House of the rising sun

2010-08-14 00:00

IT’S Friday night, a very rare night out of the kitchen for me, and I have an agenda. I’m thinking of a night of slow seduction with the one that is hard to please. I’m thinking something restorative, energising, pure protein for much-needed stamina, and at the top of my list is cleansing after a week of sweating over a hot stove.

Now, there are various schools of thought about Japanese rituals and culture, but tonight I want to be the last Samurai. I don’t want Memoirs of a Geisha, I want the geisha girl, submitting to whatever comes her way, in true Japanese style. To get her into character I think some fresh tuna sashimi and a pot of green tea for two as a start.

I’ve reserved a table at a local authentic­ Japanese restaurant of which there has been much hype. I’m reminded of Alice Waters saying: “This is what the food movement used to be all about — honesty and integrity — not hype.” But my expectations are naturally on the high side of the scale. I mean, we’re talking Japanese, the superior race. It takes about three years of training just to master the rice and up to a lifetime to master the art of hosting a tea ceremony. I’m not looking for perfection, but I am looking for a dining experience where time and expense become insignificant.

On arrival, I stroll up to the sushi bar for a closer inspection of the ocean’s seasonal offerings. Until now, I wasn’t aware of a species of tuna with grey flesh, but I’m looking at it and I’m being reassured that this is what the tuna looks like.

My eyes wander across the dining area. Happy brutish apes and their dates faced with large and challenging meals. Sure, it’s about the simplicity of combining noodles or rice with fish, meat, vegetables or tofu — but due to a Buddhist and island culture, the emphasis usually falls on seafood. Well, I’m looking around me and that might be the case in traditional Japan, but not here. One concoction of meat and fried rice after the other. Did these South African chefs performing tricks with kitchen utensils — juggling spatulas and pepper grinders in mid-air — make people feel they were in capable hands?

I was hoping all of this would just fade into that part of my memory that I never access.

In Japanese culture — art, literature and food — less is often more. Vegetables­ and seafood should reflect the season, therefore ensuring the absolute best ingredients are prepared in the simplest ways.

Quality and presentation are key in this frantic pursuit of perfection. Gomaae­ is a good example of this and easily achieved at home.

Gomaae are dishes seasoned with sesame sauce. A variety of ingredients can be used, but fresh spinach is most commonly cooked with this sauce.



•450g fresh spinach, washed

•4 Tbsp sesame seeds

•2 Tbsp sake

•2 Tbsp sugar

•1 1/2 Tbsp soya sauce


Boil lots of water in a large pot. Submerge spinach in the boiling water for about one minute. Drain and soak in cold water until cool. Squeeze to remove the excess liquid. Cut spinach into five-centimetre lengths and set aside. Place sesame seeds in a blender or food processor and grind until smooth. Add sugar and mix well. Then add soya sauce and sake and mix until combined. Dress spinach with the sesame sauce.

*Makes 4 servings

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