Thursday, February 11, 2010


Here I am back on my intercultural soapbox, and it's about food again, but this time it's not about Japanese cheesecake, bagels, donuts, ice cream, cherry pie, whatever on the long list, this time it's about Japanese food by Modern Japan, where the fast food is, vs. Japanese food by Ancient Japan, where the slow food is. I don't mean to be judgmental here, just mental.

It started out in the usual curious innocence, pretty much the same kind as enjoyed by Adam and Eve back in the day. I was in the supermarket and noticed that the national food conglomerate known as "House" had, in addition to its everywhere tubes of wasabi (Japanese horseradish) kurashi (sinusidal mustard) and shoga (ginger), had a new tube, of-- yuzukosho!

The more attentive readers hereof will remember one of my posts mentioning yuzukosho, how ineffably great it is etc. (Blogger (owned by Google!) has effectively obscured my other yuzukosho posts with its stellar blog search system; maybe I'll do some blogoarchaeology later if I have time.) Well, in those posts I was praising a local product, but here before me was a curiosity-arousing new corporate approach, so as a big fan of the incredible condiment I impulsively bought a tube just to try it out; maybe it would be good. And maybe I'd see Elvis in the snack section.

I put some of the suitably green paste on my rice that evening, took a mouthful and began savoring and -- puzzling -- as though I'd been driving a Lamborghini for a few years and now for some reason I was sitting in a cardboard box going rmmm rmmm. Only this was mainly salty. Traditional yuzukosho, though hot and zesty, is salty too, the original purpose being to preserve the flavorsome blend of yuzu peel and hot peppers, the cured flavor blending in infinite detail with the saltiness into something god is obviously proud of.

What I was tasting at the moment, though, was a corporate committee approach to one of the most exciting condiments on the planet. Corporate approaches to anything that fine are almost by definition never exciting; think artificial truffles. They may be spelled with the same letters of the alphabet and even be somewhere near the continent on which the ballpark of excitement is located, but with an undertaste of marketing factors, demographics, averages, means, nets and grosses, and an overtaste of processing rationalizations, preservatives, overhead etc.

It is an approach that steps on no toes, leaves no stone turned etc., in this case as if the mild stuff in the tube was for the tongues of the Usher family, for those of you who have read Poe. For those who haven't, get the stuff in the tube. You can get it fast, in any supermarket in the country, and squeeze it out fast, onto your fast rice. Compare this to the old way, which is "We have to preserve these peppers for the winter. Let's show those pansies in the next village what we can do eh? Let's make life more worth living, wake these mothers up some-- Whoa! Now that should be some fun around the old communal table, eh?" Followed by about a thousand years of grandmotherly tweaking.

Guess which type I prefer. And Japan is doing this to itself! If this product is still on supermarket shelves a year from now, this ancient culture is in newer trouble than I thought.


[Added later: The bottle on the left in the photo, containing yuzukosho by Fujishin, a Kyushu shoyu maker, is the best I've tasted; beats every other version I've found so far, and that's quite a few, including the Fundokin brand mentioned in the Wikipedia link.]


vegetablej said...

A discernning tongue. The description of "corporate committee food with an undertaste of marketing factors", etc. and "an overtaste of processing rationalizations", etc. had me laughing out loud and smacking with enjoyment, for its much better taste in description than such a product deserves. Thanks for brightening my day with such wonderful writing. And you're right!


R. Brady said...

Thank you too, vegetablej, for brightening my day!

bob said...

You have me now.

No luck so far in the big city nearby, as even Houston has only one legitimate Japanese grocery as far as I can tell. And, so it would appear, no yuzukosho.

But the quest has only begun...

Anonymous said...

As you said, if a job's worth doing, and if life's worth living, it's worth doing well. A truth so simple it goes unnoticed by tube-people, while the jar-people lament, briefly, before returning to the job in hand.

I've got that very jar in my kitchen. I wax evangelical about it and press it on anyone who crosses the genkan.

The Hausfrau said...

Oh, sad. I'm certain there are those who will buy the tube-version, but surely the real thing will prevail!