The Yomiuri ShimbunFollowing is an interview with actress Michiko Hada, who shares her thoughts on washoku traditional Japanese cuisine.
The basics of my daily diet are multigrain rice, miso soup and nukazuke pickles. If a main dish of fish or meat is added, it’s perfect. Today, I added teriyaki buri yellowtail.
If something like nori and tofu are also on the table, it becomes like a breakfast served at a ryokan inn. That’s the start of a fine day.
When I was a child, my mother ran a grocery store. No matter how busy she was, she placed priority on preparing meals for us. Along with the ever-present miso soup and pickles, she cooked a variety of main dishes. To me, that is “washoku.” I believe any dish your parents prepared when you were a child can be referred to as washoku.
Washoku has a good nutritional balance and is healthy. This was one of the features highlighted when washoku was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013.
Washoku is also popular overseas as a healthy cuisine. At the time that efforts were being made to gain the UNESCO status for washoku, French cooking earned the distinction just a step ahead. Upon taking a trip to France, I was surprised by just how popular washoku is there. For example, vegetables that originate in Kyoto Prefecture were cultivated, and fermented Japanese seasonings were also used.
In contrast, the aging of farmers and artisans and the lack of successors has shaken washoku culture in Japan. In my travels around the country for filming on location or for reporting for TV programs, I discovered a variety of ingredients and dishes and met their producers. Such encounters made me feel a sense of urgency. If the artisans who make barrels for producing soy sauce disappear, traditional flavors may be lost with them.
I feel that among today’s young generation, an increasing number are interested in washoku, or have a heightened awareness of eating good-quality food. I hope to serve as a bridge between such consumers and the producers of quality products.
I have revived the name of my family’s since-closed shop, Hadajin Shoten. As the sixth-generation owner, I started in February using the internet to disseminate information on producers, such as the difficulties they are facing and their specialties. I offer my support by purchasing products, such as multigrain rice or nori, and selling them online.
However, as a person trying to make my way in life, I can sympathize with people who shy away from washoku cooking if they feel it is too much bother. Nowadays, everyone is busy. When I would come home tired at night, I didn’t feel like preparing a meal that required time and effort. It was distressing for me, knowing I shouldn’t feel this way.
I think it was probably last year when I was listening to a radio program featuring cooking expert Yoshiharu Doi, who said, “Home-cooked meals do not have to be extravagant.” It was a great relief for me. It’s OK to prepare meals in a short amount of time.
The key for cutting preparation time for washoku dishes is to use simple seasonings. I’ve found vinegar, dashi broth and other products from makers I consider reliable, and as I became more skilled at using them, it made me feel like an accomplished chef. And it makes cooking fun. Delicious washoku dishes can be prepared without a lot of fuss.
And when you want to put in the time and effort to cook, go for it wholeheartedly.
When my Hadajin Shoten started selling nukazuke sets (vegetables pickled in a bed of fermented rice bran), they sold out in a flash.
It’s known that for nukazuke, it’s bothersome to handle the rice bran bed until you get used to it. Still, there are more than a few people who want to make it. As long as that stays the case, I believe washoku will never disappear.
For the Reiwa era, the young generation may come up with washoku dishes that are better suited for the new era. I intend to offer them my support.
— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Yukako Fukushi.
■ Michiko Hada, Actress