In the town of Shiogama in Miyagi Prefecture, there’s a residential neighborhood overlooking Matsushima Bay, the epicenter of Japan’s catastrophic March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. On a quiet street there, chef Hideyuki Irakawa and his wife, Michiko, have been serving samurai food from their restaurant,
Chimatsushima, for the past two decades. The smoky, wholesome cuisine has given fighters a nutritional leg up for hundreds of years, but now its varied flavors are tempting a wide array of locals and tourists. The Irakawas have made it relevant for the 21st century by adding touches of artistry that feel distinctive to the Tohoku region; last year, when Miyagi prefecture celebrated its inaugural Michelin Guide, theirs was one of 11 local restaurants to earn an initial star.
Chef Hideyuki Irakawa’s kitchen overlooks the dining room of Chimatsushima.
Photographer: Ross Kenneth Urken
Tohoku, which makes up the entire northeast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, is essentially the country’s New England, with colorful foliage in the fall and extremely snowy winters. It’s also where samurai cuisine rose to prominence in the 1600s, during the important Edo period. Back then, Japan’s prized athletes typically ate a simple diet of miso soup and brown rice to carbo-load for battle. Adding textural variety and strong flavors helped encourage them to consume more grain, so kitchens of the era experimented with adding distinctive, salty side dishes: pickled vegetables and plums, seaweed, and natto, a fermented soybean paste.
Both samurai cuisine and the Tohoku region remain wildly under the radar. Only 1.3 percent of foreign tourists to Japan venture to Miyagi or Tohoku’s five other prefectures—Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, and Yamagata. But some of the world’s most recognized chefs, from Daniel Boulud to David Bouley, have taken a fascination with Tohoku’s culinary history, and Michelin’s support is only catalyzing the prefecture’s reputation as a bastion for top-notch, warrior-worthy eats.
An old samurai house in Kakunodate, a city in Akita prefecture.
Photographer: Ross Kenneth Urken
A variety of traditional tsukemono, or Japanese pickles.
Photographer: David Clapp/Photolibrary RM
The Building Blocks of a Butt-Kicking Diet
The rise of samurai cuisine is largely credited to Masamune Date, a feudal warlord known as the One-Eyed Dragon of Oshu. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, he was the most powerful samurai in Tohoku—but he was also known as a culinary innovator.
To this day, cooks produce a strong red miso made with soybeans and (a mold that replaces malt) that’s fermented and aged at a brewery near the base of Sendai Castle, which Date built in 1593. It’s the star ingredient at restaurants like
Nacrée, a Michelin one-star spot designed by Kengo Kuma. There, Chef Minoru Ogata—a former sous chef at the three-star L’Astrance, in Paris—uses the miso to marinade thick cuts of roasted bacon.
This condiment is also a bit of a status symbol. Eric C. Rath, a University of Kansas professor specializing in dietary cultures of premodern Japan, says that because miso improves with age, it traditionally carried a socio-economic heft among the warrior class. “If you want to demonstrate that you have wealth as a samurai, you bring out a three-year-old miso—it’s like bringing out an aged Bordeaux,” he said.
A selection of mochi, or Japanese rice cakes, includes yukiwari (“snow-breaking) natto in the bottom left corner.
Photographer: Ross Kenneth Urken
Another key element to Tohoku’s samurai diet is (“snow-breaking”) soybean paste, which includes more salt and koji than the traditional version. Versions of the dish have been consumed since the 11th century; it has the texture of caramel and the pungency of a stinky cheese, and is meant to efficiently fill up your belly, restore warmth, and provide the energy for battle. (As a side bonus, it’s also a known-probiotic and immune system booster.) At Chimatsushima, Chef Irakawa serves yukiwari natto with a dollop of red beans and rice—then the whole dish is garnished with gold leaf, lotus root, wasabi, ginkgo nuts, seaweed jelly, and the Japanese citrus .
, or pickled vegetables, are the last pillar of a complete samurai diet. Given the lack of refrigeration, pickling helped the warriors eat vegetables out of season, and the brininess and crunch helped break up the monotony of rice. In Tohoku, the most common variety is made with daikon radishes that are smoldered over chestnut and cherry wood chips, then pickled in rice bran, salt, and sugar for several months. The result is called , or “wood-smoldered pickles,” and it’s more homey and smoky than your typical, vinegary cucumber.
In the Global Spotlight
Kamaishi, a little-visited town in the Iwate prefecture of Tohoku.
Photographer: Getty Images/MIXA
Despite the broader attention, restaurateurs and other hospitality industry leaders have had trouble fully capitalizing on the region’s recent renown, says Elizabeth Andoh, author of
Kibō: Recipes and Stories from Japan’s Tohoku. “To some extent, a shadow of concern still remains regarding the safety of Tohoku’s food and possible radiation contamination.” This sentiment persists, she says, despite Japan’s rigorous food-safety monitoring.
And though the 2011 Fukushima disaster brought much tragedy, it did result in added attention to the region and its food from notable sources: famed chefs Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Patrice Martineau, and Michael Romano all traveled to Tohoku to show solidarity with the region and promote its food. Romano, a chef-partner of Union Square Cafe and director of culinary development for Union Square Hospitality Group, says his visit to the Tohoku town of Kamaishi was “one of the most memorable events of my life.”
The new-found accolades from Michelin are poised to reinforce that message. So, too, is a project called “New Tohoku,” whose aim is to revitalize the region and welcome tourists; it’s run by a government entity called the Reconstruction Agency that’s repositioning Tohoku around its samurai culinary offerings and rich warrior traditions such as swordsmanship.
The Ochanoma Lounge at the Hoshinoya Tokyo.
Source: Hoshinoya Tokyo
Awareness of samurai cuisine is spreading beyond Tohoku. In Tokyo, the new
Hoshinoya hotel was constructed on top of an old samurai house of the Sekai family, and chef Noriyuki Hamada serves his food, including plenty of pickled radishes, on reclaimed wood dishes made from the former structure. At Elements, a Michelin one-star in Bangkok that features French food with hints of Japanese influence, the chef serves . And , the wildly popular fictional series that began streaming on Netflix last year, is about the pickled food cravings of a Japanese retiree with a samurai alter ego.
“All of these communities across [Japan] are scratching their heads: “‘What kinds of foods do we have to draw visitors?’” says Rath, the professor. “In the wake of the 3/11 disaster, accentuating the samurai connection with Tohoku foods certainly places them in a more positive light.”
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-10/in-japan-samurai-cuisine-is-racking-up-michelin-stars Read More
Next year marks an ominous turning point for Singapore’s graying population, according to research by Francis Tan, an economist at United Overseas Bank Ltd. in Singapore.
In 2018, the share of the population that’s 65 years and older will match those younger than 15 for the first time, Tan wrote in a report on Wednesday. As the elderly population starts to crowd out the youth, the “demographic time bomb” may mean changes to taxes, immigration rules, and social services, he said.
“Singapore is facing one of the toughest economic and social challenges since its independence in the form of a rapidly aging workforce and population,” Tan said.
At this rate, seniors in Singapore’s population will make up more than double the share of the youngest residents in 2030. Tan uses a compounded annual growth rate rather than adjusting for potential policy changes or alteration of trends such as fertility rates, meaning officials could still help redraw those lines, or at least make them appear less menacing, over the next decade.
With already the
oldest population in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Singapore of 2030 will probably look a lot like the demographics-embattled Japan of 2016, Tan’s figures show.
That’s all making policy more complicated as the city state seeks to ensure that the elderly population is cared for without curbing the well-being of younger residents.
One way to increase the labor supply would be to ease immigration restrictions, a move that would have to be done at a managed pace to avoid worsening the “foreigner assimilation issue” in Singapore, even though the country can’t afford zero immigration, Tan said. Singapore
tightened rules on the hiring of foreigners in the wake of the 2011 election, amid voter discontent over gridlock and competition for employment, property and education. Few Chefs
Tan uses the analogy of a restaurant’s kitchen for the economy to show how aging threatens growth, and the quality of that output.
“If there are fewer new chefs coming into the kitchen to cook the massive pot of broth (because of low birth rates and low levels of immigration), the existing pool of experienced chefs are aging and retiring, and there is no improvement in labor productivity, the amount of broth (GDP) that will be produced in the next period will certainly be lesser, or worse still, be of inferior quality,” he wrote.
The stark trend also helps explain why Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said tax increases are not a matter of if, but
when. His remarks were echoed by other government officials, suggesting that a boost to the goods and services tax, among other proposals, is being considered for implementation as early as next year.
Tan sees the government increasing the GST next year to 8 percent from 7 percent, with an equal boost in 2019.
While Tan’s warnings carry a dark tone, he’s optimistic that the government has time to enact changes that will mitigate the negative effects of aging.
“The demographic time bomb only starts ticking in 2018 — it does not mean that it will explode yet,” he wrote. “There is still a sizable percentage of working-age population supporting the economy. That said, one will have to understand that this cannot last forever.”
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-06/more-grandmas-means-singapore-time-bomb-ticks-louder-in-2018 Read More
Michelin has delivered some good news to the Bay Area.
Today, the restaurant bible announced the places that it has awarded one, two, and three stars in and around San Francisco. The news had been postponed, due to the wildfires in the area.
There are now seven Michelin three-star restaurants in San Francisco. The newest addition is Coi, a modern, thought-provoking restaurant near the Financial District.
Chef/owner Daniel Patterson handed over kitchen duties to Matthew Kirkley early last year; in response, the restaurant gained a star. “Matthew Kirkley has taken the restaurant to another level,” says Michael Ellis, international director of the . “He can combine sweetbreads and skate. He can serve a dish like sea urchin mousseline with grapefruit caramel. You think, ‘How can that work?’ Yet it does.”
The newly three-starred dining room at Coi.
Patterson agreed. “I’m so happy for Matt,” he told Bloomberg after hearing the announcement. “He’s worked incredibly hard and he’s very deserving. I knew when I hired him he would cook at a three-star level and it’s great to see that hard work truly recognized.”
New York has only six Michelin three-stars, at least for the moment. The 2018 winners will be announced on Monday, Oct. 30. It remains to be seen whether New York will gain any more; the Bay Area seems to be ahead of the Big Apple in terms of creativity and ambitious cooking, and it has an affluent, young, tech-industry workforce that supports this—at least on the higher end.
The Michelin two-star category included mostly good news, too, for the Bay Area. Two restaurants were freshly named: the modern Mexican Californos, in the Mission, and the exceptional, farm-based, Japanese-minded Single Thread, in Healdsburg.
In all, 55 restaurants earned Michelin stars; last year there were 54. That bucked the trend for the area’s inexpensive restaurants—the Bib Gourmands, Michelin’s cheap eats,
listed 67 spots this year, down from 74 a year ago. (For anyone wondering whether the charming, New American Rich Table was taken off that list because it landed a Michelin star this year, the answer is “Yes.”)
Another worthy addition to the list is
Kenzo, the elegant Japanese omakase spot in Napa that’s attached to the winery of the same name. It’s owned by video game mogul Kenzo Tsujimoto, chief executive officer of Capcom Co. Also notable is In Situ, from chef Corey Lee. His restaurant in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art received a star for recreating the world’s most famous dishes from such chefs as Massimo Bottura, David Chang, and Wylie Dufresne.
The extraordinary Single Thread catapulted to win two Michelin stars in a single year.
Photographer: Garrett Rowland
One restaurant that was downgraded from two stars to one is Campton Place. “It went to an all-tasting-menu format, which is fine, but the bar is higher,” notes Ellis. Several one-star spots shut their doors, including Aziza, Mosu, and Nico.
“There’s a lot of high level cooking going on in San Francisco right now,” Patterson says. “It’s at the highest level I’ve seen it. When we opened Coi [in 2006], there was nothing. I’ve seen it go from zero to where it is now. It’s been a remarkable evolution.”
Ellis says we’ll have to wait until the New York stars are announced to see whether San Francisco has emerged as the better food city. “New York has a lot of talent. But there’s a particular, creative energy and almost unlimited ambition coming out of California. There are huge Asian and Mexican influences, access to incredible products both locally and from Japan, and a young, thriving audience. It’s a perfect cocktail of things coming together for the city’s culinary scene.” The full list follows.
(An asterisk denotes a new entry.)
Benu, San Francisco
*Coi, San Francisco The French Laundry, Yountville Manresa, Los Gatos Quince, San Francisco The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena Saison, San Francisco
Acquerello, San Francisco
Atelier Crenn, San Francisco Baumé, Palo Alto *Californios, Mission Commis, Oakland Lazy Bear, San Francisco *Single Thread, Sonoma County
Adega, San Jose
Al's Place, San Francisco Mission Aster, San Francisco Mission Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford Aziza, San Francisco Bouchon, Yountville Campton Place, San Francisco Chez TJ, Mountain View Commonwealth, San Francisco Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville Gary Danko, San Francisco Hashiri, San Francisco *In Situ, San Francisco Ju-ni, San Francisco Keiko à Nob Hill, San Francisco *Kenzo, Wine Country Kin Khao, San Francisco *Kinjo, San Francisco La Toque, Napa Lord Stanley, San Francisco Luce, San Francisco Madera, Peninsula, Menlo Park Madrona Manor, Wine Country Michael Mina, San Francisco Mister Jiu’s, San Francisco Mourad, San Francisco Octavia, San Francisco Omakase, San Francisco Plumed Horse, South Bay The Progress , San Francisco
It takes a team to get a Michelin star: the staff of Rich Table.
Source: Rich Table
Peninsula *Rich Table, San Francisco Sons & Daughters, San Francisco SPQR, San Francisco Spruce, San Francisco State Bird Provisions, San Francisco Sushi Yoshizumi, Peninsula Terra, Wine Country Terrapin Creek, Wine country The Village Pub, Peninsula Wako, San Francisco Wakuriya, Peninsula
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-25/michelin-guide-gives-san-francisco-seven-three-star-restaurants Read More