Chef Jesper Björkel’s new book, published last week, is about Japanese food, a rich world of which is much more than sushi.
Chef Jesper Björkell, who received his sushi training in Japan and developed Hanko Sushi, opened a Japanese restaurant in Helsinki last year. However, there is no sushi on the list, even though he has been given the title of Sushi Master.
– Needless to say, I rarely order it anywhere. Sushi is just a small part of Japanese food culture, where there are many more interesting things.
Among other things, he talks about Japanese food culture in his book Ninja in the Kitchen, which he co-wrote with Heiki Valkama – The Journey to Becoming a Master of Japanese Cuisine (Tammi).
Björkell presents popular Japanese daily dishes and bar dishes in his book and in his restaurant.
These include, for example, tamagoyaki, which is a type of omelet, yakitori (chicken skewers) and tonkatsu made from pork tenderloin.
Sushi is also discussed in the book.
This book explains, among other things, that the word sushi does not come from raw fish, as many people think, but from vinegar, which is su in Japanese. Dishes that use vinegared rice, sumesh, can be called sushi.
The product that has been pitted may be perfectly edible, but its texture is not what it should be.
“some kind of moso standing on a bed of rice”
Sushi is supposed to be eaten immediately after it’s made, but you don’t always get to experience that in Finland. The book describes the matter as follows:
Most Finns haven’t tasted really good sushi. point. The buffet sushi spot, where some kind of moso stands on a bed of rice, is a mockery of a great delicacy. OK, the stance is harsh, but not critical. Everyone can eat the sushi of their choice. Even in Japan, you can get cheap nakki sushi from chain sushi places.
According to Björkell, masos has its place in so-called “Finnish sushi”, but he takes issue with it because he feels the low-quality offering only undersells customers.
Leaving products out for too long is a problem.
How do you recognize good sushi?
– he says about rice and its temperature.
When the temperature of rice goes below body temperature, its structure changes. When sushi is lined up on the buffet table, it’s gone very quickly. The product that stands out may be perfectly edible, says Björkel, but its structure is not what it should be.
He also considers the question of why should sushi, which requires hand work and high quality ingredients, actually be cheap? Furthermore, the origin of the ingredients in some sushi buffets is something Jesper Björkell would pay attention to.
The book also introduces the different types of Japanese restaurants. Its world is rich, the book describes.
– What is served to us in Europe as Japanese food is not the same as in Japan. The phenomenon can also be compared to Italian food, which cannot be condensed or simplified into only a certain type of food.
Björkell hopes that Finland will be more aware, for example, that Japanese cuisine uses a lot of different vegetables. It is nutritious, versatile and often a gut-friendly food.
– I’m especially thrilled by the fact that it’s embellished.
Jesper Björkel says, however, that Japanese food is often associated with useless myths and can be approached in a complex, even sophisticated way.
He wants to get rid of all this. More important is to have fun, creativity and enjoy the food.
Browsing through the recipes in the book, you can see what Björkel probably meant by simplicity: The ingredients lists of the recipes are not long, but deliciously made with precision, but only a few ingredients.
It’s possible to implement the instructions at home like for delicious teriyaki salmon. There are only four ingredients in the sauce: soy, sake, mirin, and sugar.
The book also advises that of the rice varieties sold in Finland, Japanese rice is the best for making porridge.
Published in October, Ninja in the Kitchen (Tammy) is a multifaceted overview of Japanese cuisine. The book also includes Jesper Björkell’s personal stories about the restaurant world and growing up in the profession.
Some of the texts are very personal and touching, which is rare for a food book. In addition to recipes, the book offers interesting reading about starting a new restaurant.
The story is first published on October 7, 2022.