Last week I attended a very special invite-only dinner created by Natsumi Oguchi and Den Corner Restaurants’ Toshi Kizaki held at Ototo on South Pearl Street.
The theme was Japanese home cooking, where visiting chef Oguchi produced a spread of over a dozen items highlighting the allure of the simple yet delicious dishes that traditionally Japanese people would make and eat at home.
The serving style was a casual buffet of the slew of multi-colored appetizer dishes followed by giant platters of salmon (which Chef Toshi had brought back from a recent fishing trip in Alaska) served two ways.
Some of my favorites included the Tomato Soup, Soy-marinated Fried Eggplant, Temari-sushi (ball-shaped sushi with sliced salmon made by Toshi-san), Avocado Salad, Shira-ae (mashed tofu with edamame, dried shiitake, carrot, podded pea), Minced Pork wrapped in Cabbage, and root veggie Tempura with green tea salt.
Throughout the meal, Toshi’s brother and business partner Yasu stopped by our table to dispense tidbits of information about what makes Japanese cuisine unique and how those characteristics were being showcased in our dinner.
Some things we learned during our meal:
* Since Japan has been blessed with four distinct seasons and plenty of coastline, the cuisine features a wide variety of vegetables, grains, seafood, and seaweed.
* Throughout Japan’s history there had been many bans on the use of meat and milk products due to the influence of Buddism and Shintoism into laws, resulting in traditional Japanese food having a vegetarian and pescetarian bent.
* During the Meji era (1868–1912) bans on the use of animal products was abolished and meat started to more regularly work its way into Japanese cuisine.
* In Japan, variety is an important component to a well-constructed meal. Repetition should be avoided.
* Variety in ingredients (fish, meat, veggies, etc.), color (red, white, yellow, green, black), cooking methods (boiling, grilling, deep-frying, steaming, raw), and tastes (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter), are the halmarks of a successful spread.
* It is good manners in Japan to place your hands together and say “Itadakimasu” at the beginning of every meal which translates to “I humbly receive” – a way of recognizing and honoring the gift of the food you are about to eat.
* In the past, people learned to cook from their mother or grandmother, but now young people learn to cook home cooking in school.
Arigato gozaimashita to Natsumi, Toshi, and Yasu for a memorable (and educational) meal!
Itching to learn even more about the ins and outs of Japanese cooking? Den Corner Restaurants (Sushi Den, Izakaya Den, and Ototo) offers Japanese educational dinners and classes (e.g. – sushi making) throughout the year.
Please note: Financial compensation was not received for this post. I was invited by the PR firm working with Sushi Den Restaurants to attend the Japanese home cooking dinner. Opinions expressed here are my own.