Umami Defined Via a Hot Dog
Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our "Best of 2012" issue. Tune in each day (weekends too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.
Umami is a term thrown around a lot lately, but who the hell knows what it really means? It was invented by Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda, who was searching for a flavor to supplement the four (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) that had been recognized by philosophers and culinary experts for millenia. But how to describe it?
Meaty and fishy flavors have often been credited with possessing umami, and looking back in time, it seems that the sauce called garum that the Romans used on everything was the essence of umami. In fact, Professor Ikeda defined the term in relation to the broth made form seaweed, which was eventually used to manufacture monosodium glatamate, said to be a flavoring that most closely resembled umami.
Maybe Americans were once afraid of umami, because MSG (marketed as Accent in the United States) was generally discredited in the U.S. during the 1970s as responsible for a set of symptoms -- which may have been illusory -- called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
But now everyone wants umami, it seems. Vancouver hot dog chain Japadog has recently added a wiener said to be the soul of umami on its St. Marks menu. The thing is made with an outsize Kurobata frank, which makes a nice pop when you bite into it, but is rather bland on its own. The bun is lined with crunchy sauteed cabbage, and on top are squirted mayo and a brown proprietary sauce, which owes something to Worcestershire -- another umami stronghold. Finally, bonito flakes are sprinkled over all, light as new-fallen snow, and providing further fishy taste that umami often involves.
The dog is good, but I'm still not sure it hits the umami nail on the head. Maybe if they sprinkled a little MSG on top...
30 St. Marks Place