Tuesday, March 16, 2010
No Mercy in this Dojo: A Manifesto
Back in New York, I sometimes went with my mom to little basement Japanese restaurants in Midtown. In these fluorescent-lit dives with cheap linoleum floors and the specials written on taped up strips of paper, homesick Japanese transplants ordered the the kind of everyday comfort foods we always cooked for ourselves when we lived together. There were miso pork chops, crinkly-skinned grilled fish, and plates of curry rice with potato croquettes. It was marvelous. So why were we all underground like some super villain's henchmen on dinner break?
You could blame it on the internment camps and the destruction of Japan towns, the yuppification of sushi or the hippification of tofu. You could blame it on the awkward dubbing on Iron Chef. But somewhere along the way, we got the idea that Japanese food was either an austere and slightly intimidating art to be mastered like a dead language, or a Styrofoam teriyaki bowl at the mall. Restaurants, at least in America, didn't offer much in between. Even talking about Japanese food can be a little uptight and esoteric. Who hasn't suffered through a meal with some aficionado scolding people on how they pick up their sushi? It's like those bad karate guys who picked on Ralph Macchio and messed up Mr. Miyagi's plants. In either of the first two Karate Kid movies. They both involve garden destruction.
If we understand food as the embodiment of a culture, then why would we accept the premise that the people who came up with Mothra and her miniature twin interpreters in matching pillbox hats and minis don't know from fun? Japanese food, like Japanese people, has a variety and a vitality that is seriously underrepresented outside of Japan. In this blog, I will share the things I am eating in here in Tokyo and on the road, high and low and in between, because so much of it is so very good. And yes, Mothra was female. She had a larvae, remember?