The term "Karaage" refers to a method of food preparation using frying oil, or the food that is prepared using this method. Examples of food prepared this way include fried chicken with a thin coating of batter made from flour or katakuriko (potato starch), fried fish using white meat fish, such as lake smelt, righteye flounder and double-lined fusiliers (gurukun), and fried shrimp using smaller prawns such as tenagaebi (oriental river prawn) and sakuraebi (a small pink shrimp). The batter used to coat the ingredients is different from that of tenpura.
Tatsutaage (竜田揚げ) is similar to karaage. When preparing karaage, flour and katakuriko are used in the batter for the coating, and garlic is also used for seasoning. In contrast, tatsutaage is prepared by seasoning meat with soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking), coating it with just katakuriko and frying it.
The name 'tatsutaage' is derived from the poem read by ARIWARA no Narihira, which was selected in Hyakunin Isshu (One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets) and was also the title of a famous rakugo (traditional comedic story telling) 'Chihayaburu.'
As the ingredients soaked in soy-sauce are fried, their color becomes the tone of red leaves, which reminds people of red leaves floating on the Tatsuta-gawa River, a spot where red leaves are often viewed.
Some people assert that the name is derived from the fact that due to a lack of flour, the head chef on a cruiser in the Imperial Japanese Navy 'Tatsuta' (龍田) (light cruiser) used katakuriko, in substitution of flour, when he prepared karaage. Based on the above explanation, some shops use the Chinese character in "龍田揚げ" (the same character used for "light cruiser") instead of the simplified Chinese character "竜田揚げ".
It is believed that tatsutaage was already a common method of food preparation in the early Showa period, due to it being listed as a military food preparation method in a book published in 1937.
Fried gristle is a dish prepared using the same methods as karaage or tatsutaage, but using chicken wings or the gristle from legs as the main ingredient. It is one of the dishes commonly served at izakaya (Japanese-style bar) and is served as a side dish with beer.
Fried shrimp is a dish prepared using the same karaage method, but using shrimps small enough to be eaten whole, shell and all. It is a popular food in Japan as well as in China. As the main ingredient, freshwater shrimp such as tenagaebi and sujiebi (lake prawn), shallow water shrimp such as shibaebi (shiba shrimp) and toraebi (tora velvet shrimp), and deep water shrimp such as sakuraebi, shiraebi (Japanese glass shrimp) and jinkenebi (golden shrimp) are used.
Nanbanzuke is a dish prepared by pouring (or soaking in) 'nanbanzu,' Japanese sweet vinegar mixed with chopped green onion and red pepper (nanban), on karaage. When nanbanzu is poured over karaage, the dish is similar to the Mediterranean dish 'escabeche,' and when karaage is soaked in nanbanzu for a long time, the dish becomes similar to a marinade. Chicken and fish, such as lake smelt, Japanese horse mackerel and sardines, are also used as ingredients.
Karaage is a popular food in Japan, and people eat it on a variety of occasions, for example, as a side dish in a boxed lunch, a side dish to go with alcohol and as a dish at a children's birthday party. A meal with karaage is a popular choice at restaurants that have pre set meals ready to order.
Takasago, a kind of sea fish, is called gurukun in the Okinawa dialect. The people of the Nansei islands region regularly eat gurukun, and fried gurukun is popularly eaten with sashimi. It is a standard dish at izakaya in Okinawa Prefecture.
As gurukun loses its freshness quickly and its taste is light, it is said that people fry gurukun whole with the intention of preserving it longer as well as improving its flavor. In Okinawa there is a dish called 'Bata yaki' (sautéed with butter) that is a fish deep-fried whole in margarine for flavor, it is not, however, a fillet sautéed with butter, similar to meuniere, which is common in mainland Japan.
Zangi is a kind of karaage popular in Hokkaido which uses chicken or seafood (octopus, squid) as the main ingredient.
With this karaage the ingredients are thickly pre-seasoned with soy sauce, ginger and garlic, however, the version served at famous restaurants in Kushiro is barely seasoned at all. In Hokkaido, it is generally believed that the birthplace of this dish was 'Torimatsu' in Kushiro City. Some people say that zangi was added to the menu around in 1960. On the other hand, some people assert that zangi's birthplace is a restaurant called 'Tototei' in Hakodate City because it was already served there in pre-war times (1937). However, Kushiro is commonly believed to be the birthplace since 'Tototei' no longer exists and no relevant people are alive today.
As for the name of 'zangi,' the master of Torimatsu said that he thought the Chinese word for fried chicken was zagi (deep-fried chicken in Chinese) and created the name of 'zangi' by inserting the word of 運 (n) (luck) between za and gi in the hope that it would 'bring good luck.'
Aside from the above, however, there are various theories, such as one which asserts the name is a mispronunciation of the Chinese word 'jazuji' (fried spring chicken). Furthermore, there is a shop which some people regard as the birthplace of zangi, which further confuses the exact origin of the name of zangi.
The following theories on the origin of the name also exist.
One theory asserts that the origin is from the Chinese word 'jazuji' (which is pronounced zazugi or zajigai depending on the region).
One theory asserts that the origin is from the Chinese word 'jaji' (which is pronounced zagi or zagai depending on the region).
One theory asserts that the origin is from the Japanese word 'zangiri' (散切り) * because, in the past, people would cut through a chicken bones and all.
One theory asserts that the origin is from the Japanese word 'zangiri' (斬切り) * same as the above, though, with a slightly different Chinese character.
One theory asserts that the origin is from the Japanese word 'senzanki' (千斬切) (which might be a character with only a phonetic-equivalent since it has no meaning in Chinese).
One theory asserts that people used the Buddhist terminology 'zangi' (慚愧) because they were ashamed of killing and cooking young chickens.
Yet another theory asserts that the origin is from the Japanese word 'zanki' (残毀) (cutting meat = 毀 => frying =>stop seasoning = 残).
Some people assert the reason behind its name might be related to the large number of people who, after the war, returned from China and Manchuria and settled in Hokkaido, including Kushiro City. Some people also assert that the name 'zangi' should only be used for food that uses katakuriko in the batter for the coating, since this is a common feature with jazuji.
In some regions, only food prepared using egg in the batter for the coating is called 'zangi.'
Some people in Hokkaido identify karaage with chicken as zangi, and zangi is normally included in the menu at most izakaya in Hokkaido. Therefore, some people in Hokkaido don't recognize zangi, or the term, as being unique to Hokkaido. Due to this, even national chain supermarkets in Hokkaido are selling fried chicken under the name of zangi. An izakaya named 'Tsubohachi,' which originally started business in Sapporo City, also provides fried chicken under the name of zangi.
When ingredients other than chicken are used, the dish is normally referred to by the name of the ingredient used, such as 'Octopus zangi.'
However, some bento (boxed lunch) shops have been selling products using the name 'karaage'; also, karaage powder named 'Karaageko' which is a product of Nisshin Seifun Inc., have been sold for some time. As seen above, there are some people who distinguish karaage from zangi. In this case, zangi refers to chicken tatsutaage or karaage with a strong ginger flavor.
Although some books or websites on the dialect of Hokkaido state that 'zangi means karaage,' this is not technically correct as explained above.
In Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture, fried chicken made with chicken that was pre-seasoned by being soaked in sauce is called 'senzanki' (the Chinese characters '千斬切' are also used), and this same dish is called 'zanki' in the Toyo region. However, it is unclear how the above mentioned dish is related to zangi in Hokkaido.
Karaage in Nakatsu City, Oita Prefecture
There are so many people who love fried chicken in Nakatsu City, Oita Prefecture, and so many karaage restaurants located inside the city, that neighboring Usa City and Buzen City/Chikujo-gun, Fukuoka Prefecture have begun competing with each other over the taste of their fried chicken.
For more details, refer to the section on "Karaage in Nakatsu City."
In Chinese cuisine, thick starchy sauce or soup is often poured over the dish after it is fried.
Yurinchi is a Chinese dish which is prepared by pouring vinegar sauce, soy sauce and plenty of chopped white onions, on fried chicken. It is called fried chicken with white onion sauce at some restaurants. The original method for cooking yurinchi is to fry chicken without a flour coating while pouring oil over it so that the chicken's skin becomes crisp. However, the variation of this dish that is fried after being coated with flour is also often referred to as yurinchi, due to the fact that the original method is time-consuming and the sauce tends to become stuck to the chicken while cooking.
Remonkai is a Cantonese dish prepared by pouring sauce made from lemon juice, sugar and soy sauce etc., on fried chicken. It is called fried chicken with lemon juice at some restaurants. There is a similar dish which uses orange juice instead.
Razuji is an example of Szechuan cuisine which is prepared by spreading, together with salt, fried chopped red pepper on fried spring chicken. It is a very spicy dish that is popular as a side order with beer.
Mochikochikin is Hawaiian food which is prepared by frying pre-seasoned chicken with a glutinous rice powder (shiratamako [refined rice powder]) coating. It is a common dish at restaurants where an entire meal is served on a single plate.