Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Japanese lunch

What do you consider to be Japanese food? Those lovely Japanese steak restaurants where the chef performs at the grill are few and far between in Japan and if you can find them at all you are talking about $100 a plate!

I think true Japanese chefs follow the idea that food should be beautiful as well as delicious and one of the best examples of beautiful cooking in Japan is kaiseki ryouri. Yesterday a few friends and enjoyed a very beautiful, very delicious, very reasonable kaiseki lunch. Look at this lacquer tray with all the beautiful dishes on it. Isn't that a feast for the eyes alone! The chef goes to great lengths to choose the most suitable dish to enhance the appearance of each mouthful of food that is prepared and served. In the crescent moon dish there was an assortment of small pieces of tempura with a dipping sauce alongside it. In another dish were three pieces of sashimi (raw seafood) and on a long plate there was a slice of grilled fish and a small piece of sweet egg. Egg pudding, pickles, simmered vegetables were on some plates and little covered porcelain dishes that really hold no more than a teaspoon had things like sweet salad, 10 or 12 fish eggs, and 5 or 6 beans. Other dishes held a tiny slice of jellied fish eggs, a minuscule piece of simmered fish. Rice and miso soup were also served. All these little bite size servings actually added up to a very filling meal and it is sort of an adventure to dip into these little cups and dishes with your chopsticks and enjoy the different tastes and textures.

There is almost nothing in Japan that I cannot eat. Somewhere in my childhood I quickly got past the "don't like" and "can't eat" type of thinking and I am willing to try anything once, and usually by the third try I've developed a taste for something. I think this is a quality people need to cultivate if they are going to spend any time in a foreign culture. I have been annoyed at my husband who comes with me to America and turns up his nose at unusual tasting Mexican food and never before seen vegetables (he absolutely hates avocados and artichokes). I get irritated when I talk to Japanese friends who have been to Hawaii or Canada or somewhere and report that they couldn't find good Japanese food.
"Why are you going across the world to eat the food you are normally used to!?"
And I am embarrassed when foreign students visit Japan and are so picky about their eating habits. Sorry folks, if you want to see a different culture, in my book you'd better be willing to give everything a try and if you don't like it you might like it tomorrow so try it again. And if you absolutely can't handle it then don't start wrinkling your nose and claiming the Japanese are strange because they like sugary bean cakes or pink fish eggs or something. (I know. As a child I used those exact same fish eggs to go trout fishing. Now I know what a delicious treat we were baiting our hooks with!)

Yesterday's lunch was made complete with a small scoop of ice cream and a "slice" of cheese cake about the side of a dime. Also a demi-tasse cup of espresso. But look at the beautiful gold lacquer tray it was served on! All of us oohed and aahed as we enjoyed our lunch but the the housewife side of us showed when one of my friends mumbled under her breath that she'd hate to be the person who has to wash all the dishes after lunch!

12 comments:

Patti said...

When my high school choir toured Japan - I've told you about that before - we were instructed to try everything presented to us and never to complain about the food. We were also told it would be much easier if we didn't ask what something was until after we'd eaten it. I loved all the Japanese food that was served to us - particularly the beautiful box lunches that were sometimes presented to us. What I didn't like was the "American" food presented to us in hotels. Cream of Washington soup was always the start of a meal - made from corn. And in the morning we'd be served fried eggs - fried the night before, put on a plate in the refrigerator, and served cold with soy sause the next morning. That was a long time ago - 1964 - I bet one can get food in hotels now that much better resemble American food.

I especially learned to love sushi - and was thrilled to pieces when a sushi bar opened up on the "Ave" next to the university when I was in college. Now we can find sushi everywhere - Americans have discovered how wonderful it is.

Shelina said...

These little bowls will certainly help with portion control. Here we talk about obesity and offer supersize meals. Tell people to have 9 servings of fruit and vegetables when a portion is just a little bit. Like you though, I wouldn't want to wash so many tiny dishes.

Quilt crazy said...

I agree, the adventure in traveling is really all about trying new foods and all the other experiences. Will you be in Tokyo for the show? I am only guessing that the is probably no, as I seem to have the impression that you are far from it.

Fran├žoise said...

I love Japanese food too. I had homemade sushi yesterday night.
And I agree with you. When we travel, we prefer to eat local food. It's usually much better and more interesting than the bland international food served in some hotels.

atet said...

Oh yes -- eating as they do where you travel is the best thing to do. I do have some food issues so I do have to be a little careful (you really don't want me eating raw onions -- really) but otherwise, how else do you get to know a culture without ever tasting the food? Your lunch looks just yummy -- and so did the obento your mil had for new year's. Yummy!

Clare said...

When in Rome. It amazes me how unadventurous some people are when they are on holiday.

I assume that the porcelain is not dishwasher proof!

Mary said...

Lunch looks good but I have to admit I love those Japanese restaurants that cook in front of you. We used to take the boys when they were younger - what a fun family dinner out for us.

keslyn said...

Oh your food photos make me long to visit Japan again, I agree with you when you are in a different country then you should try and eat as much local food as possible, it usually tastes good.
My mouth is watering, but I did make sushi again today for lunch.

The Calico Cat said...

Nice post! I love Japanese food (Well the kind that I can get in America - Sushi, Sashimi, edamami, seaweed salad...) I was disappointed that in Cairns Australia that we were not able to find a good Japanese restaurant - considering the large number of Japanese tourists & proximity to Japan. (There isn't an "Australian" food style perse - from what I could tell.) The Japanese breakfast at our hotel was definately "Interresting." I ate the anglo breakfast...

How do you order that Kaiseki meal? Or do you just get what is given? I think I am in the middle when it comes to pickiness... But I am also fairly predictable...

anne bebbington said...

I loved the dishwashing comment at the end - a real reality check after the sublime beauty of that food presentation - so nice to go out for a treat now and then though

Laurie Ann said...

I have to say that all of the students that we have had from Japan have been very adventurous when it comes to food. They are always willing to try the new things I fix and usually like them. But one night I always ask them if they would like to cook, and the I get a treat!!

Marilyn R said...

Your lunch was a feast for the eyes! I do agree with the dish washing comment as I love my dishwasher!