Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Tasting Japan

I'm sitting at the computer eating breakfast right now. Fluffy white bread, peanut butter and grapes. And as all these flavours came together, I got an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. See, that was my first breakfast in my house in Japan (about this time of year, 6 years ago). The grapes were red and huge with tough skins and inedible seeds... but the most incredibly jammy flavour. The bread was inoffensive and thick (think Texas style), I could peel it apart to make weird looking layers. I have no memory of the peanut butter save that it melted into the toast.

My apartment was so hot, even in the early mornings of that summer, and I ate the exact same breakfast for weeks.

One of my real regrets about my time in Japan (other than leaving behind a very nice fruit bowl and a kiwi knife-spoon) is not learning how to cook Japanese food while I was there. Nope, I spent a bloody fortune on food from home instead of appreciating what I had in front of me. I used my nabe pot to make chili, I baked cookies in my microwave/convection oven, I held Christmas dinner for my students.

Of course, now I crave Japanese food all the time, and really, it's hard to find the random stuff I loved so much: the egg fried rice onigiri (Toki station's conbini), okonomiyaki (from the really dodgy place in Ena), kara age (from Senri in my town), oden (from my School Lunch Program [believe it or not]), zaru soba, ham and cucumber sandwiches laced with more mayo than you know what to do with (I didn't even love those, and yet, I still miss them), miso ramen.

The grass is always greener, isn't it?

Anyway, in my efforts to combat my missing Japanese food, I picked up a new cookbook: Washoku.

I want to make everything on this cover. I'd forgotten about the salmon I'd purchase from the grocery store. I used to buy the hijiki & carrot salad coming home from Ochiaigawa once a week (from this farmer's co-op). Man, I wish I'd bought more pottery as well!

I made umboshi (pickled plum) onigiri yesterday for lunch, using Andoh's rice cooking guide. I will never go back to just throwing things in the pot. The rinsing is such an important step! I cannot wait to tackle her ramen recipe this fall. And the tempura pancakes look awesome too.

Expect recipes from her!


Keith said...

Hrm, I might be off to a bad start then. I`ve already bought some things from the Foreign Buyers Club. Trips to the grocery store make me hungy and confused. Any suggestions on how to make the most of my inability to know what I am buying?

Alyson said...

LOL! I loved FBC. I probably spent thousands on them in the two year span. =S But, you know, at the time I wanted pesto and bagels!

I hear you on the grocery stores - they're a challenge. You'll think you recognize something, and then it'll turn out to be something entirely different. (My worst experience with that was this thing that looked like rhubarb. It wasn't.) I think the only kanji I really bothered to learn was stuff related to food. Heck, I still wander around my local store confused at what I'm looking at.

I found that it was the middle sections of the store that left me the most bewildered. I mean, who needs a whole aisle for soy sauce? What the heck was the difference between them all? So, at the beginning, I stuck to the perimeter. I bought a lot of spinach (it usually has its roots attached - they're slightly pinkish towards the bottom), because I could use it for salads or sandwiches. Lots of fruit (even though it was pricey), eggs, a bag of rice and some meat & salmon from the meat section. (Oh! And the deli ham and cheese slices) Basically, I started with things I could recognize visually. I'll be honest, there's a whole lot of trial and error that went on for me.

I will say, having a cookbook helped me out, because it taught me to recognize what was there:

The Japanese Kitchen


and the one that I just got last week has TONS of pictures and is really helpful. So I definitely recommend Washoku too.

I've also used Just Bento for easy recipes:


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