Modern Mitate at Gion Matayoshi

hassun.gion.matayoshiWriting about food is such a pleasurable experience. While recalling the flavors and reviewing photos from a particular meal, one has chance to re-live the experience. And recently, we had a meal worth remembering at Gion Matayoshi, a tiny ryotei (traditional dining establishment) that was upgraded from one- to two-Michelin stars in 2012. It is the current featured article on Savory Japan.

gion.matayoshi.tsukimiIn the article I talk about mitate, a term used in the world of tea: That rarified, yet omnipresent way of thinking, seeing and living that makes Japan, well, Japanese. I didn’t have the space to explain it fully there, so I will attempt to do so here. Mitate means to “see with new eyes.” To arrange something in a new way so that it represents another idea, form, or time — so as to bring beauty and poetry, as well as a feeling of gratitude — for both. Take, for example, Matayoshi’s opening course, pictured here. What do you see?

What at first glance appears to be an egg yolk is actually a soft sphere of delicate and creamy corn kuzu, topped by two elegant slivers of sudachi rind, immediately bringing to mind the yellow-orange glow of the full moon, adorned with another version of itself,  a crescent moon. Even before Matayoshi set the bowl before us and said, simply “tomorokoshi no tsukimi dango” (corn moon dumpling), we appreciated the poetry, contemplating for a moment the beauty of the moon reflected in a bowl, set gently in a pool of inky sauce, like the night sky.

For those who know what tsukimi dango look and taste like, how radically different was Matayoshi’s version, so much more fitting for the season than a rice cake with red bean paste? But why do I call it modern mitate? Because one could argue that true mitate is always modern because it is new. However, there are plenty of examples in Japanese culture where the mitate itself becomes old. At any rate, I call it modern because it opened our eyes. Not only were the ingredients unexpected — with corn coming from the new world and not traditionally used in Japanese cuisine — but here we could see two phases of the moon at once; a time-shift that we barely noticed at first.

And the taste? Sweet and gentle, like only corn can be, the texture so silky and soft as to barely hold together; the tosa-su (a kind of vinegar) sauce and sudachi lending just the right tart acidity to complement the sweetness. So fitting for the season of the harvest moon of early autumn, when the nights are still warm.

Just think. Four paragraphs just for one dish. Yet, I don’t know if I could properly convey the concept of mitate. The meal revealed more examples of modern mitate, so be sure to read the entire article and view the photos here.

Sushi Kanesaka: Edomae sushi in Ginza

Everyone is talking about the recent movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Have you seen it? I found the movie fascinating, and like everyone else, I dream of being lucky enough to dine there one day. However, reservations are made a year in advance, and according the the movie, it costs ¥30,000 for dinner OR lunch. And as much as I’d like to try what critics call the most delicious sushi in Tokyo, I think I’d feel a bit intimidated by Jiro’s stern presence.

We had a chance to dine at Sushi Kanesaka, another Michelin-starred sushi establishment (with two stars) that is much more accessible and highly recommended. Let’s face it; dining at an elite sushi establishment can be an intimidating experience for visitors, but the welcoming chefs and elegant, comfortable room put you at ease.

There, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch course for far less, and enjoyed classic Edomae (Tokyo-style) sushi in a relaxed atmosphere. Read the article to learn more about what fans call “Kanesaka style” sushi.

Serious tempura from Osaka: Yotaro Honten

We’re back from an extended visit to Japan, where we ventured outside our normal route, sampling soba in Nagano, unusual types of fish in Hagi, and okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. We also tried a few places in Osaka, a regional section on Savory Japan that is woefully underdeveloped. Happily, this time we came upon a place we could energetically recommend: Yotaru Honten, serving Osaka-style tempura for four generations, since 1921.

If it’s tempura, why do we show a photo of a big fish on rice, you ask? Well, the other specialty of the house is taimeshi (sea bream rice), and it’s worth ordering ahead of time. Both rice and tempura are honest, direct and full of soul. This two-Michelin star restaurant is full of integrity. Read more.

Savory Japan for September: Kyubey and Kappabashi

Some of you have noticed that we at Savory Japan spend far too much time in Kyoto. The evidence is right there in the Travel section: 12 articles on Kyoto and only a handful elsewhere. We’re addressing this inequity by shifting the spotlight to Tokyo for the next few months. And what better to kick off the series than a review of Kyubey, a stellar sushiya (sushi establishment) serving classic  Edo-mae sushi?

We also have a photo essay on Kappabashi, a neighborhood comprised of a few blocks centering on Kappabashi-dori (street) that is nicknamed “kitchen town”. If you’re a fan of food, it’s a fun stop on any Tokyo itinerary.

The two articles also sport a new look: heavy on photos and lighter in text, to cater to the trend of readers on the net. But don’t worry, the long, in-depth articles are still there for back-up when you want more information.

I’d be curious to know if you like the new look. We intend to vary the layouts in the upcoming months, depending on the subject.