B-Kyuu Gurume: Japan's B-Class Gourmet Movement

B-Kyuu Gurume: Japan's B-Class Gourmet Movement
A chef makes takoyaki at a food stall in Tokyo train station, Photo Credit: Gumpanat/Shutterstock.com

Sure, Japan is known for its unaffordable food. But the B-kyuu food culture offers a delicious antithesis. Take a bite

Prannay Pathak
June 28 , 2021
04 Min Read

Talking of food... would you ever try something that is B-class? What if I told you that the Japs are crazy about it? Japan is known for some of the world’s most unaffordable food choices in the world.

Matsutake mushroom, loved for its meaty texture and a sweet aroma, is a delicacy only a few in Japan can afford

Wagyu beef is one of the world's most unaffordable foods. It can cost up to $200 a pound

Unagi, or Japanese eel, is reserved only for the stinking-rich. Buying a kilogram of baby eels will make you poorer by $35,000

Yet in the backyard of its snazzy food scene, the B-kyuu gurume movement has been earning acceptance all over. Where the homely, rich flavours of ‘gotochi’ food have found favour with gourmands. B-kyuu gurume translates to B-class, or B-grade gourmet cuisine.

Evening meals at an izakaya in Ueno

B-kyuu gurume emerged as an aesthetic in the 1990s, blossoming during the ensuing ‘Lost Decade’, as the country faced an unprecedented economic recession.

B-kyuu gurume celebrates Japan's izakaya culture

A new form of gastronomy, where local and inexpensive ingredients and flavours are prized, it has become a modern-day phenomenon. B-kyuu gurume celebrates Japan’s hyperlocal eateries, the izakaya; their chefs, and the basic but delicious recipes that they whip up every day.

Seafood scallop and sea urchin eggs at a street stall in Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

They specialise not only at hearty favourites such as ramen-based recipes, oden, yakisoba or katsu curry, but also affordable versions of what is known typically as high-end cuisine.

L-R: Sanmamen, Yokohama's famous ramen; Fire ramen in Kyoto

When it comes to the choices, plain ol’ ramen is easily the leader of the pack. Ramen, that filling, wholesome bowl of steaming soup, noodles and meat pieces, is available almost everywhere, from the alleys of the uber-urban Tokyo and Osaka, to the pretty Kyoto—which has its special ‘Fire Ramen’—and seafood centre Hokkaido.

Yokohama's Ramen Museum, with its setup modelled after '50s Japan, is an homage to the various kinds of ramen found all over Japan

Sapporo’s miso ramen is a veggie-heavy version where onions, bean sprouts, ginger and cabbage are stir fried before adding the soup. Yokohama even has a whole ramen-themed amusement park. Fukuoka’s well-kept secret tonkotsu version features a creamy pork bone (tonkotsu) broth. Fukuoka, along with Shimonoseki, is also where another major B-kyuu offering, the motsunabe, is popular.

Motsunabe, a much-loved hotpot meal

The hotpot meal of motsunabe, where the spiciness is offset using seasonings such as garlic, leeks, and chilli peppers, is one of the first stars of the B-kyuu revolution of the '80s.

Fujinomiya in Shizuoka Prefecture is the home of the Fujinomiya yakisoba, a much-celebrated B-kyuu gurume offering. A summer staple throughout Japan, yakisoba is a noodle-based offering featuring stir-fried veggies with oyster sauce.

Fujinomiya is known for yakisoba, a noodle dish featuring stir-fried veggies with oyster sauce

Takoyaki, or octopus balls, is a specialty that typifies the gotochi branch of B-kyuu gurume. A hot favourite street snack in Osaka, where it comes from, takoyaki is made with diced octopus, pickled ginger and onion and tempura scraps.

Men hunched over Gyudon bowls during lunch hour is a common sight

Despite being cheap and readily available, Japan's B-kyuu gurume doesn't really equate to fast food. so don't let the happening flavours of Gyudon, the comfort meat bowl, convince you that either. This bowl of goodness, with rice, beef and sautéed onion has kaishain, or Japan's salarymen, queuing up at stalls during lunch hour.Okonomiyaki: A street special that is made from eggs, onions, cabbage and meat fillings

Any discussion on Japan's B-class food movement is incomplete without a mention of Okonomiyaki. The pancake-style dish features onion, cabbage and meat filling. But what's truly marvellous is that the name of this dish comes from okonomi, meaning "how do you like" and yaki, meaning "cooked"

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