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Saturday, Nov. 23, 2002

JAPAN LITE

How to coax warmth out of Japanese food


In Japan, since there is no central heating, there is a sincere attempt to warm the body from the stomach out. And since this is Asia, where the stomach is considered the body's Command Central, it bodes well to keep your stomach happy, and above all, warm.

There is plenty of warmth around, you just have to look for it. Most Japanese families, for example, could survive an entire winter with just a pot of "nabe" to keep them warm. This is because they know the art of coaxing warmth out of food.

Today, I am going to teach you how to turn Japanese food into central heating. Japanese readers may disagree with some of my suggestions, but that is merely because they don't understand how desperate a "gaijin" without central heating can be. After all, how could they understand? They are Japanese!

Survivor nabe: O-nabe is the basic input to Command Central. Nabe entails cooking veggies and meat in a boiling stock made from seaweed or fish. Typical nabe ingredients are leeks, cabbage, mushrooms, tofu and fish. All of this is thrown into an earthenware pot and set out on the table so everyone can pick and choose from the pot. Ingredients are continually added as more space in the pot is freed up. Nabe is not limited to these ingredients, however. Practically anything can go into a pot of nabe, including a whole fugu, cow colons and old baseballs. If it wasn't edible before it went in, it will be after. But the real reason nabe is so popular is because you can sneak your fingers into the broth and warm them up between bites.

Oden is a type of nabe that always includes "konnyaku," "chikuwa" fish cakes and boiled eggs. Konnyaku, often mistaken for "lint on linoleum," has very few calories. This becomes apparent as soon as you taste it. If you decide not to eat it, however, be sure to discard it in the nonburnables bin. Chikuwa fish cakes are long cylinders with a shaft down the middle. I like to wear them on my fingers to keep my fingers warm, while tugging off a bite now and then. The other great thing about oden is that the warm boiled eggs fit conveniently under the armpits when no one is looking.

Shabu-shabu is another type of nabe, where meat is cooked in boiling water. Vegetarians have long known that these thin slices of meat can also be used to warm isolated spots on the body. Affix pieces to the lower back or the wrist, for example. When the meat cools off, just stick it back into the water to warm it up again.

Udon is a good remedy for a frostbitten face. Let the steam from the bowl of noodles envelope your face. Be sure to have some tissues on hand in case, during the thawing process, your nose begins to drip. After your udon facial, you will have a fresher, more beautiful face.

Lingering over teppan yaki , or grilled meat, has long been used to warm a long gaijin nose. Hug the steaming plate for maximum effect and to include neck- and arm-warming. An intimate moment with your food will be understood by all.

And don't forget about the benefits of sticky rice . Steamed rice can be applied anywhere like a warm band-aid. Wear it encased around the nose while staying with the triangular onigiri shape. Fried squid fits nicely around the ears, and yakitori is a perfect fit between the toes. In a pinch, a hefty lump of udon noodles will cure cold feet.

If it is your head that is cold, I recommend boiling a whole octopus. Wear it on your head and tie the tentacles under your chin. If you are still cold, Command Central clearly needs something more. Start drinking "hidezake": sake with fugu fins in it.

Contact Amy at amychavez2000@yahoo.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com


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