LIFE&STYLE

Beyond sushi, relishing Japan’s cuisine

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Oct 7, 2016 - 14:22
  • Updated : Oct 7, 2016 - 14:22
Sushi is what comes to mind when you think of Japanese food, right? Makes sense, as sushi has long captured the American imagination, is fun to eat and generates billions of dollars in revenue, according to market studies. But what about Japanese food beyond that iconic dish?

Paris-based chef Maori Murota aims to broaden the West’s idea of Japanese cuisine with “Tokyo Cult Recipes” (Harper Design, $35), which offers 100 Japanese recipes from tamago, a rolled omelet, to chicken yakitori to spaghetti Napolitan and even strawberry shortcake. You’ll also find a few sushi recipes, although Murota notes sushi is more of a “special occasion meal” to be enjoyed out.

“I sincerely do not know why sushi became ‘the national food of Japan’ all over the world,” Murota wrote in an email from France. She hopes her book, which is one of a series of “Cult Recipes” books focusing on the cuisines of such cities as New York and Venice, will help readers discover “we have so many different types of food in Japan other than sushi. And also I really hope that they find Japanese cooking accessible and fun to make.”

“Diversity” is the word Murota chose when asked to describe Japanese food.

“We are extremely open to all kind of foreign foods, and on the other hand, there are some type of foods that proudly and strictly keep their tradition,” she wrote. “The hybrid of new and old, international food and traditional food, and being open and being completely closed. That makes the diversity in Japanese food.”

But being open to foreign ingredients doesn’t mean mere copying, she insisted, adding: “We integrate those in our cooking and create our own dishes.”

That’s a point also made by Mark Hellyar, executive chef of Momotaro in Chicago, which bills itself as “a multidimensional” Japanese restaurant. These foods, and he pointed to spaghetti dishes created in the 1950s, are Japanese and not “fusion” dishes.

“We’re not fusion. We hate that term,” he said of Momotaro. “People get confused about what Japanese food is.”

OK. What is Japanese food then? Hellyar points to foods cooked on a robata, or Japanese grill, curry and grilled food skewers called kushiyaki (all three are on Moromoto’s menu).

“So many things are coming up,” said Takashi Yagihashi, when asked about the Japanese food scene. The Japanese-born restaurateur behind Slurping Turtle, with locations in Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan, said he’s hearing from family and friends these days about a savory pancake called okonimiyaki, which can include cabbage, eggs and seafood. At Slurping Turtle, the big sellers are international in spirit: duck-fat-fried chicken, and taro root tacos stuffed with hamachi.

Hiroko Shimbo, the Japanese-born, New York-based author of “Hiroko’s American Kitchen” and other cookbooks, said it’s more the structure of a meal than a specific dish that describes Japanese cuisine.

“Cook the rice, serve with vegetables, make the miso soup, and maybe grill or cook a fish,” she said.

Elizabeth Andoh, the American-born Japanese food authority and author of “Kansha” and other cookbooks, shares Shimbo’s focus on menu planning, She stressed, in a video call from Tokyo, that rice is “critically important” to the meal. (She also suggested ohitashi, cooked greens, often spinach, steeped in dashi stock, when asked to name a quintessential Japanese dish.)

Murota agreed about the importance of properly cooked Japanese rice. It is “essential in our cuisine,” she wrote when asked what readers of her book really need to master.

“Then, the onigiri (rice ball). Because it’s something that really represents (for me) the affection one who cooks puts in his food in order to serve the others who eat his dish,” she wrote. If I choose one thing that I can eat before I die, it would be an onigiri by my mother.”

Japanese milk pudding with black sugar sauce, ginger-lemon sauce and macerated blueberries. (Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Milk pudding

Prep: 10 minutes, plus cooling time

Chill: 30 minutes

Cook: 3 minutes Makes: 4 small servings

This recipe from Maori Murota’s “Tokyo Cult Recipes” can be served with one or more of the toppings below.

3.5 grams powdered gelatin and 2 tablespoons water

355 ml whole milk

3 tablespoons raw (demerara) sugar

Combine the gelatin and water in a small bowl; set aside. Heat the milk and sugar on low in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Just before it comes to a boil, remove from the heat, add the gelatin and stir to dissolve completely. Pour mixture into 4 small glasses. (To make larger puddings, double the quantities of ingredients.) Let the puddings cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to set.

Nutrition information per serving: 93 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 13 g sugar, 4 g protein, 42 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Black sugar sauce: Place 1 3/4 ounces muscovado (dark brown) sugar, 3/4 ounce raw (demerara) sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan on low heat. Cook to dissolve the sugars. Remove from the heat; stir in 1 tablespoon honey. Allow to cool completely. Spoon over pudding; sprinkle with a little shredded ginger.

Ginger-lemon sauce: Place 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon raw (demerara) sugar, 3 1/2 ounces water, 1/2 organic lemon cut into 1/4-inch slices and 10 very thin slices ginger in a saucepan. Cook on low heat until the sauce is thick, 5 minutes. Allow to cool. Spoon over pudding, garnished with a slice of ginger.

Macerated blueberries: Marinate 20 blueberries with 1 tablespoon raw (demerara) sugar and 1 tablespoon kirsch, 5 minutes. Serve over the pudding, garnished with mint leaves.

(Tribune Content Agency)

By Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune