Archive for the ‘The Umami Reader’ Category

The Umami Reader, vol.013: MSG is Sexy

March 5, 2008

Photo (c) The New York Times

Props to my girl Julia Moskin over at the NY Times Dining section for today’s cover story about MSG. It’s a thorough, well investigated, succinct update on the forms MSG has taken in our globalized, contemporary fast food world. Read it!

Of course, you can’t talk MSG without talking UMAMI. MSG was invented in Japan in the early 1900s on the principal of umami, or “glutamates”. As the article reveals, umami is a tricky subject, having sustained an endless, heated debate in the nutrition and food science industries. One university lady says, “All this umami stuff is just marketing”. I don’t agree with that, but I can see how frustrating the idea of umami can be for these food scientists.

Really, umami is more of a concept. My dad, a professional chef, even has a difficult time explaining umami to me. People say “roundness”, “meatiness” or “savoriness”, but c’mon, what does that even mean?

Moskin says, “Although umami is only a bit player in Japanese cuisine, reams of breathless prose have been produced here on this elusive fifth taste, which is supposedly linked to the profoundly pure, deep sea flavors of kelp and dried tuna.”

I gotta give it to her- this is a pretty insightful statement. To sound absolutely hokey, umami is something like poetry. BUT, she trips up when she says that it’s only a “bit player in Japanese cuisine”– I could write a dissertation on how the concept of this elusive umami is a metaphor for Japanese culture in general. One word people: SUBTLETY!!! The subtlety of the flavors of dashi (broth), which is basically water boiled with kelp or dried bonito or shiitake mushrooms creates a foundation of flavor that is so slight, so subtle, but is absolutely the basis of Japanese food.

Japanese culture is based on this subtlety- you communicate feelings and thoughts without overt, obvious actions or words. Call it Zen, whatever you want, but it is what it is. (I say this completely removed from Japanese culture, cause I’m totally the opposite of subtle.)

In conclusion, I would just like to say that I named this blog Umami Mart on the idea that umami exists in all foods, not just Japanese cuisine. It’s just a happy feeling that you get eating carne asada, tom yum, an In-n-Out burger. Why else would we eat?

According to the article, MSG is in anything in the world now from your Doritos, salad dressing to bouillon cubes. MSG transformed umami into a substantial, real entity- it ain’t just poetry anymore! Your lips might get tingly, but c’mon, that is so sexy.

Related topics:
* Eat, Drink and Be Merry’s post on the world of Maggi sauces– awesome post

* My pop‘s spicy tuna roll, the best EVER (no joke), wouldn’t be what it is without the wondrous Kewpie mayonnaise (above picture, dead center). Thank god for mayo in a tube.

The Umami Reader, vol.012

February 12, 2008

Noteworthy readings and eatings (NOT breaking news):

  • Dreamy Vday Date: White Castle with table service! (Eater)
  • Adrian Tomine on the cover of Times Dining! (NYT)
  • Oishii Eats explores Oaxaca: A picture diary (Oishii Eats)

The Umami Reader, vol.011

January 30, 2008

Noteworthy readings and eatings (not necessarily what you would call breaking news):

  • Interviews with 3 hottie female sommeliers at top restaurant in SF, LA and NY (Splendora)
  • Pasta carbonara vs. Pasta all’amatriciana: Debates in authenticity (Eternally Cool & NYT)
  • Paula Deen’s Fried Butter Balls: fatty treats for Super Bowl weekend (Food Network, via Amy)
  • Mark Bittman preaches the Omnivore’s Dilemma: I’ll think about it, but only cause it’s Mark (NYT)
  • Cheeseburger in a can: the Germans really did it this time (Gizmodo, via Matt)

*Please send any links to what you’re reading to

The Umami Reader, vol.010

January 24, 2008

Noteworthy readings and eatings:

  • Kimchi Family video- complete with beatboxing! (Youtube, via Ayagwa)
  • “Protect your family! Mercury in Sushi!!!” Why are people so lame??? (NYT, Fumiko)
  • The BaconFall (I Believe in Advertising, Matt)
  • The Venison Feast is coming! (Zlata Prata Restaurant, Judson)

The Umami Reader, vol. 009 – The Matt Edition

December 19, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings, all via Matt K.:

  • World class chefs mouth off about what they will be scarfing down at their last supper
  • Urban Rustic, a “modern foodie emporium” opens in Williamsburg (all 2600 sq. ft.!)
  • Williamsburg hangout Marlowe and Sons featured in a Ford SUV commercial

(incidentally, I asked the guys from M&S if they made a lot from this commercial, to which they replied, “Not enough.”-ka)

The Umami Reader, vol. 008

December 4, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings:

  • Bill Buford’s exploration into the thick muddy world of the cacao bean (via Matt- sorry only the abstract is available online)
  • Bourdain and Eric Ripert in the kitchen at Les Halles sometime in the next two weeks! (Grub Street)
  • Bruni’s love for candles and the 2008 presidential candidates (via Greg)
  • On Sun. 12/16, New Amsterdam Public, a non-profit, will present WINTERMARKET, an indoor market of sustainable, regional foods (within 500 miles of NYC) . Mario Batali is set to attend (via Amy)

The Umami Reader, vol. 007

September 14, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings:

  • Backyard Brooklyn farm – one man’s locavore journey (jesus, can we talk about something else now?) – NY Mag
  • Trillin’s education in Singapore street food (shoot, only the abstract is available online!) – NYer
  • NY Dept. of Health is EVIL– via Eater
  • Bourdain’s lengthy faux apology about his behavior on Top Chef – via GrubStreet

The Umami Reader, vol.006

August 14, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings:

  • How to make tofu– great video! (via Irwin)
  • An in-depth report in the NYer about the decline of bees, and what that means for the future of honey, and cross pollination. Worth the long read
  • Informative, succinct summary of the undefineable term umami, and umamilicious sake styles (via Aya)
  • I am currently going through a health craze, and obsessed with superfoods (don’t worry, it’s just a phase)
  • *UM MUST READ*Making bacon time. INCREDIBLE!!! (via Irwin)

The Umami Reader, vol.005

July 18, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings (please forgive me for being so behind!):

  • Armed robber sits down for a glass of wine and hugs. This is an awesome, totally bizarre story (via Dawn)
  • David Pasternack keeps it crudo (via Dan)
  • Grand Central Oyster Bar (my personal favorite restaurant in NYC) grosses all time high of $14.2 million last year- WOW!!
  • Check, Please!: free video podcasts of regular folks reviewing restaurants in the Bay Area (via Erin)

The Umami Reader, vol.004

June 25, 2007

Noteworthy readings and eatings:

  • Langer’s, a pastrami paradise in LA for 60 years! (via Jim)
  • Gab chows down on carne asadas from the Calexico cart in SoHo
  • What the spelling bee champion eats to get his alphabet on (excruciating to watch, but it has its moments– the kid needs to be smacked; via Molio)
  • Tell your bf you are pregnant over dinner (Michael Cera outtakes. Super vaguely food related but just had to put it in here for the shear joy factor; via Matt)