Friday, February 13, 2009

Adventures in Japanese cooking: Part II

Remember how I said one of the things I wanted to do while living in Japan was learn how to cook Japanese food? Well, I never did progress beyond gomoku gohan before the Japanese cookbook I borrowed was due back at the library.

That was more than three months ago. Since then, I've done little more than let my desire to delve into the world of Japanese cuisine simmer on the backburner.

I realized it was stupid to try to teach myself how to master the art of sushi in the very country where sushi was invented. Why struggle through complicated recipes on my own when I am surrounded by experts who can teach me everything I need to know?

So I decided to sign up for a sushi-making class in Kyoto. For something so beautiful and delicate looking, sushi is surprisingly easy to make.

You just cook up some rice, cut in some vinegar, lay a sheet of nori on a bamboo rolling mat, slap some vinegared rice on it, throw in some fillings, roll the whole thing up and chop it into pieces. Easy!

I decided to fill mine with avocado, cucumber and raw tuna.

Laying it out was easy. Shaping it into a tight, cylindrical roll was difficult. I just couldn't get it right. My sushi was constantly falling apart at the seams. These two deformed specimens ended up on the cutting room floor.

They may not have been attractive enough for the group tray but they still tasted damn good. (The best thing about taking a cooking class is that you get to eat everything in sight.)

Here is a photo of the finished product. I'd probably ask for a refund if someone served this sloppy-looking sushi to me at a real restaurant. But still. Not bad for a group of first-timers!

My only complaint was that the class was a bit too social for my liking. I was paired up with a young Japanese guy whose idea of a conversation consisted of firing question after question at me. I was convinced there was no one on earth who could ask more questions than my dad but Kenji proved me wrong.

Kenji's never-ending questions were meant to show off his vast knowledge of all things non-Japanese. (He was clearly an English conversation enthusiast -- just not the most socially skilled person in the room).

Most of his sentences stated with "I hear" and ended with "is that true?"

For example:

"I hear people in Canada don't eat squid or octopus. Is that true?"

"I hear people in Canada call octopus devil fish. Is that true?"

"I hear people in Canada don't eat rice. Is that true?"

"I hear grownups in Canada don't read comics. Is that true?"

"I hear there is only one week of summer in Canada. Is that true?"

(Was this kid for real? I know he was just trying to be friendly, but come on!)

It went on and on and on like that for most of the night. I spent more time clearing up Kenji's misconceptions than I did learning how to make sushi.

At one point, I managed to escape to the other side of the room. But it didn't take long before Kenji was glued to my side again.

"Can you use chopsticks?" he asked, while I was holding a pair of chopsticks and shoving a piece of sushi into my mouth.

I was completely exhausted by the end of the night. Not from making sushi but from answering Kenji's questions.

It was fun, though. And I took pictures of absolutely everything so I now know exactly what to buy at the grocery store when I attempt to make sushi on my own.

I'm glad I'm finally learning how to cook Japanese food. My goal is to take one cooking class per month. Next on the menu? Okonomiyaki!

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