Cross-cultural culinary interpretations: “chuka”

I had blogged earlier about Chinese food done Indian style and yoshoku, Japanese interpretations of western dishes which have now become integrated into ‘Japanese cuisine’. In recent months, I also read in the Singapore press about about chuka, which is Taiwanese food adapted for the Japanese palate.

I’m curious as to what extent Chinese food in Japan explicitly distinguishes between the wide variety of regional Chinese cuisines. Is all mainstream Chinese food in Japan derived from Taiwanese cooking? The fact that chuka is specifically Taiwanese in influence points to an interesting historical connection: Japan’s 50-year colonial rule in Taiwan from 1895-1945.

************

Here’s a recent review of a chuka restaurant in Singapore from TODAY newspaper.

TODAY
4 June 07

SAY KONNICHIWA TO CHUKA
———————–
Sangokushi offers a unique blend of Japanese and Taiwanese cuisines

Shermaine wong
shermaine@mediacorp.com.sg
WHERE: Sangokushi, 30 Robertson Quay, #01-03 Riverside View
TELEPHONE: 6238 8962
OPERATING HOURS: 11.30am to 2.30pm (lunch); 6pm to 10.30pm (dinner) daily.

Closed during lunch on Mondays.

Before you mistake it as yet another attempt at fusion food, this
restaurant’s unique blend of Japanese and Taiwanese food is actually a
bona fide cuisine called chuka, which is popular all around Japan

Taiwan-born lady bosses, Rita Chou, 36, and Kasei Mizuno, 47, co-own
Sangokushi at Robertson Quay, with the latter helming the kitchen. Rita
discovered chuka cuisine while she was a student in Tokyo – incidentally
in the same restaurant that Kasei was working in then

After being in Singapore for four years, Rita roped in Kasei – who has
more than 20 years of experience cooking chuka cuisine – to set up shop
in Singapore, and Sangokushi was born last May

Essentially a Japanese version of Chinese food, chuka cuisine prides
itself on serving lighter-tasting Chinese dishes – which the Japanese
prefer – while retaining the ingredients’ original taste

While the bulk of her initial clientele were Japanese thrilled to find a
restaurant serving authentic chuka cuisine, Rita now sees an increasing
number of locals coming in as well. No surprises here, since the flavours
at Sangokushi are appealing enough to attract a bigger audience

Case in point – the handmade pan-fried pork dumplings ($5 for six pieces).
Easily one of the best I’ve had, the dumpling’s thin skin was browned to a
crisp on one side and when I bit into it, the pork and vegetable juices
flowed easily.

A Taiwanese favourite, the humble deep-fried chicken chop ($10), was also
done to perfection here. Ever the meticulous chef, Kasei insists on using
Taiwan-imported tapioca starch to coat the slab of chicken thigh meat
because the result would be an “airy and crisp” coating. She was right.
The tender chicken chop turned out flawless.

Weight-watchers will enjoy the sautéed seafood with celery ($18), a
delicate-tasting dish that allowed the fresh squid and prawns to take
centrestage. This home-style dish, added with juicy shimeiji mushrooms,
stayed true to its chuka roots of keeping flavours original and light.

Sangokushi’s sautéed crab with garlic ($45) is a must try – just the smell
of the dish alone justifies that tag. Rita says they try to buy meatier
flower crabs to give diners more bite for their buck. Deep-fried to seal
the juices in, generous amounts of fried minced garlic are then sprinkled
over the crustacean. It was so delicious I had to stop myself from
blurting out oishii in the crowded restaurant.

If you like offal, then make a beeline for the pig’s liver with chives
($9). This particular dish is not commonly found in Taiwan, but is
popular in chuka restaurants in Japan. The liver was done just right – 90
per cent cooked so it remained tender. Paired with chives, bean sprouts
and garlic, it would make a fine pairing with white rice.

Kasei has been dishing out her seafood la mian ($13) for more than 20
years in Japan and her experience certainly showed up in this simple bowl
of noodles – fresh ingredients (prawns, squid, mushroom and a mix of
veggies) complemented the silky ramen noodles and robust tasting milky
broth.

I ended my meal with the Sangokushi special dessert ($4) – homemade mango
puree with sago was topped with a scoop of ice cream. Though simple, it
was refreshing and I particularly liked that it was not too sweet.

Blending two cuisines so popular with us locals might seem like a
no-brainer – yet Sangokushi is one of the rare few restaurants, if not the
only, to serve chuka cuisine here.

Judging by the never-ending stream of customers at the door and those
lapping it up inside the restaurant while I was there during lunch, one
can safely conclude that Rita and Kasei have struck pay dirt with their
quirky mix of Taiwanese and Japanese flavours.

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