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Japanese Cooking Lesson

Last night, we were invited to the house of Jun and Tomoko Kurata. Jun works for Lamuz, a Tokyo company which the team at AirEight has known for many years now. Tomoko is his lovely wife.

On my last trip to Tokyo, Jun took me out to a wonderful tempura restaurant atop the Odakyu department store at Shinjuku station. Diners sit at a bar not unlike that in a sushi restaurant, but instead of cutting fish, the chefs are frying small batches of treats and serving them immediately. Lemon juice and four types of salt are provided for seasoning purposes. One of the types of salt was made using green tea and was called, logically enough, shio macha (salt green tea). I found it quite tasty. Later during that trip, I went looking for it at one of Tokyo's best food halls, Mitsukoshi in Ginza, and they looked at me as if I was from another planet.

Me: "Shio macha arimas-ka?"

Mitsukoshi employee: This guy is clearly from another planet.

Last Friday, Jun offered to take Bill and me to dinner, and when Bill heard about the tempura restaurant, we couldn't resist a return trip. Over dinner, I told Jun about my unsuccessful shio macha search. I also talked about my recent and clumsy attempt to make tamagoyaki (egg omelet) at home. (It didn't taste awful, but it looked... unappetizing.) Little did I know where these conversational tidbits would lead.

Sunday, Jun called and offered to have us out to his place for dinner. Not long after 17:00, we were at a train station northwest of Tokyo, with Jun there to meet us and walk us back to his place. Tomoko was waiting for us with cold drinks and warm hospitality. It turned out that there was more of an agenda to the visit than simply dinner and conversation. Earlier that day, Jun and Tomoko had experimented with making homemade shio macha -- it turns out it can't be bought in stores. Not only did they present us each with a container's worth, they brought out the tools necessary to make more so that we could see exactly how it was done.

For the curious, shio macha is easy to make. You'll need a quantity of very dry salt. Jun and Tomoko used alpine salt from Europe. Kosher salt would also work well. You'll also need powdered macha (green tea): one-fifth the quantity of salt you're using will work well. Grind the salt (a hand mixer with grinding attachment works well) until it's the consistency of the powdered macha. Mix the two together and strain them. Presto! Shio macha works well on tempura and would probably work well on many sorts of friend and/or fatty foods. It would probably also be tasty as a rub for grilling chicken and other meats.

Jun and Tomoko weren't done there. Hearing my tale of tamagoyaki woe, Jun conspired with Tomoko to make a fresh batch for us while we were there, using the recipe from his hometown, which doesn't use sato (sugar) as the Tokyo style does. It's too much to describe fully, but suffice to say that everything was made from scratch, including the dashi (soup stock) made from katsuo (bonito), which hardly any Japanese do anymore.

Here's Jun cooking the tamagoyaki in a special pan:

I have decided to blame my earlier failure on my lack of such a purpose-designed pan. That's either the truth or a comforting lie.

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