It’s Tartar Sauce, and it’s Japanese Food

Tartar sauce on some Chicken Nanban.

Tartar sauce on some Chicken Nanban.

When you think of “sauce” and Japanese food, the first thing you probably think about is soy sauce, the dark, salty, soy based sauce into which you dip your sushi or sashimiPonzu sauce is another one you may have heard of, but did you know that modern Japanese food has quite a penchant for creamy sauces? Mayonnaise can be found in all kinds of places (arguably, more places than it should be), but how about tartar sauce? Yes, tartar sauce, but with a twist.

Tartar sauce in Japan is a chunky affair. It starts off with chopped (not minced) white onions, chopped pickles, and crumbled hard boiled eggs. Think of it as a base ratatouille, or a mirepoix for tartar sauce. Into this mix goes — brace yourself — pickle juice, ketchup, mayonnaise, sugar, salt & pepper, and lemon zest. Plus, for some more twist, apple vinegar. All this gets mixed up, settling down into an off-white color. The vinegary creaminess with the kick of onion makes for a complimentary flavor punch. It’s recommended not to serve it refrigerator cold.

Naturally there is no reason to stick to the above ingredients religiously, but if you try to fancy it up too much, you do so at your own peril. Tartar sauce is unabashedly lowbrow, perfectly matched for what Japanese call “B-class cuisine.”  That said, some parsley can liven things up, and using milder green or red onions might be more up your alley.

Most often this tartar sauce is found making sweet love to Chicken Nanban, but if tartar sauce is your thing, there’s no reason to restrict its use to this fried chicken dish. How about with some fried potatoes? What about on top of one of the meatier grilled fish, like swordfish (known as “kajiki” in Japanese)?

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 Torinosuke Toritaro in Shinjuku

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