Japan: top cuisine

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Joe Dispenza
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Tokyo is the best place to eat, at least according to the 2016 edition of the prestigious Michelin Guide. The capital of Japan, in fact, is the city with the most restaurants reported, as many as 217, of which 13 with the coveted three stars and 51 with two. But you certainly don't need to take the plane and fly to the other side of the globe to enjoy a Japanese menu: sushi and tempura have conquered consumers and the places where to taste them increase visibly. But how to identify the best places that offer the cuisine of the Rising Sun?



In the country there are no more than fifty real Japanese restaurants. "In Milan, out of about 400 Japanese brands, there are more or less 20 really such. Another ten are located in the capital and the rest is scattered here and there, in Turin, in other metropolises and in some tourist resorts ", reveals Annalena De Bortoli, coordinator of theAssociation of Japanese restaurateurs village (Airg). Before booking, check that the chosen place (no "all you can eat", which are a Western invention) has these characteristics. So you will be sure to taste authentic dishes.


Cook and owner prepared

"They do not need to be Japanese, but they must perfectly know the Japanese culinary tradition, know how to select typical raw materials, based on quality and seasonality, and use wisely the preparation and presentation techniques", continues the expert. "At the base of Japanese cuisine there are fresh products: fish, vegetables, rice and other cereals, minus meat. These are processed with 5-6 fermented basic ingredients (such as soy sauce, miso, mirin), used in different doses, combinations and ways, to give different characteristics to the dishes ». To choose without fail check that the restaurant displays the window sticker with an orange fish swimming in a blue sea (it is the logo of the real Jap clubs belonging to the Airg).



 

Attention to detail, not just at the table

 "It is a good sign to find customers from Tokyo and its surroundings (if a Japanese is in the country and wants to feel the taste of home, he will choose authentic places)", explains De Bortoli. "And it is normal for the staff, as well as the menu, to be bilingual. But be careful: you must not find any translation errors on the card. For example, a typical dessert is Dorayaki (not Doraiachi nor Dorayaky) and it must be specified that it is a stuffed pancake, not a generic pastry or pancake. They seem like details, but for Japanese cuisine they are not to be neglected. Another important detail: the dishes, from those of starred restaurants to those of the most popular trattorias, are always presented in seasonal themed dishes and of shape and color in harmony with the ingredients ».

 

No recipes from other oriental cuisines 

"A traditional place will never offer Chinese or Thai specialties, even if they have common ingredients such as soy, rice or sake," says Annalena De Bortoli. "Therefore, avoid places that have chicken with almonds, sweet and sour pork or soy noodles on the menu. No problem, however, if alongside the great classics (such as sushi, tempura, sashimi) you find a list of “unknown” dishes, which vary according to the season ». For example, now that it's winter, root-based soups and stews like taro or renkon and served with sweet potatoes.



Sushi made on the spot 

«This iconic dish can be proposed in many ways, but the real one is prepared with fish cut after ordering for each morsel, paired with rice and seaweed at the top and served immediately, so the flavors do not mix and the seaweed remains crunchy ”, explains our expert. Better still if the "sushiman" (in Japanese "itamae") works under your eyes (as it is used in Japan) and if it has many types of fish, even whole and little known. Salmon, which we use a lot, is not much appreciated in the Far East. AND remember that the vegetables used must also be varied and in season.


 


Cost adequate to the menu 

In a good restaurant you spend an average of € 30-50 per person, if you dine with sushi only. But there are more "in" places, where you can even get to € 20 per morsel, and the simpler ones, where a dinner with several courses costs you less than € 30 and at lunch, with recommended menus, you can eat well even with € 20. "A Japanese-trained chef gets paid like a local cook and the expense for ingredients (excluding the few imported ones) is not necessarily higher ", concludes the expert.


And at the super there is the take away 

In the supermarket, the refrigerated counters offering ready-made sushi are popular. From a safety point of view you can rest assured: the fish has been brought to -20 ° C for at least 24 hours in order to eliminate any parasite larvae such as anisakis (it is a legal obligation that also applies to restaurants). On the package you can also find the packaging date and expiry date. Always read them and, at the time of purchase, check that the slice of fish does not have drier and darker parts, a sign of exposure to the air and therefore of imperfect conservation. «But don't fool yourself into enjoying real sushi like this, because it is not prepared express. It looks more like what you can eat in non-authentic places than in real traditional restaurants », warns Annalena De Bortoli.



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