For those of you that celebrate Christmas, you're probably well past the planning stage for planning dinner, and you may have even started prepping for it. But if you're anything like me, work, family, and life, in general, seem to press fast-forward on the last few weeks of the year.
If you're behind on planning your holiday dinner, keep reading because I've put together a Japanese-themed holiday menu for your inspiration.
Christmas in Japan is not a significant holiday, so it's not surprising that the food surrounding the day has been hijacked by marketers in Japan. Specifically, Christmas was indelibly tied to a bucket of KFC after a 1974 national ad campaign used the slogan "ケンタッキーはクリスマス！" which literally means "Kentucky (Fried Chicken) is Christmas."
You don't need me to tell you how to order a bucket of the Colonel's original, though, so think of this as the Christmas dinner Japanese might be eating in some alternate timeline where KFC doesn't monopolize the holiday table.
When I plan dinner, I usually start with a few canapes that can either be consumed standing up while guests mill about and chat, or they can be served family-style at the table.
Spicy Edamame - Although edamame is traditionally a summer food, it's sold frozen year-round these days, which makes it a popular appetizer. While they usually come salted, I dress them up with various things, such as garlic butter or lemon pepper, to take them up a notch. These red and green spicy edamame are always a hit, and they're chromatically on-theme to boot.
Teriyaki Wings - Chicken wings are always a crowd-pleaser, but the last-minute frying involved in making buffalo wings can be a chore. These sweet and savory teriyaki wings are tender and flavorful and can be made in advance. Just braise them and line them up on an oven sheet ready to bake before storing them in the fridge. Then it's just a matter of popping them in the oven to heat them up and brown the skin.
California Roll - California rolls need no introduction, and you can make them fancy using real crab meat. I know making sushi can be a bit of a chore, but since we're using sushi rice in the main course, you can prepare a bigger batch and set some aside for these. I recommend rolling them just before your guests arrive and keeping the rolls wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Then, all you have to do is slice and serve them.
This is the "meat" of the meal, and the best part is that it can all be prepared in advance, so you're not in the kitchen cooking while your guests are eating.
Roast Beef - Japan isn't historically a beef-eating culture, and to this day, it's an expensive meat. Still, roast beef has been in Japan for over a hundred years, and it's typically reserved for special occasions and holidays such as New Year. It's also an alternative to KFC for Christmas. Because Japanese homes don't tend to have ovens, it's usually made with a smaller piece of meat that can be pan-roasted. It's then chilled and sliced very thinly before being served at room temperature with an onion and soy sauce glaze. You can follow the process for my Roast Beef Don and skip the rice to make it.
Chirashizushi - Chirashizushi literally means "scattered sushi," and as the name suggests, it's made with seasoned sushi rice with various toppings mixed into the rice and scattered on top. Its colorful and festive appearance and the fact that it easily scales make it a popular dish for get-togethers. Since the Roast Beef provides plenty of protein, I'd recommend going with my plant-based chirashi, but if you feel like being extra, my seafood chirashizushi is festive and delicious.
Home-cooked meals in Japan are typically eaten family-style, with one or two main dishes at the center of the table flanked by several sides. These are easy to prepare, can be made in advance, and add a splash of color to your table.
Ham and Sweet Potato Salad - Loaded with whole grain mustard and savory bits of ham, this colorful side dish is a flavorful side that goes beautifully with the roast beef.
Lotus Root Kinpira - It's not the prettiest dish in the world, but the fun shape and crispy texture of this Lotus Root Kinpira make up for the brown color.
Asparagus & Snap Pea Salad - It's not spring, but the table needs a splash of green, and this delightfully refreshing asparagus and snap pea salad delivers almost every shade of green.
Christmas Cake - Christmas in Japan is associated with 2 foods. KFC, and Christmas Cake. Unlike Christmas cakes in other parts of the world, in Japan, a Christmas cake is basically a Japanese-style shortcake (sponge cake + whipped cream + strawberries). It was popularized about 100 years ago by a bakery called Fujiya (which also happens to be the company that makes the candy "Milky").
Matcha Basque Cheesecake - "Burnt" Basque Cheesecakes took the world by storm a few years ago thanks to the custardy center and caramelized top, and they were a huge hit here in Japan. This isn't a traditional Christmas dessert, but if shortcake isn't your thing (or you live in an area without good strawberries in December), my Matcha Basque Cheesecake is still on-theme and much easier to make.
Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, I hope you enjoy the last two weeks of the year, and may 2023 bring you health, contentment, and loads of delicious food!