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It’s October, the month of pumpkin and chestnuts and, of course, I will speak… of Japanese cuisine! By now.
Japanese food and sushi in particular, has literally conquered Italy. Maybe because it’s damned glamorous (we are all a bit victims of chopsticks and bamboo placemat minimalist charm, come on!), or it will be because it’s damned good and free of guilt (although in the end we can bolt down a quantity that reaches the calorie intake of a pound of pork chops)?
I would say for both reasons.
But we must be honest. We’re horrified if a French cousin even mind to prepare us carbonara or pizza, but there’s absolutely understandable that any people (Chinese, Korean, Thai, Brazilian, etc.) can come to terms with sushi, sashimi and tempura.
Thursday, October 1 I have had a great opportunity: my fav place, the 049 Arona (Novara, Italy), has invited the Japanese chef Rui Inagawa to cook his specialties for a Giappo Special evening. Here’s the perfect time for me to finally have to do with a real sushi samurai, taste its food, ask him for a short interview and, with a bit of emotion, hand him the only real question that’s everyone would ask “But you, in Japan, what do you eat?”
But what do you eat in Japan usually? Be patient, but we here in Italy we know just sushi, sashimi, etc…
We eat everything, of course! On the table we always have Japanese white rice, without salt or oil, a bit as you have bread. And we accompany it with meat, vegetables undercooked, so that have stay crisper, even fish, both raw and cooked, miso soup … But at home, no, we don’t prepare sushi. We go out to eat it, it’s a specialty!
A bit as we do when we want pizza cooked with wood oven.
Yes, our kitchen is usually very healthy. But also we eat pasta, pizza, gnocchi …
Ah, then you also deal with foreign cuisine! And how could we recognize a sushi done in a genuine manner, perhaps by a real Japanese chef?
Rice is fundamental. It must be seasoned with just rice vinegar, sugar, salt and sake. Also, I prefer to use rice when it’s warm, not cold, it should be used after half an hour, an hour at most, from cooking. Instead, most of the restaurants cook rice at noon and serves it at evening, maybe even after putting it in the fridge… Never put it in the fridge! Then, there are also those who does it well!
So no rice glued and cold.
The grains must be well divided and the rice must be strictly Japanese, that contains less starch, and also you have to feel the seasonings. I leave it a little sweeter… Then, in the nigiri, for example, should not be too pressed. When you put it in your mouth, it must melt!
In short, nothing to do with the white rice, unsalted… And the fish?
Well, the fish has to be fresh. Here in Italy you can find good fish, but by law it must be first shot down (ie brought rapidly to a temperature below -20° C for a continuous minimum of 24 hours period). While in Japan that does not exist! You fish and you eat, so its meat has a different texture and flavor… Especially the blue and white fishes. When I go back to Japan and tell this story, my friends are horrified. A little like putting the Philadelphia or mayonnaise…
Not to be done!
Not at all, mayonnaise is even quite good! But if I have to use it, I choose the Japanese one… Made with sesame oil, a little sweeter. But the Philadelphia, not. In Japan, the cheese does not even exist!
I’m sorry for you.
In fact I live here in Italy (23 years).
But come back to sushi…
To summarize, you must hear the rice and its flavors, crunchy seaweed, fresh fish, soy sauce, wasabi. And as I said, you have to feel it dissolving in your mouth, you should not… chew!
This is a question that will save many people: it is true that you can eat sushi not only with chopsticks, but also with your hands?
Yes, absolutely! But never with forks… And the wasabi? You know that we melt it in soy sauce, right? We put wasabi between the fish and the rice, or directly on the fish, but also we dissolve it in soy sauce, sometimes! But actually, it’s already there. We use the wasabi roots grated at the moment, but I can not always find them in Italy. Like ginger, ours is more pink, more spicy. Here sometimes I grate them, and let them boil a bit with sugar and rice vinegar, to make it more sweet…
It is true that with sushi only green tea or sake should be drunk?
Indeed, most of us eat it drinking beer! And then, yes, after dinner we have tea or sake. (Laughs) We find stranger that here you drink coffee after sushi!
And, by the way: the desserts?
I sometimes prepare green tea ice cream or mochi, a kind of dumpling with red bean jam. Very particular.
You must do it the next time, I want to taste it!
I have not yet tried to prepare sushi, because I know that is a kind of untouchable tradition.
The sushi should be done only by men, because women have a warmer temperature of hands. Then you have to make some sort of apprenticeship in the service of a sushi chef, just watching or at least stir the rice, which can last up to 8 years. This just for sushi. I did it for five years, but in my dinners or cocktails, I cook even more, such as ramen, soba, onigiri …
Then it would be interesting to redo a dinner, but with unusual Japanese cooking, different from the sushi. Finally, what do you not stand in Italians people dealing with Japanese food?
(Silence) No, in the end I understand you, if you have never tasted the real thing, I understand… Then, doing the real sushi coasts, even a lot. If in addition, you get all the ingredients from Japan as nori, rice…
Then you have a different attention in the choice of ingredients. A bit as we do with our fav pasta or tomato sauce.
It means that someone cares, when cooking. If you do not start with good ingredients, nothing will work. Right! And by the way, what is your favorite Italian dish? Spaghetti with garlic, oil and hot peppers!
Our conversation then continued talking about… soccer, the real reason that brings Rui to Italy (“Before Holly and Benji there was no professionalism in Japanese soccer!”), and about what cooked Marrabbio from Kiss me, Lycia in his restaurant.
At the end, our samurai chef, Rui Inagawa promised me that he will return to visit us in November, but this time with a menu… different than usual!