Ask Auntie

Is there cheese in Japanese cuisine?

Q. Is there cheese in Japanese cuisine? – I have never heard of a ‘traditional’ Japanese dish that has cheese in it, but when I had a stopover in Tokyo I saw several dishes that seemed to be a strange mix of Japanese and Italian that definitely looked like they had cheese in or on them.

Says Tim in Manchester.

A. I will start out with a disclaimer: I have never been to Japan, I have never eaten Japanese cheese, and this answer is entirely based on a bit of research rather than first hand experience.

The answer really depends on exactly what your question is, so I’ll answer it as two separate questions…

Q. Is there cheese in traditional Japanese cuisine?
A. Quite simply… No!

Q. Is cheese eaten in Japan in 2016?
A. Of course it is, we live in a global world and there probably isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have cheese reasonably easily available.

Japanese cuisine, like all others, is constantly evolving and the Japanese take on Italian and French food often contain cheese even if more traditional dishes don’t. More traditionally Japanese dishes aren’t missing out on the rise in cheese completely though, a quick google in Japanese for dishes that contain cheese throws up recipes for things like ‘cheesy chawan-mushi’, ‘natto with cheese’ and ‘cheese dumplings’.

Both imported and domestically produced cheeses are available, the imported stuff is often ridiculously expensive but there are more and more very good Japanese cheeses on the market, some of which are winning international awards.

You are unlikely to find Japanese cheeses for sale anywhere outside of of the land of the rising sun (I’ve just tried) but if you do manage then I think that Sakura is definitely an interesting one to try – it’s a soft cheese flavoured with mountain cherry leaves. Sounds yummy!

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