Japan is one of those places I've got a bit of an obsession with, despite never having visited. Most of my knowledge of the country has come from books, films, magazines and blogs, so the main way I try experience something first hand is by eating the food. I'm a frequent Japan Centre visitor whenever I'm in the area, picking the kind of sushi I like on sight (I've got no qualms about all the rawness) but I've always wanted to know the proper way to do things. You know, not just dousing your nigri with everything that comes in the packet and eating the whole thing in one go but learning about the different processes and traditions. A little while ago I was given the chance to educate myself with a cookery class at Atsuko's kitchen in Shoreditch. It was my first travel-related blogger event with KLM (I'm a long way off planning a trip there but it's good to know they fly to Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, plus there's a noodle option on the menu) so it was great to try something a little different from the norm. I wasn't sure how involved we'd be getting with all the cooking but there was to be no hiding, so soon enough I was showing off my rubbish chopping skills and sneaking a few tasty nibbles.
When Atsuko explained that we would be making four dishes, it seemed a little impossible especially with a rumbling tummy, but luckily the ten of us made a good team and had a sort of production line going on. We learnt about the five main seasonings that you need to know, miri, sweet sake, rice wine vinegar, miso paste and good old soy sauce. Some dishes such as tempura even have a bit of a Portuguese influence but the aim for us was to make some traditional Kyushu foods with a stronger flavour. We learnt to make Suko Zuzhi (a kind of sushi), Higomoji no Guruguru (spring onion parcels), Mizutaki Nabe (hotpot with chicken meatballs) and luckily the Buto No Kakuni (square pork) appeared perfectly formed. Everything was nicely finished off with some sake and cake, the perfect introduction to food from this region.
Even though it was a novel idea, cooking your own food at an event, it worked surprisingly well. My part was very small due to getting these photos, but I can now say that I can chop chicken to a reasonably decent standard. I finally have an inkling of what goes on behind the scenes at Japanese restaurants (there were some mad presentation skills on show) and appreciate the craft even more. I may not be an expert when it comes to the menus just yet, but at least I have a few more dishes I can order when stumped.