Growing up with stinky, slimy, altogether wonderful Japanese food

Homemade kimchee, homemade takuan and natto.

Homemade kimchee, homemade takuan and natto.

I’m a foodie. Everyone knows this. I write about food, I take photos of food everywhere I dine, I love to cook, and I love food from everywhere. One of my personal rules has always been, if someone somewhere in the world eats something, I’m willing to try it… at least once.

So I’ve had chocolate covered ants. Fried grubs. The meat of some strange animals that you wouldn’t think humans ought to eat, like rattlesnake brats.

In a way, I was prepared for this gastronomic open-mindedness (open-stomachnes?) by growing up Japanese. I was raised in Japan until I was 8, but even lifelong Japanese Americans know what I mean when I say that Japanese cuisine — although hailed today as the epitome of high culture and is accepted as mainstream with commonplace dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, sukiyaki and teriyaki – can feature some nasty stuff.

Foul-smelling, slimy and icky-textured. Food that’s best swallowed quickly, without chewing or thinking about. No savoring the flavor, just pop it in and send it down the chute.

A lot of people probably would disagree with me, but I feel that way about oysters. I think they’re gross. Keeping my personal rule in mind, I’ll eat them if I’m at a nice restaurant in a town like Boston, where oysters are de rigeur. But I won’t seek them out and suggest an oyster bar for a night out.

It’s ironic, then, that people who would slurp down an oyster at a moment’s notice would probably themselves grossed out at some things I love: Raw eggs mixed with soy sauce and drizzled on hot rice; natto (fermented soy beans) mixed with soy sauce and mixed with hot rice; crunchy takuan; oden, an odiferous winter stew.
Continue reading

Nagomi Visit introduces Japanese culture to visitors through home-cooked meals

Nagomi Visit

Travelers are treated to home-cooked Japanese food when they book a meal with Nagomi Visit. (Photo courtesy of Nagomi Visit)


 
There’s no getting around it: One of the most reliable ways to generate international friendship and cultural understanding is through the stomach.

Diversity in dining is a reflection of an evolving society. Just think of a typical American culinary palette of the 1950s: Pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, spinach boiled to drab green mush, creamed corn. Your plate was all white and tan, with maybe a green highlight or two (it helped if you had an iceberg lettuce salad on the side). The one bright spot, color-wise might have been a jiggling red blob of Jell-O for dessert.

I’m oversimplifying, of course. Depending on where in the U.S. of A. you lived in during the decade when I was born, you would have grown up having Italian food, or Jewish food, or maybe Mexican or Americanized Chinese food. But Middle America — the land of Better Home and Gardens Cookbooks — was all about red meat and multiple kinds of carbs. Don’t get me wrong — I love white and tan food. Except for that over-cooked spinach, which is a crying shame, I love that typical ’50s meal, including the Jell-O.

But for 2013, I’m sure glad that Americans have a much wider appreciation for ethnic cuisine, from Italian and Mexican to Chinese, Korean and Thai.

I grew up eating Japanese food, naturally. My mom cooked Japanese food for herself even if she cooked spaghetti, or steak, for the rest of us. In fact, we had rice every night, even if we had pasta, mom made rice and I often had a serving on the side alongside my noodles. But mostly, my brothers and I grew up eating my mom’s home-cooked Japanese food. Whether it was basic like teriyaki chicken or grilled salmon, or fancy and more “ethnic” dishes like oden (a traditional winter stew) or chawan mushi (a hot savory egg custard), we knew we were always getting a true authentic taste of Japan, because that’s what my mom grew up with.

A lot of us love to travel to Japan so we can have authentic Japanese cooking. Eating in restaurants in Japan, whether expensive high-end eateries or funky hole-in-the-wall joints, can be a satisfying way to hook into Japanese culture. But imagine the awesome experience of having a home-cooked Japanese meal, in a Japanese home.

OK, so you don’t have relatives that you can mooch off, or friends who you can crash with who’ll cook for you.

No worries — there’s a brilliant service called Nagomi Visit International through which you can set up a home-cooked lunch or dinner during your travels in Japan, and make new friends while you’re at it.
Continue reading

Fung Bros. slather McDonalds’ Mighty Wings with variety of Asian sauces, and hilarity ensues

mightywingsvsasiansauces

This is why Asians are kicking butt on YouTube: We have a bunch of talented Asian Americans cutting loose with hilarious videos online.

This latest from the Fung Bros had me cracking up throughout, and drooling with hunger at the same time. Comedians Andrew and David Fung had the brilliant idea of buying 400 pieces of Mighty Wings from McDonald’s and then, with some friends joining in the fun, they started chowing through the wings using a variety of Asian sauces.

Some of the taste tests are hilarious (wasabi, for instance, which isn’t really a sauce, and in spite of what the Japanese woman says as the Fungs chomp on wings slathered with the stuff, isn’t used on everything in Japan…).

The video is a tour through Asian cuisines, and it’s a fine example of how Asian America overlaps — and sometimes clashes with — Asian culture. It made me hungry and want to go out and buy a few boxes of Mighty Wings and try adding sauces that aren’t in the video, like Tonkatsu sauce and Hot Mustard.

Is it racist to want sushi chefs to be Japanese?

sushi-istockphoto-72dpi

Recently a Seattle sushi restaurant, Mashiko, posted an open letter on its website saying that people who criticize the restaurant for having non-Japanese employees sushi are bigots.

“Stop being an ignorant racist,” the letter said, after noting that the restaurant is Japanese-owned and there are Japanese as well as non-Japanese staff. The letter also defends one of the restaurant’s most popular chefs, a Caucasian woman, who’s worked there for 12 years and has a loyal and devoted following.

“Should you refuse her fare based on her gender or race, you are an absolute fool,” the letter states.

I feel for the staff and owners of Mashiko, and I’m surprised that diners in such a great foodie town as Seattle would be so unsophisticated that they’d make decisions on food quality just on a racial basis.

Still, I think this is a much more complicated discussion than just bigotry (though that’s part of it, for sure).
Continue reading

You gotta love it: “Asians eat weird things” by Fung Bros. w/ AJ Rafael

Brilliant, smart, funny, right on and righteous. Makes me wish I live in LA, and could shop at 99 Ranch anytime I want. I love this video. I love all the food in this video (will have to try the couple of things I’m not familiar with).

Kudos to The Fung Brothers David and Andrew, and singer AJ Rafael for some sunny summer Share. Forward. Embed.