Domo arigato, Japan!

Posted by: KristenSiefkin in: Food/Beverage -

of504804805Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to escort a small group of U.S. journalists to Japan on a food tour of the country.  I can’t possibly begin to chronicle all of the amazing things we saw and did, but here are some highlights:

We began our 10-day visit in bustling Tokyo, where we had the privilege of meeting Elisabeth Andoh, an expert on Japanese cuisine and culture.  Andoh lectured on the “Seasonal Japanese Kitchen” and the importance of seasons and regions.  She explained to us the importance of “Washoku” literally, the “harmony of food” as a way of thinking about what we eat and how it can nourish us.  It was the perfect stage-setting for the days to follow.

of5048048071Next, we attended FoodEx Japan, Asia’s largest food and beverage exhibition where we had the privilege of sampling more than 90 Japanese products and as a group, were asked to vote on our five favorites.

At dinner, we were joined by Harumi Kurihara, the “Martha Stewart” of Japan, where we ate dishes from her latest cookbook and drank Shōchū, a distilled beverage made from sweet potato, rice or barley.

of504804804The next day, we took the Bullet Train North to Fukushima, where we learned about the art of miso production, met a poultry farmer who fed and treated his chickens as though they were his children, ate Waygu beef, sampled sake from an eighteenth generation sake maker and drank regional beer from a microbrewery.

A flight south to Kumamoto was equally exciting.  A stop at the impressive Kumamoto castle yielded a lunch representative of what would have been available during the reign of the 15th lord in the 1800s, before the invention of soy sauce.  Like most food in Japan, it tasted as spectacular as it looked.

of504804801 A dinner with the governor of Kumamoto featured the best sustainably farmed tuna sashimi I have ever consumed in my life.

During an afternoon visit to the Kumamoto oyster beds, we learned that Kumamotos were exported to the U.S. 60 years ago by order of the Japanese Fishing Association.  There is a government funded effort to again begin cultivating the mollusks in the Fukura Bay.  This never before attempt to farm Kumamotos began in Japan three years ago and is projected to yield one million oysters this year.

2323232327ffp632793enu3d32763e3953e73b3a3ewsnrcg3d343473b3c759323bnu0mrj1The group ate freshly dug bamboo shoots barbequed over bamboo charcoals sandwiched neatly between cinder blocks.  The stunning resulting dish, prepared by the Denkis, a husband and wife team who first began farming bamboo and green tea leaves 40 years ago to pay for their children’s college tuition, bore no resemblance to the bamboo shoots we know.

of5048048062Traditional accommodations in Ryokans and multi course dinners followed by steaming hot baths in onsen (Japanese for hot springs), and of course, competitive karaoke, were experiences I will not soon forget.

There is so much we can learn from the Japanese.  The food, while indescribably delicious, is only one piece of what makes this country and its people so lovely. The humility, the civility and the desire to please are genuine and aspiration-worthy.   I, for one, cannot wait to return.

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