Enough is enough. Sushi is temporarily boycotted (but if you want to check out the food guide I wrote three months ago on the subject you can check that out here)- so lets grab our chop sticks and get ready to look into what else Japan has to offer and what is available here in Manchester.
A good place to start would be with Tempura because it is a scientific fact that it is impossible to not love batter. It was supposedly brought over by the Portuguese but has since been adopted into the canon of Japanese cuisine- and aren’t we glad it has.
It is formed from various vegetables and seafood dipped in a very light batter made with ice sparkling water and deep fried in sesame oil. The result is an ultra-delicate, crispy outer layer and a middle which is cooked but still with a little bite. It is traditionally served with either a little bowl of salt or a soy broth and pickled radish on the side.
Ebi-ten (prawn tempura) is the most common and this will crop up on most Japanese menus but if you want to enjoy the full effect, I would head straight for Australasia for their traditional and more adventurous takes on tempura such as the mushroom served with truffle-seaweed mayonnaise.
You can’t really go wrong with meat skewers. It’s a dish that has stood the test of time and transcended culture since our cavemen ancestors first had the idea to shove some raw meat on a twig and roast it over some newly-discovered fire. Yakitori refers specifically to chargrilled chicken skewers, which is often lightly marinated and grilled to perfection. It can be made from any part of the chicken from the standard breast to the heart and other bits that might usually be wasted.
I like the Yakitori from Cottonopolis– they make it with juicy, succulent chicken thigh and serve with a spiced peanut sauce. They are perfectly paired with a few beers and some good company.
Perhaps this is one of those foods which is in the same school as haggis, sweetbreads and cochineal in the sense that it might be beneficial to not know what it is. Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel and just looking at one of those slippery little buggers is enough to put you off for life. Be that as it may- it is (annoyingly) delicious.
Unagi is carefully prepared, cooked over coals and served with a sweet and sticky barbecue sauce and it is ridiculously good- especially if you are into your fish. You can tuck into some traditional Unagi at the latest Japanese hot-spot Oshi-Q served over rice with a soft boiled egg, asparagus and topped with shredded seaweed.
Comfort food at its best and what all your condiment-smothered dreams are made of- Okonomiyaki has to be one of the best Japanese, nay best Asian, dishes out there. It basically consists of a savoury pancake that is typically filled with pork and cabbage and topped with fish flakes (better than they sound), seaweed, mayonnaise and a spicy tangy sauce which is comparable to Worcester sauce.
It is actually pretty hard to come by here in Manchester, but you can get it from Tokyo Season on Portland Street. Just don’t judge a book by its cover when it comes to this place- the grub here is unbelievably good.
So we’ve all been there and sat around a large stove top with some people we don’t really know and/or like for the ‘bonding’ experience that is teppanyaki. If you haven’t, it is basically a method of cooking over a large hot plate where food is grilled in front of you with a healthy peppering of theatrics.
Expect chefs to throw stuff (and expect you to catch it in your mouth), crack eggs mid-air and provide some healthy light entertainment. You basically kick things off with seasoned rice and then your choice of meat or fish which is cooked on the grill- or even pancake dishes like Okonomiyaki.
To be completely honest, it is much the same wherever you go as it is more a form of entertainment than foody experience but you can’t really go wrong with Sapporo Teppanyaki, which now has two sites in the city centre. They also have a couple of stations at pan-Asian mecca Sakana-part of the newly renamed 23 Peter Street.
Ramen is an example of another imported dish which has been appropriated into Japanese cuisine and in this case it was from China. It is basically formed of noodles (egg, soba or udon) which sit in a rich pork bone broth and come piled up with roasted pork and other toppings like a soft boiled egg, seaweed, mushrooms and spring onion.
Shoryu Ramen in Piccadilly Gardens are masters in the stuff and I would kick things off with Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu– the full works with added crispy shallots or the Kimchi Seafood Tonkotsu with hot spicy broth, squid prawns and scallops for those of you who are into fish.
If you are into your trendy Northern Quarter cafes you will probably know about Matcha. It is a finely ground green-tea powder which has a strong flavour and a bright green hue. It is exceptionally good for you, packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and contains a similar amount of caffeine to coffee – giving you that much needed spring to your step in the mornings.
They use it all the time in Japan in desserts and sweet treats and in its own right as a steaming cup of tea. Over at places like Federal you can bag yourself a gorgeous matcha latte which is about as Instagrammable as a dachshund bounding through a field of peonies with poached eggs on its back.
Cha-Ology on Great Ancoats Street are masters in matcha so if you want a cup done properly or all manner of lovely cakes, sweets and mochi this is the place for you.