Exploring the Origins of Teriyaki

In Japanese restaurants in the US, teriyaki is one of the most recognizable things on the menu for most people. In the US, teriyaki is usually thought of as a sauce, but in Japan, it is a style of cooking. The sauce may have originated not in Japan but in Hawaii, which is home to large ex-pat Japanese population. Here is a look at the history of teriyaki.

Teriyaki as a Cooking Method

In Japan, teriyaki as a style of cooking originated in the 17 th century. The “teri” part of the word loosely translates to “glazed,” while “yaki” means “broiled” or “grilled.” In Japan, the sauce that is used in meals that are prepared in teriyaki style is not necessarily like the teriyaki sauce used in Japanese restaurants in the US. Instead, when you see teriyaki on the menu in Japan, it is usually describing a glazed and grilled fish dish—usually salmon, tuna, or mackerel.

Teriyaki Sauce in Hawaii

The teriyaki sauce that is familiar in Japanese food in the US is believed to have been created by Japanese immigrants in Hawaii. The Japanese population there crafted a marinade that contained traditional flavors from Japan, like mirin, sake, and soy sauce, as well as ingredients that were indigenous to their new home in Hawaii, such as pineapple. Using this sauce as a marinade for grilled fish, chicken, and meat gradually increased in popularity and eventually become popular in the mainland in the 1960s, when there was an uptick in interest in Japanese cuisine.

Teriyaki Sauce Today

Today, teriyaki sauce typically contains some mixture of soy, mirin or sake, garlic, brown sugar, and pineapple juice. The sweet sauce can be used as a marinade, as a baste for cooking, or as a dipping sauce.

You can enjoy teriyaki sauce along with a variety of Japanese food specialties at House of Genji, including traditional teppanyaki cooking. Find out more about our menu and hours by calling our Japanese restaurant in San Jose at (408) 453-8120.

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