One of my favorite places to eat in Tokyo doesn’t serve what most people would recognize as Japanese food. At Yoshikami, a little restaurant in the old Asakusa neighborhood, the menu features beef croquettes; ebi gratin, essentially macaroni and cheese with shrimp; and “Napolitan,” spaghetti sautéed with ketchup, bell pepper, and mushrooms. These dishes belong to a category of Japanese cooking called yoshoku—adaptations of European and American foods that trace their origins to the late 19th century, after Japan opened itself to the West—and for me, they represent the ultimate comfort food. When I was little, I’d accompany my dad to Yoshikami for dinner. To an impressionable eight-year-old, this was dinner and a show. White-toqued chefs worked behind a dining counter, tall flames shooting up around the skillets as they cooked. I would order the hamburg, a fried patty of ground beef and panko that was served not on a bun with a side of fries like its American antecedent, but with white rice and steamed carrots. My dad, meanwhile, would tuck into a Western-style slab of sirloin steak. We went a couple of times a year; it felt like a very special treat. I recently returned to Yoshikami for the first time in nearly 30 years. The restaurant was just as I remembered it, with its checked tablecloths and bustling chefs behind the counter. They were still using those same old recipes—the menu hadn’t changed a bit. I ordered a hamburg, and then I remembered my dad, thought what the heck, and ordered a steak too.
Yoshikami, a little restaurant in the old Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo, serves very un-Japanese-style comfort food