Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | food & dining
24
archive,paged,category,category-food,category-24,paged-6,category-paged-6,qode-quick-links-1.0,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-title-hidden,qode-theme-ver-11.0,qode-theme-bridge,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.1.1,vc_responsive

asiansupper.com Since we're such foodies, people think Erin and I eat out all the time. But the fact is, we cook a lot at home too. Last night, f'rinstance, I grilled chicken breasts rubbed with homemade spinach pesto, served with Caesar salad with homemade dressing (Erin makes the BEST Caesar dressing) and wild grain rice, drizzled with homemade Argentinian Chimichurri sauce. OK, so it ain't Asian. We cook a lot of Asian dishes too, not just Japanese but also Korean and Indian and Chinese. We often start with recipes but hardly ever stay true to those recipes. We tweak and customize everything -- mostly, we add a lot more garlic than the recipe requires. Now we have another source for Asian recipes: Asian Supper.

Sushi Poppers -- is this cool or dumb? Wow. As if buying crappy-tasting, unauthentic "sushi" at your local supermarket or Costco wasn't enough, they've found a way to completely commodify sushi -- sushi rolls, at least -- as a mass-produced pre-packaged snack food. Sushi Poppers are individually wrapped sushi rolls on a stick that you eat like... a Popsicle, those quiescently frozen confections. In fact, you can even buy Sushi Poppers online, and have it delivered frozen, packed with dry ice. They claim they'll be fine frozen for up to 30 days. I dunno, I've never been able to eat sushi that's even refrigerated overnight, never mind frozen for a month. I may have to order some just to test it. You get six tubes of sushi on a stick, with seven pieces in each roll (that's 42 pieces), for $29.95. You can get various flavors, including ones with raw tuna, spicy tuna or salmon, cooked fish, vegetarian, meat (teriyaki chicken or beef, miso chicken) and some dessert flavors. It seems they're really stretching the definition of "sushi" here. If you're suspicious of ordering frozen sushi through the mail, the company is planning to have the Poppers available at retailers nationwide, with the sushi made locally.

Martha Stewart needs some etiquette lessons in how to speak to Asian Americans.A reader named Robin, who is Japanese American and born in Iowa and bakes apple pies, sent me this email: "I was wincing yesterday when Martha Stewart asked an asian american woman in the audience (Sumi somethingorother, who baked an apple pie for Martha's contest) "Where are you from?" and the woman said with no accent "Oh I'm from here...New York City.". Martha continued with the (stereo)typical line of questioning something like 'where are you really from because if you are from Asia it's unusual to make an apple pie'. I don't have it verbatim but it was painful. Just another "What ARE you?" type of conversation. I really don't think Martha is a bigot but as she is the standard bearer of suburban white women I think it was totally disappointing for her to go down that path as if it were totally fine to question someone with Asian features about where they really come from." She sent a link to Martha Stewart's page for the pie show, but there isn't a video of the entire program, at least not yet. It looks like they only upload excerpts instead of entire shows, but I'll keep an eye out for YouTube postings of this segment. UPDATED: Today, Robin commented below on this blog post with a clarification: "The video is up, check at the 2:00 minute mark: http://www.marthastewart.com/article/meet-the-pie-bakers "Verbatim it's : 'Where do you come from?' (answer Here NYC) 'Oh you do, oh, okay, because if you came from Asia this would not a typical pie, right?' (answer 'right...right...' you can kind of hear the 'what the heck!?' in her tone) "So it's not as blatant as it struck me the first time but still the question and that type of follow up would be seen as really bizarre if she asked it of someone with a German name." It may not be as obnoxious as it could have been (I agree with Robin that Martha's probably not a racist), but it still betrayed Stewart's expectation that the audience member with an Asian face was a foreigner. She even sounded disappointed when the woman said she's from New York, because Stewart wanted so badly to make her point about Asians not baking pies.

These banners are on display throughout San Jose Unlike the many Chinatowns that serve as ethnic cultural enclaves in many American cities from coast to coast, and the increasing numbers of districts variously called "Koreatowns" and "Little Saigons," you won't find many Nihonmachi, or Japantowns. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is probably the Japanese American community's need to assimilate into mainstream America after the shame and humiliation of being imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. In the 1950s and '60s, most JAs moved into suburban America and avoided clustering in ethnic Japanese areas. Denver has Sakura Square, a one-block development built in the 1970s I like to call "Tiny Tokyo" because it's ridiculously small compared to Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. And New York City has a couple-blocks of Japanese businesses that have sprouted in recent years in the East Village that might be called a "mini-Japantown" in Manhattan. Seattle's Japantown evolved after the war into the International District, though I think it's still anchored by the awesome, generations-old Uwajimaya supermarket. But not surprisingly, the three Japantowns that are officially recognized as national historic districts are all in California, where the vast majority of Japanese immigrants settled in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Along with the well-known and tourist-filled Little Tokyo in LA and San Francisco's Japantown is the Japantown area of San Jose that's more a neighborhood than a business district. Erin and I have traveled to and stayed at both Little Tokyo and San Francisco's Japantown, but only visited San Jose's J-town a couple of times. We spent a few hours there last week and we love it. Here's why:

The Miso Lobster Ramen is the ultimate dish at Bones, the non-Asian noodle house in Denver. Erin and I have always been wistfully jealous of our friends in Los Angeles and San Francisco, for lots of reasons but not least the fact that they can eat killer ramen any night of the week. We have our fave ramen-yas in both San Francisco's Japantown and LA's Little Tokyo ("ya" means "shop"). There's also great ramen to be had on the East Coast -- I've slurped up wonderful noodles and steamy broth in New York City's funky little "Japantown" district on the lower East side In Denver, for many years we had only one ramen-ya: Oshima Ramen, which was good (albeit pricey) when it opened about a decade ago, and has over the past few years become increasingly dirtier and greasier, and the ramen less special and more bland. As it went downhill, it gave us less and less reason to drive all the way across town for a sad bowl of noodles. Some people (including some food critics who don't know better) think it's "the real thing" but uh, sorry. So Erin and I have made it a holy mission to find good ramen without flying to the coast, and some brave Japanese restaurants have met the challenge just in the past year or so. The best we've found in the area is Okole Maluna, a Hawai'ian restaurant an hour north of Denver in the tiny eastern plains town of Windsor, whose owners serve a killer Saimin (Hawai'ian-style ramen). There's a very good, very authentic ramen served in a little take-out food court in Boulder called Bento Zanmai. Although it'a a bit unorthodox, the miso-ginger ramen served at the late Hisashi “Brian” Takimoto's East Colfax restaurant, Taki's, is very good. And now, even the fast-foody Kokoro is serving ramen (but at only one location, on 6th and Broadway, and only after 4 pm). We keep hearing about a Korean-run Japanese restaurant in Longmont that we haven't made it to. But as you can see, we're willing to drive for a good bowl of ramen, so we'll get there eventually. Imagine our surprise, then, to find that there's been a veritable explosion of ramen happening right under our nose (is that a triple mixed metaphor?) -- and that it's not ramen made by Asians!

The food at Thai Garden ranges from Thai to Chinese to Vietnamese. Ouch. I stand humbled... and embarrassed. I've changed my views on my long-held need to have Japanese words (especially food) pronounced correctly. I was such a purist about it that in the past I've even offered a pronunciation guide for often-mangled Japanese words. But tonight, I realized that despite Erin and my interest in and curiosity for all Asian cultures -- especially when it comes to food -- and our efforts to pronounce words correctly, I blew it when it comes to some of the most common Asian words we eat: Chinese food.

Tak Toyoshima, creator of Secret Asian Man, and Jeff Yang, one of the editors of "Secret Identities," at the 2009 AAJA Convention in Boston. Tak Toyoshima, creator of "Secret Asian Man," and Jeff Yang, one of the editors of the recently-published book "Secret Identities," sign copies at the 2009 AAJA Convention in Boston. “Where are you from?” “So, where are YOU from?” “Hi, where’re you from?” I was in Boston a couple of weeks ago, at a convention where everyone asked each other “Where are you from?” and no one got offended. It cracked me up, hearing the question over and over. Let me explain, for my non-Asian readers: Just about every Asian American I know – seriously – has been asked this question sometime (or many times) in their life. It’s often preceded by a variation of the statement, “You speak English so well… where are you from?” And once we answer “California,” or “Denver,” it’s often followed by a variation of “No, you know what I mean, where were you born?” Which might be followed, after we answer “California” or “New York City,” by “No, where’s your FAMILY from?” That’s when we can cut off the silliness and get to the point: “Are you asking what’s my ethnic heritage?” I just don’t see European Americans having this conversation, unless they have, say, a British or French or German accent. People assume Asian Americans are foreigners even if we "speak English so well" because of the way we look. Anyway, I heard the “where are you from?” question dozens of times and we all answered eagerly without getting defensive. It’s because the ones asking were also AAPI, and we really did want to know where each other was from. We were at the annual convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, a non-profit professional organization that supports Asian Americans in the media. And after spending several days in Boston with the AAJA, I have hope for journalism.

Pho has evolved over the years, from its invention in 1920s Hanoi to its popularity in the U.S. today. When the soup, with rice noodles and meats served in a hearty broth, first arrived in the stateside, the restaurants catered to mostly Vietnamese diners, like an exclusive club. As non-Vietnamese discovered pho, the restaurants became more inviting, and the diners more diverse. When we first started going to pho restaurants, we weren't always treated very warmly, because we were outsiders -- clearly not Vietnamese. These days, pho restaurants have evolved. We're welcomed as regulars at our favorite neighborhood pho spot, Pho 78, and all sorts of folks enjoy pho. Even Denver, not exactly known as an Asian American mecca, has dozens of pho restaurants, many with the odd names including nonsensical numbers. Pho-Yo! is the next evolution. When you step in you might not even think it looks and feels like a typical, funky family-run pho restaurant. The difference starts with the menu: it’s an Asianfusion combo of the popular Vietnamese noodle soup, pho, and the popular dessert, frozen yogurt.