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TokyoNow: Established Japanese restaurant runs macrobiotic eatery.

TOKYO, Sept. 18 Kyodo

Chaya Macrobiotics Restaurant looks like any other ordinary eatery but the foods listed on the menu are such dishes as terrine made of millets and bream baked in a casserole. Meat, butter and sugar are unavailable.

The name of the restaurant located in Tokyo's Shinjuku area is based on a Greek word meaning great life.

It is under the management of Hikage Chaya, an old established Japanese food restaurant that has been in existence for 300 years after its establishment during the Edo period (1600-1867) and is the embodiment of Shoemon Tsunoda's idea of setting up an eating place where natural foods are served.

Tsunoda, 10th general owner of Hikage Chaya in the seaside town of Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture, came across macrobiotic food eight years ago and thought the diet, consisting mainly of grains and vegetables with no added chemicals, meant a return to traditional Japanese dishes.

He had a hunch that eating foods grown in the area where people lived was good for their health.

He sent a chef of the French restaurant he runs on the side to the United States to take a firsthand look at macrobiotic food before he got into full swing with the establishment of a macrobiotic restaurant in Japan.

Macrobiotic food is popular in the United States, and among many Hollywood stars, as healthy diet foods.

Chaya Macrobiotics' main dishes consist mainly of fish, unpolished rice, millets and vegetables.

The chef at the Shinjuku restaurant uses a boat-shaped kitchen sink, similar to ones cooks utilize in preparing Japanese foods.

Such sinks originally generated from the Japanese tradition of putting emphasis on the ''skill of cutting'' in the country's food culture that includes eating raw fish. The sinks make it easy for cooks to prepare food hygienically.

Patricio Garcia de Paredes, a Spanish chef who came from the United States, was amazed by Japanese cooks' sense of preparing food. He saw them change their ways of making preparations according to the kind of fish they dealt with and said, ''Their handling of fish is very delicate.''

He was also surprised to see their use of salt depending on the dishes.

Attention to detail and the technique of dishing up some food on plates to look like lively flower arrangements and the ability to combine limited amounts of foodstuffs together that are seen in the presentation of Japanese cuisine are capitalized on macrobiotic food.

Japanese are good at cooking unpolished rice and millets. Chef Mamoru Ito says the technique of boiling and steaming them is the essence of Japanese cooking.

The tables in the courtyard of Chaya Macrobiotics Restaurant were brimmed with smiling women in groups and couples on a Sunday evening.

Pink colored nonalcoholic beverage in wine glasses reflected on the white table cloth.

It also had a cheese cake-flavored dessert that included such ingredients as soymilk and white soybean paste and hardened by brine. Its salty taste brought out a little sweet taste.

Garcia described U.S. macrobiotic food as ''having a strong sense of supplements good for health'' but Tsunoda said no matter how good it is for health, it will not get across Japan unless it is tasty.

Moves to take a renewed look at cooking material available in the country for a long time are gradually spreading in Japan, bringing about a boom for eating millets rich in protein and minerals compared with rice.

Tsubu-Tsubu Cafe in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward features millet dishes and cakes. Yumiko Otani, who runs the restaurant, has consistently been issuing millet cooking recipes in an effort to sweep away the notion that millets are poor.

Hideyo Takamura, a farmer in the northern Japan city of Ninohe in Iwate Prefecture, sympathizes with her endeavor to review the Japanese eating habit through millets.

He wants to keep a grainy sense millets give in the mouth as Iwate Prefecture's local culture.

''There are places in Japan suited for rice production,'' he said, ''while there are also places for growing millets. What is important is to cherish what is available in respective areas.''
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Sep 20, 2004
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