It’s still hot in Montreal, so we’re still doing refreshing summer recipes. This one uses the same somen sauce we wrote about the other day – actually, we’re using leftovers here. This is one of the very few vegetarian dishes you’ll find in this blog. But don’t be fooled: a disturbing amount of oil goes into this dish, so Vegetable Agebitashi is more a hearty main dish than a light side dish.
Agebitashi means fry (Age) and soak (Hitashi). So how do you make it? First you fry the vegetables, then you soak them in the sauce. That’s all! The kicker is that you serve it cold – very cold. It sounds strange, I know, but just trust me and give it a try. And be sure to serve this with simple white rice. They go very well together.
Just looking at the Japanese name for this dish you can tell that something screwy is going on here: “piman” comes, of course, from the French “piment” – bell pepper. In fact, Piman Nikuzume is a typical example of “Yoshoku” – 洋食 – a “western style meal.” As you can guess, what we have here is a thoroughly Japanified take on Westernness. Really, Yoshoku means “Japanese Style Western Style Meal.”
The stuffing here could just as easily turn into “hambaagu” – you guessed it, Japanese style “hamburger”, which is more like a hamburger steak and a third of the way to a meatball rather than something you’d eat between slices of bread.
In Japan, though, eating just meat is considered a little boring and usually too heavy, so the solution in this case is to encase the hambaagu in vegetables. Of course, just putting a bell pepper around it doesn’t really make a hambaagu lighter, but psychologically, somehow, it becomes much more acceptable to the Japanese palate. For me, also, piman nikuzume is always much nicer to eat than hambaagu: a mongrel dish that tastes like home to me.
It’s probably not the first thing you think of, but if you ask me Japan’s true national dish is curry. Japanese people are crazy for the stuff: it’s served constantly, both at home and in restaurants. I think it has a good claim to be Japan’s best-loved dish.
Of course, curry isn’t from Japan. As everybody knows, curry is originally Indian, but the dish came to Japan in the late 19th century through the colonial route, via Britain. This may explain why compared to Indian curry, Japanese curry is usually quite mild, sweet even, and certainly never very spicy.
I’ve met some Canadians who are really into Japanese culture, and they all complained that whenever Japanese people invited them for dinner, they made curry! It’s easy to understand why they run into it so often at parties: this dish scales up very well, so it’s ideal for big gatherings, parties, and the like. And since everyone in Japan loves the stuff, it’s very often served to guests. (In honor of this, the recipe below is for 20 people!)
I’ll admit it: Westerners sometimes fail to see the point of Japanese curry. I can see why. If you’re used to Indian food, our way of making it could strike you as a little unexciting. I’ve come to the conclusion this is one of those dishes that divides cultures more than it brings them together: almost everyone in Japan loves Japanese style curry but reactions abroad are more mixed.
I don’t have that much to say about gyuniku itame; really. It’s just delicious, that’s all.
Do note, though, that the secret to this dish is potato starch. Added to the beef, alongside soy sauce and sake, right before cooking, it helps coat it in those delicious flavors. Whatever else you do, don’t skip the potato starch.