West Eats East
Ethnic foods are consumed mostly at restaurants or gatherings prepared by catering services rather than cooked at home. Obviously it is for being convenient and economical without buying lots of ingredients and sometimes gadgets, or misinterpreting unfamiliar procedures. Thus ethnic food restaurants wait for adventurous eaters wanting to try something exotic and topical. Really authentic, traditional ethnic eating places can be found but, regarding Japanese food, not many exist nowadays. Japanese restaurants here are mostly in the American style of J-eatery. You may not be able to find exactly the same or similar ones to those found over there. That is due to the supply of ingredients, though many are imported, and adjustment to our comfort, not only to taste itself, but also eating surroundings. Besides, restaurant owners and chefs are often not J-natives or formally trained back home. As mentioned before in this series, traditional sushi people from Japan may get heart attacks when encountering our sushi in appearance, taste and restaurant atmosphere. We are here to eat our beloved but not truly authentic J-food.
The Conventional J-restaurants: Serving sukiyaki not much nowadays, though, tempura, teriyaki more popular lately, chicken or beef bowls and other ethnics like Tonkatsu like pork Wienerschnitzel, and noodles in addition to appetizers of tofu dishes, fried seafood or cooked vegetables. Japanese beer, sake and Shochu are served. If no alcohol beverages it is mostly for to-go or lunch. A vegetarian menu may be in fine letters or at the bottom. Often owned by Japanese or its descendents, and staffed with chefs and part time servers from Japan.
Sushi Bar or Restaurants: Our sushi are mostly rolled ones, with the rice outside and black Nori inside, often covered by Tobbiko fish egg or roe in colors. A variety of rolled sushi is being created like the dragon roll sea eel roll, which does not exist in Japan. In my last trip to Japan, though, I spotted a California roll at a family sushi place. Tuna and salmon are major fish used here, though salmon was not common in sushi 30 years ago in Japan. Today salmon is a staple supplied from nature and fish farms, and found excellent in sushi. In our new trend the traditional Nigiri sushi comes to our market like at a seafood restaurant in Long Beach, CA. Many sushi places are owned by Koreans, Asians or other non-Japanese, who drive this ethnic food business further.
Japanese Bistro: J-Bistro is often named for contemporary, occasionally natural or organic, creative or fusing Oriental restaurants. There black or white soy sauce, miso, Ponzu, Wasabi, or sesame oil are used for flavoring local catches and harvests, serving probably with chopsticks, which entertains customers in taste and presentation. It may fuse with Italian, French, Mediterranean, Chinese, Vietnamese, or other exotic cuisine, creating global, borderless, harmonized dishes. It may be one of the future directions of J-restaurants or J-cuisine here.
Japanese BBQ Restaurants: Everybody loves BBQ meat, though meat eating was forbidden or discouraged by the Buddhist taboo for many years in Japan. Now J-BBQ is all over there along with a style of Korean where their Confucius religion did not ban eating meats. A likely difference between J-BBQ and K-BBQ is that meat in J-BBQ is dipped in seasoning sauces to eat after grilled, while in K-BBQ meat is marinated prior to grilling. A non-smoking BBQ grill is installed at the table, which causes no worry about smoke odor adhering to hair or clothes.
Shabu Shabu Restaurants: This seemed promising some time ago but did not spread widely probably because “sliced meat” must be “cooked by yourself.” Traditionally a pot dish like sukiyaki or fish-seafood Nabe, uses a big pot on a table which is poked by one’s own chopsticks for “eating together.” It may be too foreign or uncomfortable to most of us. Now a small pot with a heating device is available for individual own use. This eating is good to eat slowly with lots of conversation and healthy with thin slices of meat and lots of vegetables.
Izakaya: Like a pub or tapas restaurant, serving small dishes of appetizers or tidbits or snacks or light meals with alcohol beverages. It may be the best place to enjoy traditional family J-dishes over drinks with good friends. Order several dishes to share. Not recommended for a solo individual to eat and drink alone over a newspaper. You would feel really lonely and also it’s too dark to read there. A designated driver needed for going home from there.
Kappo: The traditional Washoku or Kaiseki foods served in a good presentation and serving order at a secluded, fancy Tatami mattress sitting or table room. Take a look at the menu to learn what is served. Generally speaking, quantity is small. Might need to stop at a fast food burger place on the way back to fill still empty stomach, we often joke. You would enjoy food and atmosphere tremendously, in particular if someone else pays the bill.
Ramen: Started from Chinese noodle soup and modified into a Japanese-style with flavors of salt, soy sauce or miso. Popular for convenient lunch or light meal and now at a peak of the J-eating trend. Chopsticks skill needed.