JAPANESE CUISINE MAY BE POPULAR, BUT IT’S FUSION JAPANESE THAT’S REALLY CUTTING EDGE,
Fusion Japanese is giving the cuisine a delicious face lift
For centuries Japan was a closed society which in turn has a strong impact on its eating habits and influenced the tenor of its cuisine. In the late 19th century, however, the West became a strong influence and thus began the import and use of ingredients and techniques that drew on European food and customs. Even though Japanese cuisine has been evolving over the past 2,000 years with strong influences from both China and Korea, it is only in the last 300- 400 years that all the influ- ences have collaborated to define what we understand as Japanese cuisine today. Western- style foods like meats have been steadily integrated into Japanese eating patterns for over 100 years, giving way to wayo setchu: the fusion of Japanese and Western cuisines.
Given Japan’s closed economy, its cuisine wasn’t initially rich in ingredients like food oils, red pepper or ginger, but locals were innovative and worked hard to make everyday food appealing. Traditional Japanese dishes were
delicately flavoured but with the growing influence of Chinese and Korean dishes, the Japanese palette transformed and soon chefs were experimenting with much stronger flavours. It was also the Meiji Restoration of 1868 that provoked a lot of dynamic changes in Japanese culture . No less affected was the cuisine as it paved the way for a new key ingredient in the traditional diet: beef.
Obtaining ingredients for Western- style dishes was difficult enough, as was understanding the new cooking methods and manners of eating, and so the easiest way to eat this unfamiliar meat was through a
wayo setchu compromise: the gyu- nabe beef hot pot. The new culture that resulted from the mix of traditional Japan with new trends brought in from the West during the mid- nineteenth century, lay the foundation for fusion Japanese food and cooking.
To create a fusion dish based on a traditional Japanese dish is simple. Japanese cuisine is deeply respectful about the quality of the ingredients used and ensures that the core flavours of the meat or fish are not masked by strong spices. Given the vast number of ingredients used in cooking, seafood and vegetables easily combine with flavours of other kitchens. But it is important to let raw fish retain its simple purity even while adding a savoury or spicy touch. The difference between fusion Japanese and traditional Japanese is quite huge. Showing a fusion dish to an old- fashioned, traditional Japanese chef or housewife is tantamount to blasphemy. Spices and flavouring can be as strange to them as it was at the beginning of the 80s. Traditional Japanese food, also, does not use much oil except when deep fried types of preparation, first introduced during the Edo Period, due to the increasing influence of Western and Chinese foods, and as a result of increased productivity and oil yields.
Japanese dishes are mostly vegetable and seafoodbased, which at first blush, seem easy to create because of minimum use of the flavouring ingredients. In fact the word ’ spice’ sounds unusual in the Japanese kitchen. So, if you want to make a real dish you have to concentrate on the taste of the basic ingredient and hence the use of seasonal and good quality ingredients. Vegetables are usually simmered in a light fish stock called ‘ dashi’ which is made from dried kelp and lightly smoked, dried and shaved fish flakes as is tradition.
In high- end Japanese cuisine called ‘ kaiseki’ they use light coloured soy sauce so that it does not darken the natural colour of the vegetables. The seafood is usually grilled, simmered in a pale soy stock base. It appears that the Japanese dishes from their lightly tasted— or natural raw fish dishes— are more easily amenable to combine the characteristic flavours from other cuisines.
Renowned Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa, who practically spearheaded the popularity of Japanese fusion cuisine began his own career in Lima, Peru in the early 70 where. He experimented with the art of combining traditional Japanese sashimi dishes with hot and refreshing sour flavours like in the case of yellow tail jalapeno sashimi and found a perfect fish in Alaska to marinate in fermented soybean paste. That of course, carved its ranks in history with the global popularity of the famous dish: the black cod den miso.
The Tiradito which is also known as “peruvian sashimi” is traditionally a marinated seafood dish prepared by adding citrus juice, lots of coriander and spicy pepper. An innovative way to do this is to keep the seafood raw like in a regular sashimi and use minimal flavours.
Rock shrimp tempura is equally savoured by Nobu loyalists. Tempura, aburaage, satsumaage are now part of established traditional Japanese cuisine. The word tempura or hiryozu are said to be of Portuguese origin. The tempura is traditionally deep fried, lightly battered vegetables with gently sweetened soy- based dipping sauce. The rock shrimp tempura is a special crunchy tempura mixing with garlic and chili- based creamy sauce. Ultimately, it’s the marination of inspiration, innovation and inheritance that curries flavour with discerning palates and explains the success of fusion food, and more specifically Japanese fusion.
THE FACE OF NOBU: GLOBALLY FAMOUS DISH— BLACK COD
THE COLOURFUL TAPESTRY OF RAW JAPANESE INGREDIENTS THAT ARE INTEGRAL TO ITS FLAVOURFUL CUISINE ( ABOVE)