The inspiration people seek: Although there are few people who don’t like hayashi rice, at the same time, there are also few who feel that it’s a part of their everyday lives—its presence as a dish is at a level where most people only remember it when they hear it mentioned. On the other hand, while real hayashi rice fans may be a minority, they tend to be people not easily swayed by the trends of the times and have a firm sense of individuality with very particular tastes.
Of course these people’s preference for hayashi rice has something to do with the nature and flavor of the dish, but it probably also involves the story-like nature of its origins and the craftsman-like devotion to detail and precision in its preparation and flavoring. Unlike curry rice, it’s not a dish that’s served everywhere. Instead, it tends to be served at restaurants that have the comfortable type of Japanized Western interior that many Japanese like and are quite fastidious (kodawari) regarding flavor, but they never have an excessive degree of pride surrounding their dish and it’s always served at a reasonable price. These elements are what make these restaurants famous (meiten) among fans of hayashi rice.
It takes time and effort to cook hayashi rice, and since it uses beef, there’s considerable cost involved as well (all of which are reasons it never became popular as a dish prepared in the home). From the standpoint of a shop serving hayashi rice, these factors mean that it’s not a very profitable dish, and that’s all the more reason that the person who makes it is likely to have a special commitment to and pride in the taste of his or her creation. For the customers—though it’s a dish they may already like—the reputation of the restaurant’s particular version, the cook’s pride and uncompromising attention to detail when preparing it are what surely makes it even more delicious for them and inspires a deepened love for it that turns them into fans.
Unlike other yoshoku (Western-derived foods) in Japan that gain popularity among men, women and children of all ages, hayashi rice largely attracts “food connoisseurs.”
In short: There are a number of stories about the origins of this dish and its name, but the most widely accepted one is that it was born as a Japanese creation based on the demi-glace sauce from French cuisine. There are also a number of stories about who first invented it, with the most often cited one being Yuteki Hayashi, the founder of the Japanese sales company, Maruzen. However, it may simply be a matter of the believability of the story that it’s called hayashi rice because a man named Hayashi invented it.
There are a number of Western-style restaurants that are credited with being the origin or the longest standing purveyors of hayashi rice, and while most of the recipes use a demi-glace sauce as the base sauce with thinly sliced beef and onions as the main ingredients, each restaurant has its own variations in terms of the sauce’s flavoring, color and thickness, as well as the other types of ingredients added.
Among the various types of yoshoku enjoyed in Japan, hayashi rice is indeed a minor one. Far more restaurants will have not only the mainstay of curry rice but also napolitan spaghetti and omu-raisu (omelet and rice) on their menus. Also, you will not find it served often as home cooking.
Some background: It’s believed that hayashi rice was first introduced early in the Meiji Period at around the same time as curry rice and napolitan spaghetti. It was a time of dramatic changes for Japanese society on a scale seen nowhere else. The values and customs that had continued throughout the country for the more than 260 years of the Edo Period were discarded with surprising ease as the result of a popular consensus that adopting things of the West as quickly as possible was the path the country and the people should follow. It was in this atmosphere that the common dislike of meat by the Japanese was suddenly replaced by a boom in meat dishes, exemplified by the gyunabe-ya (beef hot pot restaurants) that sprang up in the nation’s cities. This spread of meat consumption and the use of spices became another realm for the Japanese penchant for assimilating things from the West while adding a uniquely Japanese flavor, and is thought to be how hayashi rice—its flavor and ingredients agreeable with Japanese tastes—was born. Read more In this way, it would start out undergoing the same process of assimilation as other forms of Western cuisine, but the course that hayashi rice would follow from there became a different one from the other popular yoshoku. It alone would spread predominantly though hotel restaurants and restaurants specializing exclusively in Western cuisine, and seldom finding its way onto the menus of local eateries of the common populace (of course there were some exceptions). Looking at the kissaten as an example, many of them do not have hayashi rice on the menu.
Thanks to Youshoku-ya Christmas-tei