Japan has been on my mind a lot lately, though unfortunately for terrible reasons. Given the many areas in which Japanese culture has influenced me–ceramics, cooking, and to a lesser degree painting–there’s not another country that has made such an impact on me, at least one I’ve never been to. Italy taught me to cook, and France taught me about wine. Japan is more of an aspirational influence, a strange attractor that shapes my cooking and serving from afar.
From a culinary point of view, I love the aesthetic that pervades the rituals, the utensils, the presentation, and the plates; I love the rigorous use of subtlety and the highest-quality seasonal ingredients; I love the small plates approach to meals. It’s fair to say too that Japanese food has been far more of an influence on 21st century cooking than French; all the great Spaniards (no offense meant to the Catalan and Basque chefs who top that list) enthusiastically cite Japan as a major inspiration.
I have no doubt that the country will recover, though the task is monumental. If you feel moved to help the many thousands of displaced people, you can easily donate $10 to the Red Cross (via your phone bill) by texting REDCROSS to 90999. And at least, unlike Katrina in this country, the brunt of the disaster wasn’t borne by people who were largely disenfranchised to begin with. It’s hard to imagine Kanye West saying “Prime Minister Kan doesn’t care about Japanese people.” And with any luck the head of their FEMA equivalent isn’t a horse lawyer.
And even though I’m increasingly trying to find, grow, or create local replacements for distantly-sourced ingredients (using vinegars more and more in place of citrus, for example) this meal was mostly from afar. Arborio rice cooked like suhi rice (washed until the water ran clear, then cooked in the cooker, cooled in the handai, and seasoned with lightly sweetened vinegar) and some nice eel that I found pre-filleted and seasoned in the freezer of a fish market nearby. I made more sauce for it, because more sauce is a good thing: soy, mirin, vinegar, and a bit of maple syrup. Scallions on top. There was also some yellowfin sashimi and hand rolls, but I didn’t take pictures. I had some plans for a vegetable thing that was going to showcase another new plate, but I didn’t get to that either. I’m trying to put the various quotidian ass pains of life into their proper context. Any day that doesn’t include a 10-foot wall of car-strewn seawater bearing down on me and my family is a pretty good day.