Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Umami, popularly referred to as a pleasant savoriness. While it is, thus far, a widely accepted fifth basic taste sense (sweet, salty, sour, bitter), there are still some people that still argue that this is not an actual sense or, if it is actually real, that it should be named "brothy" or "meaty". These people are probably the same people that argue that there is no Global Warming, Santa Claus is real, Dick Cheney is not a boor and Sarah Palin is not stupid.

While the word, umami, is of Japanese origin, the sensation cannot be isolated to that country. In the 1800's a French chef (Escoffier) invented veal stock, which was richer and more savory than anything up until that point. At the same time, around the world in Japan, a chemist named Kikunae Ikeda was at the very same time enjoying a bowl of dashi, a classic Japanese soup made from seaweed. He too sensed that he was tasting something beyond category. Dashi has been used by Japanese cooks much the way Escoffier used stock, as a base for all kinds of foods.

Every culture has its own contribution, the French and Japanese are most easily associated with umami, but there are many other contributers that might be more familiar. Take a look at this Umami Foods link if you want to see a comprehensive list of the foods that are considered umami and what part of the world contributed said item to the rest of the world. For instance, the US gave ketchup.

I am excited to be able to spend a month in Japan searching for the best example of umami. I am not certain that will be so simple for a "gaijin", since there are many places that aren't easily identifiable as a "must", or, from what I have heard, there are some places that aren't as accepting of the foreigner. It could be some little noodle place in some alley in some remote village, a tea house in a 400 year old garden or it might be some hotel restaurant in the middle of Tokyo. The trick will be finding the right place(s) or the right person to direct me to the "spot".

There is so much history to Japan and there are many places where the modern meets the feudal lords and samurais of yore. I am curious if I can find where culinary history meets culinary visionary or if I will even know what I am trying to find when I get there. I have some vision of what I should expect, but it is still a bit intangible. I think, in my travels around the world, I have found some examples. There was a sushi place in Bangkok where I had some Kobe sushi that sent my tastebuds to a new place, the Den Deli has the MOST amazing Ramen I have ever had (to include Bones which has a great Lobster Ramen), Domo (Michelin gave it "Top 5 Japanese restaurant in the US) has provided me some very memorable Japanese "country" meals, there was a sushi restaurant in NYC that boggled my mind with the single layer of rice wrapped rolls and these are just some of the more memorable Japanese meals I have had, I haven't even touched on other cuisines. I suppose I shouldn't leave off one of my favorites... if anything has
umami it is the Marilyn Mon Roll at Katsu Sushi in Denver... yes, Denver! As surprising as it may seem to a landlocked city, Denver has a few superior sushi restaurants. Nothing as fresh as I expect to have when I spend a morning at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

Umami... I salivate at the thought of flexing that sense.


"The world is round, and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning." - Ivy Baker Priest

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A couple of months. Hmmm...

It appears that I am going to have to work on my estimation of time. A couple of months turned into 18. Sure, it wasn't as if I was planning on turning around and heading back south (although, in hindsight, to complete the trip like I wanted to, that would have been what I should have done) to Ushuaia, Argentina.

In any case, I am off again. This time, I am headed to Japan next week and should be there for about a month on a rental. I would have prefered to ship my own bike and use it there, but on careful research I determined that the cost would balance out and leave me without the hassel of shipping, documentation for the shipping, insuring the bike there (required and takes up to 6 days), shipping bike back, etc... Now, I just get off the plane, hop on a train, check into my hotel and pick up the motorcycle a couple of days later. Pretty painless until I pay my credit card bill (already done and now the pain is forgotten). I know that everyone has suggestions or people to meet, but as a lot of you that have traveled with me know, I am not big into plans, schedules or anything else that can tie me down to one thing or another when I might find a better alternative. After traveling overseas for over 20 years, I have gone from rigid schedule to lose interpretation of an idea of an inkling of what I might want to see and do. A few years ago I went to Italy for Mark and Heather's wedding and while that was planned out, I had only one thing that I needed to see/do while I was there... pick up a piece of Murano glass for a friend. With just one thing to do I was free to do whatever I wanted to do or the people around me wanted to do. We walked streets randomly, drank wine with abandon and didn't have a care. What I am saying is, if you have a suggestion for me to see or do, please let me know... but who knows what the randomness of the universe will bring me, so don't feel bad if I don't get to your suggestion. It isn't personal.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Amazing footage of a proper wave

Saw this on Anthony Camera's Facebook page and didn't want to lose it. If you haven't seen this, it is amazing and needs to be viewed in best resolution at your disposal!