There is a word in Japanese, shoku-iku, that roughly means teaching the importance of food, from appreciation to understanding the role that food plays in society.
The Japanese Food & Sake Collection event this past weekend was a perfect example. It was a celebration of 21st-century Japanese culture with a trade-show-in-a-ballroom feeling that lightened up considerably with drumming, dancing and the consumption of lots of sake, soju and beer. (We were tricked into trying one yuzu-flavored sparkling malt liquor. Shudder.) Vendors and purveyors were offering samples to the 2,000+ attendees -- a huge variety of culinary choices. By no means comprehensive, it really was a terrific insight. And delicious. For instance, who knew apple cider vinegar was popular as a beverage?
We were awed by the beautiful taiko drumming. (Why is that not the trend of the moment? It's a full-body workout.) Flabbergasted by the sushi eating contest: 30 pieces of sushi in less than two minutes, anyone? And deeply impressed with the steampunk machinery the Sushi Chef Institute of Torrance uses to crank out bites of food at warp speed.
Of the random assortment of tasty treats, our hands down favorite was Ikemen's ramen, though Nobu put up a a good showing. Ikemen's noodles were miraculously al dente, but it was the bonito that threw us for a curve. Using what they claim is the only bonito shaving machine in the United States, they turned gloriously smoked, aged and bronzed dried fish into prosciutto-like (cedar-like?) shavings that just blew our minds.
We also learned yuzu can be made into pretty much anything these days.
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Yuzu mayo, yuzu miso, yuzu jell-o, yuzu tea ... the list went on. Get excited, yuzu is here to stay.
Among the 70 booths grouped by prefecture, commodity board and corporation, there were many items not available in the U.S. This gave a lovely peek at the artisan products being made all over Japan. It was like a quick overview of what we're missing by not visiting. Maybe that should be next on our list.
Follow Rachael on Twitter at @ChickswKnives and Facebook.