Exploring Japanese flavours
Luiz Hara is making banana loaf with a home-baked sourdough he’s been feeding for three days. When I confess I don’t know how to re-use some miso I’ve bought, Luiz isn’t surprised. “My friends all love Japanese ingredients, use them once but don’t know what else to make with them. My new book puts Japanese ingredients in everyday dishes.”
The book in question – The Japanese Larder – was two years in the making and required research and endless cooking. It has, by Luiz’s own admission, made him a better chef. Each chapter concentrates on core ingredients and achieving the fifth taste: umami. Filled with easy-to-make dishes, you don’t need to be a whiz in the kitchen to follow them. For example, an umam-irich dashi (Japanese stock) can be made with two simple ingredients in just 20 minutes.
“My training was French, but they use so much dairy and animal fat and it’s much more laborious to do a good stock.Now, the hard work’s already done. Miso and soy bring an intensified flavour, so recipes are quicker and much less stressful.”
Of the seven key Japanese seasonings, five (soy sauce, mirin, sake, miso and rice vinegar) are fermented. Used for millennia, they are confirmed to be super gut-boosting, it’s also a cuisine heavy on veg. “I use fermented ingredients every day. Recently, I had some leftover fillet steak which I used in a dashi to make a broth, then added soy sauce, mirin and udon noodles. It was so tasty, but really quick and easy.”
Luiz points out garlic, balsamic and parmesan have only been part of our culinary repertoire since the 1950s, and he hopes one day, the benefits of Japanese ingredients will be seen in the same light. “Koji is rice inoculated with bacteria, pickles are in so many dishes and part of the psyche, while porcini and dried mushrooms feature a lot. There’s proven scientific benefit and when the gut is healthy, it permeates the body.”
Born in Brazil and raised by his Japanese grandmother, food became an expression of love and affection from his strict, culinary expert nana. “Japanese people can be reserved and a way of showing love comes through food. My grandmother was a disciplinarian, but she was an excellent cook. She was stern and would apologise for being harsh by giving you something delicious to eat.”
A relative late-comer to cooking, Luiz left a job in investment banking to concentrate on his passion. “I’m working my way through a big pile of cookbooks and baking all weekend. I think it’s so much nicer to be doing this!”
NEW ASIAN EATS
From Vietnam to China, dumplings to summer rolls, Stacey Smith proves the capital’s new offerings mean you don’t have to go far for a taste of the Far East.
OSH promises the authentic flavours of the Silk Road, particularly those of central Asian Uzbekistan. At its heart is the robata grill, while a modern skylight encourages a pleasing atmospheric whatever the weather. We shared plates of tuna tartare and black caviar, before tucking into a tower of crispy aubergine dressed in a hacelim sauce. Fighting over the last slither of black cod, we rounded things off with fresh mint tea, served in traditional pots, and an oozing matcha green tea fondant.
Big news across the pond, we were excited to hear this cool New York export has set up shop in Russell Street, bringing their iconic ‘Pac Man’ shrimp dumplings along for the ride. Set across three floors of an old townhouse, the menu features contemporary Chinese dishes designed to share. With two bar options, kick things off on the ground floor with a vodka and sake Martini and end at Toots n Hoots, where NY mixologist Shawn Chen will rustle up a nightcap.
Inspired by the owners’ grandmother’s treasured recipes from 1940s Saigon, Bánh Bánh’s dishes are renditions of these classics. This second site retains old favourites, such as beef in betel leaves, sticky chicken wings and Bánh Khot pancakes, but offers more vegan options in Bánh Tam BУ (noodles in coconut cream) and a pho. Round off your weekend with their twist on a Bloody Mary – the Bloody Mai – a gin-based cocktail with Sriracha, Worcester sauce, lemon and tomato.