Why do Japanese cook the pasta first?

My students swear no one does this, but I’ve both seen it and read about it, and finally find an explanation. According to a story on the originator of Japanese “Napolitan spaghetti” in Japan Times:

“He later supposedly left the pasta for hours after cooking it so that the texture would become more like that of udon noodles suited to Japanese tastes”


Why is a turkey called “shichimencho” in Japanese?

… because “seven face bird” is an odd name even for as strange a creature as a turkey. According to a page on the topic on a Japanese site on word origins, it is because the neck looks like it has many different colours, which kind of makes sense. The Xmas edition of The Economist says that the name came from Chinese and spread to Japanese and Korean, though in China it later became “‘fire chicken’ for its face’s tendency to flare up shades of red, white and blue”.

Why is Asian bread so sweet?

This question still pops into my head when I bite into a sausage roll with sweet and milky bread surrounding it. When I first moved to Japan it was an almost daily question – one that expanded in geographical reach when I went back to Thailand on holiday and suddenly remembered having the exact same reaction to almost exactly the same kind of bread when I lived there in the late 90s.

And it was in a book on Thai popular culture that I found the answer. The bread was brought to Asia by the Portuguese back in the late 16th century when they dominated the area. One reason for it then remaining popular was probably what I first thought was the reason, the general lack of a clear black and white distinction between savoury and sweet in Asian cultures (and one could argue a dislike of Western-style black and white distinctions more generally).

Older answer to this here.

Why do cafes in Japan want to heat everything?

On top of the wilted lettuce that’s being annoying me for years, I recently had muffins and quiche that fall apart in your hand, and donuts that reach almost Macdonald’s apple pie levels of heat danger – all of which I found later are better without going in the oven.

It could well be part of the idea that more effort always means better service – in this case even when it leads to worse food, but often even when it means everything taking twice as long as it needs to…


Why is Sarsons malt vinegar so widely available in Japan?

I’ve noticed this again while I’ve been searching shops for British Xmas food.

No Japanese person I’ve mentioned it to has even heard of it, but this is available in almost every import food shop and probably more than any other British food bar biscuits, including this week the import food section of Aeon supermarket, not somewhere with a large expat customer base. I only use it with fish and chips, and I don’t know anyone who cooks fish and chips at home. What is it doing there??

If you are also looking for British food, may I recommend my other blog Tips for Brits in Tokyo?

Why is Japanese toast so thick?

This is one of the few mysteries I’ve never found and any possible explanations at all for. Particularly mystifying is why a six-inch thick piece of toast with ice cream on it is considered a treat, but I also can’t imagine why anyone would want a loaf cut into just four slices. How much jam would you need to make that edible??

I wonder if the information in my last post provides at least a partial explanation – if there was a surplus of wheat flour but a lack of other things like jam and butter after WWII, people might have got a taste for real doorstops. Might also explain another mystery – “pizza toast”.

Why are most biscuits individually wrapped?

I don’t know if it’s cause or effect, but there’s a lot of passing biscuits round the office everywhere I’ve worked in Japan and that usually includes leaving them on the desk for people who are elsewhere. If they aren’t individually wrapped that means walking round with a stack of paper napkins and leaving the biscuits on top of them. The few times when Japanese people have visitors in the house they tend to give snacks still in their packaging as well.

The Japanese equivalents like manju have to be individually wrapped because otherwise they all stick together, so there might be an influence of that as well. The Japanese are also far less likely to sit down and scoff a whole packet of biscuits than certain Westerners (e.g. me).

Then there is packaging still being seen as good service in Japan and the general lack of awareness of green issues…

Why does a big box of cornflakes in Japan have the writing and picture sideways?

Smaller shelves in the supermarkets??

Not sure why it looks sooooo odd to me either, but might need therapy to work that one out…

Why is the burger loving clown “Donald MacDonald” in Japan?

The MacDonalds management were worried that the Japanese wouldn’t be able to pronounce “Ronald”