Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Japan — JAN. 11 — In its 23rd annual food of the year vote, the Japanese Diners Association, dedicated to promoting American food culture in Japan, voted “hashbrowns” as the food of the year for 2012. Hashbrowns refers to a dish of cooked potatoes, typically with onions added, that have been chopped into small pieces and fried until a golden brown. They are often served in American diners, which are typically small roadside restaurants with a long counter and booths, originally designed to resemble a dining car on a train. Such diners have become increasingly popular in Japan in recent years, of course, with obligatory quick-witted and wryly funny waitresses in short, sexy, and colorful uniforms. Hashbrowns can be served with gravy or cheese on top, and in Japan, are often dusted with finely cut strips of 海苔 (nori/Japanese seaweed). In the Kansai area, hashbrowns often include chunks of fried octopus along with the onions and are served with a healthy side of Kewpie Mayonnaise.
Presiding at the Jan. 11 voting session were JDA Executive Secretary Jimmy Tanaka of Tokyo University, and Jacky Yamamoto, chair of the New Foods Committee of the American Diner and US Cooking Society and creator of Japan’s popular website beri.guu.dinersinjapan.com. Yamamoto is also a short order chef at The French Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt Tokyo during the weekend brunches and a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyoto University during the week.
“This was the year when hashbrowns became a ubiquitous item in all the diners in Japan ,” Tanaka said. “In Tokyo and Osaka and elsewhere, hashbrowns have become a major dining trend, spreading bite-sized greasy blasts of American culture to everyone who loves eating classic American food in a Japanized Diner environment.”
Yamamoto also added, “Hashbrowns, like nuclear power plants, are very easy to make and bring much deliciousness into our lives. However, if you mess up an order of hashbrowns, you do not have to spend 10,000 years cleaning up the mess so in this way, they are different from nuclear power plants, ” he quipped.
Food of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “menu item” — not just a dish but often as part of a set. Thus, hash browns & gravy did not constitute a separate entry. The foods do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year. Members in the 24-year-old organization which sponsors the growth of “diner cuisine” in Japan includes truck drivers, famous chefs, the US Ambassador to Japan, surly expatriates teaching English, frustrated writers looking to create a modern fictional masterpiece based on life in Japan and looking for a place to drink cheap coffee with internet access, lonely old white guys married to Japanese women, students, travel guide writers, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in great merriment and do not pretend to be officially setting the criteria for what is “diner food” in this tiny island country.
Last year’s winner was, “Flapjacks”, with “real maple syrup” coming in second place.
*The Japanese Diners Association does not really exist and no such food of the year award was given at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo today. However, this might have happened in an alternative universe, very much like our own.