y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: Japanese Dining Etiquette Workshop with Foodstory

Japanese Dining Etiquette Workshop with Foodstory

Happy new year to everyone! The holidays kept me away from posting for a bit, but there are plenty of great topics for 2013, and more on the way for sure.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_c table setting

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_b bowls

Japanese culture always fascinates me, not to mention the cuisine. Recently I went on a Pleasure Palate-organized workshop by Foodstory, both run and operated by Yoko Isassi in a very stylish Downtown LA loft space.

Did you ever wonder the proper way to handle and eat with chopsticks? Where do you place them between bites? What is the right way to eat sushi at a sushi bar? How do you show appreciation for a delicious and artfully prepared Japanese meal?

We learned all this and more on this evening.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_d Yoko

This workshop theme revolved around the kaseiki, a traditional and slightly formal multi-course Japanese dinner. In other words, haute cuisine.

The meal consists of a menu including an appetizer, sashimi, simmered/steamed/grilled courses, served on individual trays. I'd never experienced any type of formal Japanese dining so the etiquette training was new to me.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_l Kiyo Yoko chopstick cover

Yoko moved around the table doing personal demonstrations, such as folding the chopstick wrapper.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_c green tea

We started off with some genmaicha tea, green tea with roasted brown rice. Even though it was a rainy night, the chilled tea felt very refreshing.

Some place settings had a lacquer tray while others had bamboo placemats.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_a prep table

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_n staff in kitchen 2

At the butcher block in the center of the kitchen, Chef Eddie had key ingredients and even dishes set up very neatly. All staff very efficiently worked in the kitchen, cleaned up, served dishes and chatted with much grace and ease.

Meanwhile we received some introductory history of kaiseki dining and learned the proper position and method of splitting chopsticks and putting them to positon in your hand, along with what to do with the paper covers.

I learned that neither the chopsticks nor the bottom of one's cup should be pointed at people.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_f kobachi octopus scallions

Our appetizer of octopus and cooked scallions in miso vinaigrette, inside an orange peel cup, was something our instructor's grandmother cooked often.

This and the following small appetizers are called Kobachi/Kuchitori.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_g kuchitori chicken

A flavorful, juicy pari of chicken meatballs came next.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_h kuchitori chicken cut

We learned proper way of removing them from the skewer, cutting and eating them.

Next came the Wan mono/Ebi Shinjo.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_i soup bowl

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_j wan mono ebi shinjo bowl 2

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_k wan mono ebi shinjo 3

After learning the etiquette for handling hand painted lacquer bowls, we enjoyed our steamed shrimp ball in a clear soup. I particularly enjoyed the yuzu rind inside the broth. We practiced holding the bowl close to our mouths in order to eat more neatly, broke the shrimp ball while also balancing our chopsticks under the bowl, and sipped the broth.

Needless to say these graceful movements did not come easy for any of us, which makes me appreciate this artform even more.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_m nimono yellowtail daikon

The yellowtail fish perched on a slice of daikon also sat in a delicious broth. The daikon really got infused with the fish's flavors.

I noticed here and at other Japanese meals that with these type of dishes, the bloodline (black part of the fish) and some of the fat stays on the fish. The fat contains nutritious fish oils, so I imagine that is part of the reason it is served.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_o sushi 2

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_p sashimi

Moving on to the sashimi plate of snapper and tuna, we covered some ground that I was familiar with - particularly about the wasabi going on the fish rather than in the soy sauce. However, I still had more to learn about eating cleanly without smearing and soaking the fish in a dish with too much soy sauce.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_q sashimi shiso leaf

And what appear to just be garnishes, like the shiso leaf and the pure white daikon are wonderful to also eat.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_s waygu beef roast daikon yuzu kosho scallions ponzu sauce persimmon leaf

In a meal of sashimi and sushi, I wouldn't expect that I'd enjoy roasted beef as much as I did. The combination of the extremely tender, richly marbled Waygu beef with the accompaniments melded together perfectly.

The meal met my favorite criteria of trying something for the first time. The tiny dab on the front center of the plate of the green Yuzu Kosho really packed a punch.

Citrusy and with a fair amount of heat, this paste of the yuzu rind ground with salt and green chili added so much flavor to a dish that would have tasted great with nothing added. The other condiments of thinly sliced scallions, ground daikon and a ponzu sauce off to the side rounded out and cut the beef's richness a bit.

As a beautiful nod to the fall season, the meat was perched atop a lovely two-colored persimmon leaf. Once again, even though this appears as just a garnish, we learned that it has some antibacterial properties that make it ideal for serving rare beef and sashimi.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_e staff in kitchen

The meal progressed on to sushi.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_r sushi

Our tuna sushi in the center, was prepared in the Zuke technique from the Edo period, around mid-19th century. It was marinated in soy, ginger, mirin, deeply infusing an earthy flavor. 

The salmon and yellowtail were also very tasty and the dashimaki tamago, firm egg omelette pieces soaked in dashi stock were the tastiest I ever ate. They were extremely light and moist with a lovely slight sweetness. 

The table got into a discussion about the scene from the film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" where the apprentices cooked hundreds of them before they could perfect it. I've eaten them as a standard in sushi plates, not even knowing how they are meant to feel and taste.

It was a relief to learn that you can eat sushi with your hand, since I am a weak chopstick user. In fact, eating them with your hand at a sushi bar may prompt the sushi chef to pack the rice softer and more loosely in your Nigiri sushi.

At this point the table was getting quite full, and since we learned that it is impolite to leave unfinished food on the plate, because your host/chef takes pride in feeding you the correct amount to be satiated but not stuffed, we asked for a bit smaller serving of rice in our final course.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_u miso rice daikon carrot cabbage pickles

The Nimono course, or simmered vegetable dish, came in 3 parts of rice, soup and freshly made pickles of carrot, daikon.

In between the courses, we learned where the guest of honor would be seated at a table. Yoko briefly touched on the helpful phrase "Itadakimasu" to thank people for the food you are about to eat, and "gochisousamadeshita" to thank them when you finish your meal.

After the meal we asked a few questions at the kitchen, browsed an etiquette book and said our goodbyes.

FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_v etiquette book
Photo showing the use of a sheet of paper to cover discarded food during the meal
FoodStory JapaneseEtiquette Dec12_t yuzu kosho

I asked to see the yuzu kosho which came in this jar.

Yuzu Kosho Dec12

Since then I've purchased this jar for home use and found a recipe to make it fresh. It was one of the many learnings of this delightful workshop.

1 Response to “Japanese Dining Etiquette Workshop with Foodstory”:

  1. Westerners, when eating out in Japanese restaurants, need to understand the basics of the Japanese dining etiquette and modern customs to avoid offending the Japanese by committing dining blunders. If you don’t want to come off as a savage fool, but instead wish to be a grateful and refined guest at a Japanese establishment, be mindful of essential dining taboos and basic rules of Japanese table manners.

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