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Ethnic Paper

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My Experience at Konomi For my ethnic restaurant paper I chose to go to a restaurant called Konomi. Konomi is a Japanese restaurant located in Coralville that is known for its sushi and teppanyaki-style food. For as long as I can remember, Chinese and Japanese foods have been my favorite thing in the world to eat. I love the taste of teriyaki sauce and enjoy sushi, so when it came down to choosing what type of ethnic food to eat for this essay I immediately went searching for a unique Japanese or Chinese restaurant. After a little bit of research online, I found that Konomi had the best reviews in the area so I went to their website and checked out their menu to make sure it seemed ethnic. Along with having a long list of sushi, Konomi has the option of preparing your food teppanyaki style. This means that the food is cooked in front of your table on a hot iron plate by a Japanese chef. I figured that watching the chef’s techniques for preparing the food could be a valuable tool in searching for ethnicity so I decided that I would go to Konomi. Taking a look at what the menu had to offer was my first step at uncovering what made this restaurant ethnic or authentic. As I pulled up the menu online, I looked for clues as to what categorized this menu as ethnic compared to restaurants in the area. The first thing I saw on the menu was the drink section. This page was a collection of various types of sake drinks such as “Sho Chiku Bai Ginjo” along with Japanese beers. I honestly had no idea what sake was so I looked into it and found that sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage produced from fermented rice. Having a Japanese style beverage that I had never heard of was a direct indication that this restaurant had ethnic characteristics. I also found it relevant and interesting that sake is made from fermented rice. This differs from American liquor or wine which is usually made from fermented grains or fruit because it is what we have the most access to. In Japan, rice is plentiful so it is used to create their alcohol. I found this idea relevant to Heldke’s statement that “Native = Authentic.” She discusses how in order for a dish to be truly authentic it must have native ingredients from the origin of the dish. In the case of sake, it is authentic because its process of fermenting rice is native to Japan. As I moved onto the next page of the menu, I was presented with the sushi section. They had a plentiful sushi selection that ranged from California Rolls to octopus and sea urchin rolls. Although rolls such as octopus and sea urchin weren’t unfamiliar to me since I’ve been to other sushi places, they were certainly foreign when comparing them to American food. I had never been to a restaurant considered to be American and seen octopus or sea urchin on the menu, making these ingredients authentic. Although the menu had these authentic ingredients, there was also a bit of creolization. The list of sushi also included rolls by the name of Philly, Captain Crunch, IDK, and Incredible. These names are all Americanized so while the sushi menu of Konomi was partly authentic is was also partly Americanized. The next part of the menu was the entrée section for the teppanyaki-style food. The selection included types of meat that could be ordered along with a few appetizers. The meat selection didn’t seem to be very authentic because it just consisted of chicken, steak, shrimp, and lobster. The appetizer list was a little more interesting which included octopus salad and seaweed salad. I had never even heard of a seaweed salad before this point so I figured it to be authentic to Japanese cuisine. Overall, taking a look at this menu prior to going to the restaurant was a good starting point that allowed me to find a few ethnic traits of Konomi. As I entered Konomi for the first time, I was a little surprised at how Americanized the front section of the restaurant seemed. The hostess was Caucasian, most of the people waiting for a table for also Caucasian, and most of the artwork on the walls didn’t seem to have any Asian influence to them. I wasn’t expecting the lobby to be this Americanized because the menu made the restaurant seem very ethnic. I poked my head around the corner to see the rest of the restaurant and it started to seem a little bit more Japanese. To my right was the sushi section of the restaurant with three Japanese chefs making all kinds of sushi rolls. Their outfit included aprons with a traditional Japanese chef hat. Things were starting to look a little bit brighter for the ethnicity of this restaurant as I spotted many Asian people sitting in the sushi section of the restaurant. After waiting for a few minutes, we were told our table was ready and followed the hostess to different section of the restaurant. This back part of the restaurant was the teppanyaki section and definitely had a more authentic and intimate feel than the front of the restaurant. There were four large iron griddles with seats around them. We sat down at ours and I immediately noticed that the only utensil on the table were chopsticks. This represented a little bit of ethnicity because many other Japanese or Chinese restaurants that I have been to before, put silverware on the table along with chopsticks which is not native to their culture. After some time, the Japanese waitress came around and took our orders. I found it interesting that when I asked what type or salad dressing and soup was available, there were only two options. The dressing was either ginger or soy and the soup was miso or clear broth. This aspect of their selection was definitely somewhat ethnic. At an American restaurant the salad dressing list is usually very long and includes lot of thick, creamy dressings. At Konomi they only had ginger or soy which are both native to Japan and not nearly as fattening as a dressing such as ranch or Thousand Island dressing. This example of salad dressing is closely related to the lifestyle of Japanese citizens. The Japanese eat far healthier than Americans do so I thought it was interesting that even the salad dressing at a Japanese restaurant was healthier than an American restaurant. After some time our chef came out who was a big Japanese man. The first thing he cooked was chicken fried rice. I watched his technique in how he cooked the rice and what ingredients he added. After doing some trick moves with his knives he cooked up some eggs and added them to the rice along with some teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, and soybean oil. After the rice he cooked vegetables and then the meat. One significant aspect of his cooking that I noticed was that he added teriyaki sauce to every type of food he cooked. This is important because teriyaki sauce was originally created in Japan so adding this distinct flavor to all the food was authentic. I also noticed how skilled and fast the chef was at cooking the food. All his movements were very swift and he always kept the food moving around on the hot plate which is different than the traditional American style of cooking which usually includes cooking food slowly on a grill or in an oven. The chef did a very good job because this was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. In having this experience, I came to the conclusion that Konomi represents two different ethnic cultures. On one side it represents Japanese culture. Konomi has an extensive sushi selection which is a staple food in Japan. Along with their sushi selection Konomi offers teppanyaki-style food. Teppanyaki originated in Japan in order to cook teriyaki food for customers while also putting on a bit of a show at the same time. Having these foods that originated in Japan at a restaurant in America gives the restaurant an important ethnic identity. Although Konomi has authentic Japanese dishes, it also has experienced some Americanization. The biggest Americanization that I saw in this restaurant was with some of the food served. Sushi rolls named captain crunch or IDK or 100% American names. Along with having some American named foods, the architecture and design of the restaurant did not reflect Asian culture. In conclusion, I felt that Konomi did a very good job at fusing together Japanese culture and traditions as well as American culture. I learned through this experience that the American way is not always the right way. For example, I always thought that fermenting grain or fruit was the only way to produce alcohol, so I was proven wrong when I learned the Japanese use rice. This experience opened my eyes and makes me want to try more authentic Japanese dishes or drinks such as sake and sea urchin. All in all, I am very glad to have chosen Konomi.

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