Did you know in Japan potato is considered as vegetable? We eat potato just like any other veggies and serve with other carbs, such as rice, noodles or bread. We have dishes like niku-jaga (potato & meat stew), yakisoba (stir fried noodles with veggies & meat/seafood that can come with potato as one of its ingredients), and potato salad sandwich among many others.
Growing up in Japan, I never considered potato as staple food, since it always comes with another, more ‘prominent’ staple like rice or noodles. We also eat other root vegetables in the same manner as potato, from lotus root, burdock root, carrot and to Japanese daikon radish. The way we Japanese look at potato may be comparable to how Western people treat carrot. They are both root vegetables, and Western people don’t eat carrot as staple food just like we don’t eat potato that way. Always as side dish, salad, or ingredients in soup or stew; the same for us with potato.
In fact, if potato is served in lieu of rice or noodles it could become almost a torture for me after a few days, which always happens in Holland when we go visit my husband’s family. I don’t dare say this to my mother-in-law (better not to offend your in-laws, right…?), but my poor husband always gets nagged by me, because I start craving for rice and noodles really badly, and that becomes the sole thought in my head. Why? Because in my mind potato is vegetable, and I need to eat ‘proper’ staple food to satisfy my appetite.
Growing up in Holland on the other hand, my husband loves potato as his staple food. One evening, maybe one year into our happy marriage, I served niku-jaga for dinner, along with rice and miso soup. I still remember his puzzled facial expression, looking down at his bowl of shiny freshly cooked rice, not knowing what to do with it. He was enjoying the best dish ever from his loving wife, potato & meat stew a.k.a. niku-jaga, that reminds him of his content childhood (despite a bit different flavour I suppose). After a while he finally asked hesitantly, “why do you have rice on the table…? We are eating potato tonight, so don’t need any rice, do we…?” At the beginning I didn’t understand him, but then he told me that niku-jaga for him was like niku-don (pork on rice) for me, eating meat and staple at the same time and no need for another staple to be added to it. His explanation made such good sense, so he kept on enjoying his niku-jaga by itself while I ate my rice with a bit of niku-jaga as a side dish.
And that was when the cultural difference in our eating habit first emerged on a surface, and it has been continuing to this day.
Our compromising tofu hamburg steak dinner the other day