food forum

TRENDS IN TASTE Vol. 37 No. 1 Spring 2023

Okosama Lunch

A colorized ca.1930 photo of okosama yoshoku served at Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store
Courtesy of Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd.

Japan’s so-called okosama (children’s) lunch is the term used for a special child’s meal served at many family-friendly restaurants. The one-plate dish comprises an array of favorite kids’ foods in child-sized servings, and is as entertaining as it is tempting: little ones can feast on yoshoku Western-style foods like hamburger steak, French fries or kara-age fried chicken, all served together on a single cheerful plate or in a compartmented, toy-like dish shaped like a train or plane. These small, beautifully arranged portions bear a passing resemblance to the traditional Japanese bento lunch box, which may have inspired its creation.

A meal that brings smiles to young faces

The first appearance of the okosama lunch was likely in 1930, when the restaurant at the Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store in Tokyo added okosama yoshoku (kids’ Western-style meal) to its menu. The worldwide economic depression was taking its toll on Japan at the time, and restaurant manager Taro Ando concocted an amusing one-plate meal to bring smiles to young faces. Among his assorted tidbits were ketchup-fried rice, spaghetti, croquettes, ham, jam and egg sandwiches, and sugar bonbons. At the time, these Western-inspired foods were not commonly made at home, and so were considered a special treat. He presented this food in imaginative ways, most memorably by shaping ketchup-fried rice into a miniature version of Mt. Fuji, crowned by a tiny flag on its peak—a final flourish that endures today as a beloved symbol of the okosama lunch. Ando’s lighthearted creations inspired other restaurants, and over the years, this iconic meal has become standard on many Japanese menus.

Whether served in a “bullet train” dish or on a cute plate, okosama lunches are designed to appeal to children.

Vol. 37