Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Food & Dining
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“Aw, man. This is the best job ever…. The best job ever,” says John Daub with a supremely satisfied smile. He had just taken a sip of fabulous creamy onion bacon soup at a restaurant named Kokoya de Kobayashi in the city of Kobayashi in Miyazaki prefecture, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

He’s not kidding. He has a great job.

Daub and his wife, Kanae, have been “working,” spending several days in the area livestreaming videos for his “Only in Japan GO” YouTube channel. It might seem like an amazingly fun gig, and obviously, it is. But don’t be fooled -- he works hard at his job.

Daub began this series of livestream episodes two days before in Miyazaki prefecture, to attend a Mango Auction. Yes, in Japan they auction off mangoes just like the tuna auctions in Tokyo’s famous fish market – the top fruit went for $5,000. For one fruit. (He posted his edited report on the $5,000 mango a week later.)

[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.

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...

We're addicted to the Food Network because we're amateur foodies who believe deeply that food is the gateway for most people to learn about other cultures. I'm always amazed when I find people who are closed-minded about trying different types of cuisines, and I've always lived by the rule that if somewhere in the world, someone eats a dish, I'm willing to try it... at least once. Living by this rule, I've had some funky food, including insects, plants that you wouldn't think are edible, slimy sea creatures that I'm not sure other sea creatures would eat, and animal parts that would probably make a PETA supporter faint. We love all kinds of cuisines from around the world, and obscure indigenous specialties from around the U.S. One of our favorites is Korean cuisine. You can trace a lot of Japanese culture to China or Korea, including food. Yakiniku, grilled marinated thin-sliced beef, is Korean bulgogi (my favorite). Gyoza dumplings are either Chinese potstickers or Korean mandu. Kimchi is, well, it's a purely Korean original: Pickled napa cabbage that's deeply infused with hot chili pepper and briny salt. It's a staple of Korean cuisine, an ubiquitous side dish, delicious and really healthy to boot. My mouth starts watering just thinking about it. Erin and I even cooked up our own Soon Doobu Jjigae spicy tofu soup one night, and look forward to trying more Korean recipes. Growing up in Japan, we had kimchi pretty regularly. My mom used to make it (she hardly cooks anything anymore) when I was a kid. Its pungent odor would fill the house and embarrass me once we moved to the states if my white high school buddies visited, but I even got my giant football player friend Bubba to try kimchi. Like some other Asian dishes, it doesn't taste as stinky as it smells. A new PBS series, "Kimchi Chronicles," explores the richness of Korean food in a fascinating way that's part-travelogue, part food program and part a journey about identity. The series has been rolling out in some markets, but here in Denver it premieres July 2 on Rocky Mountain PBS (Channel 12 in Denver) What makes the show so intriguing to me is the star, Marja Vongerichten, who is wife of superstar New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Miso Chashu Ramen at Sushi Spot in Boulder I was severely depressed a month ago, when I sauntered up University Hill from the University of Colorado campus for my semi-regular fix of ramen from Bento Zanmai, the fast foodish takeout counter aimed at the student population in a funky food court alongside a pizza joint and Thai, Middle Eastern and Nepalese counters, and found the ramen spot was closed. I was too upset to call Sushi Zanmai, the parent restaurant that also owns Amu, the super-fine izakaya. But today, as I pondered lunch options I decided to find out whaddup with the demise of Bento Zanmai. It's been closed, yes, I know, but what? Its entire menu is now being served just around the corner on the Hill at Sushi Spot, a slightly more upscale sushi restaurant that the Zanmai folks also own? Cool! I should say upfront that although I love sushi, I'm not big fan of the crazy variety of special rolls that have been invented to entice and entertain Americans as sushi became mainstream in the past two decades. To me, even a California Roll (which I know is these days commonplace in Japan) is a mutant invention. I mean really, rice on the outside? Avocado? Come on....

Meet Cheryl Tan on visualizAsian.com on May 24!We're thrilled to announce that we're celebrating the second anniversary of visualizAsian.com with TWO shows during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month! We launbched visualizAsian in May of 2009 with a conversation with former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, and we've had almost two dozen calls since then. This month we have a show with Albert Kim, one of the writers and producers of the hit action series "Nikita" on Tuesday May 10, and we're closing out the month with a conversation with journalist and author Cheryl Tan on Tuesday, May 24! Click here to register for the call and you'll receive the dial-in and webcast information. Cheryl Tan has written for bigtime publications including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and earlier this year published "A Tiger in the Kitchen" (not to be confused with that other "Tiger" book...). Here's her biography from her website: