While many people associate fried chicken with the southern United States, it also occupies a place of great cultural significance in Japan, especially around the holidays. How did the fried chicken make its way from Sunday church gatherings to the Christmas table in Japan? It may surprise you to know that the history of fried chicken goes back hundreds of years and spans continents.
The first recorded recipe for fried chicken was in a 1747 Scottish cookbook titled, “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.” Considering Scotland is well known for their love of deep-frying various foods like Oreo cookies and Mars candy bars, frying up chicken seems a natural starting point. Scores of Scots migrated to the southern United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, bringing their love for fried chicken with them and, it is thought, eventually passing it on to West African slaves who would have cooked it for their slave owners.
Because it was so labor intensive, fried chicken was considered a special occasion food, a dish served at a celebration, or social gathering; it was a dish that brought people together. In the 1950’s, American restaurant chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken, revolutionized the Gospel Bird by taking it mainstream, making it available to anyone at any time. Borrowing heavily from African American recipes, KFC began serving up fried chicken all over the world. This was met with great enthusiasm, especially in Asia.
The first KFC opened in Japan in 1970 and quickly gained popularity, in part because of a fascination with American culture. Capitalizing on this, KFC began offering a Christmas family meal in 1974, modeling it after the traditional American Christmas dinner, sans turkey. Today, the BBC estimates that a whopping 3.6 million families will sit down this year to enjoy their Christmas fried chicken. It is so popular, that you could spend hours waiting in line if you don’t reserve your meal in advance.
Fried chicken may be associated with the southern United States, but when it comes to Christmas dinner, it is a Japanese staple. Don’t forget to pick up your wine to go with your Kentucky Fried Chicken meal, while you’re at it.