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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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‘Jewpanese’ rapper has a new hit — an online cooking show

Tsutomu Shimura, better konwn as the rapper Lyrics Born, launched his cooking show “Dinner In Place” in 2020. (Photo/Courtesy)

This story was originally published by J. The Jewish News of Northern California

As he mixed matzah ball ingredients in a bowl during a recent episode of his online cooking show, Tsutomu Shimura reminisced about his bubbe.

“I grew up going to Jewish delis with my grandmother,” Shimura said while preparing “Judon” — Japanese udon noodles with a Jewish twist. “We would have matzah ball soup in the San Fernando Valley when I would come and visit during the summer, and I always, always looked forward to it.”

Shimura, 51, is best known in the Bay Area as the Tokyo-born, Berkeley-raised rapper Lyrics Born. He was the first Asian American solo rapper to play major music festivals such as Coachella and Lollapalooza — and the first Asian Jewish one, too. Last year, Rolling Stone included his 2003 album “Later That Day” on its list of the 200 greatest hip-hop albums.

For much of his career Shimura toured constantly, doing around 100 shows a year. But as with so many musicians, the Covid-19 pandemic forced him to take a break. Stuck at home in Berkeley, he filmed himself cooking for his wife and son and posted the videos on Instagram. He called the series “Dinner In Place,” and it was a hit with his followers.

In July, he launched the fourth season of the show, which has made a huge leap in production values over the earlier DIY seasons. He now films at the Producer’s Loft Studio in San Francisco, with multiple cameras and professional editing and sound mixing. The new season also includes celebrity guests, including “Top Chef Masters” winner and former S.F. restaurant owner Chris Cosentino. Full-length episodes are available on YouTube.

“This wasn’t in my life’s plan,” Shimura told J. in a recent Zoom interview, noting that the series had just surpassed 1 million views across all social media platforms. “I’ve been in showbiz almost my entire life, and to see something that I never intended take off like this, and the amount of enjoyment that people get out of it, and the amount of fulfillment that I get from it, it’s really special.”

Shimura credits his grandmother, the late Myrna Marcovich, with inspiring his love of cooking. He recalled making matzah balls and noodle kugel with her during his summertime visits to Southern California. “It would not be truthful for me to say that we were a very religious family at all,” he said. “I don’t remember ever doing Shabbat with her. But we definitely cooked Jewish, and we deli’ed like crazy.”

He started listing his favorite haunts: Label’s Table (which closed in 2021 after 46 years in business), Art’s, Mort’s, Canter’s. “Oh my God, I’m starting to drool a little bit, I’m sorry,” he said. “I live in L.A. part time, and I still revisit those places.” (For the record, his favorite deli is Saul’s in Berkeley.)

On “Dinner In Place,” Shimura prepares mostly Asian fusion dishes that reflect his personal background — his father is Japanese and his mother, Charlotte Arzio Shimura, is Ashkenazi Jewish and Italian — as well as the multiculturalism of the Bay Area. In addition to “Judon” (see recipe below), he’s made other dishes with Jewish flavors, including vegan sushi rolls topped with everything bagel seasoning; a Japanese convenience store-style egg salad sandwich with salmon roe and gribenes (chicken skin cracklings); and “Jewlipino arroz caldo,” a Filipino-style chicken porridge with matzah balls.

On a future episode, he will make a lumpia (Filipino spring roll) with a vegan reuben filling. He also makes dishes with nonkosher ingredients, such as pork, squid and prawns. Recipes are available to those who sign up for his newsletter.

Shimura is one of many “Jewpanese” people living in Northern California. Carmel Tanaka has filmed interviews with 15 of them for an oral history project she is doing about the community with support from the Anti-Defamation League.

Tanaka told J. she is a fan of “Dinner In Place,” which she compared to other food-related projects by Japanese Jews, including San Francisco’s Kristin Eriko Posner and her Nourish Co., Alana Chandler’s @chow.by.chandler Instagram account, and the Shalom Japan restaurant in Brooklyn (a collaboration between Aaron Israel, who is Jewish, and his Japanese wife, Sawako Okochi).

“Many Jewpanese in North America grow up thinking it’s just them and their siblings, so this show is adding an important and yummy flavor to our representation in pop culture,” Tanaka said. She called Shimura’s “Judon” recipe “a hot bowl of Jewpanese penicillin” and suggested pairing it with her Japanese Maple KaboChallah, which is made with a puree of kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin.

Early in his music career, Shimura went by Asia Born and was part of an artist collective at UC Davis called Soulsides. As a solo artist, his biggest hit to date is “Callin’ Out,” a funky party track on “Later That Day.” He has collaborated with Israeli hip-hop group Soulico, though he has never performed in Israel. “I really want to go,” he said.

This fall he is touring again, and he will be appearing in Nevada City on Oct. 13 and at the free Freight Fest in Berkeley on Oct. 14.

As a man with both Asian and Jewish heritage, Shimura said he found the surge of antisemitism and anti-Asian violence during the pandemic years to be “very, very scary.” He translated some of that anxiety into a 2021 song called “ANTI,” which was produced by Bay Area DJ Cutso. “Covid ain’t the most contagious disease / Racism’s number one and the hatred it breeds,” he raps. The music video includes images of documents from the Japanese internment during World War II.

“One thing that we must do is we must advocate for ourselves,” he told J. “If there’s any sort of intolerance or violence, you have to advocate for yourself. Otherwise, you’re basically just OK’ing that behavior.”

Shimura brings a similar kind of showmanship to “Dinner In Place” as he does to his rap performances. He ad-libs while cooking — “Hell yes!” and “Rock with me!” — and flashes his signature “sign of the horns” hand gesture, which he said represents “the funk.”

As he balances his music and media careers, he said his grandmother Myrna is very much on his mind. “She used to roast me in Yiddish,” he said. “I can still hear her very loud voice.”

Judon by Lyrics Born

Serves 4

For matzah balls:

  • 1 package Streit’s Matzo Ball Mix
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil

For broth:

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp Hondashi powder
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp usukuchi (light-colored) soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp kosher/sea salt

For noodles and toppings:

  • 4 servings of frozen udon noodles
  • 8 pieces inari age (seasoned fried tofu pouch)
  • 2 green onion/scallion, sliced thin
  • 8 slices narutomaki (fish cakes)
  • Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese Seven Spice)

Prepare toppings: Squeeze excess liquid from the inariage (or keep as it is). Cut the green onion into thin slices. Slice the Narutomaki fish cake thinly (about ⅛ inch).

Make matzah balls: In a medium bowl mix 2 large eggs with 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. Then add one package of Streit’s and mix until uniform and let stand for 15 minutes.

Using wet hands, form matzah mix into at least four balls about the size of a golf ball then drop gently into boiling water.

Cover the pot and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes.

Prepare broth and noodles: Add the water, hondashi, mirin, sugar, soy sauce, and kosher salt to a pot and bring to a boil to combine. From here you can turn off the heat or let simmer until ready to plate.

Add frozen udon noodles to boiling water for 1 minute.

Assemble Judon: Strain your udon noodles and add to a bowl with the dashi broth.  Garnish your way with inariage, narutomaki, green onion, and some shichimi togarashi to taste!

Notes: Form the matzah balls bigger or smaller depending on your preference. Make sure to strain your udon well so any excess water doesn’t dilute your soup. Prepare your toppings before cooking everything else so once everything is cooked you can get to plating. Find all the ingredients at your local Asian or Japanese grocery store, except the matzah ball mix, which can be found at most grocery stores. Usukuchi soy sauce is light in color, but will be saltier than your typical soy sauce.

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