So, I was poking around the Web the other day, looking up the origins of the word "teppanyaki," the Japanese method of cooking meats and vegetables on a teppan, or wide, flat griddle. Some other interesting connections came up (Wikipedia alert). Turns out, teppanyaki can be traced to a number of bad food trends that have plagued two continents:
1. Teppanyaki seems to have been invented in Japan after World War 2 to serve Western food to Japanese diners, which explains why the teppan looks exactly like the griddle you find at any diner in America. (This isn't the first Japanese reinterpretation of Western food, by the way. The pork katsu you love so much? Wiener schnitzel, introduced to Japan in the late 19th century.)
2. Teppanyaki hit the United States in the 1960s, according to this 2001 article by Robb Walsh of the Houston Press. Founder Rocky Aoki didn't just teach his cooks to flip shrimp into their hats (what, you thought that was a product of their ninja training?), he realized that Americans would pay serious cash for American food with soy sauce and funny names.
3. Then the Taiwanese picked up on teppanyaki--from either the Japanese or the Americans--and invented Mongolian barbecue, which flooded our suburbs in the 1980s and early 1990s. There are still a few of these around the region, but in most places, Mongolian barbecue has been succeeded by Chinese and Japanese buffets. None of which trace their origins back to Genghis Khan.