Monthly Archives: April 2008

A Universal Palate

As an American munched away at his first sushi, I thought about “a universal palate,” which is a taste that can be shared by almost anyone in the world through food such as good pizza. I don’t know if it should be called “universal” or “global,” however, you’ll see these days more and more travelers with a universal palate who try any kind of ethnic cuisines that they encounter. Ryotaro Shiba, a famous Japanese novelist and historian, wrote about the “universality“ of sushi in his travelogue in America(America Sobyo.) When he was a child and first ate Edomae, Tokyo-style, sushi, it was a sudden hit with him. Sushi was originally from Western Japan and was customarily very fishy(I’ll write about the history of sushi later.) However, the local cuisine had been enhanced by “cool” Tokyo sushi-chefs for over 200 years and became “civilized.” Shiba saw that Americans love sushi and thought that suhi had already been “tested” by the civilization process in Tokyo. Therefore, sushi became popular in the US when exported. A civilization is a prerequisite for good cuisine.

We will see travelers armed with the Michelin Tokyo Guide in the near future. Hope that their global palates will discover the next gastronomic wonder for the world. Let’s try to guess.

 

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The First Sushi Bar in America

Back to 1964, Noritoshi Kanai, 41, who was a co-owner of a Japan-based food exporter, decided to move to the US with his wife and two children. His mission was to cover for his predecessor’s death at his company’s Los Angels subsidiary. He was full of enthusiasm for the evangelization of Japanese food to Americans. Also, he knew that it would be a one-way ticket if he wanted to succeed in business in a foreign country. He started selling Japanese cookies and rice crackers and they sold very well at first. However, the competition became tough because of a number of imitators from other Asian countries. He learned from trial and error that he had to differentiate his products. Meanwhile, he met Harry Wolf, an American business consultant and hired him, whom he was predestined. When they traveled to Japan on business, Kanai took Wolf to a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Wolf was so excited and munched away his first sushi voraciously. This was it! At the time, the song “SUKIYAKI” was very popular. He talked about the idea of serving Edo-mae style Sushi in the US to the sushi master of KAWAFUKU, one of the most well-known restaurants in Little Tokyo in Los Angels. Kanai immediately air-shipped sushi ingredients and started the sushi business successfully. That was the beginning of “sushi bar” in the US.

PS: What made Kanai think seriously of going for the US sushi business was a ¥100, 000 bill they ran up at the Tokyo sushi restaurant during their stay. Wolf secretly ate sushi everyday…and did he wolf.

Acupunctured Fish

We love the freshest fish dishes such as sashimi and sushi. To this end, one aspiring entrepreneur devised a technique that can send fish to sleep and keep them fresh. I read about this in an industrial paper last week. The entrepreneur uses a “three-inch needle” to let the fish become in a state of suspended animation. It takes only a few seconds to “relax” them. The fish never die and keep breathing while they are delivered fresh to customers. The needling can work for the smallest fish to tuna. The entrepreneur came up with this idea when he saw the Chinese acupuncture technique on TV. He studied it himself through books and started to stick a needle into fish instead. More than 2,000 fish were needled before the technique was finally “mastered.” He won a business plan competition in his town and received 7,500,000 yen as seed money. He already acquired a patent for this and started licensing it not only in Japan but overseas. Fish sell at a higher price and purveyors love it, needles to say…

Rice Paddy Art(Tanbo Art)

You might think of the Crop Circle or the Nazca Lines when you are looking down on the rice paddies from the top of Inakadate Village office building. What you see instead is The Mona Lisa or Japanese Ukiyo-e block art on the greenery of the rice paddies. Located in Aomori prefecture in the northern part of Japan, the village “displays” this one of a kind artwork on a huge rice paddy used as a canvas, with green, yellow, purple and red grasses. People from all over the country come to help with the planting in spring and come back for the harvesting in fall. Summer is the best season to visit and see. Let’s check out the artwork and join them this year! Rice to meet you!

Inakadate Village Office website

Aida got a Michelin star in Paris

 Michelin Guide France 2008 was released this month. I read an article that a Japanese chef owned restaurant received one star. Aida, it is a “small Japanese table in Paris” as the article says. Media in Japan also introduced the news to us. Koji Aida, who is 38, is from Niigata!!!, which is my hometown. Good job, Koji! We are very proud of you. Media also told us that the good-looking chef used to be regularly on a long-running famous TV show, “Waratte Iitomo”(Smile as you like) 20 years ago. After that, he moved to France and developed his career in the restaurant industry. He worked so hard in that foreign country and finally opened his own restaurant two years ago. I hope he’ll get another star next year.

 

Aida, your success is already written in the stars. I am here to tell you…

 

Aida  restaurant japonais