The Great Generational Culinary Divide

May 31, 2013 at 2:49 am

by Russell Sakauye

Cuisine is the simplest way to introduce people to a particular culture. It is not only a representation of the tastes of a culture, but the way a culture has developed. Table etiquette introduces the way members of that culture socialize in both a formal and informal situation. Different ingredients and cooking techniques reveal regional differences within that culture’s cuisine. For example, there are many traditional Japanese dishes that share culinary history with countries like Portugal, China and India.

In Toronto, Japanese Canadians are considered an invisible visible minority. As a result growing-up in Toronto as a Yonsei, it was extremely rare to have Japanese friends who were not related to me in some way. Without the many Japanese Canadian events and my amazing family, developing my identity as a Japanese Canadian would have been next to impossible. In addition to family potlucks, the majority of my experience with Japanese Canadian cuisine was through the JC picnics and bazaars. Dishes at these social events include: udon noodle soup, tempura and chicken yakitori skewers.

The majority of my Japanese Canadian culinary upbringing consisted of Sakauye or Ogaki variations of many other traditional JC recipes. These family dishes consisted of inari zushi, chicken teriyaki, kinpura gobo, Japanese chow mein, sunomono salad and baked salmon.

During the 1990s, it was only on some very special family occasions that I was able to enjoy some of the few authentic Japanese restaurants in Toronto. Therefore, the Japanese Canadian dishes that I grew up with set the benchmark with my later experience in Japanese cuisine.

Recently, I have made many new Japanese friends who have come to live and work in Toronto. They are always surprised to find out I am a fourth-generation Japanese Canadian. They have given me insights into how the influx of new Japanese immigrants are contributing to the number of authentic Japanese restaurants appearing in Toronto.

Along with my new Japanese friends, a lot of my non-Japanese friends have become quite interested with the abundance of “new” types of Japanese restaurants opening in Toronto. The “old” type of Japanese restaurants consist of the more traditional restaurants like Tokyo Grill, Konnichiwa and the many sushi restaurants located in Toronto. These “new” types of restaurants consist of rowdy izakaya bars and bustling ramen shops that have appeared everywhere in downtown Toronto. Furthermore, online and mobile restaurant reviews have helped the younger generation of Canadians to easily discover these new types of Japanese restaurants. As a result, these loud and hip restaurants have inspired the Toronto foodie scene.

Despite the enthusiastic popularity of these new Japanese restaurants, I feel the traditional JC cuisine I grew-up with remains within a shrinking bubble. There seems to be no awareness of traditional Japanese Canadian cuisine outside of bazaars, picnics or family gatherings. Even though younger generations of Japanese Canadians are thoroughly enjoying these new Japanese restaurants, there seems little occasion or desire to learn and share traditional Japanese Canadian cuisine with our non-Japanese friends or with new Japanese immigrants.

Unfortunately, the current generation is growing up in a restaurant culture. The practicality and need to cook at home or have potlucks have decreased with the increased allure of trendy restaurants. It is a real possibility that many Japanese Canadian recipes could be lost because of this. We are talking about generations of finely tuned recipes from family taste-tests forever lost. Therefore, I hope to reveal histories behind Japanese Canadian dishes as well as introducing Japanese Canadians to the “new” wave of Japanese cuisine coming to Canada through recipes, photos and restaurant reviews. In future articles, I hope to bridge this gap of culinary knowledge between the new Japanese immigrants, Japanese Canadians and future generations.


Russell Sakauye is currently an independent documentary film producer, photographer, video artist and a full-time foodie living in Toronto.