Slow food, good company, stimulating conversation Japanese Style

Anisha Pemjee, The Diplomatic Society, Chef Jun Suzuki, Kirtan Bhana, The Diplomatic Society and Ambassador Norio Maruyama of Japan

2 July 2021

The ascension to the throne of the new Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, in 2019 ushered in the Reiwa era, or beautiful harmony. The Emperor’s birthday is normally a big celebration, but this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, Ambassador Norio Maruyama opted for intimate meals with fewer guests at a time. This way, said Maruyama, he was able to spend quality time with each guest.

Upon coming to South Africa, Maruyama convinced a young, very talented chef to accompany him on his posting.  Chef Jun Suzuki was in the process of opening a restaurant in Tokyo but obliged Ambassador Maruyama’s request.  Suzuki and his wife were the creative artists responsible for the tantalising, magnificently presented dishes we had the pleasure of indulging in.

Slow food is what we experienced at Ambassador Maruyama’s official residence in Pretoria. We were greeted with a green tea and to our surprise every dish on the menu was paired with a green tea. Slow, I say, because that is exactly how the Japanese green teas were cold brewed.

Beautiful harmony was encompassed in this fine dining experience, incorporating South African flavours into well thought-out  Japanese dishes.  Some South African wines were served with a few courses but even this had a Japanese influence. The wines that Ambassador Maruyama keeps in his private collection are from Stark-Condé winery, and the first wine we were served was Round Mountain, which translates to Maruyama in Japanese.  The winery, situated in the Jonkershoek Valley, is owned by Hans Schröder and his wife Midori Maruyama.

Our journey began with ‘One bite happiness’, made up of two delicacies. The first was Reiwa Monaka, a rice wafer filled with duck rillettes and topped with a Japanese spice called Kuroschichimi. The second was Kobucha, dried seaweed coagulated by a seaweed-based ingredient. This was paired with Sencha, a light, slightly fruity green tea.

This was followed by Salmon which was slow cooked at low temperature served with Yuzu, a Japanese citrus flavoured sauce. This delicate dish melted in your mouth. It was paired with Kabusecha, a green tea covered from between one to three weeks from sunlight before making it.

A colourful salad was served next with Hoozuki, Cape gooseberries. These are a fruit in South Africa but regarded as a vegetable in Japan, noted Ambassador Maruyama.

The beef fillet that was presented next was first thoroughly cooked, then roasted with Miso, a soy bean paste, and roasted again with leeks on it. Stone milled Sansho was sprinkled on it before serving.  Gyokuro tea was paired with this fillet that tantalized the taste buds.

The pasta was served in a beautiful bowl and had a distinct Japanese flavour. It was seasoned with Ume, a Japanese plum, and dried fish flakes then topped with seaweed flakes. The lightly roasted Kamairicha tea was a great accompaniment to this dish.

A light Chiffon cake with a Yomogi (Japanese herb) flavour accompanied with Anko, (sweet bean paste) was paired with the deeply roasted Houjicha green tea. The cake was slightly sweet and its texture was velvety.

The meal culminated as it began, with two bites. One, a walnut Mochi made from Tapioca and two, candy coated cashew nuts covered with Matcha.

No Japanese meal is complete without Sake, which was served as an aperitif and to conclude this wonderful experience of cuisine and personal interaction, we enjoyed The Nikka, a 12 year old Japanese whiskey with Ambassador Maruyama before bidding our farewells.

by Anisha Pemjee