Pandas have been popping up with great frequency this summer. First, the boast that the greatest number of pandas outside China lives in the southwest of Japan, in Wakayama prefecture. Then, Lady Gaga’s very poised appearance showcased a Japanese designer’s dress, and panda-modoki makeup.
(note to self: I wonder if she knows pandas are Chinese?)
Then in a talk in a local restaurant my friend Yoshiko runs, the Yushima shokudō, the speaker, FUNAKOSHI Atsuhiro, mentioned the panda’s diet. The context was a laid-back sort of charismatic but jokey lecture about foods to keep you healthy, especially as illustrated by people who didn’t get sick after their genbaku (atomic radiation/bomb) experience in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He mentioned the panda’s herbivore diet, and how the chubby panda contradicted the image of the gaunt and slightly edgy stereotype of the health nut. Funakoshi himself first settled on his own angle of cuisine–wara cooking–after talking to the ‘father of macrobiotic cooking,’ SAKURAZAWA Yukikazu, aka George Osawa. Wara uses fresh vegetables, and is a kind of slow cooking that uses a technique called kasane-ni (重ね煮), or layering of things to cook them slowly. Anyway, the panda seemed to illustrate how one could thrive and even seem a bit decadent even on an herbivore diet.
This is a meat-based dish, Pork Loin and Cabbage Layered Stew, but is one example of how kasani-ne has been adopted for everyday cooking. The result is a bit like the tenderness and mingling of flavors you get with a slow cooker. I also post it because it is pretty salty, and in Tokyo these days, salt is making a comeback with anti-radiation echoes. But that is another story…