Japan’s Intriguing “B-Class Cuisine” in New York?
“B-Class Cuisine,” or B-kyu gurume (gourmet), may not sound appetizing, it is actually all about being delicious. The phrase, which was coined in the 1980s, began as a backlash against the idea that food could be evaluated solely on its cost or the rarity of its ingredients. B-kyu gurume espouses the idea that enjoyable food neither has to be made out of expensive ingredients nor be expensive itself. The term grew in popularity during the economic downturn of the 1990s and has evolved to include dishes that incorporate locally sourced ingredients, regional flavors, in addition to unorthodox garnishes that add depth and flavor.
B-kyu gurume is showcased throughout Japan at events and festivals. The largest of these events regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Aside from introducing people to enticing assortments of delicious food, many of these events offer a competitive feature where visitors can vote for their favorite dishes. The competition and ranking of entrant's dishes help promote tourism within Japan. The idea appears to be working, with winning recipes typically providing long-term benefits for their local economies. Some past winners have included variations on yakisoba (a fried noodle dish) that used local ingredients and unusual toppings like sardine powder, ground meat, or special sauces, as well as dishes like senbei-jiru, a kind of soup filled with rice crackers and various seasonal ingredients.
The term B-kyu gurume was coined in Japan, but there are many examples here in the United States as well. Ramen, which is very popular in New York, offers tremendous potential for local chefs. New York restaurants offer a wide variety of non-traditional ramen offerings, from beef and other broths to toppings like corned beef that imbue ramen bowls with the flavors of the city. Similarly, dishes like yakitori, takoyaki, and donburi rice bowls provide the inspiration for unusual flavor pairings like sausage takoyaki and yakitori fondue.
This kind of experimentation is trending the other way as well. Examples of B-kyu gurume served in New York’s kitchens include hamburgers with buns made from grilled ramen noodles, hot dogs topped with Japanese pickles, and tacos that use a variety of Japanese spices like miso and yuzu. With all this flavor exploration going on, New York residents have more opportunities than ever to find a taste of Japan at their favorite local shop or food market, and these dishes represent just a small selection of the wide variety and depth of food available. This desire to experiment though the melding of flavors and cuisines to bring out the strengths of each ingredient represents the essence of B-kyu gurume.