Sunday, January 16, 2011

Emi's Eats: Behind the Scenes at Hiroshi's

My first column article published this week in the North American Post. I had spent much time agonizing over what my angle would be. All I knew was that I wanted to go with a restaurant that I knew was good and that is actively involved in our community. Naturally, I went with Hiroshi's which has been one of my favorites for many years and a restaurant I have blogged about before.

As I take on this new adventure, there are a couple of distinct challenges I have realized I will face that I do not face with blogging.

#1: I now have deadlines. Writing for me is an organic experience and comes best when I have time and a good glass of wine. I am having flashbacks to writing mid term papers at 10PM the night before they are due. I am finding that one month can pass by quickly and my deadline can approach like a swell of waves where once one hits, the next can come quickly behind to wash over you, one after another...

#2: Fact checking. As much as Kyle and I like to think everything we say or write about is 100% fact, I realize there is so much opinion and bias to what we write about in our blog. Putting your thoughts in black and white print forces you to really think about what you write and make sure if it is not your opinion, that there is solid fact checking to back your claims.

#3: Word count. I haven't even gotten to my first article or any interesting facts about Hiroshi's, and I have already written a novel. I obviously need to work on the concept of "less is more." I have 500-800 words per article and found it very difficult to filter all my thoughts in a short article. Back to my mid-term paper flashbacks: I used to spend hours re-formatting papers with larger font, larger margins, adding in superlative words to make my paper reach the magic page number requirement; now I am having the opposite problem, struggling for hours to edit it down.

However, in the end, I am finding the whole experience, challenges and all, exciting and invigorating! It is so fun to have this new outlet and the best part about it is I am learning so much more about my favorite restaurants and our wonderful Seattle community. Plus, I have also found that my fabulous food-fanatic husband and marketing extraordinaire, is the best partner in crime and gives me inspiration and ideas for future articles. I couldn't ask for a better supporter. His only request is that I thank him in my future book--I think this blog may be the closest we will come to that...THANK YOU HUSBAND!

So here we go with the first article. My goal was to discuss osechi ryori (traditional Japanese New Year's food) and restaurants that serve it. I hit the writers gold mine by starting with Hiroshi's because I found out through research that he is really the only restaurant that serves osechi and is open on New Years. Kyle and I had a fabulous lunch at the sushi bar and spoke with Hiroshi for hours about his food, family, career and New Year's traditions. He even took the time to show us how he makes one of his osechi dishes, shrimp balls. The above picture is of him making the shrimp, which I included in the article.

In addition to what is included in the article, we found out that other than food, Hiroshi has a deep passion for travel and adventure. He first traveled on his own when he was 9 years old (obviously a different time and a different place, Japan is much safer than the US!) and once he was 18, backpacked through 35 countries including Russia, China, Europe and Southeast Asia. He finally decided he had to settle down and work, and trained under a sushi master chef in Japan. Then, a customer who did business in Seattle suggested that he come to Seattle and open a restaurant so he could eat Hiroshi's food when he did his business travel. Hiroshi obliged and the rest is history.

Hiroshi does a lot for the Seattle Japanese American community. He recently was the on-site caterer for the filming of a Japanese mini-series on the WWII internment of Japanese Americans. I could go on for many more pages, but let's just go with the article. Thanks for putting up with my babbling!

Emi’s Eats: Osechi Ryori

I associate my childhood New Year’s celebrations with being forced to eat one kuromame (sweet black bean) for good health and one morsel of each carefully prepared nishime ingredient for good luck. These foods are the same symbols and traditions that many of us in the Japanese American community share year in and year out.
As a young food lover, this was not my favorite holiday because I often left the New Year’s parties unsatisfied and still hungry. However, as I get older, I have acquired a love and respect for osechi ryori (traditional Japanese New Year’s dishes) not only because my palate has refined since those Kraft-macaroni-and-cheese-loving-days, but also because of the amount of time and care that goes into making each and every one of the dozens of dishes that are a part of our Japanese American community Oshogatsu celebrations.

After a fabulous lunch at one of my favorite local spots, Hiroshi’s (2501 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle 98102, 206-726-4966), I sat down with the chef and owner, Hiroshi Egashira, to discuss his Oshogatsu food traditions and New Year’s restaurant offerings.

While most other Japanese restaurants close over the New Year, Hiroshi’s remains open and serves up traditional osechi to those of us who do not have a skilled Obaachan (grandmother) to make the meal for us. While we speak of “traditional” Japanese foods, we see in Hiroshi's example that osechi foods vary infinitely because of the makers' artistry, creativity, and tastes.

Over three days, Hiroshi and his staff labor over each dish, even working through the night. I came in on December 30 and Hiroshi told me he would be lucky to get two hours of sleep that night as he worked to finish the last dishes. While he has several cooks who help him with the preparation, he alone crafts each dish since there is no exact recipe. Rather, Hiroshi uses his instincts and feelings to produce some of the best osechi in town; instincts he learned beginning at age three from his mother when he helped her prepare for Oshogatsu.
I watched as he prepared one of his osechi specialties, shrimp balls. Egg yolks and salt are blended in a food processor and are emulsified with oil to create a smooth mayonnaise type of binding agent; Hiroshi says it helps give the shrimp a richer flavor with more umami. After setting this mixture to the side, he blends one hundred deveined shrimp in the food processor with salt and mixes the shrimp with the mayonnaise. Mixing chopped onions and potato starch with white pepper, he carefully rolls his shrimp and mayonnaise through the starchy white powder to form little ornament-sized balls that look like snow balls you could hang from a Christmas tree. Instead, he deep fries the shrimp balls and out they come, perfectly golden with an aroma so delectable that there is little chance you would let it sit uneaten in a beautiful bento box, let alone hang it on your tree. The end result is a truly satisfying Japanese-style meatball that packs in great shrimp flavor with a slightly spongy and surprisingly light texture.

Hiroshi's shrimp balls, golden and delicious.

Watching Hiroshi make just one dish left me feeling exhausted, and I know there are dozens more still to be made. This is part of the reason he told me he has never thought of New Year’s as a “holiday.” It is work, made worthwhile because of his over three hundred loyal customers who order his famed osechi every year and feast gratefully, appreciating the fact that someone else labored to make their traditional fare. Meanwhile, on January 2, you will find Hiroshi catching up on some much needed rest on one of his few days off before jumping into another busy year.
What are your New Year’s family traditions and eats? Share them with me at or

Happy Eating,

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