Why do Japanese people like wieners so much?

I often like to peruse the excellent Japanese cooking site Cookpad. Cookpad is a unique cooking community site. The bulk of it consists of cooking blogs, where people post recipes and pictures. People can post short responses to the recipes called tsukurepo, where they show a photo of their attempt making the recipe. A lot of recipes also note which other recipe on the site inspired the poster to come up with theirs. This is what makes the site unique - you can follow a complete genealogy of a recipe, and keep on discovering new variations on themes. The recipes themselves are nothing fancy, and that's another reason I like the site. It gives a look into what real Japanese people, mostly 'housewives', are making for their families at home.

Now you might think that Japanese home cooking means fresh, seasonal food, lots of fish and the like. In part that is true, but that's not the whole story. One thing that seems a bit odd to me as a Japanese person who has lived outside of the country for years is how popular wieners and franks are in Japan. I have nothing at all against a good sausage, but I can't say I have them all the time either. Once a month is about the limit. But Japanese people seem to put wieners into everything. Kids in particular love them, as epitomized by the famous octopus-shaped wiener for which there are even special cutters.

Take this stew recipe which was featured in a recent Cookpad newsletter. A perfectly healthy stew with lots of vegetables...with the somewhat jarring addition of 5 wieners.

The reason for the popularity of finely ground sausages could be that they have a similar mouthfeel to traditional fish-paste products like kamaboko and chikuwa. (Rough-textured sausages are barely seen in Japan.) It could be because they cook so quickly. Or it could be down to marketing. I remember growing up with ads for Ito Ham Parukii wieners, which specifically targeted kids. Of course, I wanted them badly, but my mother was a bit anti-wiener, and would only buy the 'purer' (I guess the forerunner of organic) wieners from the farm coop store. One day she caved into the kids' pleadings and got a packet of Parukii wieners, and served them up in a "Napolitan" spaghetti (which has nothing remotely to do with Naples but is a purely Japanese invention, except for the spaghetti). That night my sister Mayumi broke out all over her body in hives, reacting badly to whatever chemicals or additives were in the Parukii. I believe they no longer make Parukii, but they do still make wieners, including 'high-end' ones with the nicely Germanic name of Alt Bayern.

Wieners and franks are popular in other countries too of course - Germany/Austria/Switzerland naturally, as well as the U.S. But I wouldn't be surprised if the per capita consumption was the highest in Japan.

[Edit: more wiener recipes!]

Filed under:  japanese offbeat

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I'd always seen wieners (cut into a menagerie of strange creatures) in bento and thought they were just a bento thing. I never realized that they were put in a whole lot more! A stew with what I consider to be hot dogs? I couldn't eat that! My mother makes what she calls "chuckwagon chili" with hot dogs on top of ground beef, beans, onions, carrots, and other ingredients. I've never liked it, primarily because I think the addition of hot dogs is just wrong. I mean, I like a good hot dog on a bun with ketchup and mustard, once and awhile, but in anything else? It doesn't seem right.

This is an interesting tidbit. Thanks Maki!

When I was working in Japan, I bought weiners frequently because on my salary I couldn't afford any other red meat! A packet of weiners cost about what I would expect a packet of hot dogs to cost back home, whereas beef was about five times what I was used to, and lamb was just impossible.

I only recently learned of the infinite ways in which Japanese moms slice and dice the things to make them look like tulips or octopus or caterpillars, etc. I find them adorable, but strange.

I love a good sausage, but I never cared for the hot dog weiners. The smooth mouth-feel is a bit disgusting to me.

I wonder if the wiener thing in Japan is like the spam thing in Korea. Spam appears a lot in Korean stews and I read that it was because American soldiers brought it over when they were stationed there. There was such a surplus that they gave it to Korean villagers by their base.

Or maybe wieners are popular because it's cheaper than pork or beef in Japan?

Now you can even make it into stock, so you can pour it over everything: http://ideasinfood.typepad.com/ideas_in_food/2007/09/hot-dog-stock.html

Little Smokies -- spicy cocktail wieners -- are quite tasty. They are served at everything from potlucks and informal buffets to Super Bowl parties, heated in chafing dishes or otherwise kept warm, accompanied by all kinds of dipping sauces. Perhaps because meat is so expensive in Japan, the mystery meats used in their wieners are not the best. Spam is the cupboard meat of choice in Hawaii, the largest consumer of all 50 states. It is made from pork shoulder and is not a mystery meat.

I heard an interesting story on National Public Radio recently called "Weenie Royale" which was about the Japanese internment camps in the Pacific Northwest USA during WWII. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17335538 - it is part of a series on the hidden kitchens of America.

Wow, that CookPad site is amazing! Time to brush up on my kanji and Japanese reading skills...

Maybe it's because the Japanese ones taste so good...I love it how they kind of pop. I just moved from Tokyo to Vorarlberg and the Austrian ones don't do that :(