Food

Hibachi Sauces Such as Yum Yum Sauce are American as Spaghetti and Meatballs

Hibachi sauces are as Japanese as spaghetti and meatballs are Italian. The two have their roots in Japanese and Italian food culture, but they are as American as a supersized McRib combo and a Doritos Locos taco.

You won’t find a Taco Bell in Mexico (not like Taco Bell hasn’t tried, twice), and you won’t find yellow, white, mustard, ginger, or yum yum sauce in Japan. Except, none of that matters because Taco Bell comes through at drunk o’clock, and my beef teriyaki is drowning in sauce. 

As an American, my chicken or beef teriyaki is in a pool of sauce that looks like Vladimir Harkonnen emerging out of his mud bath (obscure Dune reference), and my spaghetti goes together with 1001 Dalmatians as much as meatballs do. 

If you are wondering how Japanese these 8 hibachi sauces are, you are in the right place because I will also call out the suspected origins of these sauces based on the ingredients.

Photo Description: Hibachi sauces by Gojo in Kansas City, Missouri. From left to right is teriyaki, hibachi sauce, and miso ginger sauce.
Legit Japanese American’ness in a bottle and a sauce the hue of Bart Simpson, there is nothing more American than that.

With our ethnic diversity, we have a track record of bastardizing thousand-year-old food cultures. We do that by producing its fattier and sweeter self (with a fanny pack) cuz Murica. While on the opposing end, we are trying to tout that our water is gluten-free, Kosher, and non-GMO (the yoga pants version). Well, for this post, I am concentrating on our old school, Kyu Sakamoto saucier side.

The Food Culture of:
Rome/Italy, is upwards of 3,000 years old
Japan, 2,700 years old
The United States, 246 years old
The First Benihana, 58 years ago
The McRib, 41 years ago
Supersizing, 35 years ago
Doritos Locos Tacos, 10 years ago

Photo Description: a Japanese teppanyaki chef in Japan grilling up meat and veggies on a teppanyaki.
The only fiery volcano this dude understands is the one that comes after a night of drinking and spicy greasy food. Image courtesy of Jit Bag

In Japan it is Called Teppanyaki

Yea, the steel griddle and style of cooking you see at a Benihana style restaurant is actually called a teppanyaki. In Japan, many of these restaurants serve and grill up expensive cuts of wagyu (Japanese beef), minus the fiery volcano and flipping shrimp into rotund diners mouths like a harbor seal.

Is Yum Yum Sauce Japanese, Asian American, or ???

It was not too long ago that soy sauce was a foreign condiment and sushi was the brunt of jokes with punchlines involving fish bait. So it is also no wonder why so many Japanese restaurants in the U.S. started off as hibachi restaurants serving steak/beef drenched in sauces. The only thing that has not changed decades later is that we still like to drench our foods in sauce, so here is a list of some old-school hibachi sauces, along with links to their recipes/where to buy.

Why do I not include full recipes you ask? Because recipe sites garner a ton of web traffic, and I will not steal (copy and paste) recipes even though I am an avid cook. Instead, I will direct you to resources I trust or leave it to you to figure out portions and measurements on your own, although I have put effort into listing the appropriate ingredients – I do this because some bloggers use ingredients that just sound “Asiany” to them (most don’t know the difference between Osaka and Hong Kong).

1. Garlic Butter

Is (Benihana) Garlic Butter Japanese: I remember as a kid, I had won an art contest for drawing my favorite recipe. That recipe was for my mom’s rib-eye steak in soy sauce, garlic, and green onion marinade. We never used butter, although if we had, I am sure Paula Deen would have awarded me at least three “scratch and sniff” stickers for the recipe.

America, Eff Yeah: this should not be a shocker, but this is very Americanized recipe because of the use of butter (if it were Japanese, it would be soy sauce, mirin and sake).

  • Butter
  • Minced garlic
  • Soy sauce

2. Ginger Sauce

Is (Benihana) Ginger Sauce Japanese?: well, it’s Japanese American, and you can thank Rocky Aoki and Benihana for that and at best it does share some roots with other washoku (traditional Japanese) dishes such as:

  • Ginger pork (shogayaki).
  • This is a stretch, but karaage aka JFC (Japanese Fried Chicken is a yoshoku dish) a soy sauced based marinade with a squeeze of lemon for the finished dish.

America, Eff Yeah: since it’s a dipping sauce I would recommend using either a general purpose shoyu (koikuchi) by Kikkoman or Yamasa, although a San-J tamari (gluten-free) would work well with a sauce like this.

  • Yellow onion
  • Ginger
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Optional: sugar/brown sugar

3. Mustard Sauce

Is Benihana Mustard Sauce Japanese?: another Japanese American sauce and the closest thing I can think of would be Bulldog tonkatsu sauce (link to Bulldog company website), goma (link to Shirakiku brand sesame seeds), with Karashi (Chinese mustard link to Just One Cookbook). This would be a great vegan alternative since it is a sauce made up of vegetables and fruits, but in Japanese cuisine it’s used for tonkatsu (the Japanese version of German schnitzel).

  • Bulldog brand tonkatsu sauce
  • Freshly crushed goma (sesame seeds)
  • Karashi (Chinese mustard)

America, Eff Yea: this one sounds like a tasty sauce and aside from the ginger sauce, I would be down for this one too. What makes it American is the use of heavy cream (a lot of Asians, like my friends are lactose intolerant, although heavy cream is low in lactose, milk based products in general are just not used) and garlic/garlic powder isn’t commonly used either. It doesn’t seem too far off from Japanese flavors, but I would not say it’s an “Oriental recipe” which I have to laugh at one blogger who cited using ‘Oriental mustard’ (oh, jeebus, why not simply cite the ethnic origin vs. generically labeling it).

  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Soy sauce
  • Mustard powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Water
  • Heavy cream

4. Teriyaki Sauce

Is teriyaki sauce Japanese?: in Japan, this would be based on a ‘tare‘ which is used to lightly baste foods during and after the grilling/broiling of: chicken (yakitori), beef/pork (yakiniku), to seafood (unagi). So, what most of us eat is more Japanese American, and it is not “truly Japanese.”

  • Soy Sauce
  • Mirin/sake
  • Sugar

America, Eff Yeah: in the U.S., we use it to drench foods in a pool of sauce cuz we love sauce, and teriyaki sauce is at the heart of the million and one teriyaki bowl restaurants popping up throughout the country (from Toshi’s Teriyaki, Teriyaki Madness, to Flame Broiler and their ‘magic sauce’). Also, if you want to buy it off the shelf, try Bachans, a Japanese American product.

  • Soy Sauce
  • Mirin
  • Sake
  • Sugar/brown sugar
  • Optional: ginger, garlic, orange zest/pineapple juice, to chicken stock.
  • (cornstarch to flour to thicken)
Photo Description: the new San-J Tamari bottle packaging.
Is San-J tamari Japanese (American)? Why yes they are, and they are an eigth-generation soy sauce product.

Many of these recipes cite using “soy sauce,” and if you want to take your recipes to the next level, you can learn about the 5 types of Japanese soy sauce in my last blog post.

5. Spicy Mayo

Is Spicy Mayo Japanese?: Not a hibachi sauce, but since most ‘hibachi’ places also do sushi, I have added it for anybody wondering about mayo-based sauces. Now, you will know that 50% of it is ‘Japanese American’ because any legit spicy mayonnaise utilizes a Japanese mayo made of yolks called Kewpie. The other half is the spicy side, and only the Koreans, Thai, and the Vietnamese have that end of the recipe down. So you have Sriracha (Thai, Vietnamese American, Huy Fong company link), gochujang (Korean, recipe via my Korean Kitchen), and Sambal oelek (Indonesian, recipe by Michelle because I won’t endorse Bon Appétit) to choose from.

  • Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise
  • Huy Fong sriracha (the originator)
  • If I was going to tweak this, I would also use Korean gochujang to sambal oelek (it’s a fusion thing anyways).

America, Eff Yeah: you know what is better than just sauce? Sauce within sauce on top of other sauces so this would be used in conjunction with a sweet sauce such as a unagi/teriyaki sauce.

  • Mayonnaise
  • Sriracha and any hot sauce that sounds ‘asiany’ to food bloggers/influencers.

6. White Sauce

Is White Sauce Japanese?: nope, and when I see this recipe, I can not help and think of that scene from Undercover Brother where they are eating the mayonnaise sandwich. BTW, white sauce is basically ‘yum yum sauce.’

  • The most mayonnaise (with masago) based Japanese American recipe that I can think of is dynamite.

America, Eff Yeah: Now, I’m going to give up a great random and simple artichoke or an asparagus sauce/dip recipe that my family would use. All it is, is mayonnaise and soy sauce. That is all, but it’s great for dipping. Also, depending on how much soy sauce you use, it is no longer a ‘white sauce’ but a brown sauce although that does not sound as appetizing (I only included it because it is mayonnaise based). Anton would love it.

  • Mayonnaise
  • Water
  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Tomato paste/ketchup
  • Garlic powder
  • Paprika and cayenne

7. Yellow Sauce

Is Yellow Sauce Japanese?: if you scored high on your SAT’s, you may have picked up on a pattern here, so you might be able to answer this one on your own. Although, if scored low, you will just want to try a ‘proprietary’ sauce from a four-decade old Japanese American teppanyaki/hibachi restaurant out of Kansas City, Missouri, Gojo.

America, Eff Yeah: butter to garlic are almost foreign ingredients with Japanese food, and with Shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine), you won’t even find onions in this vegetarian/vegan diet either.

  • Mayonnaise
  • Butter
  • Rice vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Garlic
  • Options (these put you more on par with ‘yum yum’ sauce): turmeric, tomato paste, ketchup to paprika.

8. Yum Yum Sauce

Is Yum Yum Sauce Japanese?: Nope, because only the mayo, mirin, and sugar are the only ingredients used in Japanese cooking, and you probably can’t name one Japanese recipe to use tomato or ketchup.

  • Yea, nothing.

America, Eff Yeah: well, since Savory Experiments repeatedly says “it is a very Americanized ‘Japanese’ recipe, guess whose recipe I am including? Normally I have not endorsed or linked any sauce because there are so many oblivious food bloggers, but whoever this person is, I giveth them a link. BTW, I looked up who is behind Savory Experiments and it is a Jessica, an “author, business coach, photographer, recipe deve”…. ok, I’m stopping there (I had to truncate her lengthy skillset).

  • Mayonnaise
  • Tomato paste/ketchup
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne
  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Mirin/rice vinegar
  • Optional: garlic and onion powder.
As saucy as it gets in Japan, and I do suggest you go heavy with the sauce on unagi to chicken liver yakitori (also best rare). Image courtesy of Jeremy Keith.

Homemade hibachi sauces allow you to control the flavors although store bought sauces have the advantage of being able to chillax in your refrigerator or pantry shelves for a prolonged period of time.

If you want to know what spices and condiments the Japanese use, you will want to read my post on Japanese condiments and for the record, they are all yum yum.

Thank you Rocky Aoki/Benihana for introducing Japanese cuisine to the United States.

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