As many of you already know, I have a long history with Japanese cuisine - from my student exchange excursion as a high school student to my career as a chef at the headquarters of a Japanese auto maker. With regards to the latter, I have spent the last few years educating people on the wide variety of preparations and delicious flavors that this rising star of ethnic food trends has to offer.
That is why a new release on Netflix has caught my attention and my recommendation.
The series is called Samurai Gourmet. Based on a manga of the same name, this show depicts the everyday life of Takeshi Kasumi - a 60-year-old retiree who is facing the challenge of transitioning into a brand new phase of his life (going from a corporate "yes-man" to having no strings attached). Unsure of what to do, he turns to two things that bring him comfort: (1) reading stories of ancient warriors and (2) food.
His love for food takes him to a variety of locales and styles of dining: an ordinary diner, a ramen house, a coffee shop, a bed & breakfast, and others. As he travels, he reconnects with old friends, visits places he frequented as a younger man, and sits down to foods he hasn't enjoyed for a long time (yakiniku, bento boxes, and spaghetti napolitan to name a few).
Seems like fun, right? Yet trouble lurks around every corner: a bad bowl of noodles, obnoxious diners, an upset actress, and the intimidation of wanting to order a beer on a weekday afternoon leave our hero feeling uncomfortable and unsure of himself. That's when his subconscious takes over, and the stories of legendary battles bring to life a roaming samurai warrior who inserts himself into Takeshi's circumstances and shows him how a strong, independent man would behave in a situation like this. Sometimes the warrior vision gives him just the courage he needs to overcome his fears; other times, he sulks away feeling defeated.
The show's main character, played by award-winning actor Naoto Takenaka, is sweet, loveable, endearing, and believable. Watching him sink his teeth into a piece of broiled dried mackerel will make you wish you were right there with him in that little bed and breakfast by the beach. The way the experience of eating a particular dish in a certain place takes him back to another time in his life, allowing him to relive memories of his younger years, is something with which we all can identify, even if our memories are far different from his.
It's that shared sense of food connecting us to the past that makes this show work as a method of introducing Japanese culture and cuisine to a whole new audience.
Samurai Gourmet is not the type of show that is going keep you at the edge of your seat, and it probably won't pull home any big awards. That being said, I truly enjoy this program and think you will, too. I hope it will inspire you to want to try cooking Japanese food - in which case I have a great way to get you started!