Dusty Miller: Teppan Yaki At Komba Hari

I’M no fundi on the food of Japan, a bit of the world I’ve yet to visit, but there was little wrong with a Tokyo-style teppan yaki chef’s table for the Press at Komba Hari, Rainbow Towers last Friday.

 

Given that organiser, hotel business relations manager Patriciah Rusike, rang less than two hours before lunch, it was remarkably well attended by hungry hacks.

It’s amazing that, in a landlocked country, any outfit even tries to make sushi, relying as it does on shrimps, prawns, crab, salmon and seaweed, along with sushi rice which (believe it or not) grows best in California.

With no yardstick for comparison, I was unsure whether vegetable seafood tempura was good, excellent or poor! My own feeling from dim and distant memories of far Oriental dishes, eaten occidentally, is that the tempura batter should have been a little lighter; the bite sized parcels of goodness served much hotter.

Sushi is hugely popular worldwide: they are pretty and pretty nutritious. As a starter they don’t overfill, as mains they fill if you eat enough.

As they’re eaten raw, they were the only dish a pal managed in Jo’burg recently, on a business trip, as South Africa was shocked, stunned and speechless by the sort of power outages we’ve suffered stoically almost since independence.

The Japanese eat miso soup for breakfast! A batman once served me mushroom soup at the early morning meal, misunderstanding an order for eggs, bacon and mushrooms. For the third time that month he was an unemployed batman!

One reason I’ve never visited the Land of the Rising Sun was an uncle’s experiences. He was an otherwise placid, number-cruncher who, for real or imaginary sins as a prisoner-of-war, was pegged naked, crucifix-style, in broiling sands in the baking sun of Changi Jail, Singapore.

Honourable Japanese Imperial troops sewed his eyelids open so he couldn’t shut his peepers, or blink, smearing him with looted Naafi peach jam to attract biting ants. He spent a long weekend like that…possibly Easter?

After a few g&ts too many in The Club he’d tell us youngsters about his war and why, 25 years on, he still blinked almost non-stop, eyes watering constantly. Then he’d leave, tip the porter generously and smash the headlights of the nearest five or six Jap cars.

Magistrates, mostly themselves, ex-officers in the Far East, would fine him maybe a pound on each count, issue a restitution order in favour of Toyota or Mitsubishi drivers (Mazdas, then, were lightglobes!) and give uncle a stern warning as to his future conduct.

But I digress…I’m wary about visiting a country where they serve soup at 6:30am! Some pedant said gentlemen don’t eat soup at lunch…but I like it, then!

Komba Hari offered cream of butternut (which one person ordered) OR miso soup with glass noodles. These were excellent, but the broth itself was only tepid and tasted (I thought) over soya-ed.

(I told our hosts a friend of mine knows two Japanese girl musicians living here. Should I bring them next time — they’re reportedly experts on Nipponese culture and cuisine — they’d advise on the graze’s authenticity. Suggestion enthusiastically accepted!)

Chef Nigel Nhema trained with Japanese chefs, and certainly impressed, preparing and cooking theatrically, before our eyes, yaki soba; stir-fried noodles with seasonal veg, shrimps and chicken. And the eponymous teppan yaki: beef, chicken, magnificent meaty fillets of kingklip, cooked shredded, with vegetable fried rice, and kong pur har: grilled king prawns with vegetables and udon noodles.

Everyone ordered what they thought they fancied, some with no clue as to what they’d get! I thought the whole lot looked and smelt so delicious and asked, why didn’t Nigel serve everyone a little of everything? As no one was there whose totem forbade eating beef, shrimps or glass noodles, this was unanimously accepted.

When asked for a post-prandial comment, I said the beef was too chewy, continuing in my “I worked in Fleet Street before you could read” vein: “Of course in Japan, and much of the First World, Nigel would use Kobe beef.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Absolutely! It’s the world’s most tender, tasty beef: lean but well-marbled with fat. Comes exclusively from the black Tajimi-ushi Wagyu cattle of Hyogo Prefecture, where farmers supplement lush pasture grazing by feeding beasts beer and saké (Japanese rice wine), giving them daily massages to keep the cuts tender. Ideally it’s hung 28 days, then eaten with liberal dollops of wasabe”

“Wassawhat?”

“Wasabe: really hot Japanese mustard; bright green, comes in a toothpaste tube.”

“Where did you learn all that, Mister Dust?”

“Well, I’ve been doing this job over 40 years, son.”

“Think I’ll stick to soccer writing,” a crestfallen young man beside me sighed wistfully, realising there’s no such thing as a free lunch; he’d have to file 900 words on the meal just ended.

Thumbs up, by the way, to really excellent puddings: especially a faultless fruit salad.

 dustym@ zimind.co.zw

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