About 15 years ago I moved to Japan. I had been living in New York City for the past 4 years and was eager to see the world. I first landed in Shizuoka City; a bustling city right under the great Mt. Fuji. I spent nearly a year exploring the local neighborhoods of Shizuoka learning how to properly pronounce my very basic Japanese. I was eager to try every bit of local food and culture I could get my hands on.
Many of my nights out in this beautiful city with my new friends ended up at the local izakaya. We would eat, drink, laugh and share stories. I would teach my friends American slang in exchange for the Japanese counterpart. I even participated in an "initiation" of sorts. With my friends and others at the izakaya chanting bibidi (chicken heart in english), I drank a cup of sake with a little fish swimming in the glass. This was just one of the many memories of Izakaya culture that has stayed with me over the years.
Taking part in their local traditions, and eating their version of comfort food was an experience that I will never forget. It was an entirely new journey.
It wasn't until my 2nd year in Japan that I realized I was missing something. Throughout all my experiences one thing had lacked; I was missing home, or rather I was missing that element that reminds us of home. In Japanese they call it natsukashii or good old. It's that smell, taste or sound that can instantly transport you back to a moment in time.
I was in Tokyo visiting a friend who was a bartender in Tsukishima, a neighborhood known for something called Monja. My friend insisted that I had to try Monja, but gave me no indication of what was in store. They even named a street after this "thing" I needed to try. If you've never tried or heard of Monja which I'm guessing you have not, let me describe it the way my bartender friend did for me: "It looks like vomit on a hot plate!" Oh great! I thought to myself, why would I want to eat that? To great protest and much reassuring, I gave in. Wow, was I happy I did. A grayish bowl of water came to the table accompanied by some side dishes like cabbage, and pickled ginger, and wait for it......CHEESE! Shredded cheese! I hadn't had shredded cheese in what felt like ten thousand years! Instantly I was overcome with natsukashi. The dish was good despite its appearance, but what was more profound was the cheese, and the fact that I hadn't had it since being in the US. Looking back at that moment now I see how two completely different cultures can become one.
For the next 3 years I spent my time hopping around Izakayas in Ochanamizu, Roppongi, and Aoyama. I spent an equal amount of time waiting in line for bowls of ramen in Akihabara, Ginza, and Shinjuku. I had such a passion for these local neighborhood pubs and the memories made there with friends. The many nights I spent yopari (drunk) I was also learning. Learning how food here was treated differently, almost reverently. There was a respect for tradition, there was pride in every dish. What remained with me the most about these places was that each dish was approachable. My neighborhood izakaya was a place any hard-working man or women could meet after work, whether it was an office job, salesman or CEO. It was a place that reminds us of what's natsukashii.
The word natsukashii and what it meant to me was profound. It's a feeling that's all heart. It's the true definition of nostalgia. Across cultures the one element that remains constant is that food holds a powerful nostalgia for all of us. This is what I wanted Noble Rice to be.
I believe that the best food, is the food that reminds us of all the good memories we have. At Noble Rice I have taken all my fondest memories living in Japan and combined them with all the comfort foods I grew up with, and came up with the American Izakaya. A blend of cultures that gives you that feeling of natsukashii.
Humble ingredients. Locally driven. Japanese inspired comfort food. Noble Rice.