Japanese Mashed Potatoes: The Potato Salad Winning Our Cookouts Right Now

August  9, 2018
Mashed potatoes, meet potato salad. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Call me weird, but I have a thing for tangy, vinegar-laced Japanese mashed potatoes.

Yes, you read that right. My favorite mashed potatoes aren’t that luxuriously silky pomme purée, which, with its half-pound-of-butter-per-pound-of-potato, is often lauded as the pinnacle of mash. Nor is it the chunky “smashed” potatoes that try to be, but never quite seem to be in vogue. And it sure isn’t the cheesy, dirty mash I’ve ordered one too many times after those late, regrettable nights out.

No, my favorite mash comes from a place that’s quite possibly the antithesis of what mash represents—familiar, often slapdash, and deeply rooted in the American and European culinary imaginations. It comes from, of all places, Japan.

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Allow me to explain.

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“I am intrigued and will make my next batch of potato salad Japanese style.”
— Brian O.

As a kid, I traveled to Japan a lot. (Yes, I have crazy parents who would willingly lug a fussy, screamy five-year-old along for their travels.) And though my memories of my childhood trips to Japan are hazy, there’s one thing that I can still remember as clear as day: these potatoes.

While fresh sashimi and bento boxes might come to mind when one thinks of Japanese food, there’s a lesser-known subsect of cuisine known as yōshoku (loosely translated to "Western-influenced"), and this is where my beloved Japanese mash resides. Yōshoku is a catch-all category for Japanese versions of Western, especially European, dishes, many of which were borne out of the burgeoning trade routes during the 19th-century Meiji Revolution of Japan, which ended the nation’s 220 years of self-imposed embargo.

Over the years, many dishes have come to fall under yōshoku, from Japanese curries (influenced by the curries brought over by the British navy) to castella cakes (a take on the Portuguese pão-de-ló), from pork katsu cutlets to borrowed French dishes like croquettes (known as korokke) and hamburger steaks (hambagu).

Despite the many savoury, deep-fried yōshoku foods that would make the typical nugget and French fries–loving kid go giddy with excitement, for the five-year-old me, it was the Japanese mashed potatoes that truly won me over.

Based on appearance alone, there isn’t anything particularly striking about Japanese mash. It looks just like any ol’ British pub fare. But have a spoonful of it, and you’ll immediately be hit by its surprising zing. Because unlike the buttery mashed potatoes commonly served in the West, mashed potatoes in Japan have rice vinegar and Japanese mayonnaise, or Kewpie, folded through them in place of butter and cream, lending a delightful tang. This tartness in a way lightens the ordinarily glutted mash, resulting in a well-balanced, delicate side dish—so much so that I can probably have a whole quart of it and still want more!

In many of the yōshoku establishments I’ve visited along the streets of Shibuya and Ginza in Tokyo, the mash is served in myriad ways. Some places serve it cold, some serve it warm, some have peas and carrots folded through it, making it taste closer to a potato salad than a traditional mashed potato. Some spike it with bits of ham or bacon. But no matter the variation, they all have that vinegar-y pop to them.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Adding vinegar to mashed potatoes might seem strange, but I promise you that once you try it, you’ll never look back. As the acid-loving author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat Samin Nosrat puts it: "When you're eating…things that maybe aren't balanced properly with acid, then it's not going to make your mouth feel full and delicious… When you eat something that's properly acidic, it will make your mouth smack with deliciousness."

So the next time you’re looking for a little mouth-smacking magic in your potatoes, try spiking them with some acid!

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Do you recognize these Japanese potatoes? Tell us what you think of them in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Brian Owens
    Brian Owens
  • Linda Szymoniak
    Linda Szymoniak
  • Kim
  • Hieu Ngo
    Hieu Ngo
  • Kevin
Engineer + cook + food blogger. All about cross-cultural cooking, funky-fresh ferments, and abusing alliteration.


Brian O. August 11, 2020
Thank you for the very informative article. This recipe in a way looks very similar to what I had growing up, and still make today. I use regular mayonnaise, but there is a little store down the way that has Kewpie. I have been wanting to try Dijon instead of "prepared" yellow mustard. Many of the recipes for mashed-potato salad use sweet or dill pickles and 1/3 cup of the pickle juice. I guess that is supposed to be the substitute for the vinegar twang. I am intrigued and will make my next batch of potato salad Japanese style.
Linda S. August 17, 2018
We love Japanese food at our house, and fortunately have a huge Japanese market not too far from us (well, it takes about an hour to get there, but we can hit the conveyor-belt sushi restaurant before and get any shopping we need done there - and can even make a quick stop at the IKEA on our way home). I've tried making quite a few Japanese dishes but not these. I'll definitely have to make these. I already have the Kewpie mayonnaise and rice vinegar on hand.
Jun August 17, 2018
Mmhmm, I'm a real sucker for Japanese food and flavours too! I've a feeling you'll love this mash! 😋
Kim August 16, 2018
This looks ah-mazing. I will definitely try making this. I shared this post via IG with my 14- year old, her response "Uh, we're making that." Ha. Beautiful writeup as well. Be well, cheers.
Jun August 17, 2018
Thank you!!
Hieu N. August 13, 2018
Yum! Yum! Yum!
Kevin August 12, 2018
I'm usually a couch potato, but have a good peeling about this one.. I need to keep reminding myself to stop being such a hesi-tater. Think I'll get up and whip myself a bowl!
Eric K. August 12, 2018
Wow, Kevin.

I'm rooting for you.
Jun August 14, 2018
Hahaha same here, s-pud-ting you all the way!
Jun August 14, 2018
(Wow that was bad...)
CObotanist August 17, 2018
It should be "I'm stemming for you." Potatoes are stems.
notalbert August 12, 2018
Some people don't know what a world of difference vinegar or pickles can make for a dish. It can change a dish from dull and dreary to lively and fresh!
Eric K. August 12, 2018
Jun August 14, 2018
Indeed. Preach it! :)
Jane Z. August 11, 2018
Now that we know that butter is healthy, I can't let that comment slide! "Artery-clogging" would not be an appropriate term and discouraging the use of butter is no longer the way to be "healthy", either! We're killing ourselves with outdated information!
PMJ August 11, 2018
Not so unusual, to me. I always use vinegar on boiled corned beef dinner potatoes. It's just the best on potatoes any way they're cooked.
Tatjana P. August 11, 2018
Is the recipe missing ingredients? I am not seeing any of the green ingredients on the list.
Eric K. August 12, 2018
Hi Tatjana, they're listed as optional in the author's directions: "I like my mash plain, but if you have any leftovers or potato-salad-y ingredients, add them in at this point! Whether it’s peas and onions, a bit of ham or chorizo, or that half stick of carrot you had from last weekend’s roast, just make sure they’re cut into small pieces (and suitably defrosted if they were frozen) before adding them in. This mash will take just about anything you throw into it and end up tasting great!"
Tatjana P. September 6, 2018
Awesome, thanks!
Sean B. August 10, 2018
Fabulous write-up, and the recipe looks delicious! I made a warm "Korean" potato salad last summer that was absolutely phenomenal... your post has inspired me to write up the recipe! Thanks for sharing.
Eric K. August 10, 2018
Please do! And share here if you can?
Jun August 11, 2018
Thank you so much Sean. And yes do share it with us!
Rebecca August 9, 2018
I grew up eating this as a side dish at Korean restaurants, gonna give this recipe a try the next time i want a kick of nostalgia :)
Eric K. August 10, 2018
Let us know what you think of the recipe!
Eric K. August 9, 2018
The ice cream scoop is essential, isn't it? Growing up this was probably one of my favorite side dishes at Korean and Japanese cafes.