April 20, 2011

Ganbare, Nippon!

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Tonight I found myself in the presence of a group of food journalists, bloggers and foodies in general... so what else is new? Well, I had called for this gathering with the sole purpose of supporting Hong Kong's Japanese restaurants as well as the Japanese agribusiness.

We all noticed how Japanese restaurants in town had been suffering since disaster struck Japan last month.  There seems to be fear among the general population - totally unfounded and uneducated - that food from Japan just isn't safe anymore.  Well, the general population is uninformed - or rather misinformed - and are acting like a flock of sheep.  Their ignorance is putting hard working people - who had been providing delicious Japanese food to them all these years - out of business.  Japan doesn't need our "charitable donations".  What the Japanese people really need - and want from us - is for us to support them economically by buying their products, so they can stand on their own feet.

With that in mind, we decided to have dinner at Sushi Fuku-suke (鮨 福助).  I hadn't been here before, but was eager to try it once I had been informed that the owner comes from Sendai (仙台), and was still importing fish from Japan.  We also decided to bring out bottles of sake from the Tohoku region, and hope that our continued consumption will help the people of the stricken region.

We took the more expensive of the two omakase sets, while I asked the manager to substitute something else for all the toro (トロ) items for me.

We started with some marinated rapeseed flowers (菜の花) sprinkled with bonito (鰹) flakes.

There was a long pause as the chef prepared the sashimi selection for the eight of us.  Here's what we had:

Young yellowtail (ハマチ) - pretty gorgeous pieces.

Horse mackerel (鯵) - it's been a while since I last enjoyed the lovely fattiness of this fish...

Scallop (帆立) - lovely, plump and sweet.

Sweet shrimp (甘エビ) - nice.

Tuna (マグロ) - I guess I wasn't very specific in my instructions about not having my tuna... I haven't had maguro in a long time, and I must say this was pretty tasty... and the color was beautiful, too.

Spanish mackerel (鰆)
Japanese whelk (つぶ貝)

Then the nigirizushi (握り鮨) started coming... As is traditional, the pieces have all been flavored and really didn't need additional soy sauce...

Young yellowtail (ハマチ) - nicely scored and brushed with soy sauce.

Bonito (鰹)

Red seabream (真鯛)

Deep-fried horse mackerel (鯵) - interestingly, two pieces of fillet were put together with a piece of perilla leaf (紫蘇), then lightly battered and deep-fried.  Nice.

Japanese halfbeak (細魚) - I have always loved this fish and would look for it whenever it's available.  I did joke that I kinda got the short end of the stick, as this was my substitute for fatty tuna (中トロ)...

Spanish mackerel (鰆)

Conger with egg (穴子卵とじ) - a dish I love but don't see often.  Nice flavoring with sansho (山椒) powder.

Kelp-marinated Japanese whiting (キス昆布〆め) - a specialty of Fukuyama prefecture (富山県), the fish is wrapped in kelp and kept chilled overnight, absorbing some of the flavors of the seaweed.

Sea urchin (雲丹) - served in a "warship roll (軍艦巻)".

Grilled Japanese beef (和牛) - very yummy with two types of mustard on the side.  I also loved the grilled pepper (しし唐).

Scallop (帆立)

Ark shell (赤貝) - my substitute for very fatty tuna (大トロ), which once again left me thinking that the restaurant got the better end of the deal... =)

Conger (穴子)

With all selection of 10 sushi (十貫) all done, we were served a small selection of pickles.

The soup was made with red seabream (真鯛), and was very delicious.  It's been a long time since I've had some decent Japanese soup, and I just loved the yuzu (柚子)-enhanced flavors.  There was a lovely, boney eye in my bowl...

Finally, I chose sea salt ice cream (海塩アイス) for dessert.   This was kinda novel but delicious, like salted butter caramel...

The evening was as much about the sake as the fresh fish from Japan.  We had deliberately chosen a selection from the Tohoku region to toast the evening.

Hiroki Junmai Ginjo (飛露喜 純米吟醸 生詰) - this sake made by Hiroki Brewery (広木酒造) in Fukushima Prefecture (福島県) was brought by my friend to toast the "Fukushima 50". A hint of banana with a dry and spicy mid-palate.

Juyondai Junmai Daiginjo Shichitare Nijikkan (十四代 純米大吟醸 七垂二十貫) - made by Takagi Brewery (高木酒造) in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県), Juyondai is one of the top sake brands of Japan. The bottle I brought was noticeably smoother, and also much sweeter on the palate, with a slightly dry and long, spicy finish.  More full-bodied.

2009 Hakurakusei Zankyo "Super 9" (伯楽星 残響 "Super 9") - made by Shinzawa Brewery (新澤醸造店) in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県), this sake with a limited production of just 100 bottles is somewhat of a freak. We've seen many premium sake producers mill the rice grains down to below the statutory requirement of 50% for a daiginjo (大吟醸), and 35% is a pretty common level for some of the very top sake. This particular sake, however, takes the cake when it comes to overkill on seimaibuai (精米歩合).

It takes 250 hours to polish the rice grains down to just 9% of the original size, resulting in these tiny, round pellets. Even the rice is special - not your usual Yamada Nishiki (山田錦) but 蔵の華 which has been specially grown in Miyagi for the brewery.

I must admit that I was more than a little tipsy by the time I got to this bottle... but it was even more complex than the Juyondai, very sweet and with a very long finish. A privilege indeed to have picked up this bottle in Tokyo last year and to be able to drink it.

Towards the end of dinner, the manager came to inquire whether we were celebrating someone's birthday or some special occasion.  I told her in no uncertain words that our purpose tonight was to come and support a Japanese restaurant as well the people of Japan.  She was a little taken aback, but clearly appreciated our efforts as the 8 of us we were the only customers during the entire evening.

We were introduced to Chef Sugawara (菅原), and we toasted him with some Zankyo "Super 9".  The chef is from Sendai (仙台), not far from Ozaki (大崎) where the sake was made.  He mentioned that he has just spent a few days back in his hometown, as his elder brother did not survive the recent diaster... I was at a loss for words, as my Japanese wasn't good enough for me to convey my condolences.  I could see clearly that - ever the stoic Japanese - he was trying to keep his emotions under control while talking of the loss of a sibling.  Even in my inebriated and happy state, my heart went out to him and to all those who are suffering.

I didn't have any expectations before coming tonight, but I thought the quality of the food was high, especially considering the current environment.  I think the small group of us - in our own, limited fashion - tried to help sustain a small but vital part of the Japanese economy. 

To paraphrase the owner of a Japanese sake brewery, let us not (economically) victimize the Japanese people yet again by refusing to buy their products and withholding income from them when they truly need it.  I urge everyone who is reading this to go out and support Japan.  Eat at your local Japanese restaurants and make sure they can survive to serve you delicious food for another day.  Buy Japanese produce, especially those from the Tohoku region, so that the people can use the income to rebuild their shattered homeland.  The produce which you see in the stores has either been exported long ago or have been deemed safe by both the Japanese and your local authorities.  Do not fear them.  Let's work together and help our brothers and sisters in Japan!


Tokyo Silai said...

I am deeply touched by your support. Thank you.

Living in Tokyo for 14 years and this made me "home" that I will not leave Japan with my family.

Currently, there is almost nil overseas tourist visiting Japan (not only to Tokyo and Tohoku but the entire Japan), and all my Hong Kong friends think I am an idiot not leaving the country.

Yet the truth is, everyone in Tokyo is living as usual. Tokyo is perfectly fine and it is the same in many other parts of Japan, too.

My friend asked me how can I be so optimistic when Japan is in such a disaster stage? I said, Japan is still much safer than many other countries of the world.

My in-laws are still living in Fukushima which is only 35km away from the nuke plant. The Fukushima people are living as "normal" as they can, they are supporting their hometown as much as they can.

What's hurting them so much is the bad reputation they got from overseas media.

Just imagine all the crops they have grown, all the animals they have raised and the milk that they have produced, all can't be sold due to bad reputation. However, a lot of them are well below the government stated threshold, meaning they are "good" for human consumption.

As you mentioned in your article, what Japanese need now is not only the donation but the opportunity to "trust" their products again.

I eat Tohoku grown products, I drink Tokyo water, I eat fish caught in Japan, and I have no fear in my heart.

I sincerely wish outsiders can lift up their false impressions of Japan, look into the real facts, stop fearing.

Thank you again for your kind words and support.

Peech said...

Dear Silai,

Thank you for your kind words. It's great to hear from people who are "on the inside" as much of the media does nothing but fearmongering. What we need now is the truth, from the people who are living with the reality every day.

I have a limited audience, but sincerely hope that this message gets out to as many people as possible.

Many of us do want to visit Japan, but have actually been told by our friends in Japan to stay away for the time being until things settle down a little. We will come and visit soon.


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