Japan’s Frozen Food Boom

The 2022 food of the year in Japan isn't a single dish, but rather an entire category.

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frozen food aisle japan
Photo: TY Lim (Shutterstock)

We’re at the time of year where “best of” awards are being doled out in every conceivable arena. In Japan, an organization called the Gurunavi Research Institute, which runs a popular online restaurant database, announced its 2022 dish of the year, and to our surprise, it isn’t a dish at all. It’s rather an entire culinary category, and one you might not expect: frozen foods. CNN has the details.

In Japan, some restaurant takeout dishes are fully prepared and then flash-frozen for preparation at home, a practice rarely if ever seen in the United States. This approach makes sense, especially with people having changed their dining habits considerably due to the pandemic. With fewer people dining out at restaurants, the owners of those businesses still needed ways to sell food to hungry customers, and freezing provides the perfect opportunity.

It’s catching on outside of restaurants, too. A grocery store called Frozen opened this past August in Chiba Prefecture, and all it sells are frozen foods. While I can’t say the trend is widespread in America just yet, I have noticed that frozen butcher box services have started to become more popular, such as Holy Grail Steak Co (which specializes in high-end meat) and Good Ranchers (who also sent me a box to try earlier this year).

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There’s also a new grocery chain expanding in Chicago and the surrounding area called Wild Fork Foods, which sells nothing but frozen food, mainly meat. I stepped in once and was pretty impressed at its huge selection of various cuts of meat, from beef, chicken, and seafood to luxury items like foie gras and lobster. But it comes at a price; everything I saw was more than I typically spend at a supermarket. Wild Fork plans to expand to 200 nationwide locations in the coming years.

CNN reports that changing gender roles in Japan have also affected the amount of time people spend in the kitchen. Now that women, who have traditionally done the cooking, are increasingly working in roles outside the home, there’s less time to devote to daily food preparation. And single people are less likely to cook meals. All of this makes frozen prepared foods emblematic of the modern landscape, a trend that has implications beyond Japan.

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I’m particularly fascinated by the frozen restaurant takeout, however. I only know of one local restaurant in Chicago that does this regularly: Pleasant House Pub, which specializes in savory pies. Maybe that trend should make its way to other establishments throughout the city. If it does, I know I’d happily keep my freezer stocked with options for when I’m sick of my own cooking.