Adam Liaw – umami hunter, cookbook author and host of Destination Flavour Japan – talks of the Japanese reverence for food, novelty hamburgers, and the most macho dish he's eaten.
April Smallwood

12 Sep 2013 - 3:08 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 3:55 PM

What’s for dinner tonight?

Tonight is actually the tofu hamburger from Episode 5 of Destination Flavour Japan. When I made it for the series, our food assistant, Mai, said it was the best tofu hamburger she’d ever had, so my wife has been bugging me to make it for her ever since. Tonight’s the night!


You became a dad just last month. What’s your strategy if your bub turns out to be a particularly fussy eater?

Honestly, I don’t mind if he’s fussy at the beginning. I think that’s all part of being a kid. In some ways, it’s a good thing because your preferences change over time and you never stop discovering new tastes. I’m confident that in the long run, I can win him over to just about anything. At least I hope so…


Tell us about the Japanese and their immense pride when it comes to food. If it’s not something you’ve witnessed firsthand, it can be hard to conceptualise.

I might explain this by an example of one of the restaurants we visited in Destination Flavour Japan, Sobakiri Masa. The chef, Masanori Takeuchi, is from Osaka but worked in Australia at Tetsuya’s for many years before returning to Japan with his young family. He has a little soba shop where he works every day, often sleeping upstairs overnight because he’s working so hard. He grinds his own buckwheat and makes his own noodles just the way he wants them. He ages his own sauces and makes all his broths from scratch. It’s incredibly hard work and he does it all in pursuit of perfection in soba noodles – he even earned a Michelin star a few years ago. For all his hard work, he sells a serve of his noodles for 700 yen, about $8. Where else in the world would you find someone who is devoting his life to something as simple as noodles, and then selling them for $8 a serve?


What’s the most macho dish you’ve eaten?

I would have to say it would be an orange and honey glazed chicken I made for my whole family (10 people) when I was 11 years old. It was the first time I ever cooked for my whole family by myself and when they were all eating and enjoying it, I felt like Superman. (Of course, now I know that parents do that every single night! It’s something I have enormous respect for.)


Do you care much for culinary trends or prefer to eat what you like?

Trends are just a bit of harmless fun. If everyone wants to line up for hours for a cronut, what’s the harm? It doesn’t much affect the way I cook and eat, though. I prefer the classics.


What’s a food fad that completely crushes your spirit?

Novelty-excess hamburgers. I love hamburgers; I really do. But I don’t know why we seem to get sucked in by the hype surrounding a 10,000 calorie or $10,000 hamburger every time they’re in the newspaper. There’s something obscene about them and I just can’t condone them.


Since filming Destination Flavour Japan, share one technique or kitchen wisdom you’ve brought home with you.

Ageing umami-rich products! I make my own tosa joyu (from Episode 4) in big batches every few months and age it. I’ve made tosa joyu for years, but the idea of ageing it has been a revelation. It creates such amazing, mellow and complex flavours.


Give us a recipe you could fit in a single Tweet.

Beef tataki: Fry steak rare. Mix 2 tbsp soy, 1 tbsp sake, 1 tbsp mirin, 1 tsp sugar. Add sauce. Cook until glazed. Rest. Slice to serve.


View all the recipes from the show