5 fascinating things you never knew about Japanese food

Not Quite Nigella blogger, Lorraine Elliot, shares what she learned from watching Maggie in Japan.

I was recently captivated by Maggie Beer's new series, Maggie in Japan. Over the course of one hour we follow Maggie as she eats her way around one of the most fascinating countries in the world. From unique phrases to delicious local ingredients, I learnd a thing or two from watching that I think you should know. 

1. Umami

Are you familiar with 'umami' - the fifth taste? Usually food is categorised into four tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Umami is a distinct, deep savoury taste that is near impossible to describe unless you've tasted it, but it is vital in Japanese cuisine. It can be found in foods like soy sauce, seaweed, mushrooms and even, more locally, Vegemite! 

2. Deep frying

Forget everything you know about deep frying! Did you know you can make chicken karaage (Japanese fried chicken) by putting chicken in cold oil and then heatin it up? Yes, cold oil! And you know what? It makes fantastic chicken karaage!

Maggie's recipe, inspired by chef Koji Fukuda of Terra Australis, can be found here, but I've made a recipe for Popcorn Chicken Karaage for a quick and tasty snack.

3. Yuzu fruit

Yuzu is an amazingly fragrant citrus fruit that's like a cross between a mandarin and lemon. Incredibly and unlike other citrus fruit, yuzu is frost resistant and can survive below zero degrees. 

4. Shokunin

The word 'shokunin' roughly translates to 'artisan', masters who dedicate their lives to one craft. In Maggie in Japan we meet Kanemoto san, an 88-year-old, fifth generation master who has cooked eel for 60 years. He dedicated three years alone learning how to thread eel fillets onto bamboo skewers.

5. Brûlée your Pâté

Chef Hideki Ii serves Maggie a "pâté crème brûlée" made from chicken liver, but the best part is that he brûlées the top with a torch. This will give the dish a new texture and is the perfect combination of two delicious foods.

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