When I think about what I do and don't know about food, I realise just how much I don't know. Japanese cuisine is one that I am keen to get to know better. Various friends and colleagues have 'got into it' and invested in Sushi sets and the whole 'nother world of stock cupboard ingredients you need to make it well. A friend whose brother spent a few years in Japan took me to the Japan Centre at Picadilly Circus. I was amazed to find a veritable superstore of all things Japanese - fresh noodles and soups, chiller cabinets with ready meals, a world of dry goods and, downstairs, a bookshop.
At the bookshop we bought our friend Sabrina a cookbook on Japanese pub food, Izakaya. It tells you all about the very particular and interesting pub food and culture in Japan and, when I went to a new Japanese pub in Clerkenwell, the Crane and Tortoise in August, I was able to tell my co-drinker all about it! Basically, it's a bit like tapas - lots of fried little snacks with exciting Japanese condiments, like wasabi mayonnaise. We had deep fried octopus balls, pork dumplings, and some more conventional potato wedges:
I also went to check out Ikura on Haverstock Hill with my Belsize Park-dwelling chum Tamara who loves raw fish and raves about the endorphins she gets from it. The restaurant is all sleek black and red interiors, but not at all pretentious and expensive. I'm told the food is very authentic, too. We started with delicious spicy grilled octopus, chewy and smoky, just how I like it.
While Tamara gorged on raw fish...
...I opted for a more low-key brothy udon noodles. It was earthy and... gosh, I don't know if I have the vocabulary to describe Japanese food! It made me think of Murakami books - food always features throughout them and I remember various times when a character has been schlurping on udon noodles in the middle of the night in some 24-hour cafe. That strange, somehow health-giving seaweedy taste, the salty both and the bizarre addition of reconstituted seafood bits; it's all other worldly and evocative of Murakami, which is a good thing.
The food was delicious; words fail me right now, but Ikura was good, wholesame, low key and affordable.
After some more sushi for lunch today I have resolved to learn more about Japanese cooking in 2010 and maybe some of it will end up here!