The curfew cuisine diaries from Sri Lanka: Turning Japanese
When is frying actually steaming? When is a pizza base not made out of dough? Reasons enough to be Turning Japanese during lockdown
People think toying with Japanese cuisine is fraught with danger. It needn't be. It could, in fact be an absolutely amazing culinary adventure.
Having a piece of shoulder pork in the freezer when the lockdown began, our usual options would have included grilling, currying or frying anyway – so we went with frying. But... frying that was actually steaming. Because that's what happens when you make a Tonkatsu properly. The meat is sealed in multiple layers of egg wash and flour before you dunk it into hot oil. So the meat never comes into contact with the oil. It is in fact, steamed in a shell of egg-wash and flour. Welcome to the lockdown world of Japanese cuisine.
Pork Steamed in a shell, with sticky rice, pickled Bilimbi and a Cheater's Tonkatsu Sauce ( we didn't have rice vinegar... )
Japanese food is either loved or loathed. Making Sushi or Sashimi at home is not an option for us. Especially during lockdown. But that's not all there is in Japan. There's Okonomiyaki, there's Teriyaki Chicken, there's Tempura, Sukiyaki and Yakitori – all of which can be made at home and most of which can be pulled off without too much effort.
Pre-lockdown experimentation - Okonomiyaki. A Japanese savoury pancake or Pizza substitute, depending on which book you refer.
First off it's important to know you'd never be able to capture the true flavours of Japanese Cuisine, simply because the original ingredients would be challenging - if not impossible - to get. But with a bit of lateral thinking, you can do more than get by. No rice wine vinegar? Try a splash of a dry white wine. No dried seaweed? Deep fry some curry leaves and sprinkle them as garnish. Substitute for Dried Bonito Flakes? Maybe ground Maldifish would do... the point being, don't let the availability of ingredients stop you from making Japanese dishes. At this point I should apologise to the purists who are pulling their hair out by the roots...
Another fairly easy to make Japanese dish is Sukiyaki.
Our take on Sukiyaki - turned out quite well, all things considered. It's truly a complete meal in itself.
The recipe we followed for Sukiyaki called for exotic types of mushrooms and udon noodles, which, surprise surprise, we didn't have. So we "made do" with some Shitake mushrooms and glass noodles which we did have. Making the Sukiyaki sauce was simplicity itself – except white wine was used as a substitute for cooking sake. What was interesting is, as per the recipe we followed, whatever ingredients you're using are first lightly fried in the pan before the sauce is added, the pan is closed and the ingredients steamed.
The message here is simple. Japanese cooking isn't as daunting as you might think it would be. Go ahead. Give it a go. You'll never look back.