Japan's 'Dish Of The Year' Is Frozen Food

Japan's "dish of the year" is an interesting phenomenon, and it's not exactly what you might expect. CNN explains that it's announced each year by the Gurunavi Research Institute, which operates Gurunavi, a website billed as "Japan's Largest Gourmet & Restaurant Guide." Live Japan, a website that explores travel, dining, shopping, and lodging in Japan, is operated by Gurunavi, and it explained how the process of selecting the "dish of the year" worked for 2021's Dish, which was "alcohol-taste beverages."

Live Japan describes the "dish of the year" as "a symbolic dish that reflects the social situation of the year, selected as a way to preserve and pass down the food culture of Japan." Because users that visit the Gurunavi website are searching for restaurants, the site can compile data about dining trends, and top keywords from user searches are narrowed down based on the social and cultural significance of the trends they reveal. 

"Alcohol-taste beverages," for example, was selected as a candidate because, during the pandemic, the government restricted the sale of alcoholic beverages, and creating drinks that tasted like alcohol without actually containing any alcohol required an innovative approach that Gurunavi and media representatives believed captured the spirit of 2021. So which dish is the "alcohol-taste beverage" of 2022?

What does frozen food say about Japan in 2022?

Previous "dish of the year" winners have included "chicken breast dishes" (2017), mackerel (2018), tapioca (2019), and "take-out gourmet" (2020). Frozen food may seem like an odd selection as a symbol for the culinary trend of a nation, but, in truth, it makes sense. The Gurunavi Research Institute points out that restaurants have successfully explored flash-freezing their dishes for consumption at home, methods that "have allowed chefs to maintain the integrity of the dish, with some even giving frozen sushi a go," via CNN.

And it's not just restaurants that are driving the consumption of frozen foods in Japan. A report from the USDA shows a steady increase over time in the sale of frozen foods in Japan, and CNN notes that grocery stores have expanded their frozen food offerings as well as the space allocated for frozen food. The Asahi Shimbun explains that manufacturers of home freezers have experienced dramatic increases in shipments as busy families increasingly rely on the convenience of frozen food

At the press conference held to announce the "dish of the year" for 2022, renowned chef Hiroki Yoshitake explained that prior to the pandemic, frozen food was thought of as low quality, saying he and other Japanese chefs are working to "change people's preconceived notions" about frozen foods, per Rehow. He added, "We chefs will cook locally-caught ingredients and sell them as frozen gourmet foods, not only in Japan but around the world."