Meet Aki Nakagawa, a Japanese woman who is crazy about Russia and holds master classes in Japanese cuisine in Moscow and Russian cuisine in Tokyo. Poster Daily asked Aki-san about how the Japanese gastronomic culture differs from the Russian one and why you need to pack your food beautifully with you.
Aki Nakagawa – philologist by education; For a long time she lived in Moscow, where she became acquainted with Russian culture. He is currently teaching the basics of Russian cuisine for the Japanese and Japanese cuisine courses for Russian speakers at the Tokyo Cook Coop Book School.
– You work at the junction of two different cultures. Is there much in common between Russia and Japan?
– There definitely is a total. Many Japanese say that Russia is the good old Japan that we have lost. This is not all said, of course, but older people who love Russian culture.
– Why do you teach Russian cuisine in Japan? Is it in demand?
– The idea of Russian cuisine in Japan is superficial. Most Japanese only know “bursitis” (borsch) or “pyroshiki” (pies). Unfortunately, they are not preparing them as in Russia. For example, borsch in Japan is simple tomato soup. Beetroot appeared in Japan recently – just sixty years ago, for us it is an exotic and expensive vegetable. And we make pies in the Japanese manner – fried, with a typical Japanese filling. Stereotypes are strong that Russian cuisine is something fatty and heavy, with a small number of vegetables. It’s a shame to hear this because I really love Russian cuisine. It is still considered unusual. Perhaps that is why young girls come to my master classes who know little about Russia. It’s nice that they are coming back. Therefore, you need to constantly learn something new. I am familiar with professional chefs in Russia, but I like learning more from amateurs, housewives tell interesting subtleties, which I then use in lessons.
– The word “cook” in Russia is consonant with the process of cooking – to cook. In Japan, the master in the kitchen is “itamae”, literally translated – the master of cutting. What is the peculiarity of the Japanese approach to cooking?
– That’s right, itamae is a master, first of all, mastering the cutting technique. Japanese knives are very sharp and delicate cuts. The taste should not be revealed on the cutting board, but in the mouth. This is the harmony of Japanese cuisine. There is a tradition that young chefs cannot pick up a knife for the first three years, they observe the master and prepare the products. And this is also very important. Any Japanese chef will tell you that the taste of the dish is 90% dependent on the quality of the products. The same kind of fish caught in different seasons or in different seas will differ percentage of fat, cooking time and even taste.
When I started conducting masterclasses in Japanese cuisine, I immediately realized that I was poorly versed even in the basics. Of course, I am self-critical, but it is. Born in western Japan, where Kyoto cuisine is highly influential, I completely did not know Tokyo. She began to study, go to various masterclasses, at one of which she met Hashimoto Mikizo. Its two-star Michelin restaurant, Ichirin, is extremely popular in Tokyo. Hashimoto-san is doing everything right while working alone. He is a very meticulous cook, his main desire is to get to know real Japanese cuisine abroad, do not sushi California. He had not held master classes for foreigners before, but I persuaded him. He believes that if the Japanese do not fully understand their culture and cuisine, then simply translating the text is not enough. Therefore, he first taught me how to cook, and only after that, he allowed me to translate. When Vladimir Mukhin came to Japan, I accompanied him to Ichirin, translated for him. Hashimoto-san was worried that important details might be missing or distorted due to translation, but I tried very hard.
“Is Hashimoto Mikizo happy with the way you translated?”
– Of course, I’m not happy (laughs). I myself feel that my Russian is not perfect, I still have a lot to learn. My friends in Russia have a very beautiful language. When I hear them talking about Japanese or Russian culture, it helps me learn the intricacies of the Russian language. When I was with Russian journalists in Tokyo, I drew attention to their translator. I think he is one of the best Japanese, and in some aspects of Japanese culture, he understood even better than me. It is important to be able to find a connection between Japanese culture and cuisine.
– There is an opinion that Japanese cuisine is not developing. On the contrary, Japan seeks to preserve culinary traditions. Why?
– It’s hard for Europeans to notice, but Japanese cuisine has already been heavily influenced by Europe. Many Michelin chefs brought their culture to Japan. There are already many such restaurants, so I’m sure that you need to try to maintain the tradition.
Here is dashi – Japanese broth, the basis of many dishes in Japan. Powder dashi is now used in Tokyo. This is the easiest way to cook – like a cube, but there is chemistry. It’s scary that you can burn taste buds with this. And according to the traditional recipe, it takes a long time: you need to soak the algae on the eve, boil the tuna the next day, and soak the dried mushrooms. If I do, then on holiday. In Japan, there is now dashi in bags, everything inside is natural and you can quickly cook it. While in Moscow I have not seen this.
You said that Russian culture is similar to Japanese. In Russia, mothers also cook for their children and husbands with love. Does this sound like an o-bento?
– A woman expresses her motherly love through an o-bento (lunch in a box): when a child opens a beautifully packed box, he cannot help but feel how his mother takes care of him. I have three children, and for each I do my own bento. A lot of things affect the diet: age, health and mood. The son is preparing for exams – which means he will need strength, put more meat in the o-bento. But if the daughter is worried about something and she has an appetite, then I can put more fruit. Mom as a doctor: feels.
– Japanese children eat in school canteens?
– They have lunch in the classroom. Children bring part of the food from the dining room, and part – what mother gave – o-bento. A break at school lasts 40 minutes, children eat and communicate. You must eat with a good mood, children’s digestion depends on this.
– Do children compare their o-bento? Experiencing if they are not the most beautiful?
– It happens, but more with girls. The boys are calm, they look only at their o-bento, and the girls look at others, of course. For them, it’s like a competition. But this does not happen in school, but rather in kindergarten. Therefore, caregivers often prohibit parents from making beautiful o-bentos so that children do not experience psychological trauma.
– What do o-Bentos usually wear? How to make sure that he does not mix along the way to school?
– O-bento is also the name of the box in which lunch is located, inside there are compartments for different dishes. The main thing is that the o-bento is full, large pieces will help keep the small ones. Usually, children themselves choose a container. As a rule, these are plastic bright containers. But now the fashion for vintage bamboo o-bento is returning. My children also like them: they say that this way the dinner looks tastier. There is a factory in Japan that makes an o-bento for train passengers. They have wooden o-bento from the Siberian cedar. It is environmentally friendly and pleasantly smells of a bath, and also protects against bacteria.