Chicken Nanban: Comfort food with a surprise

It's fried, creamy, and a bit tart too!

It’s fried, creamy, and a bit tart too!

To the untrained eye, “chicken nanban” is no more than fried chicken adorned with a large dollop of tartar sauce. And to be fair, bluntly put it is just that — a comfort food that can put the pep back in the step of even the most weary of travelers. But on closer gustatory consideration, this chicken dish originating from Kyushu (the southernmost of Japan’s main islands and an area home to some of Japan’s most delicious foods) blooms into a complex, fulfilling experience capable of appealing to even discerning palates. It is said that the original inspiration for what would eventually become chicken nanban was ferried to Japan sometime in the 17th century in the form of none other than Portuguese food. The dish evolved to suit local tastes, but did not shed the distinctive sweet and sour sauce that had made the original dish popular. The name also speaks of a foreign origin, and not in a particularly positive light either: “Nanban” means “Southern barbarian,” but we’ll just take it to mean that nanban chicken is wildly delicious!

Enough talk about the past — let’s get to the meat of the matter. We begin with succulent, simply seasoned, boneless chicken breast. After an optional egg wash (this adding to the perceived “fluffiness” of the chicken, and also acting as a catalyst to soak up as much of the signature sauce as possible), the chicken is lightly breaded and then fried on up. Fried chicken at the ready, it’s time for the two-stage saucing to being. First comes the nanban sauce itself, a distinctly flavored concoction that perfectly marries with the other flavors in this dish. It is comprised of rice vinegar, mirin (a vaguely sweet, fortified alcohol), soy sauce, sugar, and just a bit of chili pepper. Stage two of the saucing entails a liberal yet loving dousing of the aforementioned tartar sauce. These two sauces harmonically enrobe the boneless fried chicken breast, creating a truly satisfying flavor and texture creation which has spread from its birthplace of Kyushu to become hit among children, businessmen and seasoned travelers alike all over Japan.

Looking to try chicken nanban in Tokyo?
Japan Gourmetpedia recommends using our sister site, Tokyo Dinner Ticket, to find the perfect restaurant.


Chicken Nanban at restaurant Choi Choi in Ikebukuro


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