When you hear about certain things, you automatically associate them with Japan. Japan has this gift of taking on things and breathing new life into them, giving them a new identity waiting to be discovered. Their oldest modern trading partners, the Portuguese, gave them some of what now consider the most iconic parts of Japanese culture.
Japanese Sweets: All Thanks to the Portuguese
So many traditional Japanese sweets were brought over from Portugal, using their processes for refining sugar and baking. Interestingly enough, many Japanese cakes used a bit of a Dutch oven style baking method when first introduced, giving us such delectable breads and cakes such as Kasutera (Bolo de Castela, or Castilian Cake). They would cover the lid in hot coals to assure equal heating from the top and the bottom.
The big one for me was konpeito (Confeito in Portuguese). I thought this was one of the most Japanese snacks you could ever imagine. When I visited Portgual for the first time, however, I noticed vendors and shops were selling the candies. One of my wife’s students, sure enough, explained to us that the candy and candy-making process were given to the Japanese by the Portuguese! It’s pretty amazing how one culture or people can inherit something from another and run with it.
The truly amazing things about konpeito are the stories around it from Japanese history: Luis Frois (Portuguese missionary) got permission from the daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, to allow his Christian missionaries in Japan with a gift of konpeito. While that didn’t turn out to well, ultimately, for the Christians in Japan, it did inspire the future Emperors. When you visit him nowadays, you are awarded with a thank-you gift of konpeito upon your departure.
Tempura: Thank You, Portugal!
Tenpura/Tempura was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese. Quite possibly one of the most Japanese foods imaginable originally came from a foreign land. The popular theory around why it’s called tempura may be from the word tempora, which are the days Catholics would refrain from eating meat and would instead eat fish. This fish was typically batter-fried in oil, and this lead the observing Japanese to give the dish a whirl themselves. And there we have an origin story for Japanese tempura!
Are there any dishes typical of your country that have their roots in a different culture? Let us know in the comments!