Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | food & dining
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I love kaki. That's Japanese for persimmon. Not everyone knows what a persimmon is, so let me explain. Persimmons are a popular fruit that is grown through much of Asia. The Japanese call it "kaki" (kah-key). Kaki are wonderfully sweet when they're ripe, but depending on the strain of kaki, they can be bitter. I learned to love kaki as a kid growing up in Japan.

Something that can't be replicated by a "fake" Japanese restaurant in the US: Homemade Tofu served as part of a multi-course feast at Ukai, a lovely traditional Tokyo tofu restaurant. I’m still pondering the process of cultural assimilation, and how I get so frustrated when Japanese culture – especially Japanese food culture – gets appropriated by people who don’t really appreciate the culture.

My friends (and anyone who follows my social media “food porn” photos) know that I’m a snob about Japanese food. I have strong opinions on the best tonkatsu fried pork cutlets, real vs. fake sushi and Japanese restaurants staffed by non-Japanese who can’t pronounce menu items correctly. And, because I love ramen, I hate bad ramen – and in Denver bad ramen is much more common than the good stuff.

NOTE: "Changing Season" will be screened during the Colorado Dragon Film Festival on Sunday, May 22 at 12 noon. Click here for full information about the festival. You’d think after a lifetime of growing and harvesting peaches, you’d get sick of eating them. But the Masumoto family still loves peaches and serves them up every way imaginable. David “Mas” Masumoto, 62,...

It's cold outside, but it's colder in Asahi Foods' refrigerated cutting room, where stacks of cardboard and Styrofoam boxes filled with giant fish await. The fish cutter is in early on a Saturday, wearing a white lab coat and heavy rubber gloves, various razor-sharp knives at the ready. Charlene Thai, a tiny woman in a similar lab coat, hovers nearby, watching...

My most recent Denver ramen was at the original Osaka Ramen location in the RiNo district. I had the special Miso Ramen of the day with an order of kara age fried chicken. I grew up in Japan when I was a kid, and have vivid memories of bowls of ramen and soba noodles stacked high in bowls or boxes, being...

[caption id="attachment_5601" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Homemade kimchee, homemade takuan and natto. Homemade kimchee, homemade takuan and natto.[/caption] 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.

[caption id="attachment_5367" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Nagomi Visit Travelers are treated to home-cooked Japanese food when they book a meal with Nagomi Visit. (Photo courtesy of Nagomi Visit)[/caption]   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.