by Nguyen Khanh Chi
|Food as art: Japanese chefs from Hiroo Katsura, Tokyo, make sushi on Japan Day.—VNS Photo Truong Vi
HA NOI (VNS)— "I will not eat this because I do not want to break such a beautiful setting," Nguyen Thanh Huyen says softly, gazing at the sushi plate.
The sushi is made by Japanese chefs, forming oval balls of rice with slices of raw tuna, salmon, squid, prawn, fish or caviar on top.
They were celebrating Japan Day last week, an event among many throughout the year to mark the 40th anniversary of the Viet Nam-Japan relationship, held in Ha Noi and HCM City.
The celebration features both food and culture. Ambassador to Viet Nam Yasuaki Tanizaki says the idea belongs to Sugi Ryotaro, special Japan-Vietnam ambassador, who wanted to incorporated cuisine – the pride of Japan – with traditional culture.
"This is an opportunity for you to learn more about Japanese culture and tradition as well as the professionalism and skill of Japanese artists," says Tanizaki.
Huyen moves on to find young Japanese chefs "playing" with wooden molds, sticks, white beans and sweet potato starch and other ingredients. Tables in front of them are topped with trays of roses, iris, waterfowl, maple leaves and chrysanthemums. The Wagashi – traditional Japanese cakes – appeal to those with a sweet tooth.
Minamoto Kitchen Co assistant factory manager Tatsunori Kawatou pauses to answer guests' questions about a colourful hydrangea flower made of rice and wheat flour on a table.
"This plant is an image of Japanese culture and art," she says.
"Hydrangeas bloom in the rainy season, usually in June. It has large blooms, each one with many tiny flowers. It looks simple but it takes lot of time and effort."
Later, as Huyen sits down for boiled abalone pieces on a seaweed boat, she says she feels the same as she did with the sushi: "It is too beautiful to be eaten.
"I was told that cooking in Japan is regarded as an art. It is true.
"Everything around me is so traditionally Japanese; even the waiters and waitresses are dressed in Japanese-style uniform."
Guests who attend the festival have to employ all five senses to take everything in. They enjoy sushi, tempura (fried tiger prawn, lotus root slice, sweet potato bars tasted with salt, covered with green tea powder), soba noodle and wagashi while sipping Japanese beer and sake.
Kiyoshi Narashima and his team at Hiroo Katsura, a famous sushi restaurant in Tokyo, and chefs from other well-known restaurants in Japan traveled thousands of kilometres to bring Japanese dishes, including sushi, which they regard as "the taste of happiness".
"Making sushi is not easy. Ingredients play a vital role but what decides the quality of the sushi is the heart and mind of the cook," says Narashima.
"I always remind myself of making perfect sushi that customers feel completely satisfactory and appetising. My happiness is to see guests come more and more."
Meanwhile, Japanese artists perform a traditional magic show, with dances and singing to the sound of flute, drums and other musical instruments.
"It's a wonderful idea to combine cuisine and culture," says People's Artist actress Le Khanh. "This further proves that culture is the quickest and nicest way to make people understand each other easily.
"The Japanese do well with traditional things. The dishes are prepared finely by hand in every tiny detail.
"Looking at these features, I think it would make everyone want to learn more about Japanese culture and tradition," Kanh says.
"While the world has gone crazy over high technology, a traditional magical performance [by artist Fujiyama Shintaro] with pieces of paper, to tell a story of a butterfly family, makes us feel life is simple and very beautiful."—VNS