Over the past ten years we've seen an explosion of Japanese culture and cuisine in the UK. Whether that's ramen becoming a lunchtime favourite, or exhibitions from Japanese designers popping up in London - the UK's appetite for exports from the land of the rising sun has now gone way beyond just sushi.
The popularity of Japanese cuisine is down to the 'theatre' of its food. It's never boring. Japan has an abundance of flavours, ranging from sweet miso, salty tamari or the ubiquitous umami. It's not just our tastebuds that are tingling, Japan has encouraged us to enjoy the different textures of food that exist as well. Chewy udon, silky fresh fish, soft mochi, there are so many textures out there we've had to come up with new terms for them.
We've also seen a trend towards smaller portion sizes and seasonal food in the UK, which is perfectly suited to Japanese cuisine. During my latest trip to Japan, I ended up speaking to a sushi chef who takes seasonal eating to another level. He only serves octopus in specific months as it tastes sweeter during different times of the year. It's attention to detail like this that means you've got to savour the moment with every bite when it comes to Japanese food.
It's not only a 'London bubble' thing. Japanese ingredients are easier to source than ever, which makes it more accessible for people across the UK to create beautiful Japanese dishes at home. It's also a global trend; Peru has a burgeoning Japanese foodie scene, Rue Sainte-Anne is the ramen capital of Paris and Dusseldorf's growing Japanese community is changing the way locals eat and perceive Japanese cuisine. The growth in the popularity of mochi has also played a big part. It's already the most popular sweet treat in Japan, and it's starting to make its mark in the UK. Mochi ice cream is beautiful gelato ice cream wrapped in a sweet, soft dough. It is a true innovative offering in the dessert space, providing consumers with a taste and texture that they have never encountered before. Aside from Little Moons, Nobu and Zuma have to be credited with revolutionising Japanese cuisine. They made Japanese restaurants iconic venues to eat at, much like Hakkasan for Chinese food.
Prior to this, Japanese restaurants in Britain were usually small traditional family run places that were a little intimidating unless you know exactly what you were ordering. They were trying to recreate Japan whereas places like Roka, Nobu and Zuma highlighted the playfulness of Japanese food. In the fast casual end of the market Yo Sushi were trailblazers in their day as they made sushi very accessible. Picking sushi off a conveyor belt made it far easier to order unfamiliar dishes and they democratised sushi.
Finally, the rise of social media has had a part to play. You eat with your eyes first and Japanese food is very 'instagrammable'. It's pretty on the eye and the presentation is usually spot on. People see what their friends are eating globally and they want to try it. On my recent trip to Japan I discovered mochi waffle and of course I uploaded a photo of it straight away onto my personal Instagram. We plan on bringing this beautiful offering to the UK for Londoners to try in the summer this year.
We're only scratching the surface right now. There is still so much to discover from Japan. I can't wait to see where the next five years will take us.