So, I recently went to Japan for a whirlwind 10-day-tour.
There were some personal/professional reasons for that, but it was also and in large part an attempt at increasing my practical knowledge of the use of strong flavors there.
You see, there is something odd going on.
If you have any inkling of Japanese cooking, it is probably of the importance of the respective ingredient’s pure flavor. The taste is to be good, strong, and clear.
Or so the story goes. Or the stereotype.
Even in sushi or sashimi, the paragon of pure Japanese cooking, however, you find vinegar-soured rice.
There is likely to be wasabi somewhere close by.
Take a step “down” into more of a home or bar cooking style, to things like udon and ramen noodle dishes, and suddenly there is sure to be shichimi.
A mixture of seven spices, at least one of them hot chile pepper. And where there is shichimi, there tends to be ichimi, “one flavor”, chile pepper. And more.
Suddenly, you find that there may be Shishitou peppers among the tempura you got.
You get a box of rice and eel (unagi), and Japanese pepper (sansho) will accompany it as a matter of course, whether you get it in an upscale specialized restaurant or a fast food place.
There is myoga, the Japanese ginger. And ginger. Somewhere around that, azabu-tade (waterpepper) should also find itself used.
And more chilli again, in powders and sauces. And with yuzu, “the” (really, but one of several) Japanese citrus, more and more often.
And of course, there is green tea, including as matcha. Not exactly the lightest of aromas, and another one that is diverse and often misunderstood.
This I went to find and learn more about – and tell more about. Here goes.