Watching Japanese TV is often quite intolerable for many foreigners. Of course there`s the language problem but it goes far beyond that. From the garish-coloured sets to the bright, flashing kanji captions (accompanied by silly sound effects) to the little box in the corner where the reactions of Japanese celebrities’ faces can be seen, Japanese TV is really dumbed down! Of course I`m not the target market at all but one such programme geared towards people like me is `Cool Japan` on NHK BS1 at 6pm on Sunday evenings.
It is pretty much the only Japanese TV show I regularly watch. The title is pretty naff and it can be seen as propaganda telling viewers how brilliant and amazing everything in Japan is. Whilst there`s an element of truth in that I do think it`s pretty fair and balanced in mixing the positives and negatives of Japanese life and culture.
The topic of each show may not always sound the most enthralling but there`s usually something of interest every episode. The food and travel ones are the most appealing shows for me and about a month ago the theme was “pork” and one of the foreign guests Peter (from the USA) went to a restaurant in an area of Tokyo I used to visit often as we lived in the neighbouring town.
Gokuatsuya (3-16-21 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku) is located on a very quiet backstreet about ten minutes on foot from Takadanobaba Station. On a rainy day one Friday last month my wife and I ventured down to this northern part of Shinjuku ward to try the dish which I`d seen on TV at the start of that week. It was a small but fairly popular place with around ten seats only.
The first option on the menu was the one we wanted to try, and it is indeed the most popular dish for 80% of customers. A choice of four little side dishes to accompany the main meal is available. When we were in attendance they were; (1) cold tofu and shiso; (2) bean sprouts, Japanese ginger and pork; (3) carrot, cucumber and boiled chicken, and (4) tuna and corn potato salad. None of them were overwhelmingly enticing but we both chose the third option.
After tax, the price is 1050 yen ($9.50) and a short time later an amazing super-thick grilled ginger pork set meal had been assembled on the tray in front of our counter-seats. The set included miso soup, ginger-seasoned rice, salad, pickles and of course the thick slice of pork-like steak.
In the VT on `Cool Japan`, Peter asked for a knife and fork before being told he could easily cut into it with chopsticks. It was all a bit cringe but I have no doubt the poor guy was directed to say and do such a thing.
It`s made by putting a thick slice of Boston butt in a bag with salt, pepper and water and marinating it in salt water for 20 hours at a low temperature of about 70 degrees. This results in an incredibly soft piece of pork which certainly doesn`t need a knife to cut through it! A special ginger sauce is then poured on top of it to complete the look.
Japan priorities softer meat more than in the west, and this dish is a fine example of that. If you like the chashu (Japanese braised pork belly) meat you get in many ramen dishes then you`ll probably be interested in trying this thick piece of ginger steak-like pork.
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