Traveling Chef: Korea and Japan Part I
"Spicy octopus or egg omelet?" said a faint and polite voice.
"Ummm, ... octopus. Thank you," I responded groggily and unaware of the actual question I had been asked.
And with that the seat-back tray in front of me was thrown down and an
airline meal-tray gracefully placed before me. I gazed to my left and
in the aisle a beautiful, petite Korean woman bows and smiles.
"Enjoy your breakfast," she offers.
Yes, that was the first meal I enjoyed on my trip to Asia and it was
quite tasty. Tender octopus and rice with a spicy Korean chili ketchup
served in its own toothpaste-style tube. ( Gotta get some of those! )
Korea was not the destination, just a stopover on the way to Osaka
Japan where I am part of an opening team for another Lawry's Prime Rib,
and while I am very proud to be training another kitchen staff in how
we at Lawry's cook top-quality beef and our signature accompaniments,
experiencing Japan and its unique cuisine and culture is the main
source of my motivation and excitement. Within hours of settling in
Osaka, I was in search of takoyaki, one of many famous Osaka street
foods, and was easily pleased in my savory discovery. Throughout the
shopping and food arcades of the city, these dumplings/donuts are
pan-fried with pieces of slightly chewy octopus and topped with
mayonnaise, shaved dried bonito, seaweed flakes and chili togaroshi
upon request. Five to an order and I ate two orders thank you very
much. And it was only day one at 11 am.
for my curious palate, work began the next day, and I have been
spending a good deal of my time training our newest group of Lawry's
co-workers. Apart from a few hick-ups and mis-communications along the
way, training has progressed very well, and I am consistently impressed
and excited by the drive, curiosity and focus of this staff. They are
young and eager and are quickly picking up the unique recipes, service
and culture that is Lawry's. Tomorrow will be the third day of our
"soft-opening", and I anticipate more improvements and fun.
back to some of the local food. Ippudo, a southern Japanese style of
ramen noodle shop stands to be one of my favorites. Its a chain with
many restaurants around the archipelago and one in NYC that serves
bowls of chewy noodles in a rich pork broth. I prefer the Karaka-men;
ramen noodles with spicy miso chili paste, green onions, peanuts, bean
sprouts, a slice of braised pork belly and half of a soft cooked egg.
This is the nothing but a bowl of 'brow sweating, nose running,
slurping deliciousness! Their gyoza (pot stickers) are fantastic as
well and equally porky.
For a lighter dinner, my American co-worker and I have found a couple
of small Izakayas in our neighborhood that serve the traditional
Japanese pub fare. Ample glasses of Asahi or Sapporo wash down plates
of pickled veggies, sashimi, robata grilled items, edamame, etc.
Typically light, vinegary, seafood-based
and savory, this is food that I have come to love and crave after long
hours of tasting Prime Rib, creamed corn and spinach, Yorkshire
Puddings and the like. Just tonight we found a tiny place nearby run by
three young women, two at the bar and one in the kitchen. The
"dining-room" consisted of five or six seats at the bar and two tables
for four, that's it. Some of tonight's highlights included; the typical
salad of red-leaf lettuce with shaved daikon radish, white onion, and
dried bonito tuna with a white miso vinaigrette; fried pork cracklings
with Japanese chili mayo; kampachi and mackerel sashimi with fresh
wasabi; grilled eggplant and kuri squash with chili miso paste. Yep,
So, that's my accounting of how life has been for the last two weeks.
The day-trip to Kyoto and to a Japanese baseball game were great as
well but its getting late and I have to be in the kitchen early again
- Ryan Wilson