If there is any question that food mania has rubbed off on the Japanese as well as Americans, just take a look at Palate Pleasers of Japan, the first--and probably only--Japanese food magazine for Americans printed in the United States.
Only 2 years old, and with Volume 3 just hot off the press, the magazine is drawing notice from aficionados of Japanese cuisine.
Palate Pleasers, sold primarily in bookstores, specialty stores, health food stores and through mail order, reaches the entire United States, according to publisher Keishi Hirano, president of Apcon International Inc., which also publishes a directory for Japanese doing business in the United States.
"At first we thought it would hit only metropolitan cities where most of the Japanese restaurants exist, but that doesn't seem to be the case. We have subscribers from remote cities in Idaho and Louisiana," said Susan Sera-Hirano, Japanese-American wife of the publisher who is listed on the masthead as editorial manager.
What prompted such a magazine? Was Hirano a visionary, a social philosopher?
Actually, the answer is far more practical.
It's estimated that there are 2,500 Japanese restaurants in the United States, a whopping increase from the handful of mom-and-pop stores emanating from a broken wartime culture after World War II. Within a decade, the rise in Japanese restaurants in California has been coincidental, not only with the revolutionary rise in food mania that has taken over most affluent societies around the world, including Japan, but also with the latest wave of well-to-do Japanese immigrants to our shores.
Today's Japanese restaurants bear an aura of elitism, and one can guess, if not really know for sure, that many of today's operators are big business conglomerates with merchandising know-how, money and stamina to brave the transplant. Nor is the restaurant fare found these days (especially in California) limited to the westernized sukiyaki and tempura of the old Japanese restaurant haunts.
Today's Japanese restaurants are introducing Americans to much the same fare as is found in affluent modern Japan--everything from familiar sushi, okonomiyaku (pancakes), kushikatsu and yakitori (kebabs) and ramen (Chinese noodles) to less familiar gourmet kappo specialties (appetizers) prepared in the ancient Kaiseki culinary style, which has lately made its appearance in top-quality restaurants here.
Enter Palate Pleasers of Japan to translate Japanese food culture and report Japanese culinary trends to Americans, who may, thinks Sera-Hirano, need some help along those lines.
"After visiting many Japanese restaurants and watching Americans dine on the Japanese cuisine, we realized that Americans are not at all familiar with the true way of enjoying the cuisine," Sera-Hirano said.
What you get from Palate Pleasers of Japan is a palate-pleasing approach to educating Americans on Japanese cuisine with food lore, glossaries, sketches and how-to recipe stories using Western models to drive the point home.
Common to all issues, however, are listings of restaurants both here and in Japan, with reviews of selected restaurants, which the Hiranos regard as an extension of their business directory.
This is how Palate Pleasers of Japan stacks up so far.
Vol. 1 in 1985 set the mood and intent of the magazine with an introduction of the staple foods of Japan--seafood, meat, vegetables, pickles, dried foods, seafood and soups. Seasonings, such as miso, rice and sauces are explained, and a rationale for the healthful approach to cuisine revealed. The traditional dishes that have been already introduced to the West, such agemono, sunomono, yakimono, nabemono and sushi are covered. In a primer on sushi, the reader is not only given the origins, but the history of the development of sushi bars in the United States.
"Even in 1975 there were only about 300 sushi houses to be found in the entire United states. By 1980 the number had zoomed to more than 1,500," an article stated.
The articles give a run-down of types of sushi, how it is prepared, and where, on both coasts, to find the best sushi. And true to focus, there is a listing of Japanese restaurants in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco Bay area, San Diego and Hawaii.
It was a good start, and the second issue in 1986 had more to say about Japanese vegetables, but this time, the vegetables were accompanied by illustrations and definitions that are worth saving.
A story on sake is a treatise on the brew from its spiritual beginnings to its present-day pasteurization process. Tofu is explained with recipes, and a list of contemporary and traditional Japanese restaurants in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles is reviewed.