2005年8月 8日 (月)

Bittersweet life seasoned top chef's cuisine


Bittersweet life seasoned top chef's cuisine


In hot weather, I like my food saltier than usual, and preferably tart, too. This is merely a matter of personal taste, of course, but cooking itself is also very much about adjusting the seasonings. You not only add and subtract, but also divide and multiply--just like in arithmetic.



A recent article in The Asahi Shimbun said that cooking "strengthens" the brain. By cooking habitually, the story said, you improve the circulation of blood in the forehead, which helps enhance your power of judgment and planning. To create the "perfect dish" by adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying the ingredients is similar to tackling a tough challenge, it seems.


Nobuo Murakami died Tuesday at age 84 after having earned fame as the top chef at Tokyo's Imperial Hotel. He once wrote in his book "Murakami Nobuo no Furansu Ryori" (Nobuo Murakami's French cuisine) from Chuokoron-sha, "Cooking is less a matter of technique than using your head."

Given the life he led, the meaning of his remark is not as simple as it seems.


Murakami was born to a family that ran a no-frills Western-style restaurant in the working-class district of Kanda in Tokyo. His parents died when he was young. He went to elementary school on a regular basis only as far as the second term of the sixth grade, after which he began working at a restaurant and attended school when he could. Although the school let him graduate, he was the only pupil in his class who did not receive a certificate because of his low attendance record.


At 67, Murakami was featured on an NHK program, teaching youngsters at his alma mater how to make curry. When the school principal handed him a graduation certificate as a token of appreciation, Murakami filled in the graduation date: March 24, 1934.

He recalled in an article in the weekly Shukan Asahi magazine, "For more than half a century, I never forgot the date of my elementary school graduation--and how I didn't get a certificate."


Murakami's face, round like a frying pan, often crinkled with a laughter that endeared him to many. The cuisine he created was as rich as his physique, and seasoned to perfection with just the right amount of salt--just like his life, which was not always sweet.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 5(IHT/Asahi: August 6,2005)

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2005年6月19日 (日)

Beef safety must take priority over importsBeef safety must take priority over imports


Beef safety must take priority over imports


Shelf space for domestic beef is shrinking daily at meat stores around the country. Only limited selections of beef are available, and the cuts are expensive. The empty space is being filled with pork. Many people are making do with pork for their shabushabu and curry.



U.S. beef imports were suspended 18 months ago after a cow there tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Domestic beef prices meantime have continued to climb, hitting an all-time-high early this month, according to the agriculture ministry. The retail price of 100 grams of chilled sirloin is now about 704 yen, probably the highest ever.


For about a millennium from the Hakuho Period (645-710) to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), beef did not figure in Japan's culinary history.

After Emperor Tenmu, who reigned in the seventh century, issued an imperial edict that banned eating "cattle, horses, dogs, monkeys and fowl," meat-eating gradually became taboo.


The meatless diet dismayed Westerners visiting Japan. In "Nikushoku no Shiso" (Carnivore's philosophy), a Chuko Shinsho pocketbook, author Toyoyuki Sabata mentions Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier's complaint: "I can never fully satisfy my hunger because nobody in Japan eats livestock." Townsend Harris, the first U.S. consul general to Japan, made many diary entries lamenting the absence of beef from his table.


With the lifting of the ban on meat-eating, the Meiji government started promoting meat consumption, but the masses were hardly eager to go along.

Many clapped their hands in prayer and recited Buddhist sutras before they took their first morsel of beef. But the popularization of gyunabe-similar to present-day sukiyaki-helped to establish beef in the Japanese diet.


In America, a second cow suspected of having BSE has been found. This is in the wake of repeated assurances of the safety of U.S. beef from President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, both of whom have pressed Japan to resume beef imports.

America's pushiness makes feel queasy. It's disappointing when gyudon beef-bowl chains don't serve gyudon and you can't order gyutan beef tongue slices at eateries specializing in them. But safety must come first, even if Japan has to be criticized for being as slow-moving and obstinate as a cow.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 12(IHT/Asahi: June 14,2005)

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2005年5月 4日 (水)

Even just learning to eat can take years


Even just learning to eat can take years


One child shook his head, rejecting the spoon that was brought to his mouth. Another stuck out his tongue. Yet another child spat out the food.



This was another typical day at a ward for children with severe disabilities at the Chiba-East Hospital of the National Hospital Organization. All the youngsters there need assistance when they eat or drink. I had an opportunity to watch a mealtime-training session.


A nurse spoke gently to a child to help him relax. Holding his chin, she slowly made him close his mouth to encourage chewing.

"Eating is not an ability humans are born with," explained Yoshiaki Otsuka, a dentist supervising the training. "It's an ability one acquires by learning, step by step. Disabled kids take a long time to learn."


About 30 years ago, dentists who were trying to maintain the oral hygiene of such children realized how important it was to get them to eat, rather than be fed through a tube.

Chiba-East Hospital became a pioneer in this field, and was awarded the President's Prize from the National Personnel Authority late last year.


"Every parent wants his or her children to have tasty food," said Masako Kitaura, who heads a national group to protect severely disabled children.

Her second son loves eel.

When he gets minced eel, he grins happily and gestures for more because he cannot speak. On the other hand, Kitaura noted, her son dislikes anything sour and raises his functioning left hand to push the food away.


When I phoned Chiba-East Hospital last week, I asked what was for dinner that evening, and was told: "Chicken and green peppers in miso sauce, and eggplants stewed with bacon."

I could picture the kids beaming happily at their favorite dishes.

Some of the patients, however, have been around for more than 30 years.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 2(IHT/Asahi: May 3,2005)

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2005年3月28日 (月)

You are what you eat; for Koizumi it's Italian


You are what you eat; for Koizumi it's Italian


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi often displays his keen interest in teaching children the importance of good dietary habits. For two years in a row, he has taken up the issue of dietary education in his policy speeches delivered before the Diet.

What kind of dietary life is he leading himself? Is the prime minister eating properly?



A short column in the morning edition of The Asahi Shimbun offers a kind of diary on what Koizumi does every day. When one looks for entries on his outings for dinner, a clear pattern emerges. Evidently, Italian food is his primary choice. Sometimes, he returns to the same Italian restaurant about once every three days.

With Chinese food his next-favorite choice, he seems to keep a basic cycle of Italian, Chinese and Japanese food by turns for dinner.


As far as the entries I checked were concerned, his dinner outings for Korean, Middle East or Russian food were close to zero. In other words, his pattern was biased in favor of regional favorites.

According to Asahi reporters whose beat is the prime minister's official residence, Koizumi's breakfast and lunch consist of purely Japanese food. For breakfast, he usually dines on rice, miso soup, grated daikon radish and chirimen jako (boiled and dried baby sardines). For lunch, he almost always eats soba (buckwheat noodles).

Other eyewitnesses say the prime minister seems to be particular about what he eats. According to these people, he very much enjoys gyoza (fried meat-vegetable dumplings in flour wrappings), loathes raw vegetables, totally ignores condiments such as daikon pickles and kimchi on the table, and leaves uneaten all the fried pork cutlets when a dish of katsudon (pork cutlets over rice) is placed before him.


Fujiwara-no Michinaga lived in splendor during the Heian Period, which lasted from the eighth to the 12th centuries, but diligently watched what he ate as a sort of dietary therapy for his longtime diabetes. Either overeating or an unbalanced diet made him feel ill.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the health-minded founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, liked to eat barley and advised his retainers to live on a plain diet.


Among postwar leaders, former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, a self-acknowledged gourmet, hired his favorite chefs to work at his official residence and enjoyed sumptuous meals.

In contrast, former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, known for his impatience, had the reputation of going out for casual meals, such as katsudon and ramen noodles.

Indeed, as the old saying goes, a man is what he eats.


Early last month, a cold forced Koizumi to take a rest from his official duties, the first time in his four years in office that he had given in to an ailment. Given that his nose is still running and his sneezes are unstoppable, it seems he is showing symptoms of cedar pollen allergies, or hay fever.

To quote another familiar saying, the food one eats provides the medicine one needs--in other words, eat well to stay well. If only to spread his message of proper dietary education, Koizumi should take a better look at his own diet.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 22(IHT/Asahi: March 28,2005)

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