Mag­gie Beer’s Ja­panese culi­nary tour

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - NEWS -

Mag­gie Beer has vis­ited Ja­pan 10 times in the past two decades. “I love it,” she says. “I love the cul­ture, the culi­nary in­gre­di­ents, the en­ergy of Tokyo and the calm beauty of the Noto Penin­sula. It is al­ways at the top of my travel list.”

Tokyo high­lights

Mag­gie’s favourite city is Tokyo. “Ev­ery­body has to go there,” she in­sists. “It’s a buzz of a city. Even Shin­juku Sta­tion – the busiest rail­way sta­tion in the world – is an ad­ven­ture. Depart­ment stores in Tokyo are in­cred­i­ble, too, and I go straight to the food sec­tion,” where the painstak­ingly dis­played pro­duce and bento boxes are works of art.

A high­light of any visit to Tokyo is the Tsuk­iji (the world’s big­gest fish mar­ket), where the tuna auc­tion be­gins with the ring­ing of bells at around 4am. These days, en­try to the auctions is re­stricted, but, says Mag­gie, “there are fan­tas­tic mar­kets on the out­skirts of the Tsuk­iji, sell­ing veg­eta­bles, pulses, spices, pick­les – and there are sim­i­lar mar­kets in ev­ery Ja­panese city. A trip to a food mar­ket is es­sen­tial.”

An­other of Mag­gie’s es­sen­tials is the Golden Gai, a frag­ment of old Tokyo, where nar­row laneways are lined with tiny bars that fit only a hand­ful of people each. Once the haunt of artists and bo­hemi­ans, some of these bars still only accept mem­bers.

Mag­gie’s days in the Ja­panese cap­i­tal were punc­tu­ated by meals in restau­rants – some that have Aus­tralian con­nec­tions.

“You must eat at Shi­rosaka,” she >>

in­sists, “be­cause this is great modern Ja­panese food. Chef Hideki Li learnt from the mas­ters in Ja­pan and then worked with Aus­tralia’s Tet­suya Wakuda, which opened up his world.”

An­other favourite chef is Koji Fukuda, who was head chef at Aus­tralian Luke Man­gan’s Salt restau­rants and has opened Terra Aus­tralis in Tokyo.

Back to na­ture

Mag­gie de­scribes the Noto Penin­sula on Ja­pan’s west coast as “pris­tine and truly beau­ti­ful – rugged coast­line, fer­tile farm­land, Zen tem­ples and hot springs.” It is renowned for its sea­weed, sea salt and seafood.

“In Noto, I learned about tra­di­tion,” she says. “I slept on the floor in a tra­di­tional inn. I was ab­sorbed into the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. I made mochi rice balls with the ladies in the com­mu­nity cen­tre. I tasted a squid sauce that had taken the chef three years to make. I had never seen tra­di­tion in ac­tion in the same way be­fore.”

Mag­gie’s guides on the jour­ney were Chikako and Ben Flatt. “Ben is an Aus­tralian chef with an Ital­ian culi­nary her­itage,” she ex­plains. “He mar­ried a Ja­panese woman and they have melded their in­ter­ests and cul­tures, and run a restau­rant and tra­di­tional inn, called Flatt’s.”

Food to shout about

Mag­gie adores the city of Osaka which, she says, has a dif­fer­ent food cul­ture from Tokyo. “It’s more ca­sual, open, last-minute,” she ex­plains. “It’s food to be shouted about – some chefs spruik what they’re do­ing.”

Mag­gie spent her evenings walk­ing along cob­ble­stone al­leys in the old part of the city and along the river, with its lively at­mos­phere, out­door per­form­ers and food stalls. “Osaka is also known for its mas­ter­ful sushi and sashimi,” she adds. “The chef we vis­ited, Osamu Ueno of Ki­gawa, spe­cialises in a tra­di­tional kappo-style din­ing, which is very so­phis­ti­cated.”

Mag­gie’s fi­nal stop on this tour was Naoshima, an is­land in the Seto In­land Sea (Seto Naikai) that has be­come a liv­ing gallery for con­tem­po­rary art. Once a fish­ing vil­lage, then a waste dump, the is­land is now a place of “breath­tak­ing nat­u­ral beauty, dot­ted with ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­chi­tec­ture, sculp­ture, paint­ing.” Naoshima was a lit­tle ex­tra that Mag­gie and her hus­band, Colin, added to the trip, to spend time with close

Ja­panese friends.

Mag­gie ex­plor­ing the streets of Osaka.

A Thou­sand Rice Pad­dies at Shi­roy­one Sen­maida on the Noto Penin­sula. LEFT: Sashimi at the Ki­gawa restau­rant in Osaka.

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