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Umami and Other Tastes of Honest Greens

Translated from Japanese as yummy, deliciousness or a pleasant savoury taste, umami is actually a taste: the fifth taste, the one besides sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is present in a vast array of veggies as well as in most fermented foods, and it’s also one of the tasty bowls of Honest Greens.

What’s the fifth taste

Umami was coined in 1908 by Japanese Kikunae Ikeda, chemist at Tokyo University. He had noticed this particular taste in asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, but especially in dashi, that rich stock made from kombu (kelp) which is widely used as a flavour base in Japanese cooking. So he homed it in on kombu, eventually pinpointing glutamate, an amino acid, as the source of savoury wonder. He then learned how to produce it in industrial quantities and patented the now notorious flavour enhancer MSG.

A a broth or a soup or anything that has been slow-cooked for a long time is definitely umami-tasting, but also fermented food like soy sauce, cheese, and cured meats have it in spades. In the vegetable kingdom, mushrooms are high in glutamate, along with petit pois, sweetcorn or sweet cherry tomatoes.

Back to Honest Greens

On Rambla de Catalunya, right between Gran Via and Plaça de Catalunya, Honest Greens is one of my favourite places in this area to go for lunch. “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life”, Anthony Bourdain said, and Honest Greens offer a generous context. The place is beautifully designed with with plenty of raw materials, abundant vegetation and beautiful big prints nicely matching their “real food, real people” theme.

They work with local and seasonal ingredients provided by small farmers around Catalunya and their aim is to use only additive-free and healthy produce. In the middle of the restaurant there’s a long kitchen in plain view with a food bar where all the ingredients – raw material of proximity, including avocado, chickpeas, quinoa, mushrooms, pumpkin, all kinds of green leaves and all kinds of finely chopped veggies and seeds – are displayed, waiting to be assembled.

The menu includes Market Plates and Garden Bowls (from € 6.90) which you can mix with portions of fish, meat or vegetarian options (€ 3.5 – 4), and the list is neither too short or too long.

At Honest Greens, the Umami Salad is a mix of spinach, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese cabbage (bok choï), daikon veggie noodles, edamame, radishes, nori, pickled pepino, chili and black sesame, with a rice vinegar dressing. 

Umami is definitely my favourite but all their salad bowls are great, the Ginger-Honey Goat Cheese being another great choice, a sweet and salty combination of cranberry and pear with roasted pumpkin, slightly caramelized onion, nuts and spinach leaves.

To round off the meal, there are plenty of sugar-free, plant-based desserts (the Pumpkin Coco Spice cake is a great option) and specialty coffee. | Rambla de Catalunya, 4

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