Last month, we were shocked and sad to see a 8.9-magnitude earthquake hitting the coast of Japan and triggering a tsunami that wiped out people’s homes and killed hundreds of people. Despite such a traumatizing experience, the Japanese remained orderly. They patiently waited in line for hours in order to get emergency supplies, foods and water. Many of my American friends were amazed to see no riots or turmoil. Having lived with a Japanese expat (Nakamatsu-san) in my childhood and visited Japan, I wasn’t surprised that the super polite, harmony-driven Japanese hadn’t lost their composure in their stressful situation.
Japanese aren’t just “cool”, but their warm hospitality is also mind-blowing. When I was a kid, our Japanese friend, Nakamatsu-san’s wife, used to make cute hand-made dolls, beautiful purses and absolutely delicious Japanese foods for us. Everything she touched with her hands came out just fabulous! My eyes opened big like cotton candy, and my mouth stretched all the way to my ears at the wonder of her magic. How kind and inviting she was to us! I next visited Japan two decades later. Once again, I got melted away by the incredible hospitality of the Japanese hosting family. On the day I arrived, my home-stay Mom picked me up from the airport and took me to a traditional Japanese bathhouse. I was first embarrassed that no clothing was mandatory in the women’s bathhouse. But with the bubbles in the water messaging my back, shoulder and legs, I immediately relaxed and forgot any embarrassment. After the bath, we made delicious, comforting sukiyaki. The “comforting” flavor of sukiyaki was unforgettable, so, I’m daring to try replicating it in my California kitchen.
First, I heat a cast iron pot and sear 1 lb of thinly slice rib eye steaks with some sesame oil. Then I add 1/3 cup mirin, 1/3 cup sake, 1/3 cup soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sugar. Subsequently, I add 2 carrots (thinly sliced), 1 white onion (sliced), 8 oz firm tofu (cut into cubes), 2 cups napa cabbage (chopped), 1 cup bok choy (chopped), ½ dozen shitake mushrooms (sliced), 1 bunch green onions (chopped) & 1 tablespoon dashi (fish soup stock). Lastly, I add 1 pack enoki mushrooms, 1 cup chrysanthemum leaves & 1 cup of glass noodles (softened in warm water). After a few minutes of boiling all the ingredients, I serve it with steamed rice.
I pair it with a 2008 Tamborine Shiraz from Granite Belt, Australia. This smoky wine has tons of black fruit flavors (i.e. black cherries, blackberries) with a hint of soy & mushroom, and soft tannin with mouth drying finish. The weight and body of this Syrah is a great companion for the thick Sukiyaki. When you match them together, you crave for more spoonfuls of sukiyaki with each sip of Syrah and crave for more Syrah with each spoonful of sukiyaki. The slight sweetness of Sukiyaki blends in nicely with the acidity level of this wine (like sweet and sour chicken)! The Syrah’s tannin also go well with the thinly sliced rib eye steaks. The mouth-drying finish of the wine will also make you go back and dig out another spoonful Sukiyaki. And the textures of varied crunchiness, tenderness & chewiness in Sukiyaki also pair very well with this supple wine. What a fun pairing it is!
Next time when I visit Japan, I’ll take this Syrah to drink with my home-stay father, a big wine enthusiast. On a Spring evening, try making this delicious, “comforting” Sukiyaki with your family and friends. And, don’t forget to try it with Syrah. You will have tons of fun with the pairing! Happy cooking!