In Miyabi, under our spiral staircase, there is – a bit put aside – an old wooden barrel. Have you ever noticed? It is a sake barrel and was brought by my friends from Japan to support the Miyabi opening. Unfortunately, the barrel arrived in Prague empty, because at the airport in Tokyo it fell off the transport belt, cracked and all sake spilled out. My friends were informed of the accident before their departure, so they operatively bought new sake in paper packages in the tax-free shop and took the sake as hand luggage. It was still allowed then. That was a quarter of a century ago. We repaired the barrel, poured the sake inside and the grand opening, even with a wooden mallet to open the lid, safely took place. There were other events, more serious, that Miyabi might have put on our shoulders over time, but we have not given up and we are not giving up now in Covid either. Yet. The Japanese proverb reads: Nanakorobi Yaoki. “Nana” is 7. “Ya” is 8. “Korobu” is to fall. “Oki” “okiru” is to rise.
Daruma – a figure to help you get up again
This proverb reminded me of the second gift we received for the opening. Great Daruma doll. As it is common, it was made of paper mache, is red and with white unpainted eyes. He came from Takasaki City, where Daruma, an ancient Buddhist monk, is at home. It is produced there in all sizes. Daruma was supposed to provide Miyabi with perseverance and bring happiness. And of course, prosperity. I dyed Daruma’s left eye at the time, and the other was not to blacken until the wish came true. But I never knew when Miyabi’s wish for prosperity was fulfilled. That’s why my Daruma still has only one eye. Miyabi is still on the road, and prosperity is now somehow far away. Each okiagari Daruma doll is round, and when you poke it, it returns to its original position. Daruma wakes up, straightens up, gets up. I want to be inspired by Daruma, but there are days when it is hard.
Symbolism helps, but Miyabi’s friends also helped in practical ways. One restaurateur from Saitama Prefecture, the owner of Imo restaurant, gave us lacquered food boxes that Miyabi still uses. Surely you know them – from below on the lid is written in the Japanese hiragana alphabet い も. “Imo” means potato. All dishes of this restaurant were made of potato. They grew them themselves. My Japanese restaurant colleague visited us with his friend who owned a restaurant, where there was a beer faucet on every table. The guests poured their own beer into their pints. He had a patent for it. I could not apply their know-how in Miyabi, but their friendship and support were very valuable to me.
A story with a tonkatsu cuttlet wrapped in panko
A completely different help was offered to me by Japanese friends when they introduced me to a lady who wanted to help us as a housewife in Miyabi. She told us that she could make great tonkatsu and her homemade tonkatsu sauce was irresistible. I agreed to include her in my Miyabi staff. We accommodated the lady and her dog in my apartment above Miyabi and I was the mediator between her and Miyabi chefs. She could only speak Japanese. The collaboration lasted several months. Until the summer, when chefs began wearing shorts in the kitchen. Our tonkatsu lady could not withstand their hairy legs and said that she would rather return to Japan. She probably became homesick. Her tonkatsu cuttlet topped with black tonkatsu sauce and served with finely chopped raw cabbage remained in Miyabi. We offer it to you as a reminder of our beginnings and to honor Mrs. Takahashi. Mrs. Highbridge. You are probably wondering what can be special on a Japanese fried pork chop and what she actually bridged for us. I will answer: Her tonkatsu know-how was valuable, because the Japanese tonkatsu is much better than the Czech one. It became famous in the world thanks to the breadcrumbs in which it is wrapped. Panko. Do you know panko? It is a fluffy crumb of white light bread. Maybe I was tempted to have great Japanese tonkatsu for Miyabi offer, because I had previous experience with tonkatsu, straight from the Japanese culinary homeland from Kyoto. I was visiting friends who live in downtown Kyoto in a classic unagi house and I thought they would all be classics. The first place they invited me for food was a tonkatsu restaurant. To this day, I see vividely the chefs frying tonkatsu in front of us guests. The pieces were thick, almost two inches high. And how juicy the tonkatsu was! Yum. We will not manage to do such good Kyoto like tonkatsu in Miyabi, but we will do our best. At least we will make tonkatsu sauce according to Mrs. Takahashi’s recipe. Retro fry cuttlet with retro sauce as a whole menu with misoshiru soup for the retro price of the nineties. It’s all worth remembering. Do you agree?
Karaage as from the Kazukoma restaurant
Besides tonkatsu, we will offer you another fried retro dish this weekend, and it will be karaage. These are chicken pieces marinated in ginger and soy sauce, wrapped in starch. Then fried. It was me who introduced them to Miyabi, because I was sure that people in Czech would enjoy karaage. I enjoyed it at the first meeting and I have a personal relationship with karaage. At the place where I lived in Japan, in Koganei, Tokyo, our neighbors had a restaurant nearby our city station. It was unagi restaurant, but they also had karaage. Karaage was obviously significantly cheaper, so for us young family it was a meal that we occasionally enjoyed at the Kazukoma restaurant of the Watanabe family. I remember the taste of their karaage as if I ate it yesterday and that’s probably why I’m still mentoring my chefs in Miyabi for karaage. Sometimes we have karaage as a lunch menu. There should be a clear taste of ginger in karaage and the chef only has to fry it lightly until golden. Recently, my son Ryo had dinner in Kazukoma restaurant and sent a photo to me. He had unagi. It’s still all the same there. They are sending us greetings! They reported they have to close at eight in the evening and it’s a struggle for them to survive now in Covid.
Wagashi – sweets in harmony
As the third of the goodies of the Retro 2 weekend, I chose kurimanju dessert for you. That’s because it was the first Japanese shiroan bean dessert that guests enjoyed and made orders of. The famous Miyabi kurimanju! We wrap shiroan bean paste with yuzu citrus in a butter crust and bake as oval buns in oven. It can be said that it is a dessert that heads toward the direction of the West (seiyougashi) and thus the Western culture, where the sweets contain animal ingredients such as butter or eggs. Japanese sweets traditionally use only vegetable ingredients. They are called wagashi. Sweets in full harmony. 和菓子. The most typical wagashi is a decorative shape – for instance a flower – and is made of pure bean paste. It’s hard to get that mass out of beans believe me. The process is lengthy and in the last phase, when you combine the bean dust with sugar and the consistence becomes like a hot lava which bubbles from the casserole, you can spoil everything and throw away the mass. Shiroan must not be burned even a little, because it would irreparably spoil the delicate essence of the beans. I’m glad that my chefs have finally come to terms with the fact that shiroan is indeed cooked in Miyabi. Wagashi are permanently on our menu. We are preparing kurimanju only for summer outdoor events and I must say that they are sold first. “Kuri” means chestnut. “Manju” is a round cake. Baked or steamed. Our desert resembles chestnuts, hence kurimanju. Three pieces for the retro price of 55 CZK!
I remember that in cooperation with the National Gallery years ago we offered Japanese matcha tea and wagashi kurimanju under blooming sakura in the Dendrological Garden in Průhonice. How are we going to celebrate Hanami this year? “Hana” means flower and usually means sakura. The “mi” sign indicates that somebody is watching something. Hanami. I wish we could watch the sakura again this year in the company of friends and not just virtually from computers. So, let me virtually paint one eye of the imaginary Daruma doll monk with a blue color like the azure sky of spring, and I look forward to painting his other eye with the same blue at the end of April. In Miyabi we will bake for this occasion kurimanju and bring sake under the flowering trees. It’s good to have something nice in front of us. It’s good to look forward to something.