WIT Life #134: Versatile veggies
WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.
Last night I was happy to be able to attend an event at Japan Society called Field to Table: The Role of Vegetables in the Japanese Diet. The featured speakers were Japanese food culture expert Elizabeth Andoh and Masato Nishihara, executive chef at Kajitsu, the only restaurant in NYC to feature 精進料理 (shouijn ryouri), a vegetarian cuisine introduced to Japan from China in the 13th century by Zen monks who had returned from studying Buddhism there.
I had met both of the speakers before, Elizabeth when I lived in Tokyo where she resides, and Nishihara-san when I interpreted for him at a food event last year. They offered their expertise regarding how to create both nutritionally sound and aesthetically satisfying meals, as well as avoid waste and preserve the earth’s natural resources. Elizabeth shared some key terms for understanding the context for Japanese cooking such as 感謝 (kansha) or appreciation and もったいない (mottainai) or wasteful. Nishihara-san gave his insight into cooking vegetables, namely to believe in their possibility and to prepare each one in the style that enhances its respective qualities, meaning some are better boiled, others stewed and others as is.
Nishihara-san put his advice into practice when he enraptured the audience by working on a daikon in a style called 桂剥き (katsuramuki). This involved using a knife to cut off a very thin layer of the skin and then furling it. What he ended up creating was 風呂吹き大根 (furofuki daikon), a typical Japanese winter simmered dish. He decorated it with hibiscus leaves that he had gathered to simulate the famous Japanese image of maple leaves floating down a river, and the final product was a work of (delicious) art.
Unfortunately there was no sampling for the salivating audience, but Nishihara-san assured us that we could try his furofuki daikon by going to Kajitsu. This month he is featuring a special $90 matsutake menu highlighting “Japan’s most highly regarded and sought after mushroom.” As they say, it’s 食欲の秋 (shokuyoku no aki) or a season for strong appetites, so why not satisfy yours at Kajitsu which just received two Michelin stars?
In other Japanese food/drink news, check out this NYT article about Japanese winemaking.