Travel & Culture

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Japanese culture and lifestyles through the eyes of NHK WORLD personalities

October 1, 2015

Soup, Salad, SATORI: Enlightenment in the Kitchen

Patrick Harlan / Comedian, TV Personality
Patrick Harlan

Patrick, an American comedian known as Pack'n, appears on a wide range of television shows in Japan. He co-hosts NHK WORLD's Dining with the Chef and Doki Doki! WORLD TV.

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Have you ever heard the word SHIOMOMI? It literally translates as "Salt Massage" which sounds like a service provided in the steamy spa of a dusky resort on the shores of the Black Sea. However, it is in fact something you get in a Japanese kitchen. If you are a piece of fish, that is.

Rubbing a piece of fish with salt removes the fishy smell and makes the flesh firmer. The salt massage is a simple technique which makes a huge improvement in one's cooking. There are many of these little tricks which I only learned in a Japanese kitchen. Each was a revelation; they were all steps we American bachelors tend to ignore, like removing excess water from TOFU, rinsing and soaking rice before steaming, or washing our hands before cooking.

Japanese cuisine has gone through centuries of refinement and the ideals toward which a cook strives are quite ambitious. For example, it is said that every meal should be made with GOMI (five flavors), GOSHOKU (five colors), and GOHO (five techniques). Allow me to elaborate.
The five flavors are sweet, salty, sour, bitter and hot. These are also terms that alternately apply to my lovely wife on occasion, but I would never mention that in an international publication like this.
In a related category belong the 5S's. Each S represents a seasoning: SATO (sugar), SHIO (salt), SU (vinegar), SHOYU (soy sauce) and MISO (fermented bean paste). Yes, I know the S in MISO comes in the middle of the word. That drives me crazy, too. Nevertheless, using these five seasonings gives your meal variety, complexity and depth.

In American cooking we pretty much stick to the BS of flavor: butter and salt. And the all-important SS: Super-Size!

The five colors are: white (rice), red (meat), green (veggies), black (sesame, black beans), and yellow (fat, corn and potato starches). The colors represent a balance of nutrition. If you include them all you will get protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals. Plus, the vibrant colors make for a beautiful presentation on the dish, and truly psychedelic stains on your shirt when you spill.

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As far as colors go, however, American food leads the world. Visit any doughnut store or supermarket cereal aisle and you'll see more colors than in a crayon box. Far more than you'll find in nature!

Finally, there are the 5 techniques. They are boiling, frying, grilling/baking, steaming and...wait for it...raw. Once again I can hear the worldwide chorus of objections. "Raw" is not a technique! Moreover, many westerners might protest, octopus, squid, and fish eggs are not to be eaten at all, let alone without cooking them to an unrecognizable crisp!

I used to feel that way myself. Now, however, I am a great admirer of raw seafood. I love the taste and texture and I appreciate that, as a preparation method, "raw" is even quicker and easier than the two principal American techniques: unwrapping and microwaving.

Now you know the "3 Fives," the next step is...don't worry about them. That is the approach of Rika-sensei, the chef on Dining with the Chef. She teaches us how to make simple, quick, authentic and delicious Japanese dishes with no stress or mess. It's amazing and fun and the principles of Japanese cuisine are included without the boring pedagogy. And everything you learn, like the SHIOMOMI salt massage are things you can try out yourself next time you are in the kitchen...or a Black Sea spa resort.

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Patrick Harlan / Comedian, TV Personality

Born in the USA and now one of the best known foreign-born entertainers in Japan, in addition to playing the funny man in comic duo Pack'n Mack'n, Patrick is an accomplished actor, author and TV personality. His Japanese skills, Harvard education and comedy credentials give him the depth and credibility to succeed in a variety of roles. Patrick's solo work ranges from TV dramas to game shows to commercials, from political commentary to picture books.

Question How long have you been in Japan?
22 years, almost exactly half my life.
Question What was your original reason for coming to Japan?
I wanted an overseas adventure before settling down.
I came to Japan to teach English at the suggestion of a friend.
Question What's your favorite scenic spot in Japan?
The Echizen coast of Fukui Prefecture. The monstrous winter waves of the Sea of Japan crashing on the bare volcanic rock cliffs are breathtaking.
Question What's the one thing that's essential to your life in Japan?
My motorcycle and bicycle. Two-wheeled transport in Tokyo is crucial.
Question What is your favorite Japanese word? Please briefly describe what it means in English.
Tsukkomi. It's a comedy technique where you point out a statement's inherent silliness and make the whole scene funnier.

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Doki Doki! WORLD TV

Doki Doki! WORLD TV

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