命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya

About

Welcome to the point of sharing my obsession with japanese food. Like many westerners my first experience with Japanese cuisine came with the comment “what do you mean they don’t cook the fish” when I first discovered the great export of the “Sushi Train”. This and miso soup became my only understanding of Japanese food for many years but laid in me a curiosity for simple clean flavours. The next adventure was in the much westernized Teppan-yaki restaurants which were as much theatre as dining, the chefs coming to cook in front of you and throwing food at you at various points in time.

Around the year 2000 I was then struck by the fervour of food culture in Japan watching the over-dubbed versions of Iron Chef almost every Saturday night. While it had been a few years since it had aired in Japan, it developed a cult following around the world including my home Australia, with SBS TV showing episodes on Saturday night. Many of my friends would watch this before going out on a Saturday night.

A few years later, my work took me several times a year to Los Angeles. On each trip we would be taken to Nobu in Malibu. This restaurant chain, set up by an interesting Japanese Chef, Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, fused Japanese cuisine with South American ingredients (as he grew up in Peru). This fusion drove my interest even further. Soon I would start regular trips to the Sydney Fish Markets to buy blocks of sashimi grade fish and invested in my first Japanese Knife, the obligatory “yanagiba” or sashimi slicing knife. This lead to regular sashimi & sushi making nights and attempts at some items from the Nobu cookbooks I had bought from the restaurant or bookstores.

Then the golden grail appeared. A new job which included responsibility for a team in Japan. Off I went for my first trip and my eyes were opened wide. Blessed to share with good people both the social dining experiences of friends and the entertainment culture of business the breadth of Japanese cuisine was exposed to me. The focused cuisine of small restaurants in side streets really blew me away. Restaurants at home seemed to be either sushi or an attempt to take a slice across that breadth and squash it into one menu.

In Japan I discovered restaurants that did one thing and one thing really well, often a small family owned place that had staked their livelihood and life on doing the best they could. One example of this that stuck in my mind was a little tempura joint around the corner from our Tokyo office shown to me by my Japanese Team Lead. “Lunch will cost you 1000 Yen, it is a standard menu but you get to pick the choice of the main item, usually eel or a type of fish that was fresh today”. If we got in on time we were lead to our seat presented with miso soup (usually with clams in it) rice, tea and side dishes and asked for our choice. Then, over the next 20 mins the chef would place your roadmap of tempura on your plate as it was cooked. Sensational.

On one of these trips I took a few days off and flew my wife over. Helped by my colleague we managed a surprise pilgrimage to a restaurant “La Rochelle” – owned and run by Iron Chef French Hiroyuki Sakai. The dinner was beyond an experience and we were lucky enough to meet and chat with the Iron Chef himself for 10 minutes or so at the end of the meal. The restaurant we went to in Shibuya is no longer open at that location but he has three across Japan.

Fast-forwarding to 2012, I had some time between jobs where I put some effort into learning more about Japanese Cuisine. I found a local supplier, Chefs Armoury, and added to my Japanese Knife collection and other goodies from their range. More cookbooks were added to the collection and each week I took a stab at a new dish and through the photos up on Facebook sharing with others. I began to get hints from people that I should expand this into a blog to share a few more words with the pictures than what fit in description fields of photographs. As I am writing this I have just returned from a visit to Tokyo which ignited the senses once again and here come the blog. I hope that some of this inspires you to try new things, both in eating out, travel and trying at home.

The journey continues . . .

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