MIYAGI FOOD: Healthy, delicious and safe

Since the tragic earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region more than eight months ago, Japan has seen substantial decreases in foreign tourism. Many areas directly affected by the disaster are also experiencing decreased domestic and foreign sales of local food products amid concerns for radiation safety.

The Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco, Miyagi Prefecture and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) San Francisco co-sponsored “Tohoku Spirit: Delicious Healthy Miyagi” at Yoshi’s Jazz Club and Restaurant in San Francisco in an effort to rebuild not only the infrastructure of the Miyagi Prefecture, but also its reputation.

Earlier this fall, JETRO organized a visit for Shotaro “Sho” Kamio, executive chef at Yoshi’s; Ravi Kapur, former executive chef at Prospect; and Staffan Terje, owner chef at Perbacco to tour various food-related businesses in areas affected by the disaster. The event at Yoshi’s, held Nov. 17, featured a report by the chefs on their visit and a tasting of Miyagi dishes and ingredients.

The afternoon began with a presentation on the food products and specialties of Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi, Japan’s largest producer of kamaboko (steamed fish cake) and second largest producer of oysters, is also known for its abalone, saury and silver salmon. Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi, is also known for its beef and is the birthplace of gyutan, grilled beef tongue, a dish served all over Japan, but is said to have been invented in 1948 at a yakitori restaurant in Sendai.

Not to be outdone by the carnivorous offerings, Miyagi is also home to two premium rice varieties: hitomebore, and sasanishiki. Hitomebore is said to have a flavor coveted by rice connoisseurs and is best enjoyed as an unadorned table rice.

Experts recommend using sasanishiki as a sushi rice, perhaps for its ability to maintain flavor over varying temperatures. Both are said to inspire hitomebore, a Japanese phrase that also means “love at first sight” (or in this case, first taste). Finally, Sendai is also famous for its dark red rice-based style of miso.

With this culinary context established, chefs Kamio, Terje, and Kapur presented a report on their trip to the affected areas. They recalled their visits to markets such as the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where the chefs found the quality of food products to be comparable to that found before the disasters. Amid tours to generations-old family businesses that make everything from miso to sake, they found a penchant for positivity and an earnest passion for safety of the products being made. While the science of radioactivity testing was beyond their purview, the chefs did comment that the testing was exhaustive as Miyagi businesses are applying the same fervor to rebuilding their reputations as they have to rebuilding their facilities.

A MOUTHFUL OF MIYAGI — Miso braised beef tongue ravioli. photo by Pauline Fujita/Nichi Bei Weekly

Having seen the recovery effort with their own eyes, the chefs stated emphatically their support for the products of Miyagi, both for their quality and for their safety. They pledged to support Miyagi through usage and promotion of its specialties. Terje and Kapur drove home their points by preparing dishes that incorporated and showcased Miyagi ingredients. This included miso braised beef tongue ravioli by Terje, and duck sausage with Sendai red miso and beets braised in dashi with kombu and ranch sauce by Kapur.

Kamio, a Sendai native himself, also incorporated Miyagi ingredients and put forth an agenda of seasonal and regional Miyagi dishes. These included harako-meshi (a mixed chirashi-type mixed rice with salmon and salmon eggs), stewed autumn vegetables, and a local type of noodle called umen (similar to the more common somen) in a yuzu-infused tsuyu broth, with soy-braised kamaboko. Other dishes included Tokyo turnips with yuzu dressing, kabocha daikon in a minced chicken sweet soy sauce, and miso-braised mackerel.

Miyagi’s cool climate and abundant rice crops are also known for its sake. Lest the day’s gourmet fare go unpaired, guests were favored with the expertise of the sake sommelier and owner of True Sake, Beau Timken. He led a crash course of sake types and factoids, and talked about having been in the Tohoku region during the earthquake. He also provided updates on the Miyagi sake breweries he has visited since March 11 and of how, in contrast to other foodstuffs from

Miyagi, sake sales are up since the disaster as consumers show their support for Miyagi’s breweries.

Three types of Miyagi sake — junmai daiginjo, nama junmai and junmai ginjo — were served.

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