don’t hold the mayo!

When I was in secondary school and junior college, we were made to read Newsweek as part of some reading programme. Somehow, out of the thousands of articles that my brain processed, this is the only one that stands out in my mind after all these years. (Naturally I quickly located a copy online and reproduce it for posterity below.) Probably because I’m quite a fan of mayo (especially Japanese) myself!


Don’t Hold The Mayo!

Kouji Nakamura mixes a cocktail in his shaker, squeezes a bit of mayonnaise into it, gives it a good shake and voila! “This is mayogarita,” he declares, putting down a glass of milky white stuff that smells like vinegar. Next he concocts a “mayoty dog,” which is like a salty dog–vodka and grapefruit juice–with the rim of the glass coated in mayo instead of salt. If that makes you flinch, wait until dinner arrives: a pot of mayonnaise fondue, followed by a plate of chopped celery and octopus swimming in tomato and mayonnaise sauce. At the next table, a young couple slices a big, mayo-filled pizza. It’s a typical Saturday night at Mayonnaise Kitchen, Japan’s first mayo-themed restaurant. When Nakamura, 31, opened the eatery in a Tokyo suburb two summers ago, he recalls, “some said, ‘Who would come to a place that just serves mayonnaise?’ ” Plenty of people, as it turned out; Nakamura opened his second Tokyo restaurant last April.

Surely no city in the world is better suited for such a place: Japanese love mayonnaise. And they are known for their abundant–and creative–consumption of it. While use of such traditional seasonings as salt, soy sauce and miso paste has been on the decline, mayo consumption has risen 10 percent in the past two years. An average Japanese eats 1.9 kilograms of mayonnaise a year (though that’s still less than half of what an American gobbles up). But while Americans limit its use mainly to salad dressings, sandwiches and dips, Japanese recipes are far more diverse–including mayonnaise soup and country mayo cake. Even rice balls, the traditional fast food, come with such mouth-watering fillings as fish egg and mayo, and stewed pork and mayo. Japanese food companies sell the condiment in soft plastic squeeze bottles, making it easy to top everything with mayonnaise. Even in the recession, in which most segments of the food market are suffering, “[Demand for] mayonnaise is surprisingly strong,” says Tsutomu Matsuno, an analyst at Tokyo’s Daiwa Institute of Research.

That’s not surprising if you watch Mariko Suzuki eat. Suzuki, 26, who lives in Fukui, northern Japan, eats everything–Japanese noodles, sashimi, curry, spaghetti, hamburgers–mixed with mayonnaise. When dining at a restaurant, she often asks a waiter to bring some on the side. In fact, Suzuki loves mayonnaise so much that in 1996 she launched the country’s first mayo Web site, Mayomania. Since then, it has received hundreds of hits every day, and dozens of similar sites have popped up. They list funky recipes as well as endless mayo-flavored products on the market including sesame and mayonnaise crackers, and mayonnaise and soy spaghetti sauce. There’s even a recently coined term to describe a person like Suzuki: mayoraa–meaning someone who adores mayonnaise.

Today, most mayoraas are teenagers and twentysomethings, but Japan’s mayo obsession goes back a long way. In the 1920s, a government official named Toichiro Nakajima brought back a jar of mayo from the United States. He began producing his own version of the emulsion of oil, vinegar and egg with much more yolk, and went on to found Q.P. Corporation. Because egg was already a staple of the Japanese diet, Q.P.’s mixture was easy to adopt; today the company controls 70 percent of the domestic mayo market. “Having eaten egg yolk and rice for a long time, it’s not strange for Japanese to mix egg-yolk-based mayonnaise with rice or whatever they have traditionally eaten,” says Q.P. spokeswoman Noriko Yoshioka.

For a long time mayonnaise was used primarily as a salad dressing. But about a decade ago, Japanese began cooking a variety of mayo-flavored dishes, like sauteed pork with mayo and ginger. The egg-yolk-heavy mayo is believed to benefit the koku, or body, and now mayo makers market it as a koku-enhancing seasoning. Cooking experts also say a bit of mayo makes an omelet or scrambled eggs fluffier. But the older generation thinks today’s young people are a little too liberal with their mayo use; Sawako Hayashi, a 58-year-old Tokyo housewife, cannot help but raise her eyebrows when her daughter-in-law, 28, uses mayonnaise every day. “Young people don’t appreciate the natural flavor of food,” she says. Kasumi Hoshino, 34, admits that her mother considered it bad-mannered to eat mayo with rice. Now that she runs her own household, she says, “I enjoy experimenting with mayonnaise, and my daughter, who’s 10, loves it.”

Still, not everything tastes better with mayo. Hoshino confesses that her daughter’s friends gave back chocolate-chip mayonnaise cookies after one bite. But the worst combo she’s come up with yet? Mayo and Coke. Even mayoraas sometimes make mistakes.

Newsweek, 22 December 2002


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