Traveling to Japan was a palate-changing experience. Even foods I had tasted before were so excellently prepared and of such high quality there that I felt like I was trying them for the first time. Fresh wasabi grated right off the root is bright and grassy, incomparable to the tube or powder kind. Tofu is neither bland nor dull, but is buttery and creamy, and with a distinctive soy bean flavor. Handmade noodles for udon and ramen are thick, chewy, and silky. I could go on and on about the foods I enjoyed there.
I came back to the U.S. eager to adapt the lessons I had learned in Japan into my everyday cooking. Yuzu made appearances into sauces and marinades with its bright citrus flavor and pungent floral notes. Miso got added to soups, fish, and meat dishes. I began using sake to steam chicken. And then there was the Jewish food…
Whenever I travel anywhere, I seek out Jewish cooks and their food, and Japan was no exception. There are in fact Jewish communities in Japan, and some Jews have been living there for multiple generations. The Jewish cooks I met were all incorporating Japanese ingredients and techniques into both Ashkenazi and Sephardic culinary traditions. While picking a favorite dish from my travels is almost impossible, trying Japanese-style gefilte fish is the dish that left the biggest impression.
During the day The Pink Camilla, an Israeli bistro in the heart of Tokyo, is filled with soft daylight streaming through large windows into a small dining room with an open kitchen located on the second floor of an unassuming building. The tables are made of dark wood, and the shelves are lined with fine Israeli wines.
Marcelo Rubach is the chef and owner of the restaurant. Over six feet tall, his large stature matches his magnetic energy and charisma. He operates the restaurant in partnership with his Japanese wife, Mayuku. Meeting them instantly felt like meeting old friends, and within seconds of speaking their passion for their food and their energy towards their business was clear. Marcelo identifies himself firstly as an Israeli Jew, and currently as a longtime resident of Japan, but he is also of Moroccan and Brazilian descent. He has lived in Israel, Brazil, Canada, and Japan. In fact, it was in Montreal that he met and fell in love with Mayuku. They ultimately decided to make Tokyo their home. Marcelo’s dream was to bring the best cooking of Israel to Japan, and to pair that food with Israel’s best wines. He has made that dream a reality.
At his bistro, Marcelo sticks to traditional fine-dining Israeli fair, specializing in aged steaks, but in his home-life, Marcelo makes both traditional Jewish dishes and Japanese-influenced food. For Shabbat Marcelo bakes homemade challah. When he is hungry for a quick dish, he makes an unusual combination of natto (fermented soybeans) with kimchi, egg, aged steak, and olive oil.
Among his Japanese-influenced Jewish dishes, one of his favorites is his recipe for gefilte fish. He makes his uniquely Japanese-style gefilte fish for every Jewish holiday. Marcelo’s recipe for gefilte fish may simply be a product of necessity; he uses the ingredients that are around him — bonito flakes, lotus root, and fresh wasabi. Or maybe, Marcelo understands that if he wants to share a beloved dish with his Japanese friends and family, he can make it more palatable by developing the recipe to include the flavors and tastes of the local cuisine.
Gefilte fish is often made with carp, but carp is considered a sacred fish in Japan and so Marcelo uses cod instead. Because bonito and shiitake have such rich umami flavors, he uses those ingredients as a base for his poaching broth as opposed to traditional Western-style fish stock. Because lotus root, daikon, and burdock are abundant in any Japanese kitchen he uses them instead of onion, carrot, and celery. Because it tastes incredible and has the sharpness of white horseradish, Marcelo serves his gefilte fish with freshly grated wasabi. And because it is so good, he makes this gefilte fish recipe over and over again and no one is complaining.
When I got back from my trip to Japan, Passover was just around the corner. I knew exactly what I was serving for the fish course. I wasn’t surprised that when I served this dish it converted even the biggest gefilte fish skeptics and resistors at the table. The recipe is a labor of love, with multiple steps and components. The ingredients also might take a bit of extra hunting to find. I was able to get them all at a local Japanese market, and many of the ingredients are available at other Asian markets, too. Among the extra steps, Marcello serves his gefilte fish alongside a terrine made from the broth he cooks the fish patties in. You can absolutely skip this step and just make the patties, or you can go for the full effect and take this gefilte fish dish to another level.
The following recipe is shared with permission from Chef Marcelo Rubuch.
Source: Jewish Living