Here we go-- another food critic's take on "umami". This time, the article is from none other than Time Magazine, with their gajillion readers, letting Josh Ozersky tell them what umami is.
What. The. Fuck.
We're talking about a gross fat dude who has about as much credibility in the NYC food world as a speck of Morton salt. Grub Street NY got rid of him, he's been called out for his questionable journalistic tactics, and has even been banned from the Momofuku Empire (for a LIFETIME!). Dude is a seriously douchebag.
In Time, he says of umami: "It's the culinary magic found in seaweed, soy sauce and half of the Japanese dishes you've eaten at one time or another. You'll also find umami in tomatoes, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, oysters, sardines, Parmesan cheese, steak sauce and cured ham."
I can just see it now, a bunch of bougie hoity-toity Wall Street folks sitting around a table at French Laundry, talking about the merits of YOUmami in their mushroom course. Thomas Keller would arrive at the table to say hello, and they would all cry, "I definitely tasted that YOUmami in that shiitake dish!"(as they scroll through the Time article on their Droids).
CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!
Oh god, blow me. It makes me cringe. People, umami is NOT AN INGREDIENT! You don't "find" it in the aforementioned tomatoes, shiitake, sardines. Yes, it is scientifically regarded as the "fifth element of taste" after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Yes, MSG was invented on the concept of umami in 1909. Read: CONCEPT.
Jeffrey Steingarten (another gross fat dude) wrote about it in Vogue and introduced it the masses in 1999. I believe he used the words "meaty" "savouriness" and "roundness". WTF does that even mean?
These foodie people describe umami in these vague terms because it is not something you can describe. Umami is a SENSE. It is a FEELING. As I wrote about it in 2008-- it's like poetry. Whimsical. Elusive.
I just called my Kuni (my pops, professional chef of 40 years) and asked him about umami. It was a hilarious conversation that went like this:
Me: Dad, how would you describe umami?
Kuni: Oh, well, there's bitter, sour, sweet...
Me: Yes, but what does it TASTE like?
Kuni: Well, it's when something is oishii (delicious)
Me: Yes, but what is that taste? This oishii?
Kuni: Like that dashi stock we had in that nabe for New Years.
Me: Yes, but what EXACTLY made that so good?
Kuni: The different dimensions of flavor. The depth.
Me: Yes, but where does that depth come from? How does it TASTE?
Kuni (flustered): Here's your mother. (Drops phone, runs away).
Mother (yelling in the background): Tell her I'll look it up online later!
Here are two people, born and raised in Japan (where this "umami" supposedly comes from-- also a total misconception since people have been eating awesome food all over the world, for thousands of years) both professional cooks and have been working in the restaurant industry for decades, who cannot tell me what umami is, and need to "look it up online". HA!
Sorry foodies, you lose. Don't try to describe umami! It's totally futile and will lead you nowhere. It's that wave that comes crashing down on you when you eat or drink something TOTALLY AWESOME (an In-N-Out burger, Totten virginica oysters, Noah's Mill bourbon (neat), etc.). Yes, I named this blog Umamimart four years ago-- because it's the epicenter a of all things oishii! We are whimsical, elusive, and cut deep. Real deep.
God, is that not enough? You need a more definitive answer? Am I a vague foodie too? HELP!
I hope to explore the idea of umami in this series, WTF is Umami?, speaking with chefs and food people, to get their take on umami. Maybe I'll also review these so-called foods with umami. Will we get some answers? Probably not. But I'm sick of gross fat dudes telling us what umami is. Let's do this right, Umamimart style.
First things first: a lesson in pronunciation. It's OOmami, not YOUmami. Got it?
Andy yawns. This bores him.