ENJOY AUTHENTIC SUSHI
ENJOY AUTHENTIC SUSHI Today, sushi is widely available outside of Japan.
In Australia, sushi has become more and more prevalent, with increasing numbers of Japanesestyle restaurants opening here. So it’s the perfect time to introduce you to a delicious way to eat nigirizushi, in which the topping is placed on a ball of rice shaped by hand.
There are no hard and fast rules for eating sushi. Both chopsticks and fingers are acceptable. People who don’t want to get sticky fingers should use chopsticks, otherwise it’s quite acceptable to eat sushi with your hands.
Sushi tastes best when dipped into a small saucer of soy sauce to which you can add wasabi for extra zing. Obviously this depends on personal taste, however, you should be careful about how much wasabi you add to the soy sauce, as there is already wasabi on the sushi itself.
Flipping the nigirizushi over so that you get just enough soy sauce on the topping, but not on the rice, is the most delicious way to eat sushi.
Incidentally, soy sauce is not necessary with certain types of sushi, such as unagi eel, that is pre-seasoned with a special sauce. It’s already served with just the right amount of flavouring.
As a rule of thumb, start with subtly flavoured sushi and finish with stronger flavoured pieces, to avoid overpowering the subtleties of the milder sushi. On the other hand, if after eating something oily such as toro, the fatty part of the bluefin tuna, you would like something lighter like a whitemeat fish, then nibble on some pickled ginger. Pickled ginger is not just for decoration, it’s there to refresh your palate.
NABE IS HEARTY WINTER FARE
When visiting Japan in winter, nabe, or a onepot dish cooked at the table, is a must-try meal. Although it’s possible to have nabe for just one person, sharing a large nabe with like-minded friends is the way to enjoy it. It warms not only your body, but also your heart.
There are many different approaches to nabe, but perhaps the most famous is sukiyaki. The Kanto style of sukiyaki involves boiling the beef and vegetables simultaneously, while in the Kansai style the beef is fried first and after flavouring with a little sugar and soy sauce, vegetables are added, followed by sake and water. A raw egg is used when eating sukiyaki made in either style, as is warishita, a special sauce for sukiyaki made from sweet mirin cooking wine, soy sauce, sake and sugar.
Japan offers a rare opportunity to eat wagyu beef in its land of origin, and shabu-shabu is the perfect way to experience this premium meat. Beef which has been sliced extremely thinly is cooked at the table by briefly immersing it in a flavoursome pot of stock. The beef is cooked together with vegetables and tofu and eaten with either a sesame sauce or a ponzu citrus sauce. It’s truly a mouth-watering taste sensation.
Mizutaki takes its name from a delicious stock made from chicken bones, and chanko nabe is famous for forming part of the daily diet of sumo wrestlers. Chanko contains big helpings of meatballs, Chinese cabbage and udon noodles. Trying many different kinds of nabe and increasing your culinary repertoire could turn out to be one of the most fun experiences about travelling to Japan in winter.
JAPANESE SOUL FOOD: RAMEN
No story about trending Japanese food culture could be complete without reference to ramen. A deceptively simple dish, ramen is a combination of soup, noodles and toppings that embodies the passion and flair of the cook. The complexity of flavours infused into a bowl of steaming ramen captivates many and has universal appeal.
The flavour and impression of a bowl of ramen is established by its soup. There is great variety in ingredients and how they are combined.
Ramen soup may be made from pork bones or chicken frames, or from small dried sardines, dried bonito and vegetables. Soy sauce, miso paste or salt added to the stock characterise the flavour and appearance of the soup, and oil may be added in the form of vegetable oil, lard, or chicken fat, to achieve a rich broth.
Noodles are typically made from wheat flour, with each restaurant choosing thickness and shape – either straight or curly – as appropriate to their signature soup.
Some will let customers choose their noodles either soft or al dente, the latter most commonly requested when the stock has been taken from pork bones.
The array of specialty ramen restaurants in Japan, from famous restaurants that are privately run, to fast food style chain stores, is bewildering. Generally speaking, if your preference is for light, simple flavours, look for advertisements of soy sauce or salt flavoured ramen. If you feel like eating rich, heavy flavours, go for pork bone or miso ramen.
Across the sea in major Australian cities like Sydney and Melbourne, ramen restaurants are booming. Some popular Japanese restaurants have also opened Australian outlets, and are attracting local fan bases.
GENUINE IZAKAYA EXPERIENCE
One Japanese word that is making an increasingly frequent appearance in Australia in recent years is izakaya the term for combined restaurant and bar spaces in Japan that offer both alcohol and a range of simple food.
Where the concept of a bar or pub in Japan conjures images of western-style stores serving western-style drinks, the izakaya is all Japanese. Many offer beer, chuhai, and Japanese sake, and a wide range of food as well. Something else that sets the izakaya apart from standard restaurants is that what you drink is the star here, and not what you eat.
When you enter an izakaya and order a drink, you are first served some small dishes without even having to order.These appetisers, called “otooshi” or “tsukidashi”, fill the time between your first order and the arrival of your food.
Such dishes are prepared in advance so that they can be served straight away, and are designed as a match for your first drink. While you may hold some reservations over paying for something you didn’t order at first, learning to expect and appreciate such appetisers is the first step in enjoying hospitality izakaya style.
Good food is the perfect partner to a good drink. While it is popular to stick with beer throughout the evening in Australian pubs, the draw of an izakaya is the food that accompanies and brings out the flavour of the drink.
The term “sakana”, also called “ate” or “tsumami” refers to the food enjoyed alongside alcohol. Often served in small portions like the tapas of Spanish food, such dishes allow you to enjoy a wide range of different food.
Popular items on the izakaya menu include yakitori, edamame, sashimi, karaage, dried foods, and egg rolls.
INTERVIEW WITH HIDEO DEKURA
What makes Japanese food so popular?
The popularity of Japanese food owes much to trends in the social landscape and in society itself. At the same time, however, the culture surrounding Japanese cuisine itself is built on a long-standing tradition of simplicity that has developed over many years. The wide range of ingredients and cooking methods, combined with its beautiful presentation and health benefits, have granted it great appeal in many countries, and earned it a placed on the table in Australia and elsewhere throughout the world.
One of the characteristics of Japanese cuisine is the role played by fermented condiments such as miso and soy sauce made using methods unique to Japan, and stocks made from foods high in umami such as shiitake mushrooms, kombu, and katsuobushi that take the food to a new level.
The multicultural nature of Australia has undoubtedly made the introduction of Japanese food into everyday life a natural progression.
Japanese sake and wine that pairs well with Japanese cuisine is now also seeing a great deal of attention. The range of Japanese sake that you can purchase over the internet continues to grow, allowing more and more people to enjoy the combination of Japanese food paired with alcohol. I would not be surprised if we see more people travelling to Japan to enjoy regional cuisine alongside local sake as well.
Past, present, and future
The Japanese food that was popular in the 1970s, when I arrived in Australia, included such dishes as yakitori and sukiyaki, but differences in eating habits made many people reluctant to try food such as raw fish, and it was impossible to get people to try it. On the other hand, tempura earned many fans, perhaps due in part to its similarity to fish and chips. Even then, the dipping sauce used with tempura was not that popular, and many preferred to enjoy it with salt and lemon instead, and even tartar sauce, much to my surprise. And at the time, the ramen shops that are so frequent today were nowhere to be found.
There is no single reason that I believe Aussies began to open up to Japanese food, but one large factor is no doubt the perfect match between an increased awareness of healthy food and the nature of Japanese cuisine. Sushi, which lends itself to take away, has no doubt had its own role to play. I have seen Japanese cuisine develop overseas for 50 years and have come in contact with three generations of locals who have loved Japanese food, and while I think this initial opportunity to come in contact with Japanese cuisine is important, I am also happy to see this tradition being passed to future generations.
Enjoying Japanese cuisine in the everyday
While the concept of sushi as take away food is now firmly established, I believe the styles of Japanese cuisine available will continue to broaden, and the pace of acceptance for Japanese food culture will similarly grow. It is good that consumers have more options from which to choose.
I also hope we see more people who enjoy Japanese food at home. Those who have taken part in my cooking classes have gone on to hold sushi parties with friends, try handmade udon and ramen, incorporating Japanese food into their lives by way of an attraction.
For those interested in trying their hand at Japanese cuisine, I recommend starting with simple, cornerstone dishes such as miso soup and white rice. And once you master the basics of sushi rolls, you will no doubt see how easy it is to pick and choose from ingredients that are easy to find, and make your own combinations.
Keeping a stock of soy sauce, mirin, nori and other Japanese ingredients at home also makes it easy to make a start. If possible, seeking out friends or local supermarkets that sell Japanese ingredients that might be able to give you advice is also a good idea.
Japanese food is perfect for those who are conscious about their health. Its visual appeal gives it an added element of entertainment as well, offering a wide range of options on how to enjoy it to those who make it. In addition to restaurants and cooking classes or even in the home, I hope you can travel to Japan and enjoy your adventures in the wide world that is Japanese cuisine.