Loving this irreverent, fun Vlog…emmymadeinjapan

My go to food vlog of the moment is emmymadeinjapan by Chinese American Emmy Cho, who began her vlogging career in Japan, hence the ‘made in japan’. While she occasionally cooks and reviews Japanese food like ramen or sushi bake (OMG!), she actually makes, bakes, tastes anything from military ration packs to tarantula in a can, all with what feels like a wholesome interest and genuine enthusiasm for food, which I find just addictive.

I sense no irony or grandstanding, no need for one upmanship…the camera’s almost constant head on frontal view is suggestive of Emmy’s earnestness, but she never takes herself too seriously. How can she, when she’s heating up and tasting hamburger in a can.

But the consensus among fans is that Emmy has excellent culinary skills. Her deft maneuvering between can opener to knife to food processor is a dead give away. And some recipes are really worth trying, like the jiggly cheesecake. I watch too many amateur foodies and wannabe influencers, but Emmy’s the real deal.

As a late night youtuber, I find Emmy’s lilting voice enticing. When I watch her, the Japanese word mujaki – wide-eyed innocence – comes to mind…she’s the embodiment of her own mantra..’stinkin’ cute’. Emmy feels like a manga character, her effervescence and energy and positivity barely contained inside the facebook video post or youtube screen…and just like I learned a lot from reading Oishinbo manga series in the 90s, I’m learning a lot from emmymade‘s food adventures, all shot within the confines of her kitchen.

I still love Jamie Oliver and Padma Lakshimi’s pretty awesome, but emmymade is just perfect lockdown viewing with something for nearly everyone, with channels such as: military ration tastings, Japanese candy kits, international food tastings, prison recipes, product tests, including vintage gadgets, copycat recipes.

Check her out. She’ll make you smile, ‘stinkin’ cute!’

50 years ago today, we arrived in Sydney…

We first arrived in Sydney on August 6, 1968. My father had already arrived a few months prior. He was posted in Sydney as a company representative for a Japanese trading company.

He picked us up at the airport and deposited us at the Savoy Hotel in Double Bay, leaving my mum, that’s Kei, with a $20 bill to buy something for dinner.  Kei remembers thinking how the $20 looked suspiciously  like play money, but my father reassured her that it was worth about 8000 yen. An aside:  the AUD-Yen exchange rate was about 400 yen to the dollar in 1968. Today, it’s about 80 yen to the Australian dollar.

Armed with ‘play money,’ Kei took us (I was 7, my sister 9), to Double Bay Woolworths, which was across the road from The Cosmopolitan then, where she bought half a pound of rice for 9 cents. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this story, but  still, after 50 years, I love to revel in her shock of discovering that a roll of toilet paper cost 11 cents, while half a pound of rice was 9 cents.  (Paper was/is incredibly cheap in Japan, in fact loo paper was free in those days – rolls would miraculously appear at the front door a few days after leaving a bunch of old newspapers – and rice has always been expensive in Japan, thanks to Japan’s agricultural co-operative).

On the way home, my sister and I begged mum to let us stop by for a some tea at the Cosmopolitan. But Kei had no idea how much tea would cost (after all, toilet paper cost 11 cents!) so we went back to the Savoy where she cooked up some rice and grilled the dried fish a friend had given her at the airport prior to our departure (I guess he must’ve thought there’d be no himono or dried fish in Australia, so true). The fish was great I remember, and so was the ‘foreign’ rice. We were lucky  that we didn’t get evicted from the Savoy for the stench Kei inflicted on the other residents grilling the fish. Perhaps we were copped a few rude stares the following morning. Luckily, I was too young to notice.

Already in the first few hours after arriving in Sydney, the pattern of our lives in Australia for the next 50 years was  set. Kei would be in constant search for good food to feed us; we’d always be hankering for something we thought might be more exotic, only to find that mum knew best; our food would stigmatise us; and finally, my dad was always conspicuous by his absence.

Today, August 6, 2018,  it was too cold to go out to celebrate our 50th anniversary. So we decided that when the weather is warmer, we’ll go to the Cosmopolitan for a cup of tea. Here’s hoping $20 will be enough…maybe not.

by Masako Fukui, Copyright Kei’s Kitchen

Masako, stuffing her face by the Valiant

Eating out in Ginza: the old and the new

Ginza is a must go place now in Tokyo for shopping and eating: you can shop for the new, but eat in the old. Ginza has lots of what Japanese call “shinise”, old established eateries that are institutions, and thanks to the influx of new international shops like Forever 21, the disco like Abercrombie & Fitch, Uniqlo or the revamped department store Mitsukoshi (also with tons of new eateries on level 12), the once slightly dowdy mecca for “women of a certain age” and “businessmen of certain proclivities” is altogether quite groovy.

One of the more famous shinise or Japanese culinary institutions is Toraya, the venerable wagashi (Japanese sweets) establishment that does afternoon tea to perfection. Toraya is famous for Yo-kan, azuki bean jelly that is served with matcha or strong green tea. For the western version of Toraya, go to West, a cake, sandwich and tea place that is olde Europe in mood finished off with classical music. It’s tiny but well frequented, mostly by shopped out ladies. I love the ham sandwich, which is quintessentially Japanese–carefully manicured fluffy white bread with a perfectly measured hint of mustard.

Lunch big in Ginza–plenty of fantastic kaiseki restaurants to go to, and most do reasonable lunchtime bento for about 3,500 yen. Like the Michelin hatted Uchiyama is a favourite of ours (see picture above and bento below)-its understated decor, the crisp personalised service, the very traditional Japanese cooking with fresh seasonal ingredients is really worth it if you want the “authentic” culinary experience. Bento lunch with Taichazuke (snapper rice with tea, served with sesame sauce, a traditional dish) is still 3,500 yen. Kei visited recently for dinner and had the seasonal kaiseki menu including crab, and raved about it. We both love the grilled gomadofu (sesame “tofu” made with arrowroot).  If you can’t get into Uchiyama, go to Asami, which also does “authentic”.  No website, but phone number is (03) 55651606 and open lunch and dinner except Sunday. Lunch about 2000-3000 yen, dinners are 15,000-20,000 yen (about $200 AUD), which is a similar price range to Uchiyama.

For some innovative fusion, go to neo French Yugao. Kei did the dinner menu and was wowed. The dishes were so delicately presented and the tastes were subtle yet exciting, she reported.

Shiseido Parlour is a beautiful building, the original home of the international cosmetics brand. There’s a great modern art gallery downstairs, and one of the best yoshoku restaurants in Tokyo and busy tea room upstairs. Check out the fabulous design of the cookie tins on the ground floor. For fresh scrumptious anpan (red bean buns), go to Kimuraya.

The great tea store Uogashimeicha has a nice tea room close to the Dior store. And around the corner is also the famous Akebono store which has a beautiful seasonal window you can’t miss. Also close by is the “fruits parlour” with a difference is the well-known Sembikiya which has awesome fruit parfaits and very expensive melons that people always go gaga over.

by Masako Fukui, Copyright Kei’s Kitchen

Review of Doco ‘My Japanese Diet’

‘My Japanese Diet’ about Australian Craig Anderson’s weight loss journey in Japan is uplifting. By the end of this documentary which aired on SBS TV on 6th April, 2017, Craig loses 25kg and as a result, severely reduces the health risks he was facing because of his previous diet  of hamburgers and chips. He looks so much healthier and somewhat more content by the end of the story.

But as a documentary depicting Japan and its people and culture, this documentary was somewhat disappointing. What upset me most was the way Craig interacted with Japanese people.  Everyone he met seemed to be exceptionally gracious, inviting Craig into their kitchens and dining rooms, to family dinners, to a solemn tea ceremony,  to bathe and taste Shojin ryori at a Zen temple. Yes, I get that there was a language barrier, but was there any reason why the Japanese people had no ‘voice’?

Why were we not introduced to the  characters, why were we not allowed to get to know them better?  Who were the kids, their names, ages, what manga did they like; play soccer? Was the salaryman married? What was his job? Who was the woman making the tamagoyaki? Anything but the one dimensional depiction of voiceless Japanese just being ‘hospitable and nice’, as Japanese are often depicted in travel stories by western tourists.

I suspect that the cliched ‘weird gaijin’ act that Craig seemed to be engaged in was one of the reasons why we never had a chance to see the Japanese people as ‘real’ people. I found Craig very endearing, funny, and no problem feeling empathy for what he was trying to achieve. But I didn’t really believe he was such an uncultured white bloke out of his  depth and unable to control his chopsticks, which is how he was presented in this film.

And even if he were, that image of the Aussie tourist is so 1970s. I’ve lived here for 40 years and most Australians, especially city dwellers from Sydney like Craig, are no longer so culturally inept and are far more knowledgeable and in tune with Japan. So why present Craig as such an anachronistic caricature of a ‘gaijin’?

I guess I was hoping that not just his body, but Craig may have also undergone some transformation, become closer to the Japanese, at least to connect to the Japanese in a more meaningful way.

After all, if you’re going to declare that your diet is Japanese, then surely the historical, socio-cultural context in which a traditional cuisine exists is of some interest? I got no sense from watching this program that Craig had any desire to understand the larger picture. Perhaps those bits of film ended up on the cutting room floor.

In which case, I’m not really sure what the point of this story is, apart from Craig’s massive weight loss. But weight loss stories are never just weight loss stories are they? Especially if you are going to appropriate another culture’s cuisine as instrumental in that transformation journey.

The fact that this program was on SBS made it doubly disappointing. As a Japanese migrant living in Australia, I feel it’s my responsibility to keep a close eye on the way mainstream media depicts us, and this documentary was, alas, lacking in nuance.

Finally, for those wanting to adopt Japanese diet principles for health reasons, this program did not offer much relevant or useful information. The key cornerstones of Japanese cuisine (called the cuisine of water, because we cook in dashi rather than oil for example, is so fundamental, but the word dashi wasn’t mentioned once…), the reason why Japanese eat small portions and diversity of dishes, the importance of presentation, the importance of the five flavours and five colours…there’s so much more to Japanese cuisine than green tea and natto. This documentary missed all these points. Shame…

by Masako Fukui, Copyright Kei’s Kitchen

How to Julienne (Sengiri), Japanese style

繊切り Sengiri is the Japanese word meaning to Julienne. The kanji character 繊 (sen) means fine or fibre; 切り(kiri) means to cut. So sengiri refers to julienned fibres that is about 1-2mm thick.

A finer version of sengiri is 針切りHarigiri or needle thin julienne, 針 (hari) is needle.

In the case of Wagyu Shigureni, a sweet simmered wagyu dish we featured in our Shokado Bento class, harigiri (needle thin) ginger is required. We’ve tried to teach this in class, but even with our very sharp knives, most people end up with matchsticks at best, not needles or fibres.

I’ve posted a short video of the sengiri/harigiri ginger technique on our facebook page.

This is a good technique to know and crucial in Japanese cooking. The idea is to cut ALONG THE GRAIN, not against. Along the grain preserves the needle/fibre shape and texture of the vegetable. If you cut against the grain, the vegetable will fall apart once cooked or transformed in some way.

Katsuramuki, Japanese Carbon Knife

Kazu san demonstrating the katsuramuki technique with daikon.

We use this sengiri technique with carrots a lot too, and also daikon, cucumber and other vegetables that end up in aemono or sunomono dishes.

Of course, sengiri is how the finely shredded daikon garnish for sashimi is made. To achieve this, you have to be able to do katsuramuki (see pic) first to produce the paper thin strip of daikon, which is then sliced using sengiri/harigiri. This is excessively difficult! We covered this  in our knife skills class some years ago with Kazu san. (There’s no shame in employing a shredder or mandolin in this case!)

Here is a good video that demonstrates sengiri and harigiri techniques. It’s in Japanese, but you’ll get the drift.

by Masako Fukui, Copyright Kei’s Kitchen