Thursday, January 27, 2011

Japan Airlines Kyoto-Style Kobachi and Dainomono

On the last leg of our Culinary Journey Through South-East Asia, I had the great pleasure of flying Japan Airlines (JAL) from Saigon to Kyoto, then Kyoto to NYC. The staff were excellent but what really stood out was the food served on the flight in Business Class. With a choice of either a Western or Japanese-style dinner and drinks menu, I definitely chose the latter and it was superb. Exclusively created by Hiroshi Takami, a fifth-generation Chef of 'Kyoryori Watakame' in Kyoto, the menu was inventive and delicious. Among the many beverages to choose, there was a Sake that caught my eye — Isonosawa-Shun — that came in a distinctive blue coloured bottle. It could be served either cold or warm, but as it was an aperitif, I ordered it chilled. 

The Sake was delicious — slightly sweet but oh so smooth! It's is a great alternative to white wine and can also be served over ice with some Japanese rice crackers, or Arare, which are little bite-size colourful snacks that come flavored with soy sauce, nori (dried seaweed), kombu (kelp), sesame seeds (both black and white) or soybeans, and can be found in most high-end supermarkets these days. I think I've seen the Sake at the LCBO too.

The first course of the Japanese-style dinner that arrived was Kobachi, a gorgeous assortment of eight little tastes served in small porcelain bowls. The attention to detail in the presentation and individual garnishes was inspiring. I spent as much time admiring the skill and artistry that went onto this creation as I did savouring each of the wonderful taste sensations, which included: (left to right, top to bottom) Poached 'Komatsuna' Vegetable with Mustard; Sea Bream rolled with Kelp and Steamed Fish and Egg Mousse; Fried Radish and Conger Eel; Simmered Sardine with Dried Bonito Flakes and Fried Tofu; Soft Tofu-Style Cod-Roe with Soy Sauce Starch; Sea Bream Sushi with Turnip and garnished with a skewered black bean and picked radish; Vinegared Flounder with Kelp Julienne; and Steamed Fish Mousse and 'Hijiki' Seaweed rolled 'Yuba' Crepe. Each Kobachi was unique and great fun to eat, offering a lovely flavour balance between sweet and sour, salty and savoury (umami).

There were two main courses, or Dainomono, to choose from on Hiroshi's menu: Roasted Japanese Pork with Sweet and Sour Sauce and Cod Roe Quiche, or Grilled Greenland Halibut with Egg White Mousse and Steamed Crabmeat Mousse rolled with White Cabbage. A hot bowl of fragrant Miso Soup preceeded the arrival of the Dainomono, and came in a traditional small black lacquer bowl. Warm and satisfying, it provided the perfect foil for the richer flavours to come.

Grilled Greenland Halibut with Egg White Mousse 
and Steamed Crabmeat Mousse rolled with White Cabbage

Roasted Japanese Pork with Sweet and Sour Sauce and Cod Roe Quiche

A selection of tangy Japanese pickles and steamed rice accompanied the two Dainomono. Although very tasty, the entrées lacked the visual élan of the Kobachi. The steamed crabmeat mousse was excellent though — well worth trying again at home! 

For dessert — Apple and Caramel Cinnamon Mousse. Smooth, delicate and dotted with diced Lichee and a thin slice of pressed fig and almond, this caramel confection held another surprise — the demi-lune apple garnish was actually caramelized apple mousse with a wafer thin slice of candied plum along its edge.  This is airline food? Incredible. After a hot cup of Japanese Green Tea to finish the meal, I turned off my overhead light and with a sigh of contentment, lay my head down and slept the rest of the way home.