Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The smell of charcoal

Living anywhere requires certain sacrifices, often of a culinary nature. Back in America it is hard to find such things as Japanese style curry, okonomiyaki, or yakitori. Here in Japan, it is Mexican food, and think juicy burgers that have gone missing.

In a quest to honor summer with an old and sacred tradition, yesterday Scott and I decided to try our hands at grilling burgers. We had a very interesting time of it. I like to think of myself as a pretty hot hand behind a grill, but I was humbled by the experience, even though the end result came out pretty well.

Grilling is actually quite popular in Japan, but with some significant differences to the art as practiced in the States. Here they tend to prefer more of a yaki-niku style with grilling small bits of marinated meat, or shish-kebob style with skewers of meat and veggies. Burgers, hot dogs and steaks aren't really on the menu, and that complicates things. Japanese charcoal grills are designed differently, with a small mesh covering suitable for smaller chunks of meat. This makes flipping burgers a bit more of a challenge, especially when the meat is a mix of pork and beef instead of the all ground beef I am used to.

The real challenge however was starting the fire in the first place. I'm a Boy Scout, I know how to light things on fire, especially if these things are stacked in a grill. However, the local hardware store didn't sell lighter fluid, rather they sold lighter gel, a thick, pink concoction that merely sat on the charcoal and smoldered weakly. We eventually figured out that rather than soak into the charcoal, the gel was more of a kindling source, something to place beneath the pile. This lesson cost us at least thirty minutes and about half of the five dollar bottle of fluid.

Our next attempt at a roaring fire was more successful, though it was a bit too successful. Scott returned from the store with a new kindling source AND a small, mini blowtorch especially for fire starting. These two efforts combined finally set the charcoal alight, but the blowtorch had a tendency to stir up storms of sparks. These sparks then landed on our feet, legs, arms and burgers, burning small holes everywhere. The burgers didn't really mind, but I did. Those sparks hurt! We were lucky that we weren't in Colorado, as we probably would have lit half the state on fire with that thing.

Despite our troubles, the finished product actually tasted pretty good. It had been a long time since I had tasted a home grilled blue cheese burger, and I was delighted to finally get the chance.

The good news is we still have the grill, blowtorch and a wee bit of blue cheese left, ready for next time.


victoriasart said...

So, where is the artfully crafted photograph of this triumph of the grill???

Travelingrant said...

Tragically I didn't have my camera on me. I say tragically because the light was fantastic. A huge cloud was blocking the sunset towards Mt. Haruna, with a vast dark shadow covering the city below us. However, visibility under the cloud was actually really good, you could see all the way across the city. It looked amazing, and I kicked myself for not having my camera on me.

Island Auntie said...

Blue cheese burger, my favorite! Don't think I ate blue cheese once when I lived in Japan, rarely saw anything other than "pizza cheese."

Mia said...

I loved the local food when I lived in China but sometimes I missed more familiar things.

I grew up on braai, which is similar to American barbecue. I completely relate to your story. I had similar adventures on the roof of my apartment but I don't remember ever setting anything on fire. Cooking with wood is very easy.

Anonymous said...

This huge cloud blocking the sunset, and the vast dark shadow covering the city didn't have anything to do with your grilling did it?