Wabi-Sabi, Kintsugi, Ryoko and Homemade Sushi

sushi5I have been in love with Japan since ever, but I discovered it only a few years ago while I was working in an art bookstore, surrounded by Japanese (art) literature. This is why I was so thankful when I found an amazing place in Berlin that embraces old and new Japanese culture, offering a unique experiences for all human senses. Ryoko is a young Japanese lady who makes miracles in her pretty boutique/ store/ salon in Berlin.  Not only she can calm your body by providing professional, balanced and individual massage techniques, but she also creates natural fragrances, imports most delicious Japanese tea and organizes various workshops such as organic herbal salve making workshops, pranayama workshops or miso making workshops. The workshop that impressed me most and that I discovered while waiting for my massage appointment with Ryoko is kintsugi workshop.

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The Japanese word Kintsugi means “to mand with gold” or “golden joinery” and it describes the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum and that is used as technique by Japanese craftsman since the 15th century. There is a story, more a legend, about the Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who sent a damaged Chinese tee bowl back to China for repairs and when it was returned with ugly metal scarps, Japanese craftsmen were inspired to look and search for another aesthetic meaning of repair. This new art became so popular that people started smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi.

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“The striking gold lines signify the scars that come from life experiences, seeing the beauty of imperfection and finding new purpose despite aging and loss. By practicing this form of Japanese traditional culture, we can learn to take care of a dear object with delicateness and love, with the marks of Kintsugi (having been repaired) and Keshiki (scenery) which gives a new look and added value. This ancient process is an embodiment of the philosophy of Mushin (no mind); by fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment and showing calmness amid changing conditions.”

Being surrounded by natural, changing, unique objects- like kintsugi pottery- helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions.

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As a philosphy, kintsugi can be seen to have its origins in the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi that represents Japanese aesthetics and world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wabi and Sabi are words modified over the centuries and therefore difficult to translate, but in the philosophical sense both suggest sentiments of desolation and solitude in a positive way, representing liberation from unnecessary thoughts (material world) and transcendence to a simpler life (Zen Buddhism).

Step by step Ryoko builds a house of senses in the middle of Berlin. If you are able, don’t miss her! She is not hip, she is not fashion, she is not some f** hipster healer, she is not pop up- Ryoko is A REAL STYLE!

SUSHI

I want to accompany this article with my recipe for homemade sushi. Making sushi takes time, love for detail and a little bit of patience, but the results are definitely worth it.

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Nowadays, when people are following fashion called “healthy food”, rice vanishes from sushi and is replaced by quinoa, millet or barley. Great stuff, but for me sushi tastes best with gently cooked rice and fresh vegetables. For making sushi you’ll need nori sheets. Everything else that belongs to the traditional Japanese sushi as sushi mat, pickled ginger, sushi rice, soy sauce, wasabi- is replaceable. For example: instead of sushi mat, you can use a piece of plastic film,  you can make your own pickled ginger in one hour and replace wasabi with freshly grated horseradish or finely chopped red chili pepper. Before you start to roll the sushi, make sure you have all vegetables prepared, rice cooked and other utensils handy. So, let’s go!

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Tezu and Gari

First of all you will need to make a tezu (the vinegar-water pickling liquid) that you’ll use for seasoning the rice and pickled ginger (gari).

Ingredients for Tezu: 

5 Tsp. rice vinegar (apple cider vinegar would work as well)
3 Tsp. water
3 tsp. liquid honey (or maple syrup)
2 tsp. sea salt

Whisk all ingredients together. Set a half aside to season the rice.

Gari

Ingredients:

1/2 Tezu amount from above
50 g fresch, pealed, finely and thin sliced ginger root.

Directions:

1. Sprinkle the ginger with salt, toss to coat, and let it sit for 30 min.
2. Using your hands, rinse ginger well with cold running water and squeeze out until it is as dry as possible.
3. Soak the ginger in a glass jar with half of the tezu. Let marinate for 15 minutes.

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Rice

1. Put rice in a pot with double amount water (here 125 g rice and 300 ml water). Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes until the water has been absorbed (do not stir and do not take the lid off!).
2. When the rice has cooked, remove from the heat, take the lid of the pot off, cover the pot with the rice with the moist kitchen cloth and put the lid back on the pot. Set aside for another 10 minutes.  Season the rice with tees (half amount from above) and fold to incorporate and taste for seasoning.  The rice should have a distinct sweet acidity and fluffy but not too mushy consistence. Let the rice cool completely.

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Filling and Rolling

While the rice is cooking, prepare all the filling ingredients. Cut everything into long strips for ease of rolling. You can fill sushi rolls with any vegetables you like, but make sure you don’t overfill it. Originally, sushi is made with fresh raw fish, but you are free to  adapt it to your taste. For my version I used few fresh chard, cucumber, fresh radish and red chili pepper.

1. Place a sushi mat (or piece of plastic film) down on a working desk. Place a nori sheet, shiny-side down on the mat, 2cm from the edge closest to you. Use wet hands to spread a thin layer of rice evenly over the nori sheet, leaving a 2cm-wide border along the edge furthest from you. Spread the fillings across the centre of the rice. sprinkle with sesame seeds and minced chill pepper.
2. Use your thumbs and forefingers to pick up the edge of the nori sheet closest to you. Use your other fingers to hold the filling while rolling the nori over to enclose.
3. Continue rolling until all the rice is covered with the nori and you have a proper roll. Shape your hands around the mat to gently tighten the roll. Use a wet sharp knife to cut into pieces. Serve with pickled ginger and soy sauce.

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Add-ons

Traditionally, sushi is served with pickled ginger and wasabi pate. Pickled ginger is there to eat it between different types of sushi in order to neutralize the taste of the previous sushi. Wasabi pate is made out of powdered spicy wasabi plant combined with water. Wasabi plant is difficult to cultivate in Europe, you can replace it with horseradish or, like I did it here, with minced red chili pepper.

I don`t like soy or any other soy products, but if you do, make sure you by the soy sauce without any artificial flavors (I bet you will not find it!).

Enjoy your meal and Arigatou!

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