Just like movies, cars and hourglass figures, they don’t make pickles like they used to.
Found in just about every national cuisine, fermentation was probably discovered accidentally thousands of years ago, when something sugary was left to rot and ended up as a delightfully sour, mildly alcoholic treat. The fact that it additionally preserved both plant and animal matter and promoted health was likely enough to convince cavemen to begin intentionally fermenting things, and thus began mankind’s long-lived affair with the pickle.
Unfortunately, the advent of refrigeration, mass production and other detrimental conveniences gave manufacturers a wonderful idea: why bother going through the bothersome and occasionally unpredictable stages of fermentation when you can just fake the tang with a vinegar and sugar solution? Why indeed! Soon consumers, unbeknownst to themselves, were sucking up all things faux-fermented, and now the vast majority of sauerkraut, gherkins and piccalilli gracing the supermarket shelves are sad and insipid versions of the real thing.
It happened in Japan, too: once abhorred for its strong smell, kimchi is now the most popular pickle in the country. Yet the Japanese version–known as kimuchi–is often made without even being fermented, with citric acid added for the characteristic tang. This sacrilege might have caused less stinky-breath shame for the Japanese and the countries they exported it to, but it brought about a different kind of embarrassment when it caused a trade spat with Korea, whose reaction was much like Italy’s would be if the U.S. put spreadable parmigiano in aerosol cans and flouted it to the rest of the world as the best thing since sliced Velveeta.
Having already suffered the indignity of the derisive putdown “kimchi-eaters” and “garlic breath”, the Koreans bit back at the Japanese, claiming that Japan would forever soil the international reputation of their beloved dish.
So friends (family, countrymen), I implore you! Do the right thing and make your own–taste it before the fake Japanese kind graces your table. Proper pickles are natural probiotics, bursting with lactobacilli, meaning that you don’t have to shell out for pricey tablets or sugar-filled yogurts, and the Koreans even swear that it can prevent cancer.
Plus, there’s an added pleasure in starting up a collection of stinky jars that bubble menacingly in your pantry. It’s not as hard as making bread–just chop, salt, mix, wait–and yet you will swell with pride like a freshly yeasted loaf when your cabbage baby is born. Your family members might be scared at first that this monster, which seems to be actually breathing, might swell to monstrous proportions and tear out of its glass encasement, engulfing them in their sleep like a spicy version of The Blob, but allay their fears by fighting the inflated mass back into its liquid with a metal spoon.
It makes sense to make kimchi the first station on your fermentation journey because it goes with everything, like ketchup. Yet unlike that Malaysian-British concoction, it’s good for you. As a staple of the Korean diet, it’s provided freely at restaurants throughout the country (except during times of cabbage shortages). When it’s fully fermented you can slather it on meat or fish, stick it in sandwiches or stir it through omelettes…or simply eat it with rice, topped with a fried egg. And don’t be too scared that the prodigious amounts of chili, garlic and fish sauce will play havoc with your breath and lose you friends: consider your exhalations adverts rather than warnings, and the world will smile upon you.
How to Make Real Korean Style Kimchi
- 2 large Chinese or Napa cabbages (whatever you call them, preferably the crisp, white, veiny oblong ones–rather than your average round Western cabbage)
- 1 large white radish- you may know it as either daikon or mooli.
- 2 carrots
- 2 leeks
- 1 bunch of scallions
- Variations include adding peeled pears and cucumbers.
- 1/3 cup rice flour
- 3 cups water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 cups Korean chili pepper
- 1 cup garlic, pureed (or paste)
- 1-2 tbsps ginger, pureed (or paste)
- 1 cup fish sauce
1. Firstly, set aside some time. Remember, most of the time when you’re cooking, you’re dealing with something that’s dead, and you make it even deader by cooking it. With kimchi, you’re making the culinary equivalent of Frankenstein–e.g. creating life out of something dead–therefore it takes a few hours. Four hours in the middle is just waiting but you’ll need about an hour of prep and then about 20 minutes after that.
2. Chop the cabbage into tiny bite size pieces and put in a bowl (with as much as you have, you might need several bowls). Soak it in water for about two minutes, then drain thoroughly and sprinkle liberally with salt, making sure it is consistently covered. Set aside for three to four hours, occasionally lifting up the bowl and tipping out the water that will have accumulated at the bottom- being careful not to let all the cabbage fall out by holding it in place with a spatula or other utensil.
3. Make the porridge: put the rice flour and water into a pan on a low heat and stir vigorously so it becomes a thin paste with no lumps. As it heats up you will need to keep stirring, until it reaches the consistency of wallpaper paste. Then add the sugar, stir to melt, and leave to cool.
4. Put the cooled porridge in a blender, and add the chili, garlic, ginger and fish sauce. Blend until smooth and set aside.
5. Peel the carrots and the white radish and julienne. If you want to save a lot of time you can splash out and buy the Kiwi Pro Slice Peeler, which will do the job in no time, and can also be used to make elaborate and useless little carved Thai vegetables. Sweet!
6. Slice the leeks and scallions into rounds. Put them in a large tupperware container along with the carrots and white radish. Now wait with another fermented product. A beer perhaps?
7. After three or four hours is up, rinse the cabbage to get rid of the salt, and drain well. Begin by adding a little of the spicy porridge to the carrot/leek/scallion/radish mixture, making sure it is well coated. Then gradually stir in the cabbage, adding a dollop of spicy porridge each time as you go.
8. After it is all incorporated, simply snap on the lid and put it somewhere relatively warm. I’ve heard the best kimchi is made at 5 degrees celsius for two weeks, but I’ve also had success at a blazing 28 degrees for four days. The water content of the vegetables should start to seep out, making the porridge watery. You need to keep the vegetables under the water line as much as possible, or mold might develop. When it’s ready the “soup” should be piquant and the vegetables should be soft, after which you can put it in the fridge. However, if you don’t want it to go too sour, or you want the vegetables to be crunchy, you can arrest its development early. Kimchi-making season is coming up, and Korean families typically gather together in late October or early November, before winter sets in. Why not try your hand at fermenting yourself into the new old-school healthy?
About the Author
- Sophie Knight is a writer based in Tokyo, Japan, who contributes regularly to HESO on a variety of subjects.
Unless otherwise stated All images © HESO Magazine, 2011.
This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you wish to use reproduce any of this context in a commercial context, explicit permission is required. Please contact me directly.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
What we call little things are merely the causes of great things; they are the beginning, the embryo, and it is the point of departure which, generally speaking, decides the whole future of an existence. One single black speck may be the beginning of a gangrene, of a storm, of a revolution.
– Henri-Frédéric Amiel
What we call little things are merely the causes of great things; they are the beginning, the embryo, and it is the point of departure which, generally speaking, decides the whole future of an existence. One single black speck may be the beginning of a gangrene, of a storm, of a revolution.
– Henri-Frédéric Amiel
The spice trade has made kings. Pasta has altered migrations. Water has started wars. Culture is most often characterized by what is on the menu and national borders are decided in the kitchen. How did this become so? In the history of the world it is hard to pinpoint the emergence of any one movement, the birth of a nation. Especially dealing with food, since everything that lives needs to consume in order to continue to do so, it can be a messy business. 10,000 BCE finds the beginning of the agricultural revolution, and thus the centralization of human activity, the cessation of nomadicism, the formation of cities, the ability to store food. People found out applying heat to foodstuff made it easier to chew and, in some cases, taste better. Pretty soon thereafter some yeast blew into an earthenware container of dried barley and beer was born. At this point all hell must have broken loose with everyone putting everything they could find into their mouths, to more or less comedic failure. Behold the invention of the restaurant (and probably soon thereafter the hospital).
Fast forward twelve thousand years or so and you may find yourself at any one of the best1 restaurants in the world: Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley or Thomas Keller’s nearby The French Laundry in Yountville. Ferran Adrià’s elBulli in Catalonia is closing next year, but Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray is still in search of perfection. And then there is Noma, Copenhagen’s best of the best, run by René Redzepi, dedicated to an “innovative gastronomic take on the revival of Nordic cuisine.”
What if you don’t have the €250 to sit at elBulli (which even at that price operates at a loss), or the surprisingly low DKK745-DKK1,150 for a set meal at Noma, but still want to eat unique, creative and delicious food? You might find yourself sitting cross-legged in a basement, on a boat beneath a bridge, in a disused building, surrounded by strangers and about to partake in food and drink that may only be available for one night, before moving somewhere else, or disappearing altogether. This is what is known as Underground Dining, aka the Pirate Restaurant, and are basically paying, itinerant dinner parties.
Guerilla Dining Scandinavian Style
The history of Guerilla Dining has its base in many pots. Supper clubs, often located on the outskirts of the anytown, USA of a century ago, are the predecessors of roadhouses, diners, truck stops and the fast food devolution of today, as well as share a direct lineage with speakeasies. Speakeasies, as many know, became popular during the 1920-1933 U.S. Prohibition as a way to bypass federal law restricting consumption of alcoholic beverages, but also as a way to avoid costly taxes, high priced liquor licenses, and teetotaling religious zealots by being easy to set up and break down and located largely by word-of-mouth.
These days the evolution of the restaurant and eating habits in general could be pinned to economic woes. When economies go south for the winter-and stay there-restaurant-enthusiasts tend to eat in more. Hipsters hosting co-op dinner parties with high-end food bought with food stamps. The proliferation of backyard gardens, home-canning, stews and soups and traditional peasant recipes, often with homegrown ingredients, are all wildly popular, in no small part due to gastronomic television programming and more time spent at home. The grass rootsiness of the Slow Food Movement is slowly trudging forward with stick-to-your-ribs local, seasonal goodness, but nothing quells the hunger pangs for a great meal out in singular surroundings with like-minded individuals. Here is where creativity meets economy.
Meeting Tiffany of Silver.Spoon Guerilla Dining in Copenhagen was a great introduction to the meat-packing district of Vesterbro-the flagship area for the artisanal revolution going on in Denmark: beer and wine, bread and coffee-as well as finding out about the seemingly unlikely concept of an American running a “pop-up restaurant” abroad.
“The venue dictates the event,” she told me as we walked along Istedgade, the main drag of one of the liveliest areas in the city, “so we think of each dinner as a kind of one-night art installation.”
“How are the Danes responding?”
“The main focus of these dinners is meant to remove the diner out of the traditional restaurant paradigm while still providing some of the typical comforts of a restaurant. Our guest chefs are amazing, and the prices are really great for Copenhagen, but the Danish tend to be…”
“People here like to eat early and stick with what they know. The Caesar Salad is frustratingly popular,” she laughs, “though we are making headway.”
The recent Thanksgiving Dinner & A Flick event, which partnered with chefs of San Francisco’s graffEats for the second stop of their guerilla dining world tour to offer a “memorable 5-course twist on the American Thanksgiving tradition,” was a success despite logistical difficulties.
“The overall event was a smash, the film curation was excellent and the wine pairings were good, but given the layout of the venue, the time between the courses took much too long.”
Yet one of the inherent dangers-lack of familiarity of the surroundings-of the ephemeral food trade is also one of the boons. Ghetto Gourmet‘s Jeremy Townsend describes it well, “When you get thousands of people from the internet to have dinner with each other on some stranger’s living room floor, you get a lot of great stories.”
Is it any wonder that the Ghetto Gourmet is from the Bay Area? Started serendipitously in 2004 and reported by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006, the New York Times wrote about them in 2007. The phenomenon popped onto the radar in Buenos Aires in 2007, the U.K. in 2008 and by that point the underground culinary world should have become common knowledge. But somehow it hasn’t.
People talk about who was first, who started what, and being late-in-the-game, but the truth is that anymore, more than the games we play to make our egos swell, more than even needing to eat it, we all love food. Who cares where the phenomenon came from? First and foremost, eating food is about survival. The various discoveries of different edibles and techniques for preparing them has largely defined who we are and where we live. We must give thanks to those who came before us and gave their lives so that we would know the hearty goodness of the noodle, the satisfying fulfillment of warm rice, the buttery contentment of bread. We are the next step in the evolution of food. And these days, we love eating out. Eating well out. Eating well out together with our friends and family. And once with them, does it matter where we do it, as long as the same loving attention is paid to flavor, presentation and ambiance?
1 “Best” refers to Restaurant Magazine’s annual list.
If you are looking for a comprehensive listing of the underground dining scene, Dan Perlman’s Saltshaker is it.
I grew up on hotdogs, pb&j & grilled cheese.But seriously, who the hell leaves loaves of bread on porches? Click To Tweet
So when some wonderful little elf left an exquisite LOAF of pure uncut White Bread on my porch for God only knows why, I had to take the poor yeasty waif in and protect it, piece by honkey slice piece, by surrounding it with cheeses of various provenance, melting them together, browning it up and finally letting it go into my body, specifically my stomach, where it fell asleep and never woke up. Happy Bread! Happy Belly! What’s the problem?
But seriously, who the hell leaves loaves of bread on porches? It’s quite a mystery as bread is actually quite expensive here, the doughier, chewier, ball-it-up-like-white-paste-and-gnash-your-teeth-on-it-wonder-bread-ier, the better apparently. Loaves run anywhere from 5 to 15 USD depending on the maker. This one came in a plush cardboard carryall (like a cat carrier only for bread) imprinted with gold leaf lettering the name Yamazaki Pan. Bread not being native to the islands, the Japanese usurped the Spanish –Pan or Portuguese –Pao name for it when said sailors landed here some 300-400 years ago. Then they kicked them out. “Thanks for the bread, now go away, *you smell like butter!” *(Actual insult)
Not Your Typical American Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Once I had the bread I had to have the cheese. Once I had the Bread and the Cheese (actually four kinds) I thought I might get a bit funky and add some peripheral accoutrements not at all unbecoming my golden loaf, so I pulled out the roasted Jalapeños, a bit of red onion and fired up the pan for a quick sauté of fennel and cumin seeds (until they begin to pop), the peppers and the onion until carmelizing begins. Without cleaning the pan, but clearing room, throw down your rough-cut white man’s destiny, several layers of cheese, your chili-onion sauté in the middle, more layers of cheese, the behind slice and squish with spatula till it feels a bit dirty. Flip after a few minutes of low-medium and do the same, but finish with a flourish and pop it, pan and all (unless you’re using a plastic handle…and if you are…shame shame) into the oven for 2-8 minutes (depending on your flame). If I have to tell you what to do next, well, maybe you should stop reading blogs so much and get out more.
In conclusion, there are also varying degrees of quality, this being the Pan that the Emperor could eat should he want to get crazy and set foot outside of his own Palatial Bakery. Unlikely that the Royal Ninja Guard would allow that should he ever be filled with such a an obviously lunatic desire. But really, isn’t ¥1800 a bit much for a loaf of bread? Even for His Emperor-ness? Maybe this is a sign of things to come. The Bush-described New World Order: Oil, Water, Dolphin, BREAD!- all luxury items too rare and expensive for us blue collar slobs to be allowed near, let alone, actually afford. Well, at least I can tell stories of the one time that I was king. When I had my own loaf and I ate it all. Slathered. In. Fancy. French. Cheese.
It’s good to be king. Now finish that Belgian Tripel!
Imagine the scene in Ghost- the one when Demi Moore is sitting at the pottery wheel with a button-up shirt, slowly working clay into a bowl. Late 1980s sex symbol Patrick Swayze comes up behind her from the shadows and embraces her with strong, yet gentle arms. They kiss, become one, all while the wheel continues spinning, the bowl falling from its form. What if that had been dough she had been kneading for a loaf of fresh bread? How would the scene have come out differently? How would that have affected the oh-so sweet lovemaking?
Sure, getting clay in random places can be exhilarating – just think of those expensive clay peels people pay ridiculous amounts of money for at swanky health spas. But what about flour and water? Does goopy bread dough have the same effect as the rhythmic wheel? Perhaps if it were fudge-like brownie dough, with the intoxicating aromas of chocolate in the air, then there might be something there. But that’s pretty obvious isn’t it – chocolate and sex? And what if someone were allergic to cocoa? Passionate kisses and hives…hmmm I don’t think so. What is it about moldable clay that can be portrayed so sexually and so enticingly that a simple ball of yeasted, olive oil-rubbed artisan wheat lacks? Both are controlled materials, and very malleable in their compositions. The maker/creator should have firm hands, knowing just how to work the dough or clay.
The connection between food and sex goes back to the early days of man. Ancient peoples believed different plants, vegetables, and fruits held mythical powers that could heal or strengthen those who partook of their elements. Bread has been a staple food for so many cultures that its seductive qualities may now be overlooked. The significance of bread cannot be merely seen as a nutritious foodstuff.
Going back to the 14th century, we discover that Spain’s Archbishop of Hita produced a narrative verse, Libro de Buen Amor, which includes an account of his time spent lost in the mountains, being fed and seduced by the serranas (practitioners of food magic) during which time he experienced the “transformation, preparation, and internalization” of food and drink vis a vis the “use of aphrodisiacs and philters to enchant and seduce.” Certainly with bread making there is the transformation of grain to flour, which is then used to prepare cakes and breads—“fertility symbols in many cultures.” P.V. Tabenier points out “many psychologists have observed that cooking is frequently equated with the process of pregnancy and birth and that the womb is the stove inside which the child is baked. Ancient gods such as Zeus were conceived of as millers and their consorts as mills; the human race was the product they ground and baked and on a terrestrial scale, man and woman performed similar functions.” Bread, like a fetus, is a growing being. As the yeast rises, the form grows in size, becoming heartier, filled with air and substance. When it comes time to put it in the oven, it has become fully developed.
The Archbishop refers to various foods that were deemed to be sexually empowering: “diome foguera de enzina, mucho gacapo de soto, buenas perdizes asadas, fogacas mal amassadas, de buena carne de choto.” [much woodland rabbit, good roast partridges, badly kneaded loaves, good kid meat]. These foods were treated as cures for impotence. Camilo Jose Cela writes that a bollo (a bread roll) is a metaphor for a penis or vulva, while kneading was a metaphor for intercourse. The fact that the bread was poorly kneaded implies that the serrana is “sexually unfulfilled or inexperienced.” She either wanted to practice on the priest or just be satisfied with forbidden acts. Ultimately, for both the serrana and the Archbishop, the “act of feeding is the act of seduction.”
In a more explicit manner, during the 17th century, English women would bake cockle-bread for their men as a way to satisfy their appetites and satisfy something else. The dough would be kneaded and pressed against the women’s vulvas and then baked. Talk about yeast. John Aubrey, an English antiquary, wrote:
Young wenches have a wanton sport which they call ‘moulding of cocklebread’ – they get upon a table-board, and then gather up their knees and their coates with their hands as high as they can then they wabble to and fro with their buttocks as if they were kneading of dough with their arses, and say these words: `My dame is sick and gone to bed/ And I’ll go mould my cocklebread’. I did imagine nothing to have been in this but mere wantonness of youth, but here I find it to be a relic of natural magic, an unlawful philtrum [ie. aphrodisiac or love charm].
Now let’s look at some etymology: the word “companion” comes from Latin, which translates into “one with whom bread is shared.” So when we go out and try to find that special somebody to bump and grind with, we’re essentially searching for someone to share a piece of crusty baguette, hearty rye, some hearty whole grain, or any other bread that you have on hand, or leg, rather. Demi, go and get your ghost-lover; feed him the bread of your soul.
I rarely make pizza these days, what with all the beautiful fish in my life, and one needs the proper atmosphere. A well-lit kitchen full of people and wine and loose flour floating through the air to give the scene the quality of a movie flashback. It needs to be kneaded, watched, risen, kneaded again, prepped, refrigerated, taken out, and prepped again. All of which makes the pie taste better, with someone handing you a glass off wine or a good Belgian Tripel, rather than you standing alone eating the pie over your sad ghetto oven until it’s gone. With the proper atmosphere, the pies are never gone.
The reason the pizza I make is so time-consuming (but not a chore) is due to the fact that it’s all handmade. Well, ok, within reason. I don’t harvest and mill the grains with which I make my own dough, nor do I grow the tomatoes I make the sauce with (but I do grow the basil and other herbs) neither, alas, do I culture my own Buffalo Mozzarella, but damn, we all gotta set boundaries somewhere. I mean I got time since breaking up with my girlfriend, lots of it, but we’re talking, “How ’bout I roast the Jalapeños!” kinda time and not, “Betta’ git to threshin’ the wheat ‘afore the Snows done set in, Pa!” kinda time. Ok, I’ll admit to charging up my extra virgin olive oil with roasted garlic, rosemary and chilis, but dammit! ain’t be like I sit around waiting for my corn to age so I can pestle and mortar it into fine yellow meal so my dough doesn’t stick to the foil I use to keep it separated from the fish-juice magma that makes up the juicy black bubbly bottom of my crappy oven (May the Lord God Bless its Little Oven Heart!). Yep.
Pizza Crazy – Hand Tossed Homemade Pizza Pies
So there I was, Friday night, nothing to do, no one to play with, all by my lonesome self. I decided it was high time to get back into white wine, specifically a beautifully demi-sec Rioja from Valencia, chilled to an icy perfection and decanted one glass at a time, into my nice, big hand-sized ceramic mug (I completely prefer ceramic to glass when it comes to vino). Plus, knocking a few back while cooking is what cooking’s all about, that and good speakers pumping something nice and funky to get your hips moving in time with that swishing knife flying through veggies, the wooden spoon stirring your bubbling sauce and, lest we forget, whatever already finished bottle of red you have to substitute for a rolling pin, because, well, they just work better than your hands on that badass dough you just hand made. I said Ye-ah!!
Living in Japan is occasionally inconvenient, often a pain in the ass, and most of the time just incomprehensible – where things like cooking in ovens is concerned. The Japanese don’t really consider dishwashers, dryers, insulation and whatnot to be household fixtures, so why should an oven be any different? The fact that “Obun” usually refers to a Microwave which happens to have an “oven” function (I don’t trust it) and “sutobu” (stove) refers to a kerosene floor heater may paint you a general picture of the frustration I would likely face when wanting to bake anything, let alone the magnificence that is my homemade pizza. Luckily I am ghetto. Growing up poor allowed me inroads into substituting my creativity where technology was missing. In short, it made me come up with inventive ways of engineering broken down old gadgets, knicknacs and junk into something useful, and more than that – something I needed at the time.
Enter me into Japan: 1st World Country on the outside (in Tokyo), 3rd World Country on the inside (everywhere else). Excuse my ethnocentrism here, but I grew up relatively poor, but we’re talking American poor here which by African standards just doesn’t even equate. I mean I had a floor and water and no diseases, so here’s me thanking the arbitrary luck of being born in Southern California. Regardless, enter me into the world of small town Japan, my 60-year-old concrete teachers’ apartment building, my showerless/hot waterless bathroom, and (not even close to) finally, my cooking apparatus-less (except for a toaster) kitchen. Ya-ay! Welcome our Country Beauty of Nippon important Ambassador Foreign of the Teaching of English! Here is traditional wheat chaff pillow for comfort head, don’t mind!
Yeah, after 2 years of trying to get under the skin of the Japanese lifestyle in the solitude of Nagano, I’ve learned a few tricks: 1) Every 6 months (in most prefectures) there is a “big trash” day where the government will pick up anything. Of course, in keeping with the Post WWII mentality of “We are rich, so forgive and accept us world!” the Japanese apparently have little or no trouble throwing away objects of considerable valuable. It is not unusual to find year-old snowboards and skis, last year’s TVs, DVDs and VCRs, newish furniture, pornographic paraphernalia, and much to my culinary pleasure a veritable cornucopia of appliances, all tossed uselessly away as soon as this year’s model comes out. A complete turn around from the efficiently frugal image Japan once truly portrayed to the world, though interesting -and profitable – to live in the midst of.
As honor and shame are strongly rooted in the fabric of Japan, one could easily see how dishonorable and embarrassing it would be to get caught skulking about at night with the neighbor’s grocery cart, let alone even consider the idea in and of itself. I know. Because it was during the first night of one of these sorai-gomi (which really is the best time to cash in on the choicest items) that I “found” an oven and various other useful contraptions (a microscope, a french press, a kerosene heater, some porn…). While dragging these things home I got “caught” by a neighbor who shaded her young child’s eyes from watching the pale skinned barbarian “stealing” the trash. Truthfully the figure I cut must have scared the crap out of her: 6 foot plus paleface clad all in black laughing ominously to no one in particular whilst hauling a pretty beat up old oven back to mine. I’m pretty sure I pranced or possibly even skipped at one point.
Ok, back to the point. I got an oven! While not some Amana 2010 version of Hal the wonder-baking machine (“Open the Oven Door, Hal.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Manny…you did get me off the street, you do realize that, don’t you Manny.”), the 40CM Hitachi TO-A12E “Famiry Oven”, despite its pull-out tray floor covered in flash heated fish bits congealed with god knows what kind of sauces, gets the job done. Thankfully, since taking a chisel and the torch I generally reserve for flambe-ing sushi to it, I’ve gotten the oyster stink out and all my pies and cakes emerge smelling as they should.
Alright, all this is just the wine talking, so let’s get to the recipe, already. First the dough:
Dissolve 1 Packet of Yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp) with
1 tbsp Sugar in
1 1/4 cup (250ml) Water (110°F/43°C) until bubbly (10 minutes or so)
While the yeast is frothing, put 4 cups flour (2/3 bread or all-purpose to 1/3 wheat) in a mixing bowl and add
1 tsp salt plus whatever herbs you dig
Rosemary, dill, basil, coriander are all great
Mix wet with dry, kneading into a roundish shape for 5 minutes, then let rise for 5-10 minutes while you contemplate which bottle of wine to open next. Punch down dough, knead for another 5 minutes, and finally place in an oiled bowl covered by a dishcloth and let rise in a warm place for at least an hour (1-2 is optimal).
While the dough is doing its thing, get your sauce ready. There are a million different sauces one can make, so I won’t deign to suggest what is best for you, but suffice it to say, I dig tomatoes and you should too. Fresh ripe tomatoes will make anything better, even breakups, especially breast-shaped tomatoes with nice, firm points…mmmm. I digress. I score my tomatoes before immersing them in boiling water for 20 seconds, then slip them into a nice cold ice bath to get their skins to peel right off. After which I dice them up and throw them into a saute pan with a bit of already sizzling olive oil (you’ve had onions and garlic browning for 5 minutes or so on a low-medium flame, of course), salt and pepper. After reducing for 10-15 minutes add the juice of half a lemon, a spoonful of the homemade pesto you’ve just thawed out and some of your garden’s better medium heat chilis, finely diced. Let simmer for 5-10 more over a low flame.
For toppings, I generally endorse and and all vegetables, especially artichoke hearts, jalapeños, red onions, tomatoes and or tomatillos, zucchini, eggplant, roasted garlic, ad infinitum. As for cheeses I dig chevre, feta or anything from a sheep/goat, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano-reggiano, asiago, gouda, or as a general rule, anything from Europe, even a funky finger-stinky picante gorgonzola would yield a great pie. The key, for me at least, is not piling it on (especially if you are planning on using a strong French or Italian cheese) so much so that it overpowers the other toppings, the sauce and the herbs.
The dough ball could be cut into 2-3 pizzas depending on your girth, so do what feels natural. Spread the crust thin, and remember that perfectly round is not always pretty, so get Mickey Mouse if you want to and have another glass of that good Malaga red. Throw on plenty of sauce and layer your toppings accordingly. Throw into your ghetto oven at 350°F (I go to 250°C due to my element disfunction) for 10-20 minutes. Don’t forget to leave some for the morning. There’s nothing like cold pizza for breakfast.
The Japanese love fish: catching it, inspecting its quality, auctioning it, and above all, savoring the taste of its smooth, oceany richness. But in recent years, growing global demand for fisheries products has begun to outstrip supply, threatening to silence the sushi bars and auction houses. Some of the species that are closest to the hearts (and stomachs) of the Japanese are facing such intense harvest pressure that they are on the brink of collapse.
What’s the catch? Fish Culture In An Era Of Resource Decline
Japan was the first country to take fishing and fish consumption global. After WWII, as part of economic reconstruction and efforts to bolster domestic food security, the Japanese government encouraged fishing operations to grow and explore worldwide fishing opportunities. The result was the development of the world’s first distant water fishing fleet. Since then, the Japanese and global markets for fish products have exploded. The only problem is that some of the fish – especially the most delicious and valuable – haven’t been able to keep up. The health of tuna stocks, especially from the Mediterranean, has become a subject of serious concern. There are efforts to manage the stocks and control fishing through cooperative regional management organizations, but highly efficient fishing and rampant illegal fishing activities continues. The Japanese government presented data to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) suggesting that up to 18,000 tons of bigeye tuna were caught illegally, laundered and eventually sold in Japan in 2003. This figure is significant, since it is equivalent to 21 percent of the 85,000 tons of declared bigeye caught in the Atlantic in 2003. With such a large volume of fish being caught illegally, resource managers face a real challenge in determining actual fishing efforts and establishing acceptable harvest levels for licensed fishers.
What lies ahead?
Don’t count the global fishing industry out just yet. Concern over the health of fish populations has spurred industry and activists to seek creative ways to meet demand and keep the industry operational.
Entrepreneurs are looking to aquaculture to meet demand for ecologically vulnerable tuna (and to profit from raising valuable fish). To date, there has been only limited success in rearing tuna from hatcheries, and the technology of making a tuna hatchery commercially viable is still years away. And like other species raised by aquaculture, there is a great deal of controversy about the ecological impacts of fish farming: the low efficiency of fish feed made from fish meal, the use of antibiotics in pens and the impact of waste materials and escapees on local ecosystems.
Meanwhile, others have begun a practice known as tuna ‘ranching’. Tuna is harvested and put into holding pens to be fattened so they fetch a higher price. Accused of increasing pressure on fishing efforts (because of the opportunity to earn an even higher rate of return on the fish once they’ve fattened up) and creating higher incentives for IUU fishing (because sending fish to a ranch for several months makes tracing individual fish very difficult), tuna ranching is under fire from international NGOs. In the short term, however, the practice is rapidly growing because of its financial returns.
Inching towards sustainability?
The Japanese market is notorious for focusing on quality in fish products, but now multiple efforts urge consumers, producers and managers to take sustainability more seriously.
In market-based efforts to encourage sustainability, activists, and even corporations, are trying to persuade consumers to choose their fish based not on quality or taste, but on the conditions under which they were caught. Some of Japan’s largest retailers have begun to sell fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a non-profit that has developed environmental standards for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. Fisheries that meet MSC’s standards can undergo a certification process that allows them to carry a label declaring that they are a ‘sustainable’ fishery. Recently, MSC has announced it will open a regional office in Tokyo. Several stores, including Precce Premium store, Kamewa Shoten Co., Aeon Co. and Seiyu Ltd. have begun carrying some of the 500+ products bearing the MSC logo. Everyday fish consumers in Japan can now assert their preference for a sustainable fishing sector.
Attention is gradually turning toward the plight of the oceans. Producers, consumers and governments are slowly beginning to take action to reorient Japan’s tuna fishing and consumption practices toward sustainable sources of supply. Evidence of these changes gives reason for cautious optimism, but a battle for the oceans lies ahead, a battle that must be won if there will be fish in the oceans for the next generation to enjoy.
When I first found out the theme for this issue, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. So rather than trying to come up with something about relationships, heartbreak, and all that sort of stuff, I decided to send in something a little different. I love food, and I love cooking. You’ll get to read about a food encounter that would have been completely different if not for things I learned about another culture through marriage.
My home town in Canada has a large contingent of residents descended from Eastern European settlers. Being the child of Belgian and Chinese first-generation immigrants, my encounters with Slavic culture were fairly limited when I was growing up. I remedied the situation by falling in love with a woman—I’ll refer to her a few times as Lia—and marrying into a family which traces its heritage to Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Germany.
Cheap Like Borscht
But enough back story. Today’s topic is borscht. What’s borscht? It’s beet soup. It’s Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and generally Eastern European in origin. At its most basic, it consists of beets and whatever else you have lying around in your root cellar, pantry, fridge, or whatever else it is that you store food in. Root vegetables figure prominently. Lia says that in her family it was pretty much beets—roots and greens—and dill, with a couple of other things thrown into the pot. Cabbage, potatoes, cheap cuts of the meat of a large mammal, carrots, turnips, onions, the occasional wayward stalk of flaccid celery extracted from the back of the crisper. I can’t imagine kohlrabi would be taboo. And in the appropriate season, tomatoes and zuchinni go into everything. Though that gets dangerously close to ratatouille territory. You get the idea. Don’t have any stock? Fine, use water. Company coming? Add more water. And maybe some more beets.
While writing this, I was picking up a really strong “don’t forget the dill” vibe from Lia, but that might be because, having been in Japan for 18 months we hadn’t had access to the fresh stuff since we’d left Canada, and had only found a supplier for dried about a month previous. Oh, the herb withdrawal stories I could tell. It sounds almost criminal. I can just see myself at the local upscale supermarket:
Sorry officer, I was just checking the basil leaves for bruising. I didn’t mean to tear through the six layers of plastic like a crazed junkie. I didn’t inhale. I acknowledge that I am powerless over fresh herbs and anything else that tickles the tastebuds—that my life has become unmanageable… It’s just that… that… 400 yen for ten small wilted leaves and a bundle of thick, woody stems… Is it the real thing? I could get it flown in from Bolivia for less. Aren’t you arresting the wrong person? Don’t you think you should investigate the guys who run this place? It’s a front. Soylent green is peeeeooopppllllle! It’s people, I tell you.
But the subject of access to culinary herbs in Japan is its own story. Borscht is not picky. As I mentioned, it’s just beets and stuff. In soup form. It’s a cheap, hearty, unassuming staple of the eastern European diet. No need to strain or puree it. You serve it directly from a big pot. Without croutons, unless you count huge misshapen homemade soda biscuits as croutons. Without garnish, unless you count a big dollop of sour cream as garnish. Note that borscht and sour cream, mixed in any ratio, will yield a shade of pink that would do Hello Kitty proud. Merchandising aside, borscht forgoes all of that fancy schmancy, ah, how you say? haute cuisine snobbery. Though if memory serves, I’ve seen a pureed borschtlike substance come out of a Kitchen Stadium food processor.
No matter what form they take—whole, diced, pureed, solid, liquified—beets, and therefore borscht, make your pee turn pink. As intense as the yellow you get when you take moderate doses of vitamin B, but in a longer wavelength. Boys, if you want to be the Picasso of the snowbank, alternate daily. No one I know has tested to see if combination therapy will give you orange, but I’m sure someone has tried it. Or will, after reading this. For the feminists in the audience, no, I don’t have anything against women nor am I ignoring you. It’s just that in this case the anatomical differences are significant. Plus there’s the issue of common sense. Really, how often have you seen a girl’s name in the snow bank next to a ladies’ outhouse? No matter how long the line.<
Our final morsel of borscht lore is the expression “cheap like borscht.” If you’re unfamiliar with it, then you’ve been hanging around in the wrong ethnic cafés. The expression means inexpensive but substantial.
Ok, now that you’ve made it past the lies, fabrications, and culinary heresy, I get to the part about Japan. In June 2004, we went to Kobe for a conference. After the conference we were exploring, and had found a shop with a devoted to international foods. It was a small place. So there we were, in an import food store in Kobe. The same Kobe of Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 fame. The same Kobe of Kobe beef fame. One of Japan’s larger and more ethnically diverse cities. Though the diversity scale goes down if you count yakuza—Japan’s answer to organized crime—as an ethnic group, given that Kobe has Japan’s largest per-capita yakuza population. The import food store was in a large, busy shopping district. As opposed to the shops that hide in disused corners of the seedier parts of town. Perhaps the shop’s location had some bearing on the prices there. High rent, perhaps? Large “protection” fees from the local mob?
Whatever the cause, there is simply no excuse for the borscht atrocity we found there. Cans of borscht for 1470 yen each. A can of borscht for 1470 yen? I repeat: 1470 yen? for borscht?! in a can??!! At some point in recent currency exchange history, that was $16.54 (Canadian) or $13.55 (US). For 850 grams. The Japanese characters on the label consisted of a transliteration of “borscht,” followed by “serves 4.” Making the unscientific assumption that 1 gram equals 1 millilitre, and rounding up, a single serving works out to 213ml. Four bucks for less than a cup per person? Oi yoi yoi. I’ve gotta say though, that the real crime isn’t the price. It’s that anyone would consider a mere 213ml of borscht to be anywhere near a single serving. And at that price it better come with foie gras, truffles, caviar, and its own chef.
Allez cuisine! xxx