I am not sure where my food cravings come from these days, or if they can even be called cravings -- they are softer and quieter than my old desires, and are more of a general "point-me-in-the-right-direction" than a compulsion towards a particular food or another. Lately, I want to cook and eat Japanese food. My plan for home-made udon noodles is temporarily on hiatus, as the abundance of left-overs makes extra cooking superfluous, but I am still ogling Japanese food sites and wondering which cookbook I should buy next (as my husband, I am sure, bemoans the cookbooks already encroaching on our shelf space) and reminding myself that no, I don't really need a plastic bento box set.
I often write here about the different countries that I have lived in or traveled to, and the foods that I associate with those places. Brazilian pao de queijo, Argentine polenta, Italian borlotti beans, and Chinese dumplings have already received mention on these pages. My latest fascination is with Asian food in general and, more specifically, with Japanese cuisine, although I have never been to Japan and have no foreseeable plans to visit. My liking for Japanese food seemingly comes out of nowhere, for apart from my occasional Zen practice, there is nothing that draws me to Japan, no previous hint of Japanophilia to explain this current craving, this avid search for Japanese fare.
Perhaps I like Japanese food for its simplicity, its spectacular presentation, and its preciousness. But there are other reasons to love it, too: the unusual pickles, the seasonal delicacies, the strong seafood flavors, the abundance of colors and tastes. The part of me that likes my food neat and orderly, presented in small portions in exact rituals, gets very excited by the idea of Japanese food. That part of me also smacks strongly of obsessional eating, and so I have to find other ways to love Japanese food and other ways to eat it, such as in hearty noodle dishes and enormous, messy bowls of soup. These items are hardly dainty, and yet they couldn't be more Japanese!
In terms of other Japanese dishes, I am not too fond of sushi (too much grocery-story take-out has soured the genre for me), but I love the cooked pumpkin salad that I bought at Katagiri the other day, and I would eat smoked eel over rice and thick bowls of miso soup every day if I could. I imagine that, once I learn more about Japanese cooking, I will prefer the homestyle over the high-end, the comforting over the calibrated. Until then, I am not really sure what Japanese food is -- if indeed it is just one thing -- or how far I will go to get to know this foodway. For now, I'll content myself with the learning, this wonderful stage of exploration that I find myself in, when all foods Japanese appear titillating, quixotic, and revelatory.