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The Japanese Table / Chefs work to fulfill Muslim dietary needs

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Two halal dishes prepared by Kazuyoshi Aoki — a simmered whole kinmedai alfonsino, front, and chicken and steamed vegetables served with wasabi — are shown at a hotel in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun This series discusses the present and future of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine. In this installment, we explore Japanese food in relation to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The number of foreign tourists in Japan is expected to rise even more during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, prompting a greater need to accommodate the dietary customs of a diverse range of visitors, many of whom cannot eat certain foods for religious reasons or due to their personal principles.

Recently, interest has risen in the food services industry over how to serve Muslims, who abide by the halal (see below) dietary code. Among other foods and substances, Muslims must avoid pork and alcohol, and it is important to account for such rules when preparing washoku for their consumption. Chefs, for example, must not only avoid cooking with sake and mirin, but also other ingredients such as soy sauce and vinegar that may contain alcohol as a preservation agent.

Kazuyoshi Aoki, a senior chef at a lodging facility in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, has worked to develop recipes for halal dishes.

One such dish is simmered whole kinmedai alfonsino. Although Aoki’s recipe resembles a regular simmered dish, the fish has been seasoned with a halal soy sauce available in Japan, dashi broth extracted from kombu, and a mirin-like seasoning that does not contain alcohol.

“As the dish has a strong flavor, I hope that Muslims will also enjoy it,” Aoki said.

In late September, a nationwide federation of chefs also organized a workshop in Shizuoka on how to prepare halal cuisine. About 50 participants from the prefecture listened to a presentation by Daisuke Murota, who runs a Japanese restaurant in Osaka and has held workshops at various venues over the past few years.

“When you make mayonnaise, don’t use vinegar as it may contain alcohol,” he instructed. “You can add sourness by using lemon juice as an alternative.” Murota also shared a recipe for Kansai-style halal sukiyaki and proposed serving tempura with a chili sauce better suited to Muslims’ palates.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Daisuke Murota, left, shares tips for cooking halal washoku with other chefs during a workshop.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Pan-fried tofu and mizuna, left, and natto with kimchi and cottage cheese

“It is important to first acquire knowledge,” he said. “Using such knowledge, I hope you’ll study [how to prepare] washoku dishes that your customers can appreciate by utilizing your own expertise and experience.”

Though Muslims’ dietary restrictions may seem very strict, it is said the rigidity of rules differs by country.

“True omotenashi hospitality is to provide a wide range of options,” said Tomohiro Sakuma, representative director of the Japan Halal Business Association, a Tokyo-based incorporated association that helps companies develop and export products suited to Muslims.

Sakuma believes it is ideal for there to be both high-end restaurants that serve strictly halal meals and other eateries that only offer several halal dishes.

“The Olympics will serve as an opportunity to understand not only Muslim cooking, but also the broader diversity of cuisine,” he said. “Japanese chefs will have the chance to showcase their real abilities, as they pay close attention to details and possess high-level skills.”

Prof. Naoto Minami of Ritsumeikan University, who studies culinary cultures from around the world, said that basically, washoku can be described as “friendly” for vegetarians and those with other needs as it uses little meat and dairy products.

However, many chefs are said to be perplexed by the various restrictions when accommodating diverse culinary needs.

“It’s important to sincerely disclose what you’re using, from ingredients to seasonings,” Minami said. “This will also help you serve meals that put customers at ease.”

■ Halal

The Arabic word for “permitted.” In the case of food, ingredients containing pork and alcohol are prohibited under Islamic law, while chicken and beef must be prepared in a certain manner. Tools that have come into contact with prohibited substances must also not be used. There are an estimated more than 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, with an increasing number visiting Japan each year.

Sports nutrition recipes: Pan-fried tofu and mizuna; natto with kimchi and cottage cheese

Kanoya Athlete Restaurant in Tokyo shared two sports nutrition recipes that are easy to prepare at home.

These recipes include aburaage deep-fried tofu and natto, both of which are rich in plant protein, and mizuna mustard, which is rich in vitamin C. Cottage cheese contains less fat compared to other cheeses but is rich in calcium.

Pan-fried tofu and mizuna

Ingredients (serves 1; 68 kcal):

50 grams mizuna mustard

5 grams aburaage deep-fried tofu

1 tsp olive oil

Pinch of salt

Small amount of cracked black pepper

Directions:

1. Cut the aburaage into 2-centimeter-long strips and pan-fry until the strips become crispy. You can also use a fish grill.

2. Blanch the mizuna and cool in cold water. Squeeze excess water and cut the vegetable into 3-centimeter-long pieces.

3. Mix olive oil and salt before adding the aburaage and mizuna. Mix well and sprinkle black pepper on top.

Natto with kimchi and cottage cheese

Ingredients (serves 1; 104 kcal):

50 grams (or 1 pack) natto

20 grams kimchi

10 grams cottage cheese

Some chopped banno-negi scallions

Directions:

1. Lightly chop kimchi into a size of your preference.

2. Serve kimchi with natto and cottage cheese. Sprinkle banno-negi on top.

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