When I cook, it’s rarely in silence. If other people are in the kitchen with me while I cook, they usually get sick of fetching the stuff I forgot to get out of the fridge or pantry and leave to return to their life outside servitude and me with the old friend Simon and Garfunkel referenced in song. And that won’t do, so I have several playlists I employ to keep me sane while over the stove. Sometimes the list consists of whatever I’m into at the moment, but other times it’ll include kitchen kitsch, like “Hungry” by Paul Revere and the Raiders or “Satan Gave Me a Taco” by Beck.
Fifty years ago this week, marks an anniversary for a bit of kitchen kitsch that was only as kitschy as we made it. In 1964 as June ended so, too, did the run of the one and only Japanese-language song to ever reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song, “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto supplanted Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” on June 15, 1963, for a three-week ride on top of the word before The Essex came along with “Easier Said Than Done” to topple it.
The song has absolutely nothing to do with the Japanese dish of the same name and everything to do with “Mad Men”-era record executives mistrust of any language other than English.
The song’s Japanese title translates to something like “I Shall Walk Looking Up,” and had already been a major hit for two years before making it onto the radio rotations. Because of its international popularity, the song remains one of the greatest selling singles of all time.
Meanwhile, Sukiyaki is standard Japanese hot pot fare, consisting of thin-sliced raw meat, vegetables and dipping sauces. The meat and vegetables are swished through a shallow iron pot filled with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin over a white-hot fire. Ingredients are dipped in a small bowl of raw, beaten eggs before the final baptism.
While Sakamoto’s Sukiyaki was a summer hit, sukiyaki the dish is traditional during winter dish, especially at year-end parties. If you’re interested in making your own sukiyaki, I highly recommend this recipe from chef Masaharu Morimoto. You won’t be disappointed.