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When Japanese and local foods collide

2 November 2009 2,446 views No Comment

Japanese cuisine has long captivated the world with its healthy and tasty food, long known for its emphasis on seasonality, quality of ingredients and meticulous presentation.

While Japanese may be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, many non-Japanese people including Indonesians are not really into traditional Japanese food, especially its raw delicacies such as sashimi.

For many non-Japanese, its dishes’ intense flavors and use of oil can be excessive.

However, non-Japanese can still enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine in a different way – by combining it with local cuisine, says chef Hirohisa Koyama, the owner of Basara (a Sanskrit word meaning diamond) Japanese restaurant.

Historically, some Japanese dishes were derived from imported foods (mostly from Asia and Europe) and adapted to suit local tastes.

“The interaction between Japanese and Indonesian cuisine has been happening for many years. So, Indonesians can be creative in serving traditional Japanese-Indonesian food,” Koyama said.

“We, for instance, have nato (fermented soybeans), while Indonesia has a similar food called tempeh.”

Some authentic Japanese vegetables, he added, have even been planted and produced in Indonesia, such as wasabi, cherry tomato and okra.

Food ingredients such as tofu, miso (fermented soybean paste), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes, used to make soup broth) and konnyaku are also available.

“The key is adding local ingredients or sauces to Japanese dishes,” Koyama said.

“I’ve learned that Indonesians are really fond of spicy food and like to add sambal to their cuisine. So, you can just simply put sambal on Japanese food,” he added.

Koyama, who was in Jakarta for the launching of his restaurant, recently tutored a cooking workshop held at the Japanese Embassy at an event called the 2009 Jak-Japan Matsuri, at Basara restaurant on Jl. Sudirman, in South Jakarta.

During the event, Koyama demonstrated his skills in combining both Japanese and Indonesian recipes into one.

For instance, he made tempura (deep-fried vegetables and seafood in a thin coating of batter) served with sauce consisting of crushed daikon (radish), lemon water, shoyu (soy sauce) and sake. However, he then added some sambal to the sauce to give it a spicy taste.

“You can just use bottled sambal sauce, which is available at supermarkets, because it is much simpler than making sambal by yourself,” Koyama said.

To enjoy the dish, slice the fried vegetables and seafood and dip it into the sauce.

The tempura tasted crunchy and was not greasy. The spicy sauce went well with the sour of the lemon water and the sweet of shoyu.

Almost all boiled and stir-fried vegetables and meat are seasoned with shoyu to give a distinctive flavor, Koyama said.

The soy sauce is the “miracle” seasoning of Japanese cuisine, and is indispensable for enhancing savoriness and adding aroma and flavor to dishes.

Besides tempura, Koyama also demonstrated how to cook sukiyaki, a very popular one-pot meal in Japan.

Younger generations, however, tended to be reluctant to try the original beef-based dish, which tastes very sweet, Koyama said.

“Nowadays, people prefer to eat modified sukiyaki, more than the original dish. Many people are influenced by Italian food, so they put tomatoes into it,” he said.

During the event, Koyama made a special sukiyaki by combining Japanese and Indonesian recipes.

First, he fried chopped garlic and onions with olive oil in a pan, then added some sliced tomatoes, sukiyaki sauce (a mixture of shoyu, mirin and sake), sliced beef, Japanese basil leaves and spicy sauce.

“No need to worry about the sake which contains alcohol, since the alcohol will evaporate during the cooking process,” Koyama said.

“For the spicy sauce, you can add as much as you like, depending on how much you like it hot.”

The sukiyaki was really delicious. The beef was so tender and the sauce was really tasty, a combination of sweet and spicy, and was completely different to sukiyaki you would find in other Japanese restaurants in Jakarta.

Born in Tokushima, Shikoku, the 60-year-old chef studied culinary arts in Osaka and has been passionately following simple old recipes from his hometown and modifying them to create palatable dishes for modern tastes.

Koyama is the third-generation owner of a century-old family restaurant, Aoyagi. His own recipes have been well received by diners, which inspired him to establish Basara restaurant in 1986.

His passion in the culinary world is reflected in his cookbooks, including Koi Suru Ryori Nin (A Culinarian in Love) and a best-selling book in France and Germany, titled Saveurs Du Japon.

Koyama also served several Japanese dishes rarely found in Jakarta, aiming to introduce Indonesians to a wider range of traditional home-cooked Japanese foods, ranging from snacks and appetizers to desserts.

In a corner of the restaurant, visitors could enjoy konyaku with miso. The konyaku was skewered onto bamboo sticks, dipped into dashi (stock usually made from dried bonito) and kombu (seaweed). The konnyaku was chewy, and well matched with the miso.

Visitors could also enjoy dorayaki (a pancake-like cake with a red bean filling).

Other dishes ranged from ringo no soup (apple soup), grilled sweet potato, wasabi cake and satsuma imo (sweet potato ice cream).

Somen (noodles) were one of the foods that grabbed many people’s attention, since the dish was presented in a unique way.

Using bamboo chopsticks, noodles were flung into boiling water. Visitors watched enthusiastically as Koyama “caught” the noodles with his chopsticks.

The white noodles are served with dipping sauce (made from soy sauce and mirin) and are usually accompanied with side garnishes such as fresh ginger, green onions, wasabi and sesame seeds.

source from:www.thejakartapost.com

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