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Last Saturday evening I had dinner in a Japanese restaurant. This made me happy because Japanese food is a favorite of mine and I haven’t been able to enjoy it for quite some time.
If this cuisine is on your list of must try someday, you should. Don’t be afraid of a sushi bar. In the first place, sushi is the small rice basket filled with good stuff, not necessarily raw fish. You can pick and chose from all sorts of things. I don’t believe that anyone should eat raw meat of any kind whether it flies, swims, crawls or stomps around on legs. If it grows in a garden or hangs from a bush or tree, okay, otherwise not good for human consumption. There are, however, many different combinations available in a sushi basket that are not only safe but delicious.
I had shrimp tempura, a personal favorite. It consists of several big prawns, cauliflower and broccoli, all delicately fried in sesame oil after being encased in a light batter made with rice flour. The best thing about Japanese cooking is the lightness of it and the minimal amount of oiliness. This is what makes it different from Chinese fare.
Most Americans are familiar with Chinese food. I would imagine it is, with pizza one of this country’s favorite take out food. Just the way it is packaged is fun - all those small cardboard cartons with metal handles. For years, I was loathe to try anything except fried rice, noodles and egg foo young. Then, as a teenager I ventured out a bit and discovered the joy of eating steamed dumplings and rangoons, plus other dishes with great sounding names and ingredients.
It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I discovered Japanese cooking and fell in love with the way it was made and presented. In a modern Japanese restaurant you can still sit at floor level but there are holes in the floor where you can place your legs. This means that the waitresses, in kimonos, have to serve on their knees, doing that graceful folding down you have to be Japanese to pull off. The food is always served in beautiful dishes. The whole thing is ritualistic and elegant. I only regret that I have never been able to master chopsticks. My dexterous daughter prefers them to a knife and fork. She has a personal set with jade handles kept in a case.
The restaurant I attended has standard tables and chairs of a dark, polished wood and the chairs have small castors so you can move closer or further away from the table as your girth dictates. The lighting is all hanging Japanese paper lanterns, the white round ones through which lights softly glow. This caused a large wave of nostalgia to flow over me. I almost cried.
We used to live in a large, wonderfully eccentric house in California. The living room was huge enough to accommodate three sets of furniture plus dining room table and chairs. My kids learned to ride two wheel bicycles in it. For lighting I hung Japanese lanterns of various sizes. I bought them at a ware house in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco where I could purchase all sorts of Japanese dishes and objects of décor. I think I had a set of lotus bowls in every color and size. I also bought bedspreads from India, those large, thin cotton pieces of wonderfully exotic design. These I draped just about everywhere. Someone once remarked that going through my house was like being in Tokyo and New Delhi at the same time.
I grew up in multi ethnic areas. Neighborhoods and businesses were ethnically divided. For example, delicatessens and bakeries were either
Italian or Jewish and both places smelled like my idea of heaven. Butcher shops were usually run by German families. Everyone knew each other well, both customers and proprietors. When you went shopping with your mother, the butcher would always give you a slice of lunch meat and the baker always had a sugar cookie for you. When you were old enough to be sent to the store to get a needed item, there was always a bonus, like two slices of meat, and always, if you stopped in on the way home from school, a sandwich and two cookies.
California and Maine are comparatively homogenous, that’s why I like eating out ethnically. I adore Italian restaurants, not only because I adore the food, but also, because even though I don’t have a drop of Italian blood in my makeup, I have an Italian soul. Whenever I sing Puccini’s Madame Butterfly I can pretend I’m a Geisha eating tempura and pasta.
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