The Japanese Flavor Hunt

Why did two Australians living in London decide to open a Japanese restaurant? This is the story of how Natalie Lee-Joe and Brett Redman's love for Japanese flavors led to their decision to open Jidori, their new yakitori spot in the city's Dalston neighborhood. The duo also shares the five ingredients we all need in our pantry if we want to make amazing Japanese meals at home, too.

There are a lot of great reasons to live in, visit, and love London, but eating stellar Asian food has never really been one of them. For Aussie expats Natalie Lee-Joe and Brett Redman, that was the motivation that sent them down a rabbit hole exploring Japanese flavors and eventually opening their restaurant in East London, Jidori. "Outside of Asia, we think Australia does the best Asian food," says Lee-Joe, "from little holes-in-the-wall serving bánh mì to fancy Chinese restaurants serving trolley-loads of dumplings. It wasn't until we moved that we realized how spoiled we were in Australia with all the choice."

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Discovering the Izakaya

Sushi is always the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Japanese food, but there are at least 19 different styles of Japanese cooking. Lee-Joe and Redman decided to home in on the concept of an izakaya (think Japanese small plates, like grilled yakitori skewers and Japanese fried chicken, which are known for going particularly well with sake and beer). "We love the equanimity between the food, drinks, customers, and staff at an izakaya," explains Lee-Joe. "You get to enjoy really inventive, tasty morsels while downing a few sakes with your chef, who also happens to be your waiter."

Bringing Tokyo to Dalston

Izakayas in Japan are post-work destinations, where you can grab a quick bite—and linger over lots of drinks. The idea of frequenting a spot like Jidori is actually not a stretch for a city with a thriving pub culture. "We both live in East London, so we wanted a touch of that Japanese spirit in our own neighborhood," says Lee-Joe. "Izakayas are meant to be neighborhood places, and we've already gotten to know our local customers in a fairly short space of time. We love that."

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Making Japanese Food Accessible

"We wanted to steer away from the misconception that Japanese food is expensive and subtle," explains Lee-Joe. "Instead, we wanted to create a restaurant that broke down barriers." The same is true for creating Japanese dishes at home, explains Lee-Joe. "The flavors are super-clean, fresh, and allow the product to speak for itself." Home cooks shouldn't be intimidated to make their favorite Japanese dishes at home...just don't drown them in soy sauce. "It's meant to be used subtly!" exclaims Lee-Joe. "You shouldn't really be overwhelmed by it—it's supposed to enhance the flavors of a dish without totally taking over."


Next, Lee-Joe suggests 5 staples to stock your pantry with if you want to infuse your cooking with Japanese flavor. Did we mentioned how easy that actually is? Read on for the lowdown on your new Japanese larder.

Japanese Curry Sauce

What It Is: Not everyone knows this, but curry is huge in Japan. The British import is so popular, some argue it's Japan's national dish. Even more surprisingly, no one likes to make it from scratch! Instead, they opt for the boxed variety.

Jidori's Home Fix: "Literally the easiest and quickest dinner you can make at home: a box of Japanese curry sauce, rice, and a fried egg."

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Sushi Rice

What It Is: A short-grain and white variety of rice.

Jidori's Home Fix: "Everyone has basmati and other aromatic long-grain rice at home, but very few have a bag of sushi rice—which you don't actually have to make sushi with. It makes a great base for a midweek donburi (rice bowl), and the next day you can fry leftover rice with bacon, kimchi, and spring onions."

What It Is: The popular blend of seven spices, usually a variation of chiles, dried orange peel, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds, dried ginger, and seaweed.

Jidori's Home Fix: "We like to substitute togarashi in lieu of red pepper flakes for the ultimate avocado on toast. Add a touch of sesame oil to finish, and you have an upgrade on the at-home

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Kombu

What It Is: A type of dried kelp rich in umami.

Jidori's Home Fix: "Our personal favorite way to use kombu is by steeping it in rice vinegar, sweetened with a touch of mirin, and spooning it over oysters, like a mignonette.

Matcha

What It Is: Powdered Japanese green tea.

Jidori's Home Fix: "All we have to say is: matcha and white chocolate brownies. Take any brownie recipe, substitute the dark chocolate with white chocolate, and the cocoa for matcha powder. The best sweet treat you can imagine."

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