at the time <.<

    That said, I do agree they probably don't eat it more often than other countries although I've heard about people who put it on everything(like some people do with ketchup here!) I wonder if I'd like Japanese mayonnaise though. I don't like the stuff here as a condiment though I will eat it mixed in with stuff like potato salad(I didn't used to even like that).

  • Yuume

    Thanks for the reply! I will definitely have to pick some up next time I am at our local Asian food store!

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    I think that’s because the toppings used in the “layered” style of cooking Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki are quite different–adding mayonnaise would be kind of overkill, especially between November and February when oysters from off the shore of Miyajima (an island south of Hiroshima) are available.

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I think I’ll stick to Hellmann’s and Duke’s. Sweet and thin makes me think of Miracle Whip, and that stuff just tastes wrong.

    Maybe Japanese mayonnaise goes better with Japanese food though. I won’t knock it until I try it, but I really don’t think it can beat the mayonnaise flavors I grew up with.

  • Bec

    Most mayo here in Australia is tangy and foul…you need to buy the whole egg type or kewpie for taste. Putting regular Aussie mayo on food is possibly the most vomit- packed thing you could do!!!

  • Umai

    Hah. The next time someone mocks my use of Mayonnaise on everything I’ll just say I’m being Japanese.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Ew.

  • Newclear

    I first learned about the Japanese’s love for mayo on a hot, humid, hungry (yay alliteration) day in August. I bought a sandwich, and was not sure what was in it. Afterall, I’d just come to Japan, and I didn’t suspect it was natto (which mayo does not make better, but horseradish does) from the packaging and I was being adventurous. My gag reflexed had a minor workout from what was more mayo than bread and mystery meat. I love mayo, but I obviously failed the Japanese test. Later I found out about mayo bars/restaurants, where your mayo fetishes can be fulfilled. Mmmm, mmmm good.

  • Chester

    Mayonnaise pizza is a sin against MF-ing humanity, and I am not ashamed to let my Japanese friends and family know.

  • nene

    this made me laugh because of Hijikata (Gintama)

    i’d like to taste the Japanese mayo. i dont really like the US one, so i’m curious to know if i’d like it.

  • Rina

    NO. Just No.
    This is madness.

  • Alisa

    I am an American who is currently living in Japan. I am very picky about mayonnaise and while I do not hate the taste of Japanese mayo, I have found that it makes me very very sick. It might be the high amounts of MSG or something, but I know for sure it’s the mayo.

  • disqus_QDhu0mtpK7

    33 bucks for 1 large pizza? how could they afford delivery?

  • 123

    AFAIK, at least in Japan and Korea, the deliveries are free. But pizza itself is fairly expansive.