I hadn’t heard of yakuzen cuisine until today. As usual I’m late to the party. For those of you scoffing at my ignorance, I can only say I’m old and I don’t get out much anymore. If, like me, you live under a rock, you may not yet know that yakuzen is “medicine food.” If that sounds delicious don’t stop reading! There’s more to it than that. Oh yes, much more.
The concept of Yakuzen cuisine is more or less the practice of using the ancient tomes of Chinese medicine as cookbooks–using Eastern medicine to decide what’s for dinner. It’s like having a Chinese grandmother in your kitchen, making chicken soup with deer antlers and dried worms.
Fortunately, so far, I haven’t been in that kitchen. I’ve only been exposed to yakuzen at a couple local restaurants. If I was eating deer antlers, nobody let me in on it. Turns out the old adage holds true: What I don’t know makes me stronger… Or kills me. Since I’m not dead, I guess yakuzen cuisine was a success.
The fact is, much of what makes up the mysterious Eastern remedies are herbs… and really sharp needles under your skin. Well, apparently if you mix those herbs up in just the right way they have a profound effect on the flavor of your food. (Your Chinese grandmother has known this all along, but you never asked.)
So that health thing is all fine and good, but how was the food, you ask? Straight up, I’m not a fan of most vegetarian restaurants. There’s nothing I hate more than the phrase “It tastes just like meat,” uttered by a waiter who hasn’t eaten meat since the last time the music of the spheres announced the planets had once again aligned. But yakuzen isn’t like that at all. All the rules are different. Meat and fish, while not to be used as staples, are not off the menu. Still your vegan friends should be able to find something satisfying too. Spices abound, and the flavors of the sauces are as aromatic and complex as Indian curries, but without the heat. Everything tastes different in a yakuzen restaurant. And so far, everything I’ve eaten tastes pretty darn good.
I didn’t expect to like yakuzen. I was tricked into going to my first yakuzen restaurant. (I made the mistake of being hungry in an “ex-hippies with BMW’s” neighborhood–yes I was also surprised that they exist in Japan too.) But so far I’m a convert. Everything I’ve eaten thus far: sato imo soup, hayashi rice, two types of curry, lamb shoulder, kabocha and beans, matsutake omelet with eggs that have been fertilized (apparently that’s a good thing)… Everything has tasted great. Really fresh, unique, and exciting with complex, deep flavors. Yakuzen cuisine is certainly worth a try. I might actually find myself enjoying healthy food.