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Perhaps the Country's Best Japanese Restaurant

Perhaps the Country's Best Japanese Restaurant



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In 2008, The New York Times’ restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, put O Ya at the top of his list of the “country’s best new restaurants.” The following year, Boston Magazine named it “Best of Boston 2009, General Excellence.” More accolades followed. Most importantly though, Jeff suggested that I go there, so I recently visited to see if O Ya could dispel my skepticism about Boston’s culinary scene.

O Ya is pleasant and unpretentious. The menu is divided into two sections. The front features nigiri and sashimi, while the back includes vegetables, meats, salads, soups, and several interestingly named categories: ‘truffles & eggs,’ ‘other stuff,’ and ‘something crunchy in it.’

We ordered omakase, which focused on the nigiri and sashimi. It began with oysters— one of two prominent appearances of this ingredient that seemed strategically timed. Though both dishes featured Kumamoto oysters, they could not have been more different. The first was a summery dish that opened up the palate with bright, delightful flavors: Fresh Kumamoto Oyster coupled with Watermelon pearls and Cucumber Mignonette.

At the meal’s midpoint, just as the memory of the fresh oyster began to fade, the evening’s best dish arrived, Fried Kumamoto Oyster with Yuzu Kosho Aioli and Squid Ink Bubbles. The fried oyster was light and fluffy, but possessed dark, savory flavors. Its squid ink bubbles paired elements of traditional Japanese cooking, avant-garde gastronomic technique, and good old New England-style seafood. The oyster was a masterpiece that melted away mellifluously. It was unlike any oyster I have ever tasted.

The Hamachi with Spicy Banana Pepper Mousse was also enjoyable. Using a sweet, strong ingredient like banana pepper could be audacious, but in this case it brought out the fish’s flavor. A Homemade La Ratte Potato Chip with Perigord Black Truffle was simultaneously a celebration of juvenile delight and seasonal ingredients, and an exultation of Japanese refined elegance. Execution of the Foie Gras with Balsamic Chocolate Kabayaki, Raisin Cocoa Pulp, and a Sip of Aged Sake was exquisite. The dark, thick sake was a sweet, wonderful note after the richness of the foie gras and the bitterness of the chocolate.

O Ya was spectacular. The food was brilliantly crafted and the ambience was wonderful. Service was impeccable and the timing of courses was spot-on. We did not feel rushed, but never waited long for the next dish. Staff members were friendly— our waitress was happy to answer all our questions. And at the end of our meal, we were greeted warmly by Nancy Cushman, the proprietor and sake sommelier, who told us that coincidentally, she had been perusing AlwaysHungryNY.com just hours before.

There is nothing else like O Ya in Boston and nothing quite the same in New York City. The closest comparison would be a combination of Masa and Soto, but drawing these comparisons does not do justice to its unique qualities. While no longer new, O Ya’s innovative cuisine ensures that the rest of the appellation above still rings true. It might just be the country’s best Japanese restaurant.

— Zach Aarons


Perhaps the Country's Best Japanese Restaurant - Recipes

I have visited this restaurant since last year, and surprisingly KIKU stand out to be my favourite place for japanese food. In a month perhaps I could visit this place for 4-5 times.

Their sashimi, tsukune, kimchi, tonkatsu, yaki gyoza, tempura, ramen were awesome, and also the staff are attentive, courteous and efficient. They really makes me and my family felt welcome. I am a hotelier myself, and I felt so much joy and happy everytime the service staff know exactly what is our preferences. They do whatever they could to do an extra miles.

My daughter like a chocolate ice cream, evebthough not in their menu, but the staff do an extra effort by getting it from another outlets.

I believe the management of le meridien should appreciate that they have a good team there . kudos

Apologised that i cant remember all the staff names, but they are all fantastic. Well done kiku !

Thank you for sharing a feedback about your dining experience in Trip Advisor.

We are really happy to know that you had a wonderful time during your visit at Kiku.
I was very pleased to read your comments about the selection of our food from the starter up to dessert.

Once again, thank you for ranking our food and service as outstanding. I will personally pass your nice comment to our culinary team and associates who will be delighted to know they are truly appreciated.

We are looking forward to creating another memorable experience upon your return.

Yours sincerely,
Jack Zhang
Kiku Manager

58 - 62 of 289 reviews

This place is my regular visiting for Japanese food. They have a high quality food and drinks ( especially fresh Japanese beer ) and very smart kind staffs are there so they will make your day unforgettable.
Try it.

Thank you for your review on Trip Advisor.

We are delighted to know that you enjoyed your dining experience with us and I am also flattered to know that you consider Kiku as one of the best authentic Japanese restaurant in Dubai. We really appreciate your comment about the quality of the food and beverage as well as the service of the team provided to you that made your day unforgettable.

Thank you once more for your valued time in writing us a review, and we look forward to have you as our guests again.

Sincerely Yours,
Jack Zhang
Kiku Manager

we always love our visit at kiku.
the food and service are both excellent. very very friendly staff. authentic Japanese ambience, they even have an indoor made up pond to accentuate that zen atmosphere. they have a tepanyaki area for a better dining experience.
best to make a reservation as they are almost always full. tip: if you really wanna go japanese, request for the chef specials. ) top it with sake. enjoy!

did i mention they have very friendly staff?!

Thank you for taking the time to post a wonderful review regarding your recent visit at Kiku on Tripadvisor.

I am truly glad that you enjoyed the ambiance of our Authentic Japanese Restaurant and the quality of the food as well as the service of our staff was up to your expectation.

It is always encouraging for us to know that guests are satisfied with our services as it is what we strive for every day.

Once again, Thank you for your comment and we are looking forward to your next visit.

Sincerely Yours,
Jack Zhang
Kiku Manager

The food at this resturant is very good with a setting that is oriental, service is fast and friendly with good prices.

Thank you for your comments. It is our pleasure to have you as our guest at Kiku. Your comments are greatly received and we are really glad that you liked our food offered, restaurant setting and attentive service provided.

I will ensure that your feedback is shared with the team it is always nice to see the outcome of our efforts.

We are looking forward to welcome you back.

Sincerely Yours,
Jack Zhang
Kiku Manager

My review for Kiku – I am so happy to have found another authentic Japanese restaurant serving delicious dishes and it is this restaurant located in the Le Meridien Hotel. My favourite cuisine is Japanese, so I was ecstatic to see that the restaurant was packed with Japanese guests, this gave me confidence that I was going to enjoy every bit of my dinner.

I ordered three different types of sashimi – hamachi, (yellowtail), salmon and octopus. The slices were large and it was all so fresh.

The smoked salmon salad was refreshing and I loved how the smoked salmon was seasoned lightly so it is not overly salty when I added some soy sauce or sesame dressing.

Finally, the grilled squid was so tasty and the mayo with chilli powder was the perfect sauce to go with it. I usually have it with creamy sesame sauce so I asked for the sauce on the side and found myself only using the mayo.

The rating I am giving this restaurant is 5/5.

I ordered the hamachi sashimi for 86DHS, salmon sashimi for 49DHS, octopus sashimi for 55DHS, smoked salmon salad for 48DHS, and the grilled squid for 45DHS.

I believe that the pricing of the dishes here was normal for the authentic Japanese dishes and the quality of each.

The service that I received was excellent and perfect throughout the whole time we were dining in. Our server, Sherry was on top of her game when it came to clearing our finished dishes and getting our drink orders.

The manager, Jack, was friendly and was always checking in on us to see if we were still happy.

The ambience of the restaurant was inviting and was filled with beautiful Japanese decor. There was outdoor and indoor seating, we sat inside, where we saw the large kimono on display.


Perhaps the Country's Best Japanese Restaurant - Recipes

we've been here a few times now and have never been disappointed. Tasty food, prepared well and service is attentive. Everything else in TV is basically offering Pub Food, so if you want something different give this a try.

65 - 69 of 270 reviews

We went for the first time with a group to this restaurant at Lake Sumter Landing. My partner and I both ordered the shrimp which came with a small house saled, won ton soup, fried rice and stir fried mixed vegetables. All the items were fresh, prepared on the grill cooking surface right in front of us in an entertaining format by a single cook. The waitstaff worked effectively as a team getting our drinks and whatever else we needed. For THE VILLAGES, the prices are slightly high but more than justified for the quantity and quality of the offerings.

My family took our grandmother here for her birthday. We made reservations and they had ice water already at the hibachi table before we got there even some in a Togo cup with a lid for the small child that was with us, since we requested a high chair. Our server was wonderful. Unfortunately I did not catch his name though. The food was good as always. Our hibachi chef was very entertaining as well.


Elevate Your Japanese Cuisine By Learning How to Make Homemade Furikake

The Japanese are experts at elevating any dish with umami goodness, whether they are using seaweed, fish, mushrooms, or one of the many savory ingredients common across the country’s cuisine. But perhaps one of the most versatile sources of umami is furikake. This ultra-savory seasoning is typically a mix of dried fish, seaweed, sesame seeds, salt, and sugar, and it can be sprinkled on everything from jammy soft boiled eggs to a bed of fluffy rice.

Furikake’s first iteration was developed during Japan’s Taishō period by a pharmacist named Suekichi Yoshimaru. The people of Japan were experiencing a calcium deficiency at the time, so he created a blend of dried fish bones, sesame, poppy seeds, and seaweed that was ground into a fine powder. This early product was called Gohan no Tomo, which translates to “a friend for rice.” A food company purchased his formula and sold it commercially, but it wasn’t until Nissan Foods began to manufacture it on a large scale in 1948 that it became readily available. The National Furikake Association was formed in 1959, and furikake was the name given to the category of seasoning.

Furikake is available at Japanese markets and sometimes in the international aisle of U.S. grocery stores. But if you can’t seem to find it or feel like taking on a fun project, it’s really easy to whip up your own. To find out more about how to make this condiment at home, and how to use it in everyday cooking, we chatted with Chef Peter Jin of the newly-opened Wild Ink in NYC’s Hudson Yards.

Wild Ink mixes pan-Asian flavors with worldly influences that Jin comes across on his travels — think dishes like General Tso’s Sweetbreads, Japanese Risotto, and Vanilla-Cured Salmon from the raw bar. He’s used furikake in many of his kitchens, and it’s one of the ingredients in the Salmon Crudo at Wild Ink. “In my opinion, furikake pairs best with fish, whether it’s cooked or sashimi-style,” he says. “But it’s very versatile on savory dishes or snacks. For example, it can be used as a seasoning on popcorn or to season cooked rice for more flavor.”

If you want to spice it up in your own kitchen, check out Jin’s easy-to-make furikake recipe that’ll turn almost anything into a savory, umami-packed flavor bomb.


Nicholas Lander eats at Yumi, perhaps London's most authentic and personable Japanese restaurant

Since my first and, regrettably, only trip to Japan I have come to appreciate the enormous gulf that separates Japanese food eaten there and in the West.

It is not a question of the variety of the fish or the dexterity of the sushi chef. California, New York and several spots in London (most notably Sushi-Say, Kulu Kulu, Shogun and Nobu) have yielded excellent sushi and there is, as of last week, a new branch of Nobu in Paris.

The differences are more fundamental, involving the very freshness of the ingredients, of which the Japanese are rightly obsessive the ubiquity of the sea the importance of custom the change in the seasons and the service which, as a man, I have to admit I find entrancing in Japan itself. I never thought I would experience any of these again without a long journey, that is until last night and the unforgettable pleasures of a kaiseki meal at Yumi, London W1.

Yumi would not look out of place in downtown Tokyo. Although its frontage is very wide by Japanese standards, it looks a bit down at heel from the outside and its interior does not seem to have undergone much improvement since it first opened in 1975. On the way down to the basement dining room the personalised whisky bottles in rows behind glass counters and the shoes neatly arranged outside the three tatami private dining rooms strongly reinforce this impression.

The most significant event in this restaurant's history came in 1985 when it was bought by Yumiko Fujii, or Fujii-san as she is known within its four walls, a woman who combines a charming, youthful giggle with an extensive knowledge of Japanese food and custom and an acute eye for detail. What distinguishes Yumi from its London rivals is not the precision of the service but the relaxed nature with which it is delivered and the personal nature of its surroundings – the walls, for example, are decorated with framed collections of Japanese tortoiseshell hairpieces that once belonged to Fujii-san's grandmother.

And, most importantly, Fujii-san's detailed knowledge of her market. In between our nine-course meal she explained how, contrary to most London restaurants, Sunday evening is her busiest, thanks to the customers who have flown in from Tokyo. (Business apparently gets quieter later in the week after their return.) Supplies are air-freighted to her twice a week from Japan and she supplements these purchases with fish from France and Belgium. Fujii-san strongly lamented the lack of seasonal variety in the offerings from British fish wholesalers.

Such knowledge was gratefully received as only one of our party spoke Japanese and, although I had Richard Hosking's indispensable 'Dictionary of Japanese Food' (Prospect Books £12.99) by my side, the menu, exquisitely wrapped in blue ribbon, was suitably inscrutable.

One of the attractions of such a kaiseki menu over and above a degustation menu offered by a French chef or the tasting menus increasingly popular in New York and London is that the menu, by tradition, follows a rigid pattern of differing cooking techniques that starts with the appetiser, moves on via a clear soup and sashimi to a grilled dish, followed by something deep fried before a simmered dish and finally on to the meal's main ingredient served with rice. The course of a kaiseki meal involves therefore not so much discussing who has chosen the best dishes but which technique the chef has accomplished most successfully.

The appetiser, a timbale of finely chopped scallop, prawn and squid whose flavours were sharpened by a sauce of Japanese apricots, was suitably stimulating whereas the clear soup that followed, made from cured bonito stock, shaved burdock and thin slices of pork fat was pure nourishment and highly restorative. There then followed one of the evening's highlights, sashimi of lobster and blood clam with the purest, most pungent, unusually textured and therefore most expensive wasabi, served on a dish of crushed ice.

The grilled dish which followed, a piece of salmon topped with salmon roe bound in egg which had cooked under the grill produced the highest praise as it encompassed such differing textures: crispy salmon skin, flaky salmon flesh and the crunch of the eggs within the barely cooked egg. It was definitely one of the high points and perhaps explains why the deep fried anchovy and taro paste wrapped in nori seaweed which came next tasted slightly bland by comparison.

There was nothing bland towards the crescendo of the meal: small cubes of sea bass braised in a stock thickened with arrowroot and three kinds of Japanese vegetables vinegared, fried micro whitebait and shredded cured bonito and a main dish comprising three small slices of duck teryaki with miso soup, vegetables and pickles (this was deemed to be the amin course because it was served with rice without which the meal would not have been complete).

I have always been ambivalent about Japanese desserts and a bowl containing cubes of wax gourd braised with white wine and aubergine braised in red, whilst cleansing, did nothing to change my opinion.

With a bottle of sake at £40 my bill came to just over £100 per person. This was certainly expensive but unforgettable and no more than the equivalent with wine in a top French restaurant.

And for three hours Yumi had transported me back to Tokyo, an illusion that lasted whilst Fujii-san and her staff bowed us out of her restaurant. But only until the first taxi stopped. The driver was not wearing white gloves, the uniform of Tokyo taxi drivers, and he could not take us where we wanted to go as he was 'only going south of the river guv'nor'.

Kaiseki dinners from £70, 80 or 90 per person. A la carte £50.

Yumi, 110 George Street, London, W1U 8NX, (+44 (0)20 7935 8320).
Open 7 nights 17.30 – 22.00


How Japanese Immigrants Shaped Peruvian Food

Nikkei cuisine is woven through Peruvian standards from jalea to ceviche. And don&rsquot you dare call it fusion.

At Sen Sakana, a buzzy, newly opened restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, Japanese-Peruvian cuisine is on the menu. In a lofty multi-level space, diners can sample genre-bending menu items like ceviche with shrimp dashi and Japanese curry-filled empanadas. A sushi chef prepares chirashi con choclo (a dish of fish and large Peruvian corn) behind the limited seating sushi bar, slinging cocktails mixed with pisco or topped with katsuobushi. To the untrained eye (and perhaps some Midtown lunch-goers), it all could all add up to the latest, trendiest fusion concept to hit the city. In reality though, the wide-reaching menu is grounded in centuries of culinary history.

You may be vaguely aware of the Japanese diaspora in Latin America. But not many are familiar with the resulting cuisine�lled Nikkei, for the Japanese word for emigrants and their descendants—which is extremely popular far beyond the small population (less than one percent) of Japanese-Peruvians.

The story is nothing new: as long as there have been diasporas, chefs and home cooks have had to feed their communities in new places. And when people make old recipes with foreign and unfamiliar ingredients, the outlines rich new cuisines can begin to take shape. Take, for example, chifa—the food born from indentured Cantonese workers who arrived in large waves in 19th-century Peru. If you’ve had Peruvian food, chances are you’ve encountered the chifa tradition. Lomo saltado, the ubiquitous, vinegar-y stir fry of beef, vegetables and french fries, is firmly grounded in Chinese technique—its sturdy base of potatoes and rice a perfect metaphor for a broader marriage of old and new-world ingredients.

Though there are many more Peruvians of Chinese descent than Japanese, Nikkei is also an established part of Peru’s eating culture. And Sen Sakana co-Executive Chef Mina Newman, a Peruvian-American who earned her stripes in New York under the likes of Drew Nieporent, wants people to know. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s a fusion,’” she laments. “It’s not a fusion. The Japanese families that went to Peru centuries ago, the people born there—they consider themselves Peruvian.” For her, the fusion label trivializes the culture of the Japanese diaspora and their contribution to Peruvian food: “It’s not a fad. This is their life. This is their culture.” And at Sen Sakana, she helps lead a team of Japanese and Peruvian cooks to bring the spirit of Nikkei food into the spotlight.

A confluence of economic and social factors in the late 19th century precipitated the Japanese diaspora to the Americas, and Peru was sometimes advertised as a paradise by Japan&aposs Meiji government. It wasn’t. Recently-independent Peru was still transitioning out of an economy that relied on slavery, and the system of indentured agricultural labor that replaced it was often brutal. In cities, quickly-solidifying racialized divisions of labor meant Japanese immigrants worked menial or labor-intensive jobs while ghettoized in undesirable neighborhoods.

Legal and social discrimination inhibited upward mobility, political participation and paths to citizenship for those of Japanese heritage. But within a generation the Japanese-Peruvian community was embedded in the economic and social fabric of the nation, with high rates of small business ownership and cultural figures like poet José Watanabe and painter Venancio Shinki. And in their kitchens, of course, they were cooking up what would become undercurrent of Peruvian food everywhere, soon breaking into the mainstream of urban restaurant culture.

Growing up in a Peruvian household in New York, Newman wasn’t familiar with the Japanese diaspora in her family&aposs country. It wasn’t until she was older that, during summers spent in Peru, she saw Asian-Americans speaking Spanish in the streets of Lima. When she learned more about Nikkei food, she says, “I was beside myself. I just didn’t know.” She hopes Sen Sakana will provide a necessary counterpoint the explosion of criollo-style Peruvian restaurants in the States. “Peruvian food is so popular,” she says, 𠇋ut it’s so much more than ceviche.”

For the project, she’s enlisted the help of Chef Taku Nagai, who previously helmed the kitchen at Ootoya (where she was a regular). “I used to go all the time,” she says. “I loved how they prepared the rice there. We became friends.” Nagai adds: “She would always order sake, so I eventually came to know her as the ‘good sake customer.’” When she told him her plans to open a Nikkei spot in New York, Nagai was excited to branch out from his strictly Japanese training—“Of course, I couldn’t say no.”

So what is Nikkei food? The lines can be blurry as Newman explains, much of what we think of as Peruvian food has been touched and, occasionally, improved by Japanese cooking. Take ceviche though it’s tempting to imagine Japanese immigrants being welcomed to Peru with a familiar-looking fish dish, Newman argues that modern ceviche actually exists because of them. “In Peru, they used to cook seafood until it was done, done, done,” she says. “They used to cook ceviche for hours.”

In fact, Newman says that most of Peru’s iconic fish dishes were actually made popular by Japanese cooks. Tiradito, the dish of raw sliced fish with aji pepper sauce, is considered a reinterpreted sashimi. Newman says some ingredients that are now staples were popularized by Nikkei cooks, noting that, in her experience, “people never used to use octopus or eel.” The name Sen Sakana, which translates to “one thousand fishes,” is meant to illustrate the seafood bounty in the Peruvian ocean Newman says, bluntly, that “it’s because of the Japanese influence that we’ve learned to handle the fish better.”

Some Nikkei-style fare is now ubiquitous, but most dishes are distinct from both typical criollo home cooking and strictly Japanese cuisine Nagai says the food is “not at all like a traditional Japanese or Peruvian menu.” Broadly, Nikkei cuisine uses Peruvian ingredients prepared through a Japanese lens. Newman points out other notable dishes like pulpo al olivo (octopus with black olive sauce), tempura-style jalea seafood, escabeche (whole fried fish), and the increasing use of local bonito and scallops—which people are now starting to eat raw in all their sweet juiciness, sashimi-style.

In Peru, Nikkei restaurants run the gamut from neighborhood spots serving comfort foods like yaki soba saltado (“like Japanese-style lo mein,” says Newman), to some of the country’s best restaurants—gems of Nikkei fine dining include Osaka 𠇌ocina Nikkei,” with locations throughout Latin America Toshi, whose founding chef Toshiro Konishi moved to Lima from Tokyo in the 1970s and Maido, currently coming in at number 8 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Maido chef-owner Mitsuharu “Micha” Tsumura, born in Lima, recently wrote a book entitled Nikkei es Perú.

Curiously, while Peruvians are increasingly celebrating the influence of the Japanese diaspora, Nagai notes that most people in Japan have no idea. “Unfortunately, the Japanese migration to Peru is not commonly known in Japan,” he says. 𠇊nd as far as Nikkei cuisine, most of people in Japan don&apost know it exists—not even the chefs.” But the word seems to be slowly trickling over, with some notable Japanese chefs spending time in Peru and even setting up shop. �w people know that Nobu’s first country out of the gate was Peru,” says Newman—he spent a few years at El Matsuei in Lima before heading to the US. “When I was a chef at Layla, I would go to Peru and bring back chilies for him.”

Now at the helm of her own kitchen, Newman is working with Nagai to continue exploring the boundaries of Nikkei food. The pair are continuing to experiment with what it looks like to cook Japanese food through a Peruvian lens (and vice versa)—updating Nikkei classics as they go. Their Nikkei Ceviche, which Nagai says “many restaurants serve as tuna in a soy-based sauce,” becomes salmon marinated in yuzu-inflected leche de tigre. They also challenge themselves to make Japanese dishes with Peruvian ingredients, like the quinoa crust that coats their reinterpreted Chicken Nanban. Peruvian touches can be found hidden in the sushi service, from rolls dotted with sweet potato sauce to fish marinated in chica de jora. “The tonkatsu is probably the closest to 100 percent traditional Japanese,” says Newman, but even that is plated with potato salad and salsa criolla. 𠇎very single dish here, we’ve worked on together,” she says. “It’s an equal exchange.”

So the project of Nikkei food is alive and well at Sen Sakana and in markets, kitchens and restaurants across Peru. “The foundation of Peruvian food is still continuously evolving,” says Newman—she hopes, through her cooking, to deepen her guests’ understanding of what Peruvian cuisine can be. Nikkei food can also help us trace what Peruvian food has been, and the politics, ingredients and movements of the people that have shaped it.


Tempura is a dish of battered and fried fish, seafood, or vegetables. Special care is given to the way the ingredients are cut as well as to the temperature of the batter (ice cold) and oil (very hot) for deep-frying, so that every piece is a bite of crisply fried perfection. In the Kanto region around Tokyo, tempura is eaten with a dipping sauce, while in the Kansai region around Kyoto and Osaka it’s dipped in flavored salt.

Yakitori is a dish of bite-sized cuts of chicken grilled on a skewer. It makes use of every part of the chicken — including heart, liver, and even chicken comb — to avoid wastefulness, an important element of Japanese food culture. Unlike other traditional Japanese foods, yakitori has only been eaten since around the mid-17th century, as eating meat was largely taboo in Japan for several centuries.


Karaage is the Japanese method for making superior fried chicken

What strikes me about the Japanese relationship with fried chicken is the frequency of consumption—more often than a once-in-a-while indulgence. In America, eating fried chicken every day is viewed as gluttonous behavior. The same practice in Japan is met with gentler judgment.

Their style of fried chicken is called karaage (pronounce kara-ah-geh), sometimes known as tatsuta-age. And I’m convinced the Japanese have fine-tuned the art of chicken frying better than any culinary culture.

One of the best renditions of karaage I’ve sampled can be found at a downtown Chicago Japanese restaurant called Slurping Turtle (there’s a sister location in Ann Arbor, Michigan ). Theirs is fried in duck fat, and it’s their number one seller for good reason. When I take a bite, it activates the same pleasure centers as the first time I tried the dish five years ago. It’s crackly crisp, juicy as only dark-meat chicken can be, with a tart zing from a squeeze of lemon, and a rich, savory aroma imparted by the duck fat.

I’ve admittedly had better fried chicken that wasn’t prepared in the Japanese style. Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans and Big Jones in Chicago both serve remarkable renditions of the American Southern style. But I can’t replicate their recipes at home, and I’ve yet to find a method that produces a more consistent fried chicken from my kitchen than karaage. (Slurping Turtle’s recipe is at the end of this story.)

“It’s as common in Japan as a slice of pizza here in America,” says Harris Salat, co-author of Japanese Soul Cooking and proprietor of Ganso Ramen in Brooklyn. “The difference is that it’s eaten at both restaurants and at home, because it’s so easy to cook and so damn tasty.”

If you’re not already convinced, allow me to further make the case for karaage chicken:

It almost always uses dark meat. Any time menus proclaim “100 percent white meat” (especially with chicken nuggets at fast food chains), I see it as marketing flimflam duping consumers into believing they’re eating something healthier. If you’re deep frying chicken, you might as well go for the most delicious cut. And that’s thighs and drumsticks. The Japanese will also use wings for karaage, but perhaps tastiest of all is a part of the chicken rarely consumed in America called nankotsu —the crunchy cartilage between the breast meat.

The chicken is cut into manageable and similarly sized pieces. The most crucial consideration of fried chicken is its crispy exterior-to-meat ratio. The default way in Western countries of breaking down a chicken is to divide it in eight pieces, with two wings, drumsticks, thighs, and breasts. What this means is each cut requires a different cooking time—wings take the shortest, breast pieces the longest (though some cooks have taken to dividing the breast pieces in half again). Because karaage pieces are cut into a uniform size, you can cook a whole serving quickly and in one go.

The chicken is aggressively marinated. If certain Japanese food tastes “Japanese,” there’s a good chance it’s the trinity of soy sauce, sake, and mirin. This combination renders marinated foods savory with rounded sweet notes. Karaage gets marinated in this flavoring trio with minced ginger and garlic. Most recipes I encounter suggest the chicken be soaked in this marinade no longer than 30 minutes that’s enough time for the chicken to absorb its bold flavors without becoming over-salted.

The chicken is dredged and fried with potato or corn starch, not flour. In Japan, there’s a robust culture of to-go food served in basements of department stores known as depachika . It’s the indoor, air-conditioned equivalent of street food at an outdoor market—and far more sanitary.

One of the great revelations about these food halls is just how much fried food sits out for long periods and maintains its crispness even at room temperature. One reason: corn and potato starch, the preferred dredge among Asian cooking. Alex Talbot, who co-wrote a terrific culinary science book called Ideas In Food , told me he began using potato starch for his fried chicken because it creates “an almost glass-like crispness” compared to flour. In a blog post , he wrote, “Potato starch is our new best friend… [it’s] extremely light and holds its crispness for hours. Yes, hours. I didn’t think our fried chicken could get better.”

There are minimal accompanying sauces. As much as I love Korean fried chicken (with its sticky-sweet glaze) or Buffalo wings, Japanese karaage allows the chicken to shine and not get lost beneath an overbearing sauce. Typically, a squeeze of lemon suffices, but Kewpie mayo —richer and with more umami flavor than its American mayonnaise counterpart—is also a popular dip.

The best argument for making karaage at home is that it’s considerably less messy and labor intensive than frying whole pieces. Here’s the Slurping Turtle recipe by chef Takashi Yagihashi


Ramen

Ramen noodle dishes are very popular in Japan, with boiled noodles served in differently flavored soup with many toppings. Chefs in Japan usually train very hard to make quality ramen. While you may be used to simply packaged, cheap ramen, making true ramen soup isn't easy if you are making the soup from scratch.


The truth about Japanese tempura

When 16th-Century Portuguese came to Japan, they brought a special dish with them. Today, in Japan, it’s called tempura and has been a staple of the country’s cuisine ever since.

In 1543, a Chinese ship with three Portuguese sailors on board was headed to Macau, but was swept off course and ended up on the Japanese island of Tanegashima. Antonio da Mota, Francisco Zeimoto and Antonio Peixoto &ndash the first Europeans to ever step on Japanese soil &ndash were deemed &lsquosouthern barbarians&rsquo by the locals because of the direction from which they came and their &lsquounusual&rsquo, non-Japanese features. The Japanese were in the middle of a civil war and eventually began trading with the Portuguese, in general, for guns. And thus began a Portuguese trading post in Japan, starting with firearms and then other items such as soap, tobacco, wool and even recipes.

The Portuguese remained in Japan until 1639, when they were banished because the ruling shogun Iemitsu believed Christianity was a threat to Japanese society. As their ships sailed away for the final time, the Portuguese left an indelible mark on the island: a battered and fried green bean recipe called peixinhos da horta. Today, in Japan, it&rsquos called tempura and has been a staple of the country&rsquos cuisine ever since.

No-one knows the exact origins of peixinhos da horta. &ldquoWe know it existed in 1543,&rdquo said Michelin-starred chef Jose Avillez when I met up with him at Cantinho de Avillez, one of his acclaimed Lisbon restaurants. &ldquoBut before that, it&rsquos anyone&rsquos guess.&rdquo

Green beans, it turns out, changed food history.

However, peixinhos da horta was only one of many dishes the Portuguese inspired around the world. In fact, Portuguese cuisine, still heavily overshadowed by the cuisines of Italy, Spain and France, may be the most influential cuisine on the planet.

Portuguese cuisine may be the most influential cuisine on the planet

When the Portuguese turned up in Goa, India, where they stayed until 1961, they cooked a garlicky, wine-spiked pork dish called carne de vinha d&rsquoalhos, which was adopted by locals to become vindaloo, one of the most popular Indian dishes today. In Malaysia, several staples, including the spicy stew debal, hail from Portuguese traders of centuries past. Egg tarts in Macao and southern China are direct descendants to the egg tarts found in Lisbon bakeries. And Brazil&rsquos national dish, feijoada, a stew with beans and pork, has its origins in the northern Portuguese region of Minho today, you can find variations of it everywhere the Portuguese have sailed, including Goa, Mozambique, Angola, Macau and Cape Verde.

Peixinhos da horta were often eaten during Lent or Ember days (the word &lsquotempura&rsquo comes from the Latin word tempora, a term referring to these times of fasting), when the church dictated that Catholics go meatless. &ldquoSo the way around that,&rdquo Avillez said, &ldquo[was] to batter and fry a vegetable, like the green bean. And just to add to it, we called it peixinhos do horta, little fish of the garden. If you can&rsquot eat meat for that period of time, this was a good replacement.&rdquo

The word &lsquotempura&rsquo comes from the Latin word tempora

And it had other functions too. &ldquoWhen the poor couldn&rsquot afford fish, they would eat these fried green beans as a substitute,&rdquo Avillez said. And sailors would fry the beans to preserve them during long journeys, much in the way humans have been curing and salting meat for preservation purposes for centuries.

Perhaps not constricted by tradition, the Japanese lightened the batter and changed up the fillings. Today, everything from shrimp to sweet potatoes to shitake mushrooms is turned into tempura.

&ldquoThe Japanese inherited the dish from us and they made it better,&rdquo Avillez said.

Avillez said Japanese people sometimes turn up at his restaurants and see the fried bean dish and say, &ldquoHey, Portuguese cuisine is influenced by Japanese cuisine.&rdquo He added, &ldquoAnd that&rsquos when I say, &lsquoNo, in this case it&rsquos the other way around&rsquo.&rdquo A Japanese-born sous chef at Avillez&rsquos two-Michelin-starred Lisbon restaurant, Belcanto, even chose to train in Portugal instead of France because he recognised the influence on his home cuisine, particularly in peixinhos da horta.

Avillez said his one complaint about the dish, in general, has always been that the beans are often fried in the morning and so they go cold and limp by the time they get to the table later that day. He remedies this by not only cooking them on demand, but by adding a starch called nutrios that keeps them crispy. After the bean is blanched, it gets rolled in the batter of wheat flour, egg, milk, and nutrios and then flash fried.

Other chefs I talked to in Portugal had their own recipes for the fried green beans, but they didn&rsquot deviate much. &ldquoIt&rsquos a very simple dish,&rdquo said chef Olivier da Costa, when I met up with him at his Lisbon restaurant Olivier Avenida, located in the Avani Avenida Liberdade hotel. &ldquoI use a batter of flour, milk, eggs, salt, pepper and beer,&rdquo he said. &ldquoBeer?&rdquo I asked. &ldquoYes! It ferments the batter and the beer foam gives it a better taste.&rdquo He didn&rsquot have the dish on his menu at the time so I had to take his word for it.

One reason why Portuguese love peixinhos da horta so much, da Costa said, was nostalgia. &ldquoWe all eat it as children and thus have fond memories of it. These days it&rsquos been making a comeback, not just because people are eating more vegetarian food, but because a younger generation are taking more interest in our local cuisine and because they want to be taken back to that simpler time.&rdquo

Avillez is taking this newfound interest in super traditional Portuguese cuisine to a new level. Along with his Japanese-born sous chef, he plans to temporarily offer a tasting menu called &lsquo1543&rsquo, the year the Portuguese first showed up in Japan, offering peixinhos da horta and other Portuguese dishes that have inspired Japanese cuisine. Alongside the Portuguese dishes, he plans to serve the Japanese versions that evolved from the Portuguese presence in Japan four-and-a-half centuries ago.

Each bite was like taking a first bite

Back at Cantinho de Avillez, an order of peixinhos da horta appeared in front of me. They were rigid like pencils with a lumpy texture and a yellow-ish hue. Each bite was like taking a first bite: crisp, light and super flavourful, the crunchy texture of the batter complimenting the sturdy feel of the bean. The dish has been one of the only consistent items on the menu at Cantinho de Avillez, which opened in 2012.

&ldquoI can&rsquot take it off,&rdquo Avillez said. &ldquoMy regulars would be enraged.&rdquo


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