TOKYO -- Chefs and craftsmen came together at a recent event in the Japanese capital to promote the city's traditional food culture and crafting techniques.
The Nov. 16 gathering that focused on "washoku," or Japanese dishes, was held at Kikkoman Live Kitchen Tokyo in the Chiyoda Ward as part of the "Edo Tokyo Kirari" project. According to a spokesperson, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government aims to "polish the traditional skills and masterpieces" passed down from the Edo period (1603-1868), which Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike refers to as "treasures," while adding new perspectives.
"The charms of Tokyo's treasures, such as their refined designs and craftmanship, were rooted in the lives of people in Edo, while other items have highly innovative design," said Koike. She explained that the event was an opportunity to "convey messages on the history and lifestyles that continue to be passed on" by traditional chefs and craftsperson, now aging and becoming fewer in number, to a wider audience under the concept of "old meets new."
-- Naoyuki Yanagihara: Fermented bite-size food craze
At the event, each chef was assigned to create a special menu on the theme "the future of Tokyo and international exchange through dietary culture." Yanagihara Cooking School of Traditional Japanese Cuisine Vice President Naoyuki Yanagihara presented the audience "hassun," an assortment of seasonal delicacies.
"First of all, my theme for the dishes I present to you today is fermented foods. I believe that one of the reasons Edo developed into a major city is due to fermentation," said Yanagihara. He explained that thanks to fermentation, a method which is seeing a burst of renewed interest among the health-conscious world-wide, "condiments such as soy sauce, mirin and miso were created, which is why we can enjoy Edo cuisine that we have today."
At his school, he teaches about Japanese cuisine and "cha-kaiseki," dishes served before tea ceremonies. Holding up a long plate with several delicacies -- a collaboration of fermentation and Edo-yasai, referring to vegetables that were originally grown and cultivated during the Edo period -- Yanagihara explained he used ingredients that are "at their peak harvest time in early winter through December."
"Oden," a hot pot winter food from the Edo period, was the largest item on the plate. Oden derives from the dengaku dance, which was performed during Emperor Naruhito's enthronement ceremony to pray for a rich harvest. Dengaku initially referred to miso-glazed and grilled tofu, which was later replaced by Konjac gel called konnyaku. Ingredients began to be stewed, and dengaku eventually developed into oden.
A type of black soy bean used in the cuisine is one that people in Tokyo often ate before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. "New roads were built and it became easy to get around Tokyo on public transportation, and Tamba black beans were introduced, dominating the area," explained Yanagihara. He also prepared a red chorogi artichoke, which is written in Chinese characters meaning a happy elderly person. According to Yanagihara, chorogi is known as "Gorin-go" in Niigata Prefecture along the Sea of Japan coast. It literally means "after the Olympic games." He added, "So I made this plate wishing for the excitement to continue even after the Olympics."
Other food items included a yakitori grilled chicken skewer, made using Tokyo Shamo chicken produced since the Edo period; a major Edo dish known as "furofuki negi," or boiled green onion, using "Senju negi" green onions; fried sweet potatoes cut in the shape of a ginkgo leaf, the symbol of Tokyo; and lotus root sliced and fried into the shape of a snowflake. He also used "bettarazuke" pickled daikon radish, another fermented food, to sandwich cream and smoked cheese.
-- Hitoshi Arai: Tempura of seafood "caught in Edo"
Hitoshi Arai, second master of the restaurant Kagurazaka Ozashiki Tempura Tenko, presented a dish with colorful tempura, which consisted of a lightly battered deep fried fish caught in Tokyo Bay -- formerly called Edo Bay -- and a shiitake mushroom, with salt made from soy sauce produced by Kikkoman Corp.
His restaurant is one of the few in Tokyo that serves tempura to customers in a tatami room called "ozashiki." Arai, who had been cooking at the venue before his presentation, stated, "For my Edomae-style tempura dish, I used sesame oil to fry sand borer caught in Tokyo Bay, and wrapped it around a skewer, like in the Edo period when they used to serve tempura skewers at stalls."
Another tempura item on offer was a cut shiitake mushroom dipped in the broth of boiled "Shiba ebi" shrimp. According to Arai, the shrimp is called "Shiba ebi" since they were caught in the Shibaura district of Tokyo's Minato Ward back in the Edo period. But fishing for such shrimp mostly stopped in the late 1900s in Tokyo Bay, and the shrimp he used for the event was captured in the Kyushu region in western Japan.
-- Yoshinori Horii: Gluten-free burdock soba noodles
"I had a difficult time deciding on my theme, as I can only provide one dish while everyone is presenting several, but I focused on making gluten-free soba noodles using food that was first produced in Tokyo," stated Yoshinori Horii, CEO of soba eatery operator Sarashina Horii Co.
Horii is the ninth chef to be passed down the skills from a textile merchant that opened a soba restaurant in 1789. He explained that though many people in Japan are allergic to soba made from buckwheat flour, "in Europe and the U.S., there are more people suffering from gluten intolerance." He added, "When considering about the future of Tokyo cuisine, I think gluten-free food would be consumed more overseas."
Though Horii generally uses wheat flower to make his noodles, he used a type of burdock called Takigawa Gobo, initially produced in the Tokyo area during the Edo period. "The soy sauce I use for my usual soba menu consists of flour, but today I'm turning to soy sauce made from green peas provided by Kikkoman," he said.
For seasoning, Horii went with "Naito togarashi" red peppers that were popular among Edo citizens. He also used Senju negi, which used to be grown mainly in Tokyo's Adachi Ward during the Edo period but is currently produced in various places across Japan.
"When you hear gluten-free, its sounds as if the food is intended to be just healthy, but I focused on making a tasty dish," said Horii, who added Tokyo-X pork, which recently became a domestic pig breed in Tokyo, for flavor.
-- Yoshinori Tezuka: With respect to the history of sushi-making
Sushi restaurant Matsunozushi owner chef Yoshinori Tezuka, a fourth-generation chef, has taken over this sushi business established by his great grandfather, who used to sell sushi at stalls. "I prepared three dishes today," Tezuka said, alternating between Japanese and English. He had worked as a ski guide abroad for four years, and has traveled to 50 countries.
Marinated tuna is very traditional, he said while raising a plate with three colorful pieces of sushi topped with marinated tuna, spotted sardine and tomato. Sushi made of not fish but pickled tomato was also served at this year's G-20 Osaka Summit when presenting the dish for the first spouses' program.
Tezuka came up with the idea for the tomato sushi because he felt there was a demand for vegetable sushi as "some sushi lovers in the world" like vegetables as well as fish. "The second one is medium-fatty tuna," he said raising a box full of tuna, which he wrapped in nori, or dried seaweed, together with rice right before handing them out to each audience member.
He apparently chose to pass out tuna using this method because seaweed coming from the Yamamoto Noriten Co., a very famous nori factory in Tokyo, "is very crisp" and he didn't want it to get soggy before being consumed.
For his last dish, he chose sushi made from gently simmered "anago," or salt-water eel, caught in Tokyo Bay. A sauce called "nitsume," made from sea eels, was poured on top of the sushi. According to Tezuka, the sauce was first made by his great grandfather and the same recipe has been passed down for some 100 years.
"When we think about the future, we should respect history," Tezuka explained as the reason why he chose the most popular dish at Matsunozushi.
-- Feasting on a mix of tradition and innovation
While the audience savored the special dishes made by the four chefs for this event, Toshiyuki Yoshimura, president of Toshimaya Corp. that operates a sake shop; braided cord producer Ryukobo Co. owner Takashi Fukuda and craftsman Ryuta Fukuda; and Yohji Hatoba and Shoru Hatoba, artisans of family crest design and painting at Kyogen Inc. took to the stage and presented their products in relation to tradition and culture in Edo and Tokyo.
Gov. Koike visited the venue during the latter half of the event, and had a bite of every dish after thanking Kikkoman Live Kitchen Tokyo staff, chefs and others.
"The Edo Tokyo Kirari project is a mix of tradition and innovation," said Shinichi Sogo, deputy director general of Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs. He explained that the metropolitan government will help those selected as pilot enterprises to "spread their values throughout Japan and overseas, and increase their awareness as a brand from Tokyo." Koike said 17 of such enterprises have been selected as of Nov. 16.
Yoshihiro Murata, chairman of the Japanese Culinary Academy -- chosen as one of such enterprises -- explained, "Most washoku dishes popular overseas are what we call Edo cuisine. Sushi, tempura, soba, and sukiyaki are all Edo cuisine." He added, "In a bid to export more primary food products abroad, we plan to hold similar events across Japan."
(By Rei Oikawa, Staff Writer)