Natural Disasters tend to have a ring-on effect. A tsunami brings with it waves that continue to beat the country even months and years after the waters recede. Although the news has petered to a trickle, Japan’s problems are far from over.
Of course, there is the rebuild, the ongoing threat of radiation, the grief, and the lack of services or assistance compounding the problem. If you want to keep up with it, just type Japan into Google. The first site will be Wikipedia, but under that, you will find only tragedy for page after page. No tourism, no sushi, no technology news. (the best update I have found is here)
One of the key words you will find in your search results is ‘boycott’. Because, of course, there has been a radiation leak. This poison transfers fairly easily into foods, particularly fruit and vegetables. So we have poisoned food in a country where resources are already disabled in all manners. This means lower levels of food for domestic consumption, and international boycotts on their exports. Ironically, one of the best sources of natural iodine is Japanese sea kelp, and the consumption of this will assist the body in fending off any radiation absorption.
I feel awful. The pain keeps on coming for these people. But at the same time, I don’t want to put any nuclear food in my body. In my panic I avoided Japanese restaurants for the last month, worried that radiated product would be heading our way. I know they are testing radiation levels in the USA, UK and Australia when it comes to Japanese imports, but I’ve read nothing about that here. To all those that think my fear is stupid, inflamed and irrational, you are all right. I’m sorry, but my brain is a fragile organ that I have very little control over. Fortunately, time tends to heal my nerves, and now I have returned to one of my favourite cuisines. Hello Honyaki.
Honyaki opened in Madinat Jumeirah only a couple of weeks ago, and ‘Foodiva’ Samantha Wood was heading down for lunch and wanted some company. Lucky me, I love dining with other foodies – we can talk about all the nit-picky stuff I love.
As you can see from the photograph, the kitchen is not actually a cooking zone, it’s an artist’s studio. We ordered sashimi, maki rolls, a sushi sandwich, a couple of spoons and ice-cream. You would think that would be enough for two, even a couple of ravenous foodies, but every plate that passed us fueled our appetite. The guys behind the bench really are something special – I have rarely seen prettier food.
But does it taste good? Sashimi was tasty – particularly the yellow-tail – but the salmon was cut in long fine waves, and I’m a traditionalist – I like little bricks – they’re easier to pick up and fling into your mouth before the slippery little suckers fall off your chopsticks.
The Maki was OK. We had ordered the ‘rock and roll’ spicy tuna maki, and I was expecting something to explode into my mouth like an Aerosmith drum solo. Not so. They seriously need to crank up the heat. Together with that, the wasabi paste was a little insipid. Samantha tells me that the real wasabi one finds in Japan is traditionally not as spicy as we tend to eat it elsewhere, but this Aussie likes a fire up her nose – if it’s not there, it’s just not right. The sandwich was good – a crab mix with crunchy tempura flakes sandwiched in between rice and nori, but again, needed a little more punch.
The stand-outs were the spoons. This is something I have not seen in Japanese restaurants before, but I LIKE it. It’s almost like a deconstructed roll. The first was wagyu – described as simply seered wagyu with sweet soy sauce, but in fact was a wafer-thin roll of melt-in-the-mouth rare beef topping some deeply flavoured rice soaked in sticky soy and I’m sure something else – maybe some beef stock derivative. This was then sprinkled with fried panko breadcrumbs and crispy shallot flakes. It had everything – sweet, salty, spicy, meaty, crunchy, chewy, crumbly. Just magic. It was so good, that Samantha declined dessert, opting instead for the salmon spoon, which came with sweet mustard miso sauce and bursting salmon roe the size of green peas. I really hope they increase the range of spoons available – at the moment there are only four.
Dessert for me was two patties of green tea and lychee ice cream, both encased in little soybean pillows. My introduction to Mochi, stunning, and just as good to eat, although it’s hard to make yourself break through their artsy little casings.
But the question is, do I now have radiation poisoning? No. Most of the kelp used in Nori production, although termed Japanese Kelp, is in fact farmed thousands of kilometers away in China. The fish is all sourced as locally as possible, as are all the other ingredients. (However I have heard there is a dearth on the pickled pink ginger – none of which we saw on the plate today.) All we have taken from Japan is their expertise. And when I think of it like this, it feels like I’m stealing. But will that stop me going back to Honyaki? I think not.
Honyaki is located above the Amphitheatre in Madinat Jumeirah Souk, next to Jambase. It is licenced and serves Sake, some other Japanese beverages and extortionately priced wine by the glass, and of course soft drinks. I can imagine quickly finding my way to the bottom of my wallet here on the terrace on a balmy March evening. The tea is bottomless and a bargain at 25AED. Total of our bill was 380AED – not cheap, but we were very well fed. Opening hours are daily from 12 till 12.
Tel: +971 4 3666730
Fax: +971 4 3666649