Nikujaga, which translates literally as ‘meat and potatoes’, is pure unadulterated comfort food; to many Japanese people it is a taste of home and the memory of mother’s cooking. This sweet, incredibly warming, wintery dish has an easy-to-trace heritage going back to the beef stew served by the British Royal Navy in the late 1800s, and one Japanese cadet who was sent to England to further his naval studies. Tōgō Heihachirō, who had achieved the rank of lieutenant before returning to Japan, had developed a fondness for the cuisine of his alma mater; describing the dish to the chefs of the Imperial Navy, he had them recreate its flavours using local ingredients and according to the story, nikujaga was born.
The key components of a classic British beef stew are still present- potatoes, carrots, onions and of course beef, although the latter being in a much smaller quantity than you would expect to find in the traditional version. The similarities end there though- the umami-rich cooking liquor being made up of the staple Japanese ingredients of soy sauce, sake, mirin and dashi fish stock and the addition of chewy, glass-like shirataki noodles to complete the dish. Like the original, nikujaga is the perfect simple and nostalgic meal to warm you up on a cold, wet winter’s day whichever side of the world you’re on.