How lucky I was to be invited by my sister, Keiko Arakawa, to a dinner at her house on a day that was two days shy of my birthday. If you have read a couple of blogs related to Keiko, you already know that she is an excellent cook. The dinner was a wonderful family affair attended by Keiko, her husband Yoichi, their sons Kazaharu and Takahiro, Chikako – Kazaharu’s wife of just one week, my husband and me.
The most remarkable part of the dinner was the way in which Keiko designed the menu and the resulting preparations. As you know by now the key to authentic Japanese cuisine is very fresh seasonal ingredients, and Keiko outdid herself to create an amazing meal based on this fundamental principle. At the table she presented me with a large map of Japan showing each of the 47 governmental units of the country: one metropolis – Tokyo, two districts – Kyoto and Osaka, one large island jurisdiction – Hokkaido and 43 prefectures (like the states comprising the US). On this map she indicated the origin of every element, nearly all of them fresh and seasonal, of the dinner. Meats, sea foods, vegetables, condiments, miso and even the sake we drank were shown on the map. In total, the foods at this wonderful dinner came from 24 of those 47 regional jurisdictions that make up Japan! Please click and see the Japanese map.
It was while preparing our meal when she thought that it would be a wonderful idea to identify these ingredients on the map of Japan. She asked her husband, Yoichi, to print out the map of Japan and filled in the location of each ingredient on the map. Here you see the map. After our careful count we found that our meal consisted of ingredients that came from regions of the country stretching from Hokkaido in the north to Kagoshima in the south, and bordering on both the Pacific Ocean and the Japan Sea. We are truly blessed with these many diverse food sources. By thinking this way we could appreciate the efforts of the farmers, fishermen and artisanal producers from all over Japan who made this amazing meal possible.
Here are just some of the menu items and related photos:
Pickled small squid called hotaru-ika (Toyama Prefecture) with mustard miso sauce
Kogomi (fiddlehead fern from Miyagi Prefecture – a region which was hit hard by the recent earthquake and tsunami; Keiko showed her strong support to the local people by purchasing this spring delicacy and serving it at our dinner) with sesame dressing
Grilled fish cake (again, Miyagi Prefecture)
Skipjack tuna (Chiba Prefecture) sashimi with myoga ginger (from Kochi Prefecture)
Beef tataki (Gunma Prefecture) with watercress (Tochigi Prefecture)
Assorted seasonal fresh vegetables – yellow bell pepper (Miyazaki Prefecture), sugar peas (Ibaraki Prefecture), petit tomato (Wakayama Prefecture), cucumber (Gunma Prefecture), eggplant (Osaka District), udo stalk (Nagano Prefecture)
Black breed pork (Kagoshima Prefecture)
Asparagus (Niigata Prefecture, where our parents are from) rolled with thinly sliced pork
The delicious sake that accompanied the meal also came from Niigata Prefecture
Simmered chicken (Aomori Prefecture)
Dumplings with bamboo shoot (Ishikawa Prefecture)
asari short neck clam miso soup (Aichi Prefecture)
Strawberries (Saga Prefecture)
And so it went for ingredients from all of the 24 districts
Among many the dishes that we tasted, the beef tataki and katsuo (skipjack tuna) were excellent examples that can be prepared in your kitchen. Tataki is a form of cooking a meat or fish fillet in which the outside is first quickly seared and the inside is left quite rare; beef (subjected to additional cooking in the oven) and katsuo are delicious when prepared this way. According to Keiko, these recipes came from a web search just as we frequently do today in both Japan and the US. But the quality of her enhanced and modified versions demonstrates her mastery of all aspects of Japanese cuisine and its preparation.
Additional information about Keiko Arakawa: She is an expert crewel embroidery artist. She learned the techniques in America when she and her family spend several years in Rye, New York. When the family returned to Japan she began teaching the art of crewel in Japan. She may have been the first person to bring this very American artisan craft to Japan. Keiko has recently published a book in Japan titled, American Crewel Embroidery (Colour Field Publications). Here is one of her beautiful works – a chair.