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The Secret Behind Japanese Restaurants in Syracuse

The Secret Behind Japanese Restaurants in Syracuse

Unlike traditional American fast food, which is often fried, or Chinese food, which takes a lot of preparation before serving, Japanese food is simpler to prepare and becoming increasingly popular for its health benefits. But are restaurants in America serving authentic Japanese food? We interviewed owners of some of the popular Japanese restaurants in Syracuse to find the answer.

Japanese restaurants, Chinese owners?

Many of the Japanese restaurants in Syracuse are owned by Chinese people. Gary Dong, owner of Asahi Japanese Restaurant, is one of them.

Gary Dong, owner of Asahi Japanese Restaurant on Westcott Street.

Gary Dong, owner of Asahi Japanese Restaurant on Westcott Street.

“I was born into a cooking family,” Gary tells us. His family has owned a Chinese restaurant in Syracuse for 30 years. But Gary decided to take a different route. His Japanese restaurant, Asahi, has been on Westcott Street for almost four years. With a reputation for serving sushi on a conveyor belt and a prime location, Asahi is still attracting a lot of customers.

Gary says there are three reasons why he started a Japanese restaurant. First, the food is relatively simple to prepare. The preparation of sushi requires cutting raw fish, and rolling it with rice and seaweed. It is easy to make delicious with the right ingredients, Gary says.

Interior of Asahi Restaurant, featuring a conveyor sushi belt.

Interior of Asahi Restaurant, featuring a conveyor sushi belt.

Secondly, Gary worked in a Japanese restaurant when he lived in New York City. Many international students work in Japanese restaurants instead of Chinese or American restaurants, the latter requiring more prep work and cooking skills, he said.

Most importantly, Gary says there are already too many Chinese restaurants in Syracuse. The competition is brutal, and these restaurants have loyal customers, so it would be tough for a new Chinese restaurant to be successful.

Gary is one of a handful of Chinese owners of Japanese restaurants in Syracuse. In fact, the famous Bleu Monkey Cafe and the newly opened Yamasho are also owned by Chinese people.

American-Japanese cuisine

A woman named Amy, who works at Yamasho Sushi Steakhouse, gave us an interesting perspective on the authenticity of American-Japanese.

Japanese food arrived in the U.S. about 20 years after Chinese food. Having been here for over 30 years, authentic Chinese food has already adapted to what we now call American-Chinese food.

Involving a lot more fried components, American-Chinese food has a familiar taste to that of typical American cuisine and has become popular nationwide. Like Chinese food, Japanese cuisine has followed a similar trajectory of becoming Americanized.

Amy has worked as an employee of Japanese restaurants for over 20 years. She has witnessed the development of Japanese restaurants, and told us about how that has happened.

A list of the sushi rolls on Yamasho's menu.

A list of the sushi rolls on Yamasho’s menu.

As seen on the Yamasho menu, a lot of the offerings are named after American locations (i.e. California Rolls, Boston Rolls). The transformation that Japanese food has made to assimilate to American culture and taste-buds is obvious.

Additionally, the preparation of American-Japanese food is a bit different than that of authentic Japanese dishes. Traditionally, the ingredients are simply blended together without the addition of sauces in order to preserve the natural flavors. Moreover, Amy told us that in the U. S., you need beautiful plating in order to attract customers.

Yamasho's beautifully designed plates with sauces that complete the Japanese-American cuisine.

Yamasho Restaurant’s beautifully designed plates with sauces that complete the Japanese-American cuisine.

Takeaways

Typically in the U. S., rolls are filled with different kinds of sauces; Thousand Island and honey mustard to name a couple. These flavors are much different from traditional Japanese flavors. American-Japanese food has become an entirely different type of food with the addition of these foreign flavors and non-traditional preparation methods. While this may disappoint lovers of authentic Japanese cuisine, the Americanized Japanese food is quickly gaining popularity and traction in the U.S. market.

Despite these differences, the chefs in Japanese restaurants take their craft very seriously. They have done a lot to keep the food as authentically Japanese as possible. Amy said that the chefs in Yamasho are trained by Japanese masters, and she has even heard of some chefs who went directly to Japan to learn how to make good Japanese food.

The root of the food remains authentically Japanese, but flavors and preparation methods are clearly changing. So while you may not be eating “traditional” Japanese food, the end-results are still delicious and worth the try.

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