Andrew’s world in Japan 2018/June

Artist & researcher based in KL since 2009, passionately exploring the creative process & connecting with other creative people.

Miso for the Win

Emerging from Edogawabashi the most striking landmark is the Mizuho Bank building. Just a short five-minute walk around the corner from where Bunkyo-ward and Shinjuku-ward meet you will find a simple classic red and white-checkered tablecloth establishment. It could be they are keeping true to the origins of the style or just following the standard. The interior and design was not my priority, although this look almost made me feel the jubulience of being in a park on a nice summer day for a picinic. In ‘the city that never sleeps,’ you can find whatever you need. Where many walks of Tokyo life converge, these streets, side streets and back alley’s of these two wards offer endless twists and turns into magical slices of Tokyo new and old. Here I was, sitting down to order a most delicious plate of miso katsudon.

For those not in the know, there is a special branch of Japanese cuisine that linguistically shows its foreign origins. In this instance, many of these meals are ‘yoshoku,’ offshoots of European based dishes. More like a set meal, not the usual ‘course’ menu of formal Japanese cuisine, these recipes gained popularity during a time when Western culture finally managed to get its foot in the door in a big way. Possibly about 140 years ago during the Meiji era is the beginning. ‘Yoshoku’ dishes include but are not limited to omurice, hayashi, croquette and of course tonkatsu.

Today you can find many of these available in a variety of shapes and sizes from 7 eleven to fancy high-end sit down restaurants. These simple and delicious meals come with some of my favorite sides, Japanese pickles (tsukemono) and miso soup. Altogether, with some rice and katsudon, I’m usually fulfilled. Top an already oiishi perfectly fried pork schnitzel with some miso sauce and you will find me singing in the streets. Probably not really what the locals are interested in seeing though.

For the uninitiated, Miso is a fermented salty savory soybean paste traditionally used in both Japanese and Chinese diets. It can be used to create sauces, spreads, pickling vegetables or meats. Another of my favorites is the perfectly simple mixture of dashi soup stock with miso served as a soup. Some of the benefits of miso are believed to be that consumption helps stimulate digestion as well as energize the body. Since you are reading Senyum, most likely you already know this. The dish called ‘donburi’ is the rice bowl foundation for katsudon. The word katsu means “win” prompting many Japanese to have meals with katsu before many an important event, exam or match. Leave it to superstition to help keep a delicious meal going. However you look at it, this meal is definitely a win for Japanese cuisine regardless of the origins. The combination of onions, egg, breaded fried porkchop over rice topped with a thick umami-rich miso gravy leaves me feeling happy and satisfied.