Each autumn, the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Japan teams up with suppliers of American agricultural products and local eateries to introduce a diverse array of American food and agricultural products to Japanese restaurateurs and restaurant-goers through the “Taste of America” campaign. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the ATO had to rethink its plans for a special event to celebrate the campaign’s tenth anniversary. With people feeling inclined to stay home and restaurants struggling to stay open, how could they put together a campaign that would be successful and beneficial for everyone involved?
Instead of focusing solely on marketing U.S. agricultural products, this year the ATO sought to leverage the restorative power of wholesome American food, while ensuring the safety of everyone involved in the Taste of America campaign. Based on the theme, “For HEROES,” Taste of America 2020 (November 13–26) highlights fresh, healthy American ingredients and encourages people in Japan, including medical professionals and first responders, who are doing their utmost at work, home, and school to stay positive and forward-looking despite the adverse circumstances caused by the coronavirus.
The ATO created an image for the campaign that portrays a vibrant cornucopia of American food in the shape of a bouquet of flowers to express gratitude for all the everyday “heroes” in Japan and offer a gift of joy through delicious food and pleasant dining experiences.
Taste of America 2020 began with a kickoff event on September 28 to introduce featured American ingredients such as beef, rice, olives, peanut butter, and grapefruit to local restauranteurs, food importers, and media representatives. While previous years’ events were held in an open-plan venue and featured live chef demonstrations and tasting booths, this year's kickoff focused on introducing individual participants to each other and sampling ingredients firsthand. Maximum precautions were taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to major American restaurants such as Bubby’s and Empire Steak House, a number of outlets serving diverse types of cuisine are participating in the campaign this year, including a ramen shop, a community-based bar, a bakery, and a food truck service.
This year marks the fourth time for American Bistro nia in Nihombashi to participate in Taste of America. While the restaurant usually aims to challenge the preconception that American food is only comprised of hamburgers, this year the restaurant is offering a gourmet burger for the campaign that incorporates a variety of specially selected American ingredients. The meat patty is made with a blend of different cuts of U.S. beef and sandwiched in a buttery pretzel bun with American jack cheese and two sauces—one made using Oregon red wine and California dates and another that combines Korean chili paste and mayonnaise. It sounds like the perfect meal to satisfy a hero’s appetite!
Dancing Crab is making its Taste of America debut this year, with three special menu items: an American green olive sauce for its popular Louisiana-style “Combo Bag” filled with crab, shrimp, and vegetables; a spicy pulled pork sandwich made with U.S. pork and served with homemade salsa; and a seafood gumbo containing flavorful shrimp imported from Hawaii and accompanied by Calrose rice from California.
Kawabata Food Garden, a section of Otemachi, where food trucks assemble at lunchtime to offer a wide range of meals to hungry office workers, will also participate in the campaign this year for the first time. Fun Foods company will lead off with an “All-American Steak Lunchbox” packed full with American chuck steak, Calrose rice, corn, cheese fries, and grapes. In total, more than ten food trucks plan to cook up special menu items incorporating American ingredients during the campaign.
NISSIN World Delicatessen and NATIONAL AZABU supermarkets will also offer special Taste of America items for customers to purchase and savor wherever they like. Many participating eateries will also offer their 2020 Taste of America menu via takeout and catering so that customers can enjoy their food from the safety and comfort of their own homes or outdoors.
Taste of America is an excellent opportunity to experience the great taste and wide variety of American agricultural products, in somewhat unexpected places. This year’s venues, ranging from food trucks to fine dining establishments, feature not only traditional American cuisine but also showcase American ingredients in Mexican, Thai, and Italian menu offerings at participating establishments. Most of the menu items will only be available from November 13–26, so plan your schedule accordingly and try as many of the unique dishes as you can!
You can also take part in Taste of America by following @tasteofamerica2020 on Instagram and posting photos of the special menu items. At the end of the Taste of America campaign, the organizers will select ten participants to win a box filled with delicious food products from the United States. Additional information about the photo campaign and a complete list of outlets participating in Taste of America 2020 is available here.