Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

December 9, 2013

Endangered food

Japan food seeks heritage gong as young spurn rice

(Continued)

Yasuko Hiramatsu, mother, housewife and part-time translator, learned how to cook from her mother and grandmother, although she also relies on several cookbooks and watches TV shows to beef up her repertoire.

One of her favorite dishes is ground beef and potatoes cooked in soy sauce, sake and sugar, that she says has a reputation as the way to grab a man's stomach, and thereby his heart.

Both her husband and son love her "nikujaga." But it's a close call whether that recipe fits the strictest definitions of washoku, which is generally more about fish than meat.

Hiramatsu is old-style in making tsukemono from scratch, using "nuka," or fermented rice bran, from her grandmother's recipe to replicate the taste that runs in her family. She sometimes doesn't have time and resorts to packaged stuff from the supermarket. But that's not the ideal.

"Of course, sometimes I eat out and get French fries, but this is what has been eaten for the longest time," she said of her home cooking. "It must be something in our blood."

Washoku is always about rice, miso or soy-bean-paste soup, "tsukemono" pickles, and usually three dishes — perhaps a slice of grilled salmon, broth-stewed "nimono" vegetables and boiled greens. Umami is based on flavor from dried bonito flakes and seaweed, Japan's equivalent of soup stock.

Washoku is also about design. Fancy ceramic and lacquer-ware come in varying sizes, textures and shapes. Food is placed in a decorative fashion, sometimes with inedible items for effect like an autumn leaf.

Pieces of food may be cut into flowery shapes or carefully wrapped around other food, tied like a package with an edible ribbon. Recipes celebrate the seasons by focusing on fresh ingredients.

Kenji Uda, 47, the chief chef at Tokyo restaurant Irimoya Bettei, where he makes blowfish sashimi and crab cooked in rice, says he was 17 when he decided to devote his life to washoku.

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