Monday, April 28, 2008

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Over

My wife and I took Niece Godchild to a Japanese restaurant the other night. It had opened recently and it advertised teppanyaki. To my knowledge, it was the first and only Japanese restaurant on the Westbank of New Orleans that served teppanyaki.

When we arrived, I noticed the continuation of a disturbing trend – Japanese restaurants are owned and operated by the Chinese! I first noticed this several years ago when the staff in the restaurant we frequented for sushi didn’t understand the Japanese language. (I lived in Hiroshima for two years and speak Japanese pretty well for simple issues) I tested the issue at this new place by saying the only Mandarin phrase I knew, “ni hao”, upon the chefs arrival. He immediately responded. I suspect that if I had said “kon nichi wa” he wouldn’t have understood a word.

Is there some school in Shanghai that trains the Chinese in Japanese cooking? Is there a Chinese conspiracy to use Japanese cooking skills as the way to justify giving visas to Chinese immigrants? Is there some loophole in a trade agreement somewhere that allows Chinese to enter the USA but not Japanese? Why aren’t Japanese restaurants owned and operated by the Japanese?

And they must teach some sort of caricature of Japanese cooking style in their cooking school. Somehow they all think they must put on a Benihana type dinner show. The cart with the raw food arrived with a guy honking a clown horn. The chef juggled some raw eggs and started cooking fried rice amidst a storm of knife clanking and jangling. He used his spatula to toss bits of rice into our open mouths. It was all so unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the flavor of the food (which was very good, by the way).

I am a traditionalist. I am more impressed by fast and accurate knife work in slicing and dicing than I am with a lot of noise making antics. Show me some rapid machine gun slice-o-matic action instead of a lot of meaningless juggling and clanking. I prefer a meal where I can watch a skilled chef prepare food in a unique style without a lot of corny theatrics. The essence of Japanese culture is to find beauty in simple things. Teppanyaki cooking should emphasize the skill of the chef, the artistry of his food arrangement, and maybe even a little decorative vegetable cutting. Teppanyaki cooking as done in the US today has devolved into some sort of Barnum and Bailey circus act.

And when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I want to be able to practice my language skills, with Japanese people.

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