What makes Japanese cuisine unique? What is typical? What can you offer us in Miyabi? This is what the guests asked in the 1990s, and at that time they could probably only compare with the Czech version of Chinese cuisine. Even provincial city restaurants offered it next to goulash and sirloin with cream sauce. Now, twenty years later, when Czech gastronomy is in an incomparably better situation and Japanese cuisine is enjoying growing popularity, these questions are all the more relevant.
Umami and freshness are the number one principle
So, what makes Japanese cuisine outstanding? Definitely the skill to work with the taste of umami and the emphasis on maintaining freshness. The Japanese say that whoever wants to bring the ingredients closer to the guest in its most beautiful form, must know a wide range of raw materials and respect their characteristics, use them in the most delicious quality and above all know the chemical rules of synergy of umami flavor components. Synergy expresses the image of interaction and cooperation. The ingredient does not stand on its own, but can be improved by synergy. Then it emerges and shines. And we can experience the taste of umami as a taste that is written into us. The taste that educates us.
Let’s try spinach. Imagine what happens to spinach leaves when you put them in a pot with cold water, cover it with a lid and cook for an hour. Don’t even try! Spinach stops being spinach. It loses its shape, internal structure and color. Not to mention the taste. I once wrote a column into my drawer called About an Oppressed Spinach. It was a reflection on life in communism. The spinach I knew from childhood and adolescence was a strange paste with an even stranger color. Gray-brown. It was only in Japan that I discovered that spinach are leaves. Green leaves! And I started to like spinach. The discovery of how spinach tastes represented the free world to me. Spinach was respected, spinach was free. Spinach could be spinach.
When I founded Miyabi, one of the first goals was to rehabilitate spinach. On our menu you can find Miyabi historical obento composed of dishes that we have identified as the most popular and therefore the best-selling for the entire period that Miyabi has existed. In one compartment of this obento is the hourensou ohitashi – boiled spinach. So, I succeeded. That’s why I chose spinach ohitashi with sesame sauce as a prominent dish for the fifth part of Retro. The preparation and the resulting taste express great work with the ingredient.
You can make Ohitashi at home. From spinach, bok choy, shungiku chrysanthemum leaves, mizuna or other green leaves. Here’s how to do: Bring the water in the pot to a boil, put the leaves in and let them react with the hot water. After a minute, when the water is not even enough to bubble, get the leaves out of the pot and place directly into the icy water. But do not leave them in cold water for long. Everything harmful and unnecessary has already been leached. As soon as the leaves have cooled down, carefully squeeze them out and straighten one leaf next to the other into stalks about 3 cm thick. Cut them into 5 cm blocks and then place them in a pre-prepared chilled dashi broth. After half an hour, take them out and squeeze them lightly again. Finally arrange them neatly on a plate, not too much or too little. You can pour a little soy sauce over the spinach and sprinkle with katsuobushi shavings and you have food that no one can resist. Spinach lovers will say: Finally, spinach!
Emphasis on four seasons
Another rule that the Japanese will never forget to emphasize is to remember the seasons. The host wants for his guest to bring into the room a picture of nature of a given season. It is recommended to be a bit ahead. When you’re behind, you don’t impress that much anymore. The image can be created by the material itself, but also by a bowl or plate on which you place the food. From the early years of Miyabi, I collected plates and bowls of various sizes and designs to please Miyabi guests. I bought them in Japan and the Czech Republic, sometimes directly from the artists in their workshops. Maybe some container may stay in your memory. It’s a pity that we now have to put seasonally tuned meals in disposable plastic boxes for take away. The experience is half. Often, I have to focus exclusively on the graphic impact of the food itself. Colors help a lot. Colors saved me when choosing the retro food of the final part. Glory to yellow, pink and green! Egg crumbs, white fish crumbs toned in pink and strips of green beans. White freshly cooked rice as a base. Many of you may already know what kind of food it is. Yes – spring soboro bento.
The season in Japan is also beautifully expressed in wagashi sweets. Tea masters order masterpieces in their proven confectioneries to cheer up their guests. From the white bean pasta of shiroan, confectioners, for example, model bunnies with ears. Beautiful are the flowers of sakura, peonies and tulips. I will advise you how to create tulips. You wrap a lump of shiroan in a clean handkerchief, twist it, stretch the shape and when you unpack it, a beautiful tulip will grow in front of you. This time though we chose a more complex wagashi for our weekend offer. Many know it. It is Kimi shigure wagashi slightly remade to Kimi harushigure. Miyabi received this recipe from the Japanese wagashi confectionery of the Goto family at the historic city of Inuyama. We sent one of our chefs there for an experience. He talks about it on his website lambi-sushi.cz. The word shigure is associated with heavy autumn rain and the poet Basho, but rain falls from the sky all year round, and when you add the word “haru”, which means “spring”, shigure turns into a picture of spring rain. You see, in the end, there is a lot of space and freedom when you intend to describe some food. Spring. To make the piece full of spring, I added beetroot essence to the shiroan filling and my okashi took a slightly new face – the pink color blooms from behind the yellow. Kimi shigure wagashi contains egg yolk kimi, which is very unusual. Thanks to the yolk, the surface cracks properly when steamed and you can then imagine drops of spring rain, which may bring moisture to the young plants. Isn’t it beautiful how the Japanese cuisine speaks and refines our imagination? I love it. The world is richer! And we have more fun!
Gomi, Goshoku, Gohou
The principles of gomi, goshoku and gohou also serve as good tools for culinary creation. They are principles of the five. It is easy to remember. In Miyabi, of course, we apply them from the very beginning. They are simple. Gomi points to five flavors. Goshoku for five colors and gohou for five different preparations. If possible, all in one menu. It is a good guide on how to create a harmoniously balanced food that saturates while also providing the body with the necessary vitamins and minerals. What’s more, such food delights not only the taste but also the eye. It is said that half the experience of Japanese feasting is an aesthetic experience. Beauty is beneficial! Japanese cuisine spreads this good news very well.
As you can see, cooking according to Japanese rules has socially instructive potential. Through cooking, we learn to experience, know, understand, honor, stand out and therefore NOT VIOLATE. The ingredients cannot defend themselves. Or maybe they can. They stop giving their gifts. And so please let us be endowed with raw materials in cooperation with our culinary art and daily work.
Let’s be tasty to others like umami and fresh, as much as we can!
Yours, Miyabi Darja