It seems that, so far, our time in Japan has been spent exploring and enjoying endless temples and shrines or seeking out and eating some of the best food in the world. We exist mostly in a relaxed, zen state with full bellies. Perfection.
Food in Kyoto is an art form. Tremendous attention is paid to seasonal ingredients, preparation, and presentation. We joined Emi from Uzuki Cooking School to learn more about Japanese cuisine and to create some of the regional dishes ourselves.
The space is small, and intimate, and perfect. We have taken classes in other places and often end up in a commercial looking space with 12 or more other participants. Here it’s just us and Emi in her small, perfectly arranged kitchen.
Emi has thoughtfully constructed an Early Autumn Bento Boxed Meal menu for us that would be perfect for taking to the park for a picnic once the heat of summer finally dies down and the fall colours touch the maple trees in the area.
We start with a glass of ruby coloured shiso juice and get a sense of how the evening will unfold as Emi explains about its ingredients and preparation; red shiso leaves are boiled with sugar and rice wine vinegar to produce the syrup which is then combined with ice and water for serving. It is light, slightly sweet, and a perfect beginning to our lesson.
Arranged on the table, and around the kitchen, are the vegetables, utensils and implements we will use to create our bento boxes. Eggplant, shitake mushrooms, green beans, wasabi and figs share space with soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, and ‘cooking’ sake. The fish and beef are being kept cool in the refrigerator.
There are the bento boxes we will place our finished dishes (a beautiful, red, lacquered version and a more rustic bamboo version), chopsticks, various small plates and dishes, and a selection of graters and rasps.
We quickly get started and move as gracefully as possible under Emi’s careful direction. There are marinades to be made, mushrooms to be stuffed, beef to be rolled, salads to be prepared, and eggs to be transformed into fluffy, rolled omelettes.
Emi works to make sure that we each have something to do and that everything that needs to be done is attended to. She stops regularly to explain about an ingredient, or a preparation, or the history of a dish often referring to a glossary of terms she has provided us or to a Japanese food dictionary to ensure that we understand.
It’s a fabulous evening of learning, conversation, and food that results in a great bento box meal shared with Emi’s home made ume-shu, a Japanese apricot/plum wine that she tells us many Japanese wives prepare, each thinking theirs to be the best. Emi’s was delicious; light and fruity without being too sweet. The perfect ending to a great evening.
Grilled Fish With Sansho
We used buri; a firm fish with a fabulous pinky, red flesh. Sansho berries are look like green peppercorns but have an earthy, citrusy flavour and a numbing, tingly, effect on the tongue. Marinated in soy, mirin, sake and sugar and then grilled, the fish ends up caramelized and tasty.
Despite all the press that Kobe beef gets, Japanese don’t normally sit down to a steak dinner. These beef rolls are a perfect way to enjoy steak without having to haul out the barbeque. Blanched carrots, green beans and gobo (burdock root) are rolled in super-thin sheets of beef and then quickly pan seared with a sauce of soy, mirin and sugar. Cut into pieces they resemble beef sushi rolls.
Fried Eggplant With Shiromiso and Akamiso Sauce
Deep fried eggplant is the perfect delivery system for the quiet flavours of miso. Shiro, or white, miso is a specialty of the Kyoto region; it has a delicate, smooth, flavor. Aka, or dark, miso has a stronger, saltier flavour with malty undertones.
Dashimaki is the special Kyoto version of tamagoyaki, the eggroll we’ve all seen in sushi places. Eggs are combined with dashi stock, mirin and light soy sauce and then cooked into a rolled omelette. This was my favorite part; using a special pan we simultaneously created and rolled the omelette. It ends up fluffy and almost smoky flavoured from the dashi.
Deep Fried Stuffed Shitake Mushrooms
Stuffed with a mixture of finely chopped prawns and ginger, the shitake mushrooms are then deep fried. The resulting sweet, gingery bites are squeezed with yuzu (similar to a small lime) before serving.
When I was a kid my mum would make rice pudding in the oven; we would all fight over the chewy, sweet, milky skin that would form on top. Yuba is the skin that is formed on the top of simmering soymilk. I don’t know if Japanese kids fight over it like we did – I doubt it as yuba seems to be a much more refined part of Japanese cuisine. Here it is rolled up and simmered in a dashi broth.
Autumn Salad With Creamy Sesame Sauce
Fresh figs and mitsuba (almost like flat leaf parsley) are served with a dressing made of sesame paste, dashi broth, mirin and soy. A light, refreshing, salad to accompany the bento.
If you are in the Kyoto area, and are at all interested in the local cuisine, you should definitely connect up with Emi. She can work with you to fit any dietary restrictions or preferences and will give you a window into the amazing world of Japanese food. You can reach her at KyotoUzuki.com
Thank you Emi for such a wonderful evening; it was a pleasure to be a guest in your home.