Food & Drink | JAPANESE KITCHEN

Potesara: Japan’s ‘most familiar and loved salad’

Whether homemade or not, potato salad is a washoku classic

by Makiko Itoh

Contributing Writer

Earlier this month, a tweet about potato salad exploded on Japanese Twitter.

The writer of the tweet was at a supermarket when she heard someone say, “If you’re a mother, why don’t you at least make your own potato salad?!” She turned around and saw a woman with a toddler in tow at the prepared food section, and an elderly man — the one who had uttered those words — quickly stomping off. The woman stood there for a while, stunned, looking at the packet of potato salad in her hand. The tweeter then walked over to the woman with her own daughter and picked up two packs of potato salad, to silently show solidarity.

As of writing, the tweet has over 390,000 likes and more than 133,000 retweets. It has sparked a huge backlash, especially from women, against the man who spat those words at a total stranger and others like him. It has also been discussed by various news outlets.

This incident may be part of the ongoing generational and gender battles across the nation, and most of the reactions have concentrated on that aspect. But it also points out the fact that potato salad, or potesara as it’s abbreviated, is such a familiar, everyday dish in Japan that it’s expected that anyone who cooks, especially mothers, are supposed to be able to whip one out easily. Potesara can be eaten at every meal, even breakfast. It appears frequently in bento, is a popular drinking snack at izakaya pubs and is even used as a sandwich filling.

Making potato salad is not difficult, but it is quite time consuming. The question of how easy or quick it is to make potato salad was the other main strand of conversation surrounding this tweet. Many assumed the man in the supermarket had never tried making it himself.

It’s not known when and how potato salad was introduced to the Japanese food repertoire, or which European cuisine it was inspired by. The most popular theory is that it may have been derived from Olivier salad, a diced boiled potato-based dish that’s eaten in Russia and several other countries. One of the earliest published recipes aimed at home cooks for potato salad appeared in 1935 and called for homemade mayonnaise, but the introduction of commercial mayonnaise by Kewpie Co. a decade earlier most certainly helped to spread the dish’s popularity. By the 1950s, potato salad had become a home kitchen favorite, and in 1972 a cooking magazine called it Japan’s “most familiar and loved salad.”

What distinguishes Japanese-style potato salad from the myriad of potato salads around the world is the softness of the potatoes and the generous amount of mayonnaise (ideally a Japanese brand that’s eggy and slightly sweet) used. The potatoes can be cut up and roughly mashed, as they are in the recipe here, or creamed until smooth. You can also vary the salad by adding cut-up sausages, cooked chicken or crabmeat instead of the ham, or even crispy-fried diced bacon, cheese, corn kernels and so on.

Homemade potato salad is delicious, but if you’re short on time, there’s nothing wrong with buying it readymade, either.

Recipe: How to make creamy Japanese potato salad

Prep: 20 mins., cook: 40 to 45 mins., plus chilling time

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

For the potato salad:

600 grams (2 to 3) floury potatoes, such as Danshaku

1 medium carrot

2 eggs

60 grams cooked ham

1 small cucumber

½ medium onion

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

150 to 175 milliliters mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

1. Scrub the potatoes. Put them in a pot with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until a skewer or a chopstick can go through a potato easily, 40 to 45 minutes.

2. About 10 minutes after the potatoes start simmering, add the carrot to the water.

3. In the meantime boil the eggs. Lightly tap the rounded end of the eggs with a small spoon to crack the shells slightly. (This makes them easy to peel later.) Put the eggs in a small pan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Leave to sit for 10 to 12 minutes. Drain off the water, run cold water over the eggs and peel. Chop roughly and set aside.

4. Thinly slice the cucumber and onion. Place both in a bowl and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt. When they are wilted, squeeze them out tightly, discarding the moisture.

5. Dice the ham into ½-centimeter pieces.

6. Drain the potatoes when they are cooked through. Holding each potato in a doubled-up kitchen towel or several layers of paper towels, carefully peel them. (Have some cold water nearby to cool off your fingertips.) Peel the carrot and slice thinly.

7. Put the potatoes in a bowl and mash roughly using a potato masher or a spatula, leaving lots of lumps. Add the carrot, and leave to cool down a little.

8. Add the vinegar and ½ teaspoon of salt, plus pepper to taste. Mix roughly, and leave to cool to room temperature.

9. Add the cucumber, onion, ham and eggs. Add the mayonnaise and mix. Cover and chill in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to a day.

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