Sunday, January 2, 2011

Week #12: Japan

I bet you guys thought I'd given up on this blog, huh?  Not so lucky, sorry guys.  I just fell prey to the annual onslaught of chaos and confusion generally known as "the holidays".  I might redo French week at the end of the year...I really didn't do it justice at all.  Even Southern American was pretty sloppy.  Sorry about that.  I think I'm going to make a new rule that if I cook fewer than 4 dishes from that region, it gets booted to the end to redo.

Anyway, fresh start.  No pressure or anything, but it's Japan week.  Oy.  In case you're wondering why you (or at least I) get dirty looks in Japanese restaurants, check out this list of rules to follow when eating:

It is customary to say itadakimasu, いただきます (literally "I [humbly] receive") before starting to eat a meal, and gochisōsama deshita, ごちそうさまでした (literally "It was a feast") to the host after the meal and the restaurant staff when leaving.
Hot towel
Before eating, most dining places will provide either a hot towel or a plastic-wrapped wet napkin (an oshibori). This is for cleaning hands before eating (and not after). It is rude to use them to wash the face or any part of the body other than the hands.
The rice or the soup is eaten by picking up the bowl with the left hand and using chopsticks with the right, or vice versa if you are left-handed. Traditionally, chopsticks were held in their right hand and the bowl in their left, but left-handed eating is acceptable today. Bowls may be lifted to the mouth, however should not be touched with the mouth except when drinking soup.
Soy sauce
Soy sauce is not usually poured over most foods at the table; a dipping dish is usually provided. Soy sauce is, however, meant to be poured directly onto tofu and grated daikon dishes. In particular, soy sauce should never be poured onto rice or soup. It's considered rude to waste soy sauce so moderation should be used when pouring into dishes.
Chopsticks are never left sticking vertically into rice, as this resembles incense sticks (which are usually placed vertically in sand) during offerings to the dead. Using chopsticks to spear food or to point is frowned upon. It is very bad manners to bite chopsticks.
Communal dish
When taking food from a communal dish, unless they are family or very close friends, turn the chopsticks around to grab the food; it is considered more sanitary. Better, have a separate set of chopsticks for the communal dish.
If sharing food with someone else, move it directly from one plate to another. Never pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another, as this recalls passing bones during a funeral.
Eat what is given
It is customary to eat rice to the last grain. Being a picky eater is frowned on, and it is not customary to ask for special requests or substitutions at restaurants. It is considered ungrateful to make these requests especially in circumstances where you are being hosted, as in a business dinner environment. Good manners dictate that you respect the selections of the host.
Even in informal situations, drinking alcohol starts with a toast (kanpai, 乾杯) when everyone is ready. It is not customary to pour oneself a drink; rather, people are expected to keep each other's drinks topped up. When someone moves to pour your drink you should hold your glass with both hands and thank them.

Boy, I feel like a jerk. I know I've washed my face with those towels at least once...and I use chopsticks to point ALL the time. My bad.

Here's a list of common dishes. I'm also drawing inspiration from this blog/list.I won't lie.  I am VERY intimidated by this week.  I want to actually learn to cook this stuff, so I'm going to do my best not to half @$$ it this week.  I'm reserving the right to let Japan week bleed into next week (pushing next week out, potentially) if I feel like I'm not really "getting it".  There's just an overwhelming amount of technique that seems to go into Japanese cooking that's completely foreign to me.  At the end of the week, we're going to Takumi as a reward.  :-D

Anyway, here's what I'm going to attempt. 

This looks interesting.  I've never heard of these things, but they sound good. Until you look at the comments...choking hazard?? Yikes...
Tempura. Duh.  The tips in this article look sound, so I have high hopes.
Lucky sushi with a great tradition (a few weeks early) sprinkled in. 
***Note: with the emphasis on freshness in everything, I'm starting to think I might not actually do all my grocery shopping today, but get all the perishables one day at a time. 
Table top soup sounds SO good right now.  Yum.
Variation on Miso Soup - looks to be super quick and warm.  Win win.

I won't lie though, on my way to the grocery store I'm definitely stopping at Barnes & Noble to pick up a real cook book.  I wish cookbooks were cheaper...I'd love having a good book for each region.

As an attempt to start the year off right, I'm (gasp!) going to an Asian market today.  You heard me.  I'm doing it.  Seriously.  I'll take pictures, promise. 

Also, I've recently gotten hooked on "Worst Cook in America" and while it really is just a terrible show, they're teaching the contestants good how to organize yourself BEFORE you start cooking.  Duh.  Just not something I'm in the habit of doing.  So this year, that changes.  This year, I'm going to attack dinner, not just fling myself at it and hope for the best.  Think MMA instead of a slap fight.  This is the year I MMA the cr@p out of dinner time. 

And on that note, I think I've officially gotten punchy enough/psyched myself up enough to make the trip to the Asian market.  Wish me luck and stop laughing. 

1 comment:

  1. Looks good, Kat! Although I challenge you that the tempura and miso soup are easy ways out ;-) (I kid -- always start with baby steps :)

    But you should watch some old episodes of the original Iron Chef to see some real Japanese cooking lol! How about using some natto, uni, pickled plum, conger eel, black pig, cod roes, ear shell, lotus root, or sea bream? (But no shark fin; that's just mean!)

    Good luck! And I hope you make it to the Asian market. I'll be interested in hearing how the konnyaku, nobe, and miso soup come out, as I've now bookmarked those recipes to try for myself.