Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | food & dining
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[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.

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).

karamiForget Pace Picante Sauce, which used to make a big deal of being made in San Antonio instead of phony salsas made in New York City. Forget San Antonio as well as New York City. Look no further than Pueblo and Boulder, Colorado. Boulder-based entrepreneur Kei Izawa and his partner, Jason Takaki, are launching a new product this weekend that really isn't new at all. Karami is a Japanese American twist on salsa that tastes pretty great on a lot of food including chips, meats and fish, but its origins are as a Japanese side dish, the kind you might see served next to rice. Karami, which means "beautiful heat," has a salty, savory vegetable base that's enhanced with a subtly sweet flavor and a mildly spicy kick. You can't put a finger on one overarching taste, which makes it a perfect example of the Japanese word, "umami," which translates as "pleasant savory taste" and is considered one of the five basic tastes following sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It's a Japanese concept that's perfectly embodied in a spoonful of Karami. What makes it Japanese American, not Japanese?

Jennifer 8 Lee, a NYT reporter who wrote a wonderful book about the origins of Chinese food (specifically the fortune cookie, which is Japanese, not Chinese) called "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles," wrote a HuffingtonPost piece about the way Asian cuisines fuse with American tastes. The essay is worth a read, and the 16-minute video about Chinese food is definitely worth...

Pretty cool: Domino's Pizza goes all in on mobile tech wizardry -- at least for its Japanese market -- with a new app featuring Hatsune Miku, a Vocaloid, synthetic/anime J-pop persona that's entirely digital. According to a new video that has Domino's Japan CEO Scott Oelkers introducing the app, Domino's staff came up with songs for the app, and the...

I don't drink, but it's not because of moral objections or religion or prudishness. Like many Asians, I'm allergic to alcohol. Specifically, I get the familiar "Asian Flush" after just a few sips of even beer. I drank when I was younger, but I felt self-conscious about my face turning red, my eyes glowing in the dark and my body...