Friday, December 11, 2009

I think I'm cooking Japanese I really think so: Nabe Hotpot @ Japan Society



Pictured above: With author and Japanophile Harris Salat and his book "Japanese Hotpots: Comforting One-Pot Meals" - music to a busy bachelorette's ears

A month after returning from Japan, my obsession with it continues.

Not only did I spend a good 60 New York minutes (= 10 outer-borough minutes?) browsing a book about Geishas in Takashimaya, pleaded a Japanese friend to bring over some cute cat-shaped dust-collectors, trekked across town in driving rain to eat okonomiyaki at Otafuku, and indulged in a few other things I'd rather not mention ...  I invested $22 to attend the Japan Society Hotpot lecture.

I say "invested" because any casual Googling of the words 'japanese hotpot' or 'nabe' will reveal a ton of easy recipes and how-to you really don't have to pay for. Basically, cut up whatever you want, heat stock in a large casserole pot - preferably iron or clay - put the two together, and close the lid.

$22 would have bought me a pretty decent sushi with the works at a restaurant, but there I was, sitting in the large, spacious lecture theater of the Japan Society NYC surrounded by an extremely diverse audience. All ages, stages, majors, wages.  Ah, food, the glorious equalizer, socializer and tranquilizer.

I'd already invested a princely $180 in a nabe pot lugged all the way from Kyoto. As you can read, some strangeness with it make me wonder if I've bought a piece of sculpture rather than a cooking utensil, but no matter.

The presenters were Tadashi Ono of Matsuri restaurant NYC, and food journalist Harris Salat of the Japanese Food Report - authors of Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals.

There really wasn't a lot to talk about, and that's what was nice about this lecture - against a rotating backdrop of evocative shots from the pair's "truth-in-nabe" excursion to  Japan, the cavernous theater shrunk to the size of a living room; the two large pots bubbling away on the stage and screen made you feel you were peeking over the stove in an adjoining kitchenette; the aroma that gradually filled the space above our heads seemed to heat it up as well, though this could have been my imagination.



The nice thing with a nabe pot is that you don't need to stir the ingredients - the pot itself becomes like a little stovetop oven, cooking everything evenly and remarkably quickly once the clay or iron gets going. Also, the pot takes on the flavors of the food over time, which only adds to the excitement, a bit like progressively seasoning your unglazed Japanese green teapot.

Since they were up on stage in front of a paying audience, they probably felt a little pressured to "present and instruct" at first, but gradually, they just relaxed and more or less small talked over the food, allowing the bubbling sounds and wafting smells to deliciously flavor periods of  silence - turning it into a nice, settle-back-in-your-chair with a glass of sake gathering.

Afterwards, we all filed out for a taste of the two hotpots on offer - a little cold by the time we got there but no less delicious. A renowned local potter Jane Herol stood out because she replaced the two plastic bowls with her own handmade items. What a great ad! I'm sure she could have taken orders on the spot, judging by the way people flocked around her, including the presenters. She'd spent a lot of time in the pottery district of Toyko, studying techniques. I invited her to swing by and inspect my nabe pot to see if she thinks it can handle the recipes in this book. We might save up and go to Matsuri!



More Japan on a Friday and even more Japan than you can stand at my Bike Friday in Japan 2009 report

Pictured left: I bought back a couple of these 99 yen ($1.10) sesame seed grinders you see in most ramen places, like here at Ippudo in Fukuoka.  I have a black one loaded with black sesame seed  and a white one loaded with white. Aside from my Kyoto nabe pot they are my prize possessions and means I end up putting sesame seed on everything under the sun. And moon ...


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