The key to connecting with food is right there

When I go travelling I want to eat food that lets me feel the spirit of the area. This is because that even if the same ingredients are used, there are variations in flavor or the way of eating depending on each region, and even each household.

“This is a little different to what I tried before…”

When this kind of realisation occurs it seems that the tongue and the mind are able to remember the slight differences in the foods.

Take for example mackerel. Imagine that you have eaten some tasty mackerel sushi in Kyoto. Still with good recollections of this, heading off for your next trip from Haneda Airport you buy some Fukui-style grilled mackerel sushi to eat on the plane. You unwrap it from the packaging and what you see inside is very different from the Kyoto version, but the aroma of grilled mackerel gets your mouth watering, and before you know it, the sushi is all finished. Your tasty mackerel sushi experience could finish there, but then there is also the battera sushi from Osaka, and varieties from other areas that pique your interest, and soon you find yourself searching out mackerel sushi to try. This is possibly what is meant by really getting into something.

Having heard at a mackerel sushi shop that it is the sushi that has been left until the next day, rather than the freshly made version, that is more flavorful, you leave half a portion (even though you would love to consume the whole thing) in order to compare them. On the following day you find that it actually is tastier, as if the flavors have increased. It was because of learning about this other side of mackerel sushi using preserved rice and mackerel, that I developed an interest in the way that the ingredients combine, as well as the effects of fermentation, and so started to do some research. Originally caught in Wakasa Bay in Fukui, the mackerel were salt pickled to make them last, and then made the journey to Kyoto. This is all related to the origins of mackerel sushi. Fukui and Kyoto are linked by this system which came out of the knowledge of everyday life about how to transport fish from the Sea of Japan to Kyoto in the times before refrigeration. With this sushi using rice and fish subjected to lactic acid fermentation as a model, the pickled sushi known as narezushi came about. Speaking of narezushi, you can’t forget funasushi from Saga Prefecture which is along the route the mackerel travelled. So it was that I found myself in a restaurant on the side of Lake Biwa to eat funasushi.

It was an interesting experience having a thought about food like “Mmm? That’s a little different.” and then finding yourself drawn to a place you had never imagined. A single piece of mackerel sushi opened up an interest in the history of sushi and different regions. It may be a bit of an extreme example, but it illustrates how consuming a tasty treat can lead to an interest in food culture, and if you deepen your thinking about food it can lead you to learn more about the hidden aspects of the flavors, and also possibly on journeys of discovery.

In the place of mackerel sushi why not substitute other foods that you can eat around the country such as curry, dumplings, wine, rice, and sake, to name but a few?

Travel writer | Chizuru Asahina 

Gastronomy on the road

To eat is to travel.

To stroll around to different places to eat is fine, but sometimes it is good to concentrate on the dish that is right in front of you.

When you find something delicious where you are, spare a thought for the ingredients involved and the person who grew them.

Try to get a feel for the way the terroir and the culture are connected.

The story that envelops the food will enrich your journey.

At your destination, when you find the food that captures your interest, and from the moment you start to delve deeper, that meal become a kind of culture inside of you. As you become conscious of that moment, you want to taste the cuisine of that area. That is where you will find the key to connect to its very spirit.

Years ago, on a trip to Hokkaido, I remember being served nothing but curry rice and ramen; foods that you can eat everywhere, and this put a real damper on things.

In contrast, some locals served up some homemade pickles that were amazing. While I listened to their stories of the local area, these pickles seemed especially delicious, and before I knew it I had managed to eat more than my fair share.

So when I travel I know that I want to taste the cuisine from that area. That is because I want to get to know that place with all five senses. By eating I want to experience the feeling of travel. On the other side of that plate is the climate, the culture, and of course, the person who made it.

I truly ingest the food of that area. It is the feeling that even though I may not actually visit the mountains and fields, I have travelled there in spirit.