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Rock Street, San Francisco

J.C. TalbottMs. MilesHonors Asian Studies20 December 2017Eating at a Japanese Restaurant: Pacific East         The Japanese restaurant that I ate dinner at was a small establishment called Pacific East, tucked away next to a frozen yogurt store called Piccadilly, both on Coventry. Entering the restaurant, the first thing that I noticed was the decor. The walls were painted a light blue and decorated with fishing nets, model fish, and starfish. Although Japan is renowned for its seafood, this decorating style gave off much more of a European seafood vibe, such as fish and chips or fried cod. Despite the disjointing but still friendly decor, I found my table comfortable and enjoyed myself throughout the meal. The only gripe that I can think of with this restaurant would be the lack of silverware, tables were garnished with chopsticks and nothing else, which although forcing the culture upon the quest, can be very challenging for the beginning user, especially with smaller items such as beans or rice.         Moving on to the food, I ordered gyoza, an appetizer very similar to a potsticker, and Aji Fry, a special type of fried fish. Gyoza are dumplings filled with ground meat and vegetables, and wrapped in a thin dough. Also known as potstickers, gyoza originated in China (where they are called jiaozi), but have become a very popular dish in Japan. The most common gyoza filling consists of ground pork, a multitude of vegetables, soy sauce and sesame oil, although there can be many variations depending on region or even the particular shop where they are purchased. Typically there are three types of gyoza, Yaki Gyoza (pan fried), Sui Gyoza (boiled), and Age Gyoza (deep fried). Yaki gyoza are by far the most common type of gyoza. They are pan fried in a hot skillet before a mixture of water and cornstarch is poured in and everything is covered for a few minutes. The water and cornstarch mixture helps to steam the gyoza, making them soft and juicy while creating a thin crispy bottom on the individual gyoza. Yaki gyoza are typically served with the crispy bottom side up. Next, Sui gyoza are boiled gyoza that are often served in a very light broth. They are much less common than yaki gyoza and mainly found at Chinese restaurants and specialized gyoza restaurants. Age gyoza are crispy, deep fried gyoza and also mainly found at Chinese restaurants and specialized gyoza restaurants.         The Japanese word Gyoza was derived from China, and therefore is written using Chinese characters. The selection of characters indicates that the word is of non-Japanese origin. Following World War II, Japanese soldiers who returned from China brought home gyoza recipes. The prevalent differences between Japanese-style gyoza and Chinese-style jiaozi are the rich garlic flavor, which is less noticeable in the Chinese version, and the thickness of the “wrapper”. Japanese gyoza wrappers appear to be consistently thinner, due to the fact that most Japanese restaurants use machine-made wrappers. As jiaozi vary greatly across regions within China, these differences are not clear. For example, visitors will easily find thin skinned potstickers (jiaozi) at restaurants in Shanghai, and from street food vendors in the Hangzhou Region. Gyoza are identical to potstickers made in Chinese households using store bought machine made wrappers, and are usually served with soy-based tare sauce seasoned with rice vinegar or chili oil. Gyoza share similarities with both pierogies and spring rolls and are cooked in the same fashion as a pierogi, either boiled or fried. Gyoza can be found in supermarkets and restaurants throughout Japan, usually in the form of just the skin that is ready to be filled, or a prefilled heat and eat version.         The second dish I ordered was Aji Fry. The description on the menu is, “Boneless jack mackerel panko breaded, the fried to perfection” which turned out to be very accurate. The dish appeared with a large bowl of sauce, and two pieces of fried Aji. Regretfully I didn’t ask what the sauce was, but it didn’t taste like soy sauce or another common sauce. The Japanese have a multitude of different sauces starting with soy sauce and miso of course, as well bottles of a dark, brown condiment that are collectively just called sosu, the Japanese versions of the classic English condiment Worcestershire sauce. Sosu is so popular in Japan that there are multiple variations, used in not only modern Japanese dishes, but classical and affordable meals as well. Historian’s dispute when exactly Worcestershire sauce first entered Japan, The Japan Sauce Manufacturers’ Association states that it entered the country in the early Meiji Era, although some think it might have been earlier, during the Edo Period through the port of Nagasaki.The first documented attempt of a commercial version was made by the Yamasa Company, when it introduced its “New Flavor Soy Sauce,” which bombed in stores and was cancelled within a year. The development and acceptance of sosu started to flourish with the increasing acceptance of Western-style foods. Japanese sosu is said to be milder, fruitier, and sweeter than the original Worcestershire sauce, which is made from slowly decomposing vegetables, anchovies and other ingredients that are fermented for a period of three to four months, while Japanese sosu is usually made from vegetable and fruit extracts. This causes sosu to taste closer to typical sweet-salty Japanese sauce. In modern times there are many different sosu variations to choose from, depending on how one wants to use it. The standards are chuno sauce, tonkatsu sauce and usuta sauce, all with different consistencies. The actual fish was a Japanese horse mackerel, commonly called “Aji”. They are found around the coast of Japan, apart from Okinawa Island, usually on sandy bottoms of 50–275 meters deep. They feed mainly on smaller prey such as shrimp and other small fish. The Japanese name for the horse mackerel is aji, and it is commonly deep fried called “aji furai” or salt-grilled, “shioyaki aji”.

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