Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi: Think beyond sushi
All you need to know about Japanese food (and what makes it such a distinctive cuisine), in bite-sized portions
Last fortnight I went to a tempura-only restaurant in Tokyo, where elderly chefs, tempura masters who have spent their lives perfecting the art, served pieces of tempura, fresh from the fryer to guests who sat patiently at a counter waiting for the chefs to decide when each piece of tempura had been perfectly fried and was ready to leave the hot oil.
My slice of onion, covered by a film of batter, was perfect. All too often low-quality onion tempura will unravel in your mouth, the onion’s layers separating into thick chewy strands. But here, the onion kept its shape, it remained sweet and deliciously firm.
I have been to Japan four times (one of which was a food discovery trip) and have eaten at Japanese restaurants all over the world. But I still don’t understand Japanese cuisine. The more I learn, the less I know. There are just too many layers to the cuisine (like everything else in the complex and opaque society that is Japan).
I used to say that it was impossible to eat badly in Japan. I don’t say that any longer. There are 3 lakh restaurants in Tokyo alone. (Yes, three LAKH!) It is not possible for every one of these restaurants to be wonderful. All Japanese chefs are not very good. The percentage of bad restaurants out of the total is roughly the same as say, in Bangkok.
On the other hand, an inexpensive convenience store packaged egg sandwich is not hard to find. As the food writer Matt Goulding has written: “The math doesn’t work out — squishy bread,industrial fillings — but what comes out of those plastic wrappers is glorious. Egg sandwiches from 7-Eleven and Lawson are little miracles of creamy golden yolk and umami-rich Kewpie mayonnaise.”