April 5, 2011

Tohoku, kanpai!

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Tonight I met up with a friend whom I haven't seen for a few years.  A few weeks ago I ran into his wife on the street, and was informed that her family living in Hiroshima was not affected by the disaster in Japan.  As we were deciding on a dinner venue, I chose to go back to Irori (酒処いろり).

We are all aware of the recent devastation caused to Japan by the earthquake and tsunami.  There have been rampant media reports about the radiation coming out of Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant, which has caused some absolutely silly panic among Asians. Aside from the salt-hoarding by housewives in Mainland China and Hong Kong, many people have also stopped eating anything Japanese.  Uneducated consumers with lemmings-like mentality talk about their concern for the Japanese people on one hand, but on the other hand are staying away from Japanese goods.  There are constant reports about Japanese restaurants suffering, losing business, and closing down as consumers stay away.

Many friends and I are furious about the public attitude regarding the so-called radiation fallout, and the "contamination" of Japanese produce.  I find most people totally uneducated on the subject, and are just mindlessly repeating things they have heard from the over-eager media or their friends.  I don't see produce from Japan as being hazardous to my health, especially if they were produced before the disaster or not even from diaster-affected areas. 

In fact, I am heeding the call by Kuji Kousuke (久慈浩介) - the fifth-generation owner of Nanbubijin Brewery (南部美人) - to consume produce from the Tohoku (東北) region of Japan.  By doing this, we can directly benefit the economy of the diaster-affected region, and help the local people "rise again like a phoenix".

With that in mind, I visited my regular haunt Irori.  I have been coming here for more than 10 years, and at times like this, you definitely want to support your old friends. The place was less than half full, which was not as bad as I feared but not exactly great, either.

There were signs everywhere informing customers about the origins of their seafood, from countries such as Norway and Korea. I asked the waitress if we could have some fish from Japan, only to be told there were none. I was saddened by this reply.

Pumpkin salad (南瓜サラダ) - this looked just like the Japanese version of the potato salad, except for the subsitution of the main ingredient.  Not bad.

Olive flounder sashimi (平目薄作り) - from Korea.  This was OK.

Firefly squid (蛍烏賊) - these were not marinated but fresh, and dipping them into the sweet miso sauce worked pretty well, too.  I loooove these little babies.

Beancurd cooked with beef (肉豆腐) - this looked like a soupy sukiyaki (すき焼) to me... with chunks of tofu covered by beef slices, along with some mushrooms and konnyaku (蒟蒻).  The soup was definitely very sweet.

Grilled ox tongue with spring onions (牛タン葱焼き) - as good as it ever was... looove the texture of ox tongue.  Lots of spring onions to make my breath very pleasant...

Grilled salted cod roe (焼き明太子) - this was OK.  The saltiness of the roe was balanced by the ground radish.

Deep-fried sweet potato chips (薩摩芋チップ) - we were getting full but I wanted one last thing... these were as good as ever.  I loooove deep-fried chips!

Dewazakura Daiginjo Daikoshu Sansei (出羽桜 大吟醸大古酒 三勢) - I brought this bottle out tonight as the Dewazakura Brewery (出羽桜酒造) is located in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県) in the Tohoku (東北) region, and I wanted to show my support.  I had picked this up from Mitsukoshi (三越) on my Tokyo trip last year, and had been waiting for an opportunity to open this.

With a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of just 35%, this has been aged at a temperature of -5 degrees Celsius for over 13 years, making this a koshu (古酒). Amazingly, this didn't have the same nose as the other koshus I've had before... Didn't smell like a Shaoxing (紹興) at all! Very smooth on the palate, but medium-dry and very long finish. Nose was a little muted but there were some floral and banana notes. A very delicate sake.

A very satisfying meal, and I will be visiting more of my old Japanese favorites in the coming months to lend them my support.  Kanpai!!

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