By Jamie Hertz
I had lunch the other day with a good friend and fellow chef Yoshi. Yoshi has been a sushi chef for 25 years and cooking for even longer. He’s a lifer like myself and I always love when I get a chance to sit down with Yoshi and talk food and culture. If our conversation isn’t about who’s the better golfer, then it surely is about some sort of food experience.
The last chat brought up some thoughts that I have had over Japanese food and how a lot of people perceive it. To most people Japanese food is sushi and raw fish, which is true but that is only the tip of what I love so much about Japanese cuisine.
Yoshi and I have an interesting relationship when it comes to our food and our background. I am trained in classical French and study Japanese cuisine, where Yoshi was trained in Japanese cuisine and studies classical French.
The one topic that we got into this week was about Japanese food and how so many people know very little about what is truly Japanese cuisine. As much as the sushi scene has exploded in North America since the 90’s, the rest of the Japanese food scene has been shaded. I often wondered why it is that we know so much about sushi but so little about everything else that Japan has to offer. To me the rest of the Japanese culinary world is even more impressive than the sushi scene, but then again I am a chef and am fascinated about food more than the average foodie.
When we Canadians or even North Americans think of breakfast we think of sugar loaded cereal, pancakes or waffles loaded with syrup, or greasy fried bacon and potatoes with eggs. When Japanese think of breakfast they think of things like miso soup, steamed rice, various pickled vegetables, broiled fish, or a gently rolled egg omelette and one of my favorites of all time oka nomi yaki which is a savory pancake filled with various veggies, seafood and then topped with a sweet BBQ sauce, Japanese style mayonnaise, and a generous sprinkle of bonito flakes. It’s the ultimate savory pancake.
In many studies Japan places number one in the world for healthiest cultures. This is a pretty huge stat and is also something that we should be looking at on a day to day basis when it comes to our eating habits. They have a very low disease rate and a longer life span on average then we do in Canada and what they eat plays a massive role in this.
There are many things that I really like about Japanese food but one thing that Yoshi and I agree about is the simplicity and sheer beauty of the flavors used. The different dishes are so simple that they become sophisticated and the flavors are so crisp and clean.
Like any culture they have their bad sides when it comes to junk food and fatty foods but the one thing that they have going for them is the use of quality products. It is a well-known fact that the Japanese are willing to pay triple for the best quality Canadian fish and seafood. Since Canadians aren’t willing to match the price in restaurants and markets, the Japanese end up with our best fish.
People often asked me why I bought a lot of my food from organic farmers when I could get it for half the price in another store and the simple answer is that it’s better. I always believe in serving quality food to the people that choose to eat what I make. It’s just one of those little subtle differences that makes great food great and okay food just another thing to eat.
There is a certain feeling that I get when I eat Japanese food that no other dining experience can give me. It’s the feeling of being perfectly satisfied, like I was just given an injection of energy. For those of you who have had a great Japanese food experience you can relate.