Louisiana Hot Sauce in Asia
Whenever I eat at an Italian restaurant in Japan, I am almost always presented with a bottle of Tabasco sauce when ordering pasta or pizza. This has always confused me. Tabasco on pizza? Tabasco on spaghetti? I am from Louisiana, so I thought that Tabasco, which is made there, was meant to be used on Louisiana Cajun and Creole food, as well as on Mexican food. The name of the product is the same name as a state in Mexico, and the hot peppers used to make it are from that state. The bottle also has the colors of the Mexican flag, red, white, and green. I had never heard of Tabasco on Italian food when I lived in the U.S.
At first I thought that since there are very few Mexican restaurants in Japan, and even fewer Louisiana cuisine restaurants, maybe the colors of red, white, and green, which are similar to those of the flag of Italy, were used to convince owners of Italian restaurants in Japan that Tabasco is for Italian food by some clever but not very honest businessman. Of course, the Tabasco company is happy if everyone puts their product on every kind of food in the world. I have heard that people in Singapore put it on their Big Macs.
Then I realized, what is Italian food to the Japanese? What is it to the Americans? Consider corn pizza, mayonnaise and potato pizza, seasoned cod roe (mentaiko) spaghetti, soy sauce, seaweed, and mushroom spaghetti and so on, which are “Italian” dishes in Japan. Then think of all the strange things like hot dog and cheese pocket crust pizza that some pizza chains in the U.S. sell. I suppose this kind of reinterpretation of national cuisine may be the norm. For example, the Japanese version of Chinese food is as dissimilar to actual food in China, or at least Shanghai, as popular American so-called sushi is to sushi in Japan.
Although I would prefer not to put hot sauce on my pasta and pizza, I think I will resign myself to the inevitable presence of that red, white, and green bottle on the table when I have Italian food in Japan. I don’t think I’ll be having the corn pizza any time soon, however.