Japan Update: What is a Japanese vegetable?

Over lunch at the hotel–cold so mein noodles from the next town over, freshly grated wasabi, freshly pickled ginger, and cucumber sushi rolls–the controversial question was raised by our host, the very estimable Mr. Yuichiro Yamawaki, “What vegetables are ‘native’ to Japan?”

A discussion followed.

We all came up with wasabi and a type of ginger root unique to Japan.  Added later was Japanese tomatoes, not from here, per se, but cultivated to attain a delicious, sour taste.

That lunch?  Wish I had it every day.  So simple, fresh, & delicious.  So satisfying!

Japan: Rising Sun, Jet Lag, That Oceanic Feeling

I was up this A.M. @ 5:10 due to jet lag.  Having slept on the flight over, the night at the hotel here passed quickly and fitfully.  Asleep @ 11, up @ 1, up @ 3, up @ 5.  Call me Pollyanna, but I love the pleasant dislocation of travel: The heightened senses, the dulled senses, the breaking of routines.  The SF-based, ex-Jersey poet August Kleinzahler described how he used the strangeness of travel to enrich his senses by visiting his elderly parents in his childhood home in New Jersey and how the rush of emotions was thrilling.  This is like that.

The first two fishing boats left past my window as I was getting up.  Yuichoro Yamawaki, the GM here, explained last night over dinner with his manager and ex-chef, Tadaaki Nakano, that this is the fishing season for abalone, uni, anago, hamo, sea bream, and octopus.

Speaking of which: We had an eight-course kaiseke style dinner–small plates, served sequentially–that included baby tuna sushi (so cute!!!), yuba (tofu curds) with boiled vegetables, and hamo (eel) with cucumbers and seaweed.  Everything was so delicious that it really was transcendent with the clear winners the yuba and hamo.  Delicate, simple, small bites.

Meanwhile, back in the room, the Japanese aesthetic kicks in.  Views of the ocean across the full length of windows, recessed lighting, three verandas, and as the early morning hours go by, the light keeps changing.

Made in Japan

The ANA flight over was perfect: New service out of NYC and big beds.  A sandwich of beef and foie gras, sweet potato shochu, barley shochu, and long periods of sleep.

A flight to Osaka and a drive to Awaji Island.

Guest of ANA & R&C.

Fish, vegetables, quiet.

Almost On the Road

Before leaving home, I toss and turn and finally am up early as soon as the papers hit the front door.  The rhythm of daily life is interrupted abruptly.  The craving for departure makes sense and these cave-ins of consciousness and routine are the first, necessary baby steps.

I avoid all caffeine before flying.  My next cup will be 48 hours from now on Awaji island.

Prior, to that I’m flying to NYC and changing planes to take an ANA flight direct to Narita.

Full disclosure: I’m a guest of the airline (ANA) , the Japanese National Tourism Organization (JNTO), and Relais & Chateaux (R&C).

So thanks to ANA, JNTO, & R&C.

It’s the passivity of travel I enjoy most.

Planet Japan!

A bunch of guys are at my doorstep with gunny sacks and bludgeons.  Bill Evans on the player, but: No dice.  These guys won’t be convinced.

So, there it is: Back to Japan, tomorrow AM, via NYC, JFK, what-have-you.  Brief trip, 5 nights,: Osaka, Nagano, Tokyo.

Will try to avoid crustaceans, mollusks, and bottom feeders.  Typically, I store up @ breakfast: Eggs, bacon, toast, melon.  That way, I keep death from allergies at bay.

Planet Japan!

Food Safety and You

Grandma was right.  She would refuse to eat out and when forced to do so by Ma would pick at the food on the plate as if what had been presented to her wasn’t fit for dogs.  Now while Grandma took it to extremes, as grandmas will, her point about food safety remains valid.

In one’s home, it’s possible to control what’s in the food, how it’s stored, prepared, served, etc.  Well, duh.

I’ve been in numerous factories for food processing: Cheese, milk, fish, chickens.  In the best of these, the hygienic standards rival hospitals.  It’s spectacularly sterile.  Visitors and works must wear scrubs.  Cute little paper bonnets, little slippers, long gowns.

I’m not saying we have to live in fear of contamination, but if you’re stomach is rumbling, there’s a reason.

The Refrigerator Story: Day One, Rant One

Yesterday in the Food section of The Boston Globe a story ran on folks in the area involved in the food and restaurant industries: What’s in each fridge?

A harebrained piece if ever there was one: I mean, did they know in advance and stock up?  Further, most cooks and chefs have the same few basic stuff: Olive oil, butter, pasta, canned tomatoes, etc.

But it got me to thinking, what’s in my fridge?

Cheating a bit, let’s go wild: What’s in the pantry & freezer, too?

Pantry: Every spice known to mankind, included beautiful, long, red, dried chili peppers from Lower Bazaar, Shimla that exude heat, no kidding, and can tear paint off a wall (kidding).  In addition: Olive oil, several bottles of vinegar, pasta, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, canola oil, dried beans, and gin.

Freezer: Racks of ribs, chicken thighs, ground beef, ground veal, bialys.

Fridge: Butter, celery, onions, carrots, assorted vegetables.

We are on a war footing.  Supply lines are good.

The Egg Crisis: Day Seven

If you were to take a half billion eggs and stack them in crates, the tower would reach the moon.  Probably.  Not for certain, but probably.  So when the FDA ordered the recall of 500,000,000 eggs, due to concerns about salmonella enteritidis, it means serious business.

Why now?  Good question.  What happened was that in September, 2009, the FDA got the power, logistical support, expertise, and employees needed to suss out problems in the vast network of food suppliers and producers in the USA.  Up to that point, companies could voluntarily report concerns or problems.

Background questions (5 points):

Q1: What happens in developing nations without regulatory agencies?

A: People get sick and die from common food-borne illnesses.

Q2: What happened in the USA prior to FDA controls?

A: See A to Q1.

The egg problem is really the sphere of the shell.  Other supplies–organic, schmorganic, what have you–are risky business.  Did anyone suspect in 1989 that the fall of communism would lead to unbridled corporate practices?  I tell you, there’s no end to it.

Maybe the best thing to do is become a Jain.  Let us pray:

Namo Arihantänam

Namo Siddhänam

Namo Äyariyänam

Namo Uvajjhäyänam

Namo Loe Savva Sähunam

Eso Panch Namokkäro


Manglänancha Savvesim

Padhamam Havai Mangalam.


Ah, yes, famished.  Well, not that there is nothing to eat, but why bother?

Protein driven snacks?   Food that tastes like it belongs on the Space Shuttle?

And yet: Why not?  Why not food in a tube?

More time to read, I reckon.

Try J.G. Farrell, f”r example.   Ought to whet the appetite.

Less than 48 hours

Less than 48 hours ago, I was in Diplomatic Enclave, in Delhi, eating dosa and papaya, but now, monkey-free, I am in Cambridge, cranky and tired and yet somehow content.

Yesterday, awake at the same ungodly hour of 5 AM (as now), no fishing boat available to get them stripers, I read Naipul and later shopped for food.

The huge supermarket down the street had colorful, brightly lit aisles–you know the drill–and little appetizing.  The big news?  Meat prices seem to have gone up 25% in 30 days.  Is that possible?

Afterwards, a trip to Russo’s: The Boston “version” of Fairway.  Here everything looked good enough to eat.  Fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and cured meats–got to have that guanciale–with crowds of folks speaking an array of languages.

After working in the afternoon, I thought: Steaks.  No beef for a month in India.  But settled for pasta.  Pasta and passing out @ 10 PM.