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.
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 noticeable.
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.
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.
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.
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.