My Happy Place Is Japanese

IMG_2462Smoked duck breast and spinach salad, Yakitori-ya, Little Osaka, Los Angeles

Contrary to derision by those who don’t understand foodies, being a foodie is not simply about eating a lot of food and sharing those experiences with the world. It is also about being adventurous and curious about a variety of tastes and cultures and how that continually opens the mind to new palate horizons. It is about the act of eating and the experiences you enjoy while doing so amongst the myriad people and places in the world around you that would otherwise be unfamiliar. It is about paying sacred homage to what goes in your mouth beyond just chomping down on three meals a day for fuel. It is about tiptoeing into various communities and coming out with a feeling that you have just picked up a few extra family members. It is about memories of your own family and friends and the past, which carved and sustained you. It is about pleasure, sensuousness, being present, nourishment and life.

IMG_2464Skewered, grilled chicken gizzards atop a bowl of fried gizzards, Yakitori-ya, Little Osaka, Los Angeles

Food also becomes an influencer to a foodie. I am a firm believer that we are born into this lifetime into a certain family, which serves as a sort of laboratory Petri dish of learning experiences that inform how we act and react within the world. But as we grow and come to know who we inherently are, we tend to look outwards to cultivate new compatriots and tribes born from our individual interests and desires. For the foodie, this is oftentimes molded through food and the ambiance that surrounds certain dining experiences.

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Chicken skin, Yakitori-ya, Little Osaka, Los Angeles

For example, if you were to ask me what defines me as a woman in relation to the food cultures I grew up around or have been inherently interested in, I would be: one-fourth French bistro whore on a lazy Sunday at noon with escargot, chicken liver mousse, Champagne and cheese; one-fourth Mexican senorita dancing on the tabletops doing shots of tequila in a dive bar/bordello with a platter of taco and burrito fixings; one-fourth Greek fisherman pounding ouzo and chomping on olives, lamb, bread and feta at sundown in a tiny, remote village by the sea; and one-fourth old Jewish yenta filling the kids and grandkids with rugelach, pastrami and rye and kugel on an average morning from my rocking chair complete with newspapers open to the crosswords page on a pile beside me.

IMG_2467 Duck ravioli with mushroom broth, Yakitori-ya, Little Osaka, Los Angeles

But when it comes to the culture and cuisine that I relate to more on a whole package level, it is Asian hands down. And although that “Asian” encompasses a lot of distinct personality including Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, et al … it is Japanese that has the attention of my full mind, body and heart—in fact, it is Japanese that I aspire to be when I grow up. Japanese cuisine is the simplest in the world, yet the most complex to get right. Skewered chicken parts may seem easy to the naïve onlooker; raw sashimi may seem like nothing more than cut pieces of raw fish; a three ingredient salad may seem like something a ten-year-old could make but when I have tried any of these at home, I have usually failed. It’s that subtle refinement that I aspire to that I don’t find in many places, laying beneath a steadfast devotion to and legacy of craft. As I age I want to be quiet, not loud and I want my food to be mostly pure, healthy, delicious and straightforward.

IMG_2469 Soboro Rice with skewered chicken tail, Yakitori-ya, Little Osaka, Los Angeles

When I was in my early thirties, I even made a manifest board with friends that stated the man of my dreams would be a Japanese gardener and it was because I was tired of all the boisterous boys who were no good for me and instead hankered for something gentle yet sophisticated, world class but modestly applied. It was the same for my future food life that had run the gamut of over rich, over sauced, over processed and over spiced. The reason for my love of the Japanese is so elusive in specific nature as are most things that stem from the soul but I am lucky to live near two thriving Japanese food scenes with the Little Osaka and Little Tokyo areas of Los Angeles. I am also lucky enough to have found that Cute Gardener who consistently finds the best yakitori restaurants in town while being able to master a delicate soup of matsutake mushrooms and mussels on the fly after years of rigorous practice in the fine art of whipping something up out of virtually nothing.

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 Cute Gardener’s matsutake mushroom and mussels soup with baby bok choy with pork and rice

 

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