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Spreading culture through cuisine

by

Staff Writer

“One of the easiest and most effective ways to understand a culture is through its food,” said Yoshiko Nishihama, owner of Zurich’s Nishi Shop, a store specializing in Japanese imports and an affiliated company of Japan Restaurant Bimi in Zurich. “That’s why, as representatives of Japan, we take our responsibilities seriously. At the same time, we are really excited and honored for the opportunity to cater ‘Japan Night 2015,'” said Nishihama in an interview with The Japan Times at the Palace Hotel Tokyo on Dec. 29.

On Jan. 22, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Japan Night will be held at the Central Sporthotel Davos, hosted by the government of Japan and Japan Night Organization Committee, on the occasion of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At the event, over 500 participants, including world leaders from various countries as well as company executives supporting the “new Japan,” will interact with each other through Japan’s culture.

The main feature and the most popular attraction of the evening will be the Japanese food. The caterer is Bimi, which has served authentic Japanese cuisine, including Japanese staples such as ramen and curry, since 2004. As the oldest Japanese restaurant versed in Japanese cuisine in the city, Bimi has catered WEF’s Japan Nights and Japan Lunches since 2009.

Nishihama and the restaurant staff have gone all-out in their efforts to welcome participants with maximum hospitality.

“Needless to say warm food will be served warm and delicious food can be expected by everyone who visits the event at any time,” Nishihama said. “All our staff is capable of explaining each dish to guests.”

To allow people to enjoy various Japanese dishes, restaurant staff work nonstop over two days preparing dishes, including new items. “For sure it’s a really big deal and responsibility for us, but it’s also a great experience for our young chefs and we enjoy the opportunity to introduce Japanese cuisine to the world,” Nishihama said.

Although limited access to proper ingredients makes it difficult to run an ethnic eatery overseas, Bimi takes advantage of their trading company affiliate, offering authentic Japanese dishes — not tailored for foreign palates — made with as many freshly imported products from Japan as possible. “As our restaurant has Japan in its name, we always have to be conscious about how our dishes represent Japan,” Nishihama said.

Although Japanese cuisine has seen increased visibility and popularity since “washoku” traditional Japanese cuisine was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013, Nishihama is not satisfied with the status quo.

“Compared to about 35 years ago we started business in Switzerland, people’s understanding of Japanese food has grown greatly. But I feel it’s still prevalent that when Japanese food is mentioned, sushi is what immediately comes to mind,” Nishihama said. “I want people to know there are many more dishes and flavors in Japan.”

In terms of umami, the savory taste of Japanese dashi soup stock most readily comes to mind. Even though the term has now become known to many people around the world, Nishihama pointed out that dashi soup stock made with chemical seasonings is also recognized as umami, and people can grow accustomed to its strong flavor.

“Of course, we can enjoy products of modern technology, which is neither bad or wrong, but I want people to know the pure, delicate taste of traditional dashi made with “konbu” seaweed and bonito flakes that we offer,” Nishihama explained.

“On Japan Night, we will offer a variety of Japanese dishes, including ‘oden’ (vegetables, fish dumplings and other food simmered slowly in dashi soup). Oden is a perfect way to enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine while keeping warm on a chilly Swiss night.”

Download the PDF of this Davos Special 2015