The perfect bite might not be a once in a lifetime thing, but it shoots you right into culinary heaven! It does that because it combines unexpected textures and tastes in a delightful way. You will remember such a moment for a very long time! Every culture and cooking tradition has their own perfect bites. Today I will tell you about my perfect Japanese bite.
I always wanted, but never dared to visit Japan: Because it’s overly complicated, be because of its social rules, subway systems or food. Furthermore, it’s pricey, just like France: If you want get to know the cuisine, you’ll probably spent a fortune. And last but not least: One needs a Japanese guide to get the real deal.
Last time in November I got lucky. One of my estimated philosopher colleagues outed himself as a hardcore foodie. While we were chewing on some delicious bites of fresh seafood in the back alleys of Seoul, we became friends. This rare species of a man, brilliant philosopher and foodie treated me to a two-day trip to autumn colored Kyoto. As a result, he was responsible for the most delicious experience in my whole life – so far.
So here comes my first contact with Japanese or rather Kyoto cuisine. In Japan, locality and highest quality of the ingredients are key. This is why Japanese Cuisine has been included in the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.
Kyoto – Hidden Jewels
That one cold November night we huddled in a small restaurant Yamashita, in the old quarters of Kyoto. All guests squeezed in a row along the counter around an open kitchen. About 10 guest were catered by three cooks. Therefore, it felt more like a private dinner party. Most of these places in the old quarters don’t feature their names in Latin alphabet and most of them are tucked away in dark back alleys. This is the reason why they are unrecognizable to non-Japanese travelers. But it makes them all the more appealing.
The magic of such a place only unravels if you can join in the chatters of the guests and engage in culinary details with the cook. The company of my foodie friend opened a new food culture to me. In the course of the evening roughly 20 delicious compositions disappeared in our delighted stomachs.
Encounters at the Counter
Yamashita is a seafood place that serves traditional dishes, but it is not a sushi place. Although westerners tend to take Sushi and Ramen to be the essence of Japanese cuisine, this is by far not the whole story. In fact, Japan offers the widest range of tastes I ever encountered in a country, because you get everything: The most concentrated explosions of umami tastes in meat dishes, super yummy street foods, a huge variety of sweets, the purest and freshest combination of finest tastes in fresh fish, varieties of tofu and steamed delicacies.
That night I got a glimpse of what Japanese fine dining is about. It is about fresh products, perfect combinations accompanied by the sweetest nuances of Saké. The experience is perfected by the constant chatter about food, culture and the stories of people sitting at the counter. If you haven’t been to Japan yet, you’ll have to watch Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.
The cute one season series will initiate your infatuation with Japanese dining. Above all it’s about a chef who not only caters to his guest nightly cravings, but also their hearts. At the centre of everyone’s story lies a dish, hence a taste the jogs a memory or triggers emotions. The crowd that gathers at midnight around the counter is as diverse and lovable as the city of Tokyo.
The Perfect Bite
During the course of the evening the perfect bite came along. It was an innocent looking shell, that suddenly beamed me into foodie heaven. You’d never believe me just by looking at that shell. Ultimately it seems quite profane, similar to a big Venus shell used in Italian cuisine. Maybe it was a large cockle, I couldn’t get the exact name in translation. This shell combined flavors in the most particular way.
Just taken fresh from the water, the chef put it on open fire. The flames licked around the shell and gave it a smoky aroma. After just a few seconds it opened and the chef infused with Saké to enhance its natural sweetness. That’s it. Not much more needed to create the perfect bite.
Now imagine biting into this chewy texture lined with smoky bits, inside giving way to the taste of fresh salty seawater with just a hint of sweetness from the Saké. Imagine being transported to the most sensual places by the sea while chewing that bit of culinary heaven. An addict was born, with many more Japanese food adventures to come.