Cooked to Perfection

June 14, 2007 at 3:59 pm

From the moment you see “Iron Chef”’s eccentric TV host sink his teeth into a raw bell pepper you’ll know just how hardcore they can get in Japan. After all, if you’re going to have it raw it better be good.

Enlisting their most dutiful sous-chefs, competitors of the popular cooking show carefully slice and dice their ingredients into savory dishes sure to make your stomach rumble from your couch. For Iron Chef Morimoto and his Japanese compatriots, cooking isn’t just a means of sustenance, it’s a beloved art form.

Of course, gastronomic love had spread to the U.S. as well in recent years (as seen by the popularity of the Food Network), but it’s Japan where a well-cooked meal permeates every socio-economic strata to become a national obsession.

While living in Japan, I’d frequent the mom-and-pop shops where I could relish a nice dinner-for-one after work. Here, while sitting at a wooden counter table, you could get a front-seat view of the true iron chefs at work, from sharpening their knives to prepping their ingredients.

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Many Japanese eateries take pride in specializing in one type of dish and working it to perfection. A good ramen shop will serve only one style of ramen. An unagi shop only sells grilled eel on top of rice. One of my favorite places of all time was a little soba shop tucked away at the end of a dark alleyway. Every day the owner, an old man who loved to drink, would get up at 5 a.m. to knead the buckwheat dough into thin strands. It’s a ritualistic process not easily learned by a part-time hire. If fact, many Japanese cooks spend decades perfecting one particular food. My soba man spent 40 years on his noodles, which has included determining the best local ingredients, making flawless cuts into the dough, and boiling the noodles to a palate-pleasing al dente. Imagine that.

I’ve yet to spend 40 years on the earth, but by time I do I hope to become less a jack of all trades but truly a master of one. (^_^)

Himawari

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Entry filed under: Japanese Foods.

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