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March 13, 2009

There is a cracking story in The Times today about umami. According to the piece, umami is the Japanese word for deliciousness. Identified as the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty and bitter, it could be described as savoury.

The Umami Information Centre website (I know, who would have thought that existed?) defines it as ‘a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products’. Chef Claude Bosi of Hibiscus has a less scientific but much more snappy definition: ‘it makes your mouth water’.

Because the necessary chemicals for umami are often found in seaweed, then Japanese food provides plenty of clear examples of umami but British chefs like Sat Bains have been creating their own take on it. Bains has come up with a dish of pork belly and Marmite to get that umami fix.

Over a decade ago, I was sent to interview the owner of Glasgow’s first sushi bar. Having lived in the Far East for a while, the owner was fully up to speed on umami and patiently explained the concept to me. Being wet behind the ears and a bit of a plank, I thought he was pulling my leg. Shooting Stars was big at the time and umami sounded rather too similar to Vic Reeves’ cry of ‘Uvavu!’ or ‘Eranu!’

My bad.

The following restaurants in Glasgow should provide fertile territory for the umami hunter: Bar Soba, Cafe Mao, Dragon-I, Guy’s and Yo! Sushi.