This year in Los Angeles has been a strange one weather-wise. It seems like summer never fully arrived until winter, which was warmer than usual. Now we are experiencing cold grey days and scattered rain as we supposedly transition into the rites of spring. The garden is behaving like a tempestuous child whose normal schedule has been thrown off kilter by irresponsible parents. Indeed, Mother Nature has been acting like a woman in her middle-pause years. In respect to all this sudden erraticism, we’ve been eating unusually, interspersing items from the yard with an eclectic mix of ingredients from the Asian markets, which always seem to have a bevy of exotic produce, meats, and fishes with which to experiment.
When people typically think of Japanese cuisine, their thoughts often roam to sushi, rice, and other seafood centered preparations. They oftentimes think of elegance and exquisite presentation, subtlety, and artistry, which are all traits that quintessentially describe the general cultural aesthetics of the Japanese. Aesthetics put in place over a century ago during the Edo Period when the country was under the rule of a shogunate, closed off to the rest of the world, and quietly cultivating an identity that would be admired and emulated globally as a bastion of all things creatively refined. In the Mejii Period when Japan opened its ports to worldwide trade, Western influences introduced a variety of new possibilities for the Japanese in art and food and many other sectors of society.
One new dish that came out of this exposure to the rest of the world was sukiyaki. In a largely Buddhist culture, meat had been previously forbidden yet the West brought an introduction to using things such as beef and milk in their cuisine. Sukiyaki, prepared in the nabemono (Japanese hot pot) style, consists of thinly sliced and simmered meat alongside vegetables and other ingredients in a shallow pot of soup made with ingredients such as soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. It is shared directly from the pot and was originally a celebratory meal for the annual end of the year drinking parties in Japan.
The Cute Gardener’s version at our supper table was served in cast iron, swimming with creamy strips of steak, garden radishes, yam noodles, carrots, baby king mushrooms and cubes of soft tofu. Although not on the occasion of a drinking party, it was the perfect antidote to the colder weather that also soothed our souls, and yes, paid great homage to the blending of all things East and West, a yummy cultural exchange.