Bite 9: As time continues to fly by and my departure gets closer and closer, I'm trying to get one last bite of all the flavors I've come to enjoy or find interesting while in Japan. Instead of going on and on about ingredients or my opinion of the dishes (which you could very easily find from other reliable sources,) I'd like to share my thoughts about some typical Japanese food and how strikingly similar the everyday cuisine is to the culture here.
First up, Oyakodon.
Oyakodon is one of my favorite dishes here. It is simple to make and most people usually have all of the ingredients on hand (eggs, chicken, green onion, rice, dashi and mirin.) As a matter of fact, you can even find pre-made oyakodon in most convenient stores here (I ate this one standing outside of a 7-11 today.) Anyway, the really cool thing about this dish is its name: Oya (parent) ko (child) don (bowl.) Maybe I'm over-thinking something so simple. But, one can't deny how truly amazing it is that one animal can be utilized to create two completely versatile foods. For me, eating this dish makes me so much more thankful for simple, delicious comfort food.
The idea of combining chicken and eggs in a dish isn't necessarily Japanese, but adding only dashi and some green onion to it is somewhat befitting of their propensity for eating very neutral tasting food. Also, the existential nature of the "chicken or the egg" causality dilemma, in my opinion, is tied in very closely to Japanese Buddhist culture. A Japanese monk might choose his words wisely when speaking, but would answer the question "Which came first?" by saying something along the lines of "Neither." Which is great for me. That way I won't feel guilty about eating both of them!
Once again, I apologize for not having any pics of my own cooking yet. I actually sent most of my belongings back to the states yesterday, so my apartment is nearly empty. Once I return, Oyakodon is definitely something I intend to cook often. I think I'll kick it up with some Sriracha, white onions, red peppers and potatoes. It'll be called "Mother and Child Fight the Dragon."
Now, let's take a deep breath together and chill out for just a second. I didn't mean to get all Nietzsche on you, but if we're not thinking about where our food comes from, we're walking into an art museum with shades on. We all know that's only ok if you're completely hungover... Speaking of where our food comes from. Japanese people are always very mindful of that and are avid supporters of using whatever local ingredients they can get their hands on. In fact, one of the teachers I used to work with once told me that a dish is only complete if it uses at least 15 ingredients. That may seem like a lot. Well, It is. Now, let's compare that with the average American lunch. How about a tuna salad sandwich with a simple macaroni salad. I come up with about 8, maybe 10 ingredients that are necessary to complete this lunch. Now, let's take a look at the $5 bento I purchased from my local supermarket the other day.
If you look closely (I'll buy a better camera as soon as I can,) you should be able to count upwards of 20 different ingredients. I forget how many were in the rice alone, but I do remember some carrot and konyaku being in there. The reason Japanese people are so caught up on this idea is because they believe that even though you can get the same basic nutrients from two different ingredients, i.e. protein from both shrimp and fish cake, receiving those nutrients from as many different sources as possible is better for you. I concur. If you ask any pro body builder or olympic athlete about this, they'll tell you that their is no shortcut to elite performance. Although there are many successful athletes who use nutritional supplements, they do not substitute them for quality food intake. Check out this link and count the ingredients that were in the most popular dish at the U.S. Olympic Team training center in 2012: http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/nutrition/Americas-meal-ticket-20120801.html. Keep in mind, that was just their main dish!
Another way of perceiving the bento is through the concept of balance, or Wa in Japanese. Wa can mean peace, harmony or balance depending on how it's used. If I had to, I could sit here and try to tell you how each and every one of those ingredients in that lunch box relate to one another, but I won't. Ok... I'll do a few. Fish & beef = Land & sea. Sliced fish & Fish cake = Something old & Something new. Or how about how all of the proteins (aside from beef) are all from the ocean. They're all water creatures, yet they can all be classified into different species. To be honest, you can relate anything to anything. But, when taking a look at such a beautifully composed meal, it's hard not to think that there are hundreds of years worth of thought and tradition that help form such a complex, yet simple web of culinary balance and harmony.
This is what happens when the bento maker goes to work after a night of drinking. I'm not gonna lie, I really couldn't think of a way to fit this picture into the post and have it make sense. But, I figured I'd toss it in anyway. I call it "Good-fry, Japan." First and foremost, it was good. It was damn good. In addition to that, I rarely eat deep-fried food (for obvious reasons.) So, this will probably be the very last meal of this type that I'll eat during the rest of my time here. Good-fry, Japan. Good-fry.
For those that are curious, the two pieces of saturated fat coated unsaturated fat are tonkatsu and a pork croquette. The tonkatsu (top left) is made from pork loin and the croquette has a ham and potato filling.
Note 1: Tonkatsu shouldn't be confused with tonkotsu (pig bone broth.) My last post featured a tonkotsu ramen dish, so I just wanted to clarify for those who are unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine. Also, I'm completely aware that this meal is by no means healthy. But, since I'll be leaving Japan soon and have recently completed a full marathon, I felt I deserved to loosen up the belt for once. Buen Provecho!
Note 2: I'm aware I've fallen a bit off the tentative posting schedule, but I figured it was better to post my most recent material before posting more details about my trip to China and Thailand. Once I've laid out concrete plans, I'll definitely write about them and let you know what my intentions are. The lack of social media access I'll have for a couple of weeks won't be fun, but I think you guys can survive without me for a while.
Next time on Ten Thousand Bites: Opened jar's long awaited China/Thailand food challenge itinerary!