Traditional Japanese cuisine is based on rice, various manifestations of soybeans (miso, tofu, natto), vegetables and fish. This is one of the oldest and healthiest diets in the world, but no diet is an island. Every manner of cuisine has come in contact with local variations and ebbs and flows toward the popular tastes of the time. While a more traditional diet served the population of Japan for centuries, that diet is changing, for good or ill. The people of Okinawa have long supplemented pork in their daily diet, alongside a healthy dose of Aomori, that strong island distillation, which has given them some of the longest lived people in the world. But wait, pork and liquor? Sounds like a recipe for cardiac arrest. True enough, if not taken in moderation and coupled with a sedentary lifestyle that the modern world has produced.
What about the proliferation of all things fried? The Japanese are no newcomers to the love of the deep-fry. Tempura has existed in Japan for hundreds of years and while they’re likely not frying hell out of twinkies and ice cream, they’ve taken a traditional icon of a foodstuff and given it a classy new look. But how new exactly are we talking?
Agedashi Dofu – Fried Tofu
Think tofu is boring? Agedashi Dofu – Fried Tofu – is a traditional Japanese way to serve hot tofu. Silken (kinugoshi) firm tofu, cut into cubes, is lightly dusted with cornstarch and then deep fried until golden brown. It is then served in a hot tentsuyu broth made of dashi, mirin, and shō-yu, and topped with finely chopped scallion, grated ginger and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Included in the 1782 Japanese tofu cookbook, "Tofu Hyakuchin" it’s a well-known izakaya dish.
Chāshū Pork Bowl
Chāshū is a traditional barbeque pork dish from China known as Char siu, but like most great things Chinese, the Japanese culture has adapted char siu and in many ways, improved on it, by including it as an ingredient in rāmen. The variety seen here (slow-cooked pork belly) comes atop its own rice bowl with a special sweet-shoyu reduction and scallions. Add it to any noodle bowls makes soup more of a meal. But don’t forget the sake. A favorite is the high quality Hakutsuru Haiku Sake Infused with handpicked wild Salmonberries. Best served chilled.