Four restaurant lessons from the rise of Japanese food trends in the UK

Egg Soldiers analyses the evolution of Japanese food trends in the UK, highlighting four noteworthy lessons for future cuisine trend tracking
Japanese dumplings in broth
Major food trends can, sometimes, seem to come out of nowhere. But if you look closely, you'll often see that they've been evolving slowly for some time, such as Japanese food trends in the UK, with the Asian cuisine now embedded into the mainstream after decades of culinary creativity from pioneers and innovators.

So what can we learn from Japanese food's rise to the top of the UK consumer food trend curve? And how can we best apply those lessons to spot future cuisine trends before they become yesterday's news?

Japanese food trends: 25 years in the making
Did you know London’s first Japanese restaurant, Hiroko, opened way back 1967?

That effectively means, if you go by the first launches of arguably the two most widespread, Japanese-focused chains today, Wagamama and YO! Sushi (1992 and 1997, respectively); it took Japanese cuisine the best part of 25 years to become a serious proposition within the world of mainstream UK restaurant groups.

Both have long since evolved from their origins, expanding into grocery retail and grab-and-go concept spaces, with the likes of Wasabi and, more recently, KOKORO – which has opened 26 sites in the last two years alone – among the more modern restaurant groups to thrive in this space.

Aside from their focus on Japanese eating options, all offer fast, engaging and fresh eating experiences for casual diners – with authentic, experiential eating concepts readily harnessed today by new, regional Asian entries into the UK market.


Japanese food trends: Synonymous with health

It’s no secret that the Japanese have one of the lowest obesity rates and longest average lifespans of any country in the world, with the traditional Japanese diet considered to be one of the healthiest around.

Driven by minimally processed, nutrient-rich dish components, rooted with rice, and with an emphasis on gut health-aiding fermented ingredients; the age-old Japanese diet spells, for the most part: low calories, high nutrition, and big flavours.

Seaweed, ginger, raw fish, miso paste, pickled and fermented vegetables, mushrooms and matcha were among the most promoted as healthy food staples, giving Japanese cuisine a foothold in the West, with sushi the flagship offering.

Interestingly, as UK interest in the wider cuisine grew, traditional Japanese fried foods like karaage, tempura and tonkatsu started to make a name for themselves in the comfort food scene, while the mochi ice cream desserts are all the rage.

Today, Japanese food remains something of a gold standard for healthy eating while also being a Friday-night favourite, firmly establishing itself in two of the most lucrative markets.
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

Japanese food trends: Unlocking umami
Sweet, salty, sour and bitter were once the four basic tastes - until umami came onto the scene and made it five.

While umami isn’t exclusive to Japanese foods, it’s often associated with ingredients used in Japanese dishes, such as soy sauce, miso, seaweed and shiitake mushrooms, with the Asian cuisine helping drive awareness over the past couple of decades.

For UK consumers, curiosity soon evolved into cravings, with umami trends still very much on the rise today – reaching far beyond it’s perceived Asian origins.


Japanese food trends: Asian fusion cooking finds favour with younger audiences

Roast kingklip, purslane, buttered leeks, katsuobushi, miso & seaweed sauce
In the 1980s, the UK was obsessed with Asian fusion cooking, with the blending of different flavours and styles from different cultures and cuisines all the rage.

And while it fell out of fashion somewhat in the 90s; today, pan-Asian fusion cooking remains very much part of the dining scene in the UK, with Japanese ingredients and/or techniques having been a driving force behind a range of fusion trends, from the Peruvian-paired Nikkei cuisine, to Yoshoku (Japanese-style Western), which has recently started to make waves on the London casual dining scene.

Driven by younger, Gen Z audiences and their love for new global flavours and a flair for disruption; Asian fusion’s next great step seems within the realm of third-culture cuisines, namely dishes based on one culture, powered by flavours from another, with Wafu (meaning Japanese-style) Italian; Japanese-South African fusion (pioneered by the likes of Cape Town restaurant, FYN); and new Mexican-meets-Japanese concepts among the most exciting in this space.
Restaurant action points for 2023
  • Japanese BBQ
    Consider Yakiniku, the Japanese term for 'grilled meat', which is being mentioned as part of the next wave of Japanese foods to hit the UK mainstream, beyond the likes of sushi and ramen.

    Yakiniku is one of the most popular dishes in its native Japan, with diners cooking meat and vegetables on grills embedded into tables.
  • Health & Sustainability
    Keep both healthy eating and sustainability front of mind when developing Japanese dishes in 2023.

    Tactics could include exploring traditional plant-based Japanese cuisine roots, such as Shojin Ryori; focusing on eliminating food waste wherever possible; and prioritising sustainable seafood when considering sushi concepts.
  • Inauthentic Innovation
    As third-culture innovators continue to make waves across the UK, take inspiration from the likes of Wafu and Yōshoku cuisines when developing comfort food-centric dish options.

    Korokke, the Japanese version of French potato croquettes, could make for an appealing on-the-go snack or sharing plate, for example. And how about pizza made with a mochi crust?
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