I recently discovered something rather interesting on all-you-can-eat buffets in Japan with the help of my Japanese word-of-the-day. Although they can be called 食べ放題 tabehoudai, which is usually all you eat minus the buffet, バイキングbaikingu means smörgåsbord. This adaptation of the word “viking” seemed very strange to me, although I always assumed Vikings did eat a lot, and I set out to see if I could find the history of this word. Tofugu popped up the first result (I’m assuming this was how I got my word-of-the-day too).
In 1957, a restaurant manager from Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel traveled to Sweden and there he encountered his first smörgåsbord. (If he was anything like me, he dropped to his knees and thanked all of the food gods for this beautiful culinary invention). He took this idea back to his hotel, where post-war Japan was excited about anything that involved getting more bang for your buck. The problem being that smörgåsbord apparently isn’t very easy to say for the Japanese (sumougasuboudo スモーガスボード) and obviously would be difficult to yell in excitement if you ever found a smörgåsbord in Japan.
This is where the story gets kind of unbelievable, but hey crazier things have been true. Apparently somebody from the restaurant went and saw 1958 film The Vikings (narrated by Orson Welles and starring Kirk Douglas), and that inspired them to call their buffet バイキング. The restaurant is now called “Imperial Viking” , which has validity since Google says it is true.
Of course this idea some popularity in Japan, and they even have dessert buffets! Oh still my beating heart…