Tonight and next Monday night, two episodes in a row of some of the purest, hardest, straight-to-the-action, food porn we\’ve ever done on NO RESERVATIONS. And there are no better places on earth to get right to the heart of the good stuff than Japan and Spain.
There are, on reflection, some similarities between the two destinations: in both cultures, the very best ingredients, presented in all their unadorned, un-fussed with, pristine simplicity, are celebrated and enjoyed with great enthusiasm. The cult of jamon in Spain, for instance, bears some resemblance to the Japanese obsession with the very best tuna. Neither culture requires additional ingredients or garnish to get the point. I love seeing what happens to Western chefs after visiting Japan for the first time. A very fine Italian chef friend of mine returned typically traumatized by what he\’d seen and experienced. Weeks later, he still had that uniquely blissed out, confused, sort of hangdog look on his face — an expression I can only compare to what happens after you\’ve had the first really, really good sex of your life. It\’s a look that says, \”I thought I knew a few things. But apparently I don\’t.\” It\’s devastating. The kind of earth-shakingly wonderful — yet deeply upsetting event about which great romance novels are written (most, sadly, tragedies). Travel forces you to re-define the meanings of words you thought you knew. Just as watching the lives of rice farmers in Vietnam causes you to adjust your understanding of the word \”work\”, and exposure to hutment dwellers in India requires a reexamination of the word \”hunger\” , you can never return from Japan and hear the word \”sushi\” in the same way. Utility sushi is suddenly, no longer enough. You will be at least dimly aware that there\’s \”rice\” and then there\’s a universe of unknowable varieties and subtly different grades and preparations — about which neither you nor I have enough time left to learn enough about to even fake a conversation with a skilled sushi chef.
When, for a few days, or hours, your mouth comes to know the taste and feel of fish for which the proprietor paid $300 to $400 wholesale … when you wrap two fingers — gently — around slightly warm, crumbly/soft rice — over which a perfectly cut, slightly dressed piece of mackerel served at just the right temperature has been lovingly draped … when you realize the old man in front of you has spent fifty or more YEARS just getting these seemingly simple things right, you enter a whole new dimension of food appreciation.
Yakitori: Bits of chicken on a stick are no longer a snack — but the expression of centuries of thinking about pleasure.
Soba: A noodle is no longer just a noodle. The world turns on its axis — and plain old vanilla food porn is no longer enough. Tonight, at Sukibayashi Jiro, you will see what is inarguably, some of the very best sushi available on the planet. And no one — not the nerdiest of food nerds — can argue that Jiro-san himself, is not among its greatest living practitioners.
I will spare you additional details, giving you time, I hope, to pour yourself a stiff drink, situate yourself comfortably on the couch, position a bucket of ice water nearby, and strap on some extra absorbent adult diapers to avoid embarrassing emissions. Foodies with heart conditions should probably medicate themselves appropriately. The Spain episode that follows next week will only make matters worse. Food bloggers will surely be caused to bleed unexpectedly and inexplicably from various orifices, a fine mist of brain matter and steam issuing from the ears.
A seemingly straightforward scene at \”Espinaler\” near Barcelona, where we crack open some cans of mussels, cockles and razor clams will cause, I\’m quite certain, heads to explode across the internet, leaving only smoldering stumps. The gurgling pipe-loads of dark, African chocolate rumbling beneath the floor of Enric Rovira\’s workshop, when spread across marble, will no doubt initiate many newcomers watching with that special someone — to the experience of rolling over into the wet spot. By the time the Extebarri scene rolls around, and the Imperial beluga caviar and the prawns and the freshly made, uncured chorizo and the just-killed baby eels start grilling over their individual fires of hand made charcoals, few will be left alive, I fear, to appreciate the Arzak scene.
You have been warned.