Turning Japanese, I Really Think So
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Diary and Notes
So far I haven't had a single Japanese meal on my blog. I've had; English, German, French, American, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, North African, Middle Eastern, Russian, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, West Indian, Central African, Scottish, Nepalese, Singaporian, Spanish, Persian, Chilean, Turkish, Cajun, Basque and Indian (lots of Indian), but no Japanese. This is mainly due to it being very hard to buy Japanese ingredients and even if I could buy them, quite a lot of them I wouldn't have the foggiest idea what to do with.
I am ambivalent towards Japanese food. I've had some excellent tepanyaki (where they cook the food on a hot table in front of you), some good, mediocre and very bad sushi, fantastic sukyaki and once, in Los Angeles, a bowl of iced noodles in cold beef broth, so disgusting I was almost sick (I had to go to Pink's afterwards for a chilli dog, to settle my stomach).
There is something frightening to a Westerner like me about eating raw sea cucumber. Japanese food is like the Pompidou centre in Paris or a picture by Rene Magritte - I can appreciate the beauty of the thing, but it is still very strange. The side of my character that is a bit of a ponce loves the art of Japanese cuisine, but my other, more basic side, thinks it's all show and no substance - where's the beef I say, and some chips would be nice too.
But the real problem I have with Japanese food is lack of farmiliarity. I've probably eaten Japanese food less than ten times in my life and although I've read recipe books telling me how to make suppon-nabe and zosui (soft shelled turtle stew and rice porridge) it will invariably contain ingredients like umebosh (pickled Japanese apricots), oba (beefsteak leaves) and chrysanthemum flowers, none of which I have any idea where to buy them or how to use them (let alone the soft shelled turtle). I don't know what these things taste like, I am slightly fearful they may have odd slimy textures or smells. I am, in all honesty, ignorant of the joys of Japanese food.
It is time to begin to make amends - and I'll start nice and easy.
I've found a shop in Exeter (R.L.Hira - my favourite shop in the whole of Devon) which alongside all its Indian spices etc. sells a small selection of Japanese ingredients (for the Japanese students at the English language school no doubt). They don't have much and it's quite expensive - but I am on a quest and price must be no obstacle. So I bought a few ingredients that I knew would be useful (miso paste, shoyu sauce, ramen and some dried seaweed condiment) and had a go.
I didn't make anything threatening. The gyoza (fried pork dumplings) are originally a Chinese dish that have become popular in Japan and they were what I was intending to make. For some reason gyoza have more websites devoted to them than any other dish from anywhere on the planet. Gyoza eaters seem to be internet ready, they're probably the sort of thing you can eat while you watch porn, sniff schoolgirl's knickers and have a 'joust' - Japanese comfort food. I made far more of the pork stuffing than I needed so used this to add a bit of extra flavour to my ramen (noodles).
As an introduction to Japanese food I would recommend this dinner. It was extremely tasty and was close enough to Western food to not seem overly weird and offputting.
I will have a go at more Japanese food as the year progresses. I am an on odyssey and Japanese food is my cyclops. There will be no growth without risk, no greatness without battles. Maybe next time I'll try the turtle stew.
Chocolate Tiffin. I bought a pack of three chocolate tiffin and ate them all with coffee - it wont be long now and I'll be as fat as Miss Tonga 1966.
Pork Mix: Lean minced pork, spring onions, chinese cabbage, garlic, ginger, shoyu sauce (Japanese soy sauce), sugar, sesame oil.
Gyoza: Pork mix, wanton wrappers, peanut oil.
Ramen: Ramen noodles, miso paste, pork mix, peanut oil, shoyu sauce, spring onions, chinese cabbage.
First make the pork mix: Mince the carlic and ginger, finely chop some spring onion and shred some Chinese cabbage. Add some shoyu sauce and a pinch of sugar, mix with the pork and leave to stand for 1/2 an hour.
Gyoza: Place a small ball of the pork mix in the middle of a wanton wrapper, rub a little water on the edges, fold over and form into a small dumpling. Fry in a little peanut oil until golden brown.
Ramen: Place the ramen in boiling water and bubble for a few minutes until soft - drain. Heat a wok with a little peanut oil inside. Add the remainder of the pork mix and stir fry, at the end add a little more sliced chinese cabbage. Put some miso paste in a bowl, pour over boiling water and mix. Add the ramen to the miso soup. Tip on the cooked pork mix, some more shoyu sauce and garnish with sliced spring onions.