We chat to Nanban chef Tim Anderson about giving some love to ramen, dumplings and fried chicken
We’ve been chowing down the dirty food trend of deep-fried high-quality meat, smothered in processed cheese and smoky sauces for aaages now and, while it’s hard to imagine life without gourmet burgers, pulled pork and hot dogs – guys, we need to move on to something else.
How about if we throw a little bit of something exotic in that mix? So something that’s comforting, hearty, from the Far East and, OK, it won't exactly be hitting Gwyneth Paltrow's table anytime soon, but tastes mighty fine? Ladies and gentlemen: please meet Japanese soul food.
It’s a trend that has been pioneered by MasterChef 2011 winner, chef Tim Anderson, both in his Nanban cookery book, his supper clubs and his new restaurant in Brixton – also called Nanban – that’s due to open next month. We caught up with him to find out about comfort food as we’ve never seen it before.
So what is Japanese soul food?
It references our book, Nanban: Japanese Soul Food, which has a lot of what we cook. Soul food in America comes from the Southern states and this food is from the South of Japan, so it's a term that captures the overall vibe. It's very hearty, filling, rustic and not very refined. It’s pork belly, fried chicken – and big flavours like chilli, citrus garlic.
Sounds right up our street. What’s your signature dish?
I didn’t invent it, but we have this dish called Yaki curry and it’s a Japanese curry gratin. It comes from a town called Mojiko and it’s rice, vegetable curry and on the top is melted cheese. You don’t think of it as very Japanese but you won’t find it anywhere else.
We thought the Japanese didn’t really eat cheese or dairy?
They do use it, weirdly, as a topping sometimes for other Japanese dishes like ramen. They’re not big cheese connoisseurs, things like blue cheese aren't that popular because of the strong flavour. But pizza is a big deal, so I think yaki curry is like a flavour cousin to pizza – a starchy base, soft middle, then toppings like melted cheese. It's the fatty, salty hit.
OK, we’re drooling now. What’s the plan for your restaurant in Brixton? Will you be incorporating any local flavours into your dishes?
Definitely. We did a residency in Brixton last summer and I started using the market to get a lot of ingredients and products to make specials. There are so many interesting products there that we’re now putting on the menu – ackee and saltfish go really well with Japanese flavours.
We’re going to be doing curried goat dipping ramen which just works really well. Cool little things we’ll incorporate into the menu will be things like smoked dried West African shellfish, which I think they use as an umami base for a lot of dishes, but it tastes a lot like similar things you get in Japan. So we’ll be using that a lot as a garnish for ramens, too. Plus other tasty ingredients like Scotch bonnet and cassava that you wouldn’t really know about unless you’ve been working in Brixton.
You’re originally from Wisconsin in America – what drew you to Japanese food?
I discovered Japanese food when I was 14 and had never seen anything like it – it just seemed so exotic and crazy – so I just ate as much as I could. When I moved there, I realised there are loads of local and regional specialities and it seemed that each week out there I’d learn something new, like a new dish or a new food.
What do the Japanese make of your food?
They almost can’t judge the fusion food as they don't have anything to compare it with – they know it’s not traditional and that isn’t what I’m trying to do. Generally they like it, but even now if I’m in Japan and I have a bowl of ramen, I’m constantly judging it and comparing it. When people have their first great bowl of ramen, that’s the one they really fall in love with and that’s the one they hold up as their ideal.
What’s next for you?
I’d like to open another restaurant, a place that does Northern Japanese food, which is similar in the sense that it’s quite hearty and has a soul food feeling about it, but it’s different in the specifics. In the north they have miso ramen and are one of the few places in Japan that are famous for their cheese. They also grow corn and potatoes up there and have really interesting seafood, salmon. The further you get away from Tokyo and Kyoto, the more different the food becomes. I’d also love to do another book – I’ve got another pitch in the pipeline.
Kara-age (Japanese fried chicken)
Serves 2 to 4
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1⁄2 shallot
- 5g fresh ginger
- 1⁄2 tbsp hot chilli powder 1⁄2 tsp white pepper
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 4 tbsp sake (or mirin)
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp yuzu juice
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- 2 boneless chicken thighs
- 100g potato starch (or rice flour or cornflour) vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 1⁄4 lime or lemon per serving
- soy sauce or mayonnaise (optional)
1. Grate the garlic, shallot and ginger. Combine with the chilli powder, pepper, soy sauce, sake, sesame oil, yuzu juice and vinegar in a bowl. Lay the chicken thighs out flat and cut them into quarters. Place the chicken pieces in a bowl, pour the marinade over them and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
2. Heat the vegetable oil to 170°C in a large heavy saucepan. Drain the chicken pieces in a sieve, then dredge each piece in the potato starch, laying them out in a single layer on a plate after dredging. Let them sit for a little while, then dredge the pieces again, shaking off the excess starch – the double dredging is to make sure all the moisture on the surface of the chicken is absorbed and covered, resulting in a crisper, less greasy chicken.
3. Line a plate or tray with paper towel. Fry the chicken pieces in batches for about 5 minutes, or until deeply browned, then drain on the paper towel. Serve with a wedge of lime or lemon, and perhaps some soy sauce or mayonnaise.