One of the first things that foreign visitors to Japan learn about Japanese cuisine is that white rice served by itself is meant to be enjoyed as it is, not soaked in soy or doused in dipping sauce. But many people who aren’t all that well-acquainted with Japanese food find the taste of plain boiled rice bland, and love to drizzle sweet and salty sauces all over in order to jazz it up a bit, even if it does make eating it with chopsticks ten times harder.
The UK is one place that probably isn’t known for having a high level of familiarity with Japanese food. Chains like Wagamama and Shoryu Ramen do exist, but they tend to play fast and loose with the definition of Japanese food, and as a result many British diners wind up getting their tastebuds in a bit of a tangle. But now, Japanese company Kikkoman is actually encouraging this desecrating behaviour by bringing out a new product in the UK market: Kikkoman Sweet Sauce for Rice! As you might expect, it’s raising eyebrows in Japan.
A Japanese tweeter recently posted a picture of a shop shelf in the UK which carries the product:
椎名 (@sheena_rat) September 25, 2015
“Foreigners seem to enjoy covering white rice in sauce, so Kikkoman have brought out a range of sauce to take advantage of that”, writes the tweeter, and this certainly seems like a savvy savoury move on Kikkoman’s part. In fact, most supermarkets in the UK usually have a tiny Japanese ingredients section which is almost always dominated by Kikkoman’s products, plus little boxes of sushi rice and nori seaweed so you can whip up sushi rolls at home. Gotta have all the basics, right?
Yutaka (@YutakaNews) September 22, 2015
Sometimes, though, things just go badly wrong, like this “Japanese ramen” meal from British company Innocent, in which the noodles are actually udon…
innocent drinks (@innocent) June 11, 2013
And this roasted red pepper sushi (although maybe Japan is a little late to the party on that front?).
However, it seems that Kikkoman is trying to encourage British shoppers to use the sauce in a variety of frankly weird ways. On the official European Kikkoman website, an explanation for the saucy product states:
“Our Sauce for rice adds a unique sweet-savoury flavour to all kinds of dishes, from meat and vegetables to soups and salads. It is perfect for the caramelisation of vegetables or nuts and it adds a special flavour nuance to Sunday roasts because just a few spoonfuls used as a marinade produce a beautifully crispy and incredibly delicious result. Sauce for rice even enriches the flavour of desserts such as chocolate mousse.”
Sunday roast? Chocolate mousse? Have you gone mad, Kikkoman?
Still, many Japanese commenters decided to go easy on the sauce, with some even expressing an interest in trying it out themselves:
“I didn’t know foreigners like to put soy sauce on rice. I’ve never seen it…”
“I actually really want to try this!”
“This is a yummy way to eat rice, which an American friend taught me about.”
“Foreigners don’t know to take a bite of white rice and then a side dish, so they think that white rice needs sauce mixed in.”
“It’s not that different to tamago-kake gohan, (raw egg and soy sauce mixed into hot rice) when you think about it.”
“Why is it sweet? Is it just soy sauce with sugar in it?”
“Soy sauce and butter on rice is yummy.”
We’ve been noticing a trend of late for Japanese netizens to enthusiastically construct disgusting food concoctions, so perhaps it’s better to take the opinions of Japanese Twitter users with a pinch of salt (and a dash of soy sauce). Traditional Japanese chefs would probably still balk at the idea of doctoring white rice. Still, perhaps in years to come “Saucy Rice” will be considered an essential British Japanese dish. After all, if the British hadn’t taken their own version of curry over to Japan, the Japanese curry rice we know today would never have been invented. And if American eaters didn’t have such an affinity for turning food inside out, we wouldn’t have California rolls! Perhaps we should embrace new food trends and the merging of different culinary cultures. After all, it’s all the same once it’s inside your stomach, anyway.