Wasabi it’s Japan…Nothing embodies better
the Japanese spirit and nothing else in the world can truly make you travel to
that country instantly (if only with your mind) …
I tried it for the first time when I
travelled to the Country of the rising sun and, without any doubt, it was one
of the many surprising things I had, but if I had to describe that sensation I
wouldn’t use adjectives that we usually relate to food because it’s just
fucking amazing! I know, it’s uncommon to say we feel love for a certain food,
but that’s what it was, kind of the same thing that happened when I had some
“ravioli” handmade by my gandma Nerina or a “cocido madrleño” of my grandma
Piedad, that food for me, comfort food, relates more to the spirit than the palate,
wasabi it’s just on the same level (and that’s saying a lot)!
But while most of the people think to have
tried wasabi, they really haven’t: the green paste that’s given in most of
Japanese restaurants it’s NOT wasabi and worse than everything, it does not
taste even close to the real thing. It would be as if you’re buying a zebra and
you get a donkey with black and white stripes hand painted…
Few days ago, I was wondering what to cook
and I had some bonito which was prep to make some good sashimi, so I went
through everything in my mind: bonito check, soy check, wasabi missing, wasabi
missing! I went to the supermarket and bought one of those tubes which says
Wasabi Paste and I had my sashimi, want to know the result? I could barely
taste the subtle flavour of the bonito, the only possible occurring flavours
were an uncomfortable spicy taste, given by the paste and the saltiness of the
Fake wasabi is made with horseradish, which
is like a cousin (the ugly, uncultured, sweaty and greasy cousin) of the
wasabi, it has an intense flavour and a spiciness that lasts longer in the
mouth. The green colour, not a characteristic of the horseradish, is given by a
mix of blue colouring and turmeric (blue plus yellow makes green), clever
indeed, isn’t it? The paste contains also mustard aroma, it would be
interesting to know what that means, and thickener. Where’s the wasabi? Well
there’s a humongous 2% of wasabi, but it could reach an incredible 4%, which is
made from dried leaves of the wasabi plant, great, then I won’t complain
The real thing…
Wasabi is a semi-aquatic plant (Eutrema japonicum), incredibly difficult
to grow as it only does so in humid terrains with clean streams of water and
temperatures in between 12 and 15 ºC; unlike most people think what we use is
not the root of the plant, but the trunk.
Even in Japan it’s rare, few prefectures
can have the honour to be suppliers of this lovely vegetable: the Izu
peninsula, Nagano prefecture and Iwate prefecture, and that’s it! Outside of
Japan there’s only 10 places in the world that have a crop, one of them is
nearby Barcelona, in the Montseny Natural Park, the company is called Yamaaoi Wasabi and I can tell you their
work has not been in vain, their wasabi is simply perfect.
On the flavour profile, fresh wasabi is
nothing like the fake one, the spicy feeling is instantaneous and quite strong,
but it also disappears really quickly leaving a fresh sensation: it’s all thank
to the compound allyl isothiocyanate,
which also have the strange characteristic of cleaning the nostrils… But the
most important factor here it’s time as if you count the seconds when you start
to feel it and when it fades away it would probably be less than a minute,
unbelievable considering that things like chilli (were the active spicy
compound is capsaicin) can last even
30’ depending on your tolerance. Not everyone can try chilli (depending also on
the variety), everyone can and should try real wasabi.
When fresh the thing is outstanding, great
flavour, intense aroma but…it only lasts 15’ at most, that is why you should
make the paste only when the dish you’re going to use it with is ready. To make
the paste you just need a ginger grater (the traditional one, made with shark
skin is usually over 90€), peel off a bit of the skin and grate it applying a
light pressure while you turn it in circles. All the parts of the plant are
edible and with a different level of spiciness, leafs are usually not that
strong, the trunk it’s just the best!
Prices may vary a lot depending on where
you buy it, however it would be very difficult to find at less than 300€ per
kilo, with peaks up to 450€ per kilo, it makes it probably among the most
expensive vegetables on the planet. But do not despair, you can find it in
pieces in some stores (Barcelona) or order directly from the company and
despite its price I can say you don’t need to use huge amounts, with around 30g
you can make up to 5-6 servings. Wasabi can last in the fridge up to 2 or 3
weeks and that gives you plenty of time to use it…
Which thing should you choose to go with
fresh wasabi? That’s a bit up to you, I’ve tried it with many things and it
matches perfectly well even with meat or vegetables, the limit is your
imagination…however, no need to say where it works best is with raw fish, just
like heaven for your taste buds. Soy sauce or not is another debate, I love it
with blue fish and I couldn’t do without it when I prepare some raw squid… By
the way, one of the reasons Japanese people use it with raw fish? Wasabi has
Lately I’ve got
questioned a lot about how to buy fresh fish and I want to give a little help
as, even if it looks like a maze in the dark, I can assure you it is not that
hard. We will go step by step, unmasking the legends and discovering few things
to be aware of to get the best product there is!
First of all, and
I would say rather important, it is never to trust blindly the fishmonger:
they are working in the field and some of them are honest about what they sell,
however, as it happens with almost everything, sometimes they just want to give
away the things that have been there for long time. It doesn’t mean that
they’ll give you something which is not edible anymore, but it could not be the
If are lucky
enough to have a market with different stalls make sure you pass by each one
of them before deciding where you are going to buy something.
aware of the origin of the species you are buying: Pangasius (also known as Panga fish) is a fresh water fish farmed
in the Mekong delta, one of the most polluted rivers in the world and Tilapia comes from Africa where farming
and preserving do not have the same safety and hygienic standards than in other
above always make sure the fish and seafood you are buying comes as close as
possible from where you live and in case you live far away from the coast
try to get species that are caught or farmed in the coastal areas of your
And now after
these few helpful tips we are going to see how to find out the freshest
products, dividing them in different categories as it’s not the same buying
fish, mollusc or cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish etc.)…
-Look at the
gills of the fish, they need to be bright red/pink; if they are too
dark or discoloured it means the fish has been there for a long time and the
oxidation of the blood will change the normal colour.
should be convex, clear and bright; as soon as a fish is left for a couple
of days the eyes will start to become cloudy and after a few hours they’ll
start to change their shape becoming concave.
-The meat needs
to be firm, if you touch it with one finger pressing down the meat should
come back to the same position, if the mark of the finger remains do not buy it.
-Fish has not
usually a great aroma, it’s not Chanel Nº5, however the smell should be not
too strong; as soon as the fish starts to decompose it will smell of
-As with fruits and vegetables, fishes, despite what people think, do have a season when they are almost perfect: for instance, blue fish like tuna, mackerel, anchovies or sardines are better during the summer period and more abundant, that also means a cheaper price.
be ALWAYS labelled properly, so you should be able to know: which species
it is, where it was caught, which kind of technique was used to get it and if
it is fresh or frozen. I’ve only put the info you should find almost everywhere
in the world, however it might change depending on the actual legislation of each
country. If you are not sure about something just ask, you have the right to
-If we dig deeper
it might come to our mind a question: is frozen fish as good as the fresh
one? I have to say that the nutritional values of both are really close,
but it should be mandatory to have a look to the place of provenance, places
like the Indian Ocean are extremely polluted and the fishes live in there, do
wild?! It would be much better to say wild, but we have also to take into
account the difference in price: a farmed sea bream (“dorada”) of approx. one
pound could be around 4€ while the wild one could go for as much as 40€ per
kilo, that means 18,2€ per pound… Again, be aware of which season you are in as
you might get wild ones for a reasonable price, if not try to buy the wild ones
at least for special occasions, I can vouch that you’ll see and TASTE the
however, little tricks that can lead you astray and most of the big sellers
like supermarkets (and unfortunately not just those) know them all… One of them
is spraying water on the surface on the fish, but the one I will never
understand because it DOES NOT MAKE ANY SENSE, not for the consumer at least,
is selling the fish beheaded, a common practice in the States…
As a last advice
do not get scared when buying fish, good fishmongers know their stuff, they
know how to treat, process and cut the fishes they sell depending on how you
want to cook them, do not hesitate to ask! Try to buy, cook and enjoy as much
fish as possible, it is more sustainable than red meat and, if you know
something as basic as frying an egg you should also be able to do a pretty good
fish of any kind…
Wine is one of the greatest things we make among the Mediterranean
coast and even with my Spanish and Italian background I tend not to consider
one wine better than another just because of the provenance. Having travelled a
lot I can say that you’ll be able to find incredible wines everywhere:
Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Germany, Moldova, Turkey,
Lebanon, Georgia, just to write a few European countries…
Usually wines are produced with fairly similar methods, the grapes are
harvested from August till October, the fermentation process is done in iron
vats and, if aged, the most common thing would be the use of oak barrels.
However, there’s now a tendency towards the re-discovery of ancient
methods and the one that really caught my attention a few years ago was using amphorae
to ferment and age wine.
In an article appeared on La Repubblica (E. Dusi. “Scoperto il vino più antico del mondo.” 13th of November 2017 Web. ed.) we find out that researchers from the University of Milan, the University of Toronto and the National Museum of Tiblisi discovered on the Neolithic settlement of Gadachrili Gora (Georgia) rests of wine in pieces of clay pots dated around 6000 BC. Nonetheless, amphorae, as we know them today, appear on the Syrian-Palestine area around the second millennia BC: the novelty was its tapered shape, convex base and the handles, all of them characteristics that made it more structurally stable (compared for instance with flat bottomed pots): “There can be no doubt that, in the history of the design of large containers for transport, the introduction of the pointed based vessel represents quite a technological revolution.”(P.J. Parr, 1973, pág. 177).[
The advantages of making wine
and ageing it in amphorae is that it gets a micro-oxygenation, avoiding the
development of tannins (polyphenols responsible for the astringency or dryness
in mouth), vanillin and toasted notes usually given by the oak barrels: the
resulting wine will be mellow in flavour, much more mineral and fresh!
As a wine lover, I got to try an amphora wine for the first time in
the Bodega Bonavista (Carrer de
Bonavista, 10, Barcelona), where they made small batches of red wine thanks to
Chris Grennes (Norwegian sommelier) with red Grenache grapes from Òdena
(Igualada, Catalunya). With that in mind I’ve been searching since then for
winemakers that have recovered this ancient method of production, but also potters
that are mixing old techniques with new materials…
Drunk Turtle: is an Italian potter that makes jars for winemakers, some in cocciopesto, others in cement. Cocciopesto is a material derived from the mix of crushed bricks, stone fragments, sand, cement and water, this is the most similar material to the one used by Romans to produce amphorae; we have news of this material in the tractate by Vitruvio “De Architectura”.
Tinajas Moreno Leon: Spanish pottery from Cáceres that have been in the business for generations producing jars for fermentation. In this case, they use clay.
Bodega Luis Pérez: Luis Pérez is a professor of Oenology and Food Technology by the University of Cádiz, in his winery he created the wine called “Vino Garum Submarino”, this wine is not just fermented in amphorae, but it’s also aged beneath the sea. This process, known since Roman times consists in leave the sealed amphorae in the sea bed (about 12 meters deep); this allows the wine to be aged at a constant temperature and in almost total absence of light.
Wineries from DO Empordá: La Vinyeta, Gelamá, Viñas de Olivardots and Gerisena are just some of the wineries producing amphorae wines.
Bernabé Navarro: produces white wine in amphorae in Alicante.
Josep Mitjans: makes four different wines (two whites, two reds), the first one was made using white Xarello grapes in 2012.
Alta Alella: organic and biodynamic winery from the DO Alella (Catalunya) that produces amphorae wines of excellent quality.[
Slow Food Editor: the Slow Wine guide contains numerous winemakers producing amphorae wines from Italy.
There’s nowadays a great number of winemakers producing this type of
wine which is great if you don’t fancy persistent and strong flavours: try them
if you have the chance, you won’t regret it!!!
Dorado or Mahi-Mahi (“Lampuga” in Spanish; “Llampuga” in Catalan) it’s a wonderful seasonal fish, very abundant in the Mediterranean Sea and with an outstanding taste!
One of my hobbies is fishing and if you are lucky enough to be able to go on a boat from the end of August to mid-October you’re very likely to fish them almost everywhere…
Usually nearby the coast you should find the offspring of this pelagic fishes that will grow in a few weeks from around 5 or 6 pounds to 10 pounds or more feeding on the abundant shoals of anchovies and sardines. The trick is to find some element floating on the water: buoys, a piece of wood, a palm leaf…underneath will be full of them!
Dorado or Mahi-Mahi is a blue fish, of the family of tuna: with a meat of a light rose colour and a subtle taste, not like anchovies or sardines which are really “fishy”, it’s perfect to eat raw in sashimi style or lightly marinated with some citrus juice. Not just that, you can also grill it, fry it or use it to make a stew or a sauce for pasta, the options are nearly infinite…
Another important point is that it is still not considered a commercial specie so it’s much more sustainable than eating blue fin tuna, which is an endangered species near to extinction.
Despite this fact, we know that it has been eaten in the Mediterranean Sea for millennia: a great example is a fresco rescued from the Western House of the ancient town of Akrotiri (actual Santorini, Greece), this town was destroyed by the eruption of a volcano around the XVII century BC, meaning the painting is almost 4000 years old.
Nowadays is still consumed on a regular basis in the southern part of Italy (mostly in Sicily) and in the Balearic Islands.
If you come to Barcelona it’s going to be difficult to find it in the local markets, however there’s people who are working to retrieve it from its oblivion: if you come during the season go to Somorrostro (a restaurant in the Barceloneta neighbourhood), Jordi Limón, the owner, goes every morning to the fish auction in the port nearby and you will be able to taste this amazing fish.
Go for non-commercial species, they are usually cheaper, really tasty and much more sustainable!