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Japanese Food

January 30 2010 Japanese Food Newsletter

Have you heard of the Japanese term “wabi sabi?” It is of complex meaning and difficult to interpret and, to me, it is perplexing that a society that is focused on studied craftsmanship and seeming perfection can also embrace the concept of wabi sabi.

Although there are varying definitions, the term wabi refers to a natural quality that results from the anomalies of its construction either by man or nature. Sabi points to the beauty and serenity that comes from natural aging and mortality. In other words, the Japanese appreciate things that are created naturally and that pass through time, accumulating along the way signs of having existed.

For example, factory machine-made dishes may look identical and that has its own aesthetic. But after serving many a family meal on their faces, if a plate should get a tiny chip from when your son clanked it in the dishwasher too brusquely, it should be revered for its service, its chip reminding us that life happens. It is not an imperfection at all.

Much like wrinkles on an aged face. Dirty paw prints on a freshly cleaned carpet. Or a slightly crooked crust on a rustic homemade pie. Real life.

I love the concept of wabi sabi. Throughout the years, I worried too much about all of my imperfections inside and outside the kitchen. I should have embraced outcome as a triumph of having lived.

No, no, I will never live perfectly. But I will have lived. I hope you will embrace wabi sabi in your life—inside and outside the kitchen. Enjoy the process of life. The doing.

This week’s recipes are a part of my journey to make the perfect lacy tempura. Much of the secret, I found is in the technique but there were many important discoveries about the way to cut the shrimp and what to include in the batter. However, despite all my efforts, I did not feel even my last result, although better than all the rest, was the perfect one. And then, I remembered wabi sabi. Please practice your tempura-making skills with a sense of wabi sabi so you will enjoy the process of cooking, eating and most of all, being alive to enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures.

Here are this week’s articles:

Secrets of Making Light and Lacy Tempura
The technique of deep frying battered foods came from Portuguese traders but the Japanese made it their own with a special technique that results in a light and lacy tempura. No panko or bread crumbs required.


Lacy Tempura and Tentsuyu Recipes
Of all the tempura recipes, this one results in light, crispy, flavorful tempura. The secret is in the technique as much as in the batter. Tentsuyu is the light dipping sauce.


Japanese Ebi Furai Deep Fried Shrimp Recipe
Deep fried food coated with crunchy bread crumbs has its own category in Japanese cooking. Although not true tempura, furai foods may be eaten hot from the fryer or at room temperature in a bento lunch.


Your Japanese phrase this week, of course, is wabi sabi. When, after all of your best efforts, life happens and a seeming imperfection occurs, say “wabi sabi” and embrace it. Real life, rife with imperfections, is wonderful.

Be joyful,

Chidori Phillips
BellaOnline.com Japanese Food Editor

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