When I lived in Italy years ago for my post graduate studies, I had an opportunity to visit a couple of Italian families, one in Piemonte and another one in Puglia. My Italian was very bad (and still is), and I don’t know how I even communicated with them. Fortunately however, I do remember this amazingly tasty meals they served for me. From what I understood, at both families, they didn’t prepare anything special but something they would eat on a daily basis. Still, it blew my mind and made a strong impression on me. I loved watching the Italian mammas cooking at their cozy kitchens, infused in this delicious aroma from the food in the making. They tried to explain every little detail to me, who was vigorously taking pictures and taking notes, but I probably got less than half of what they tried to convey. Nevertheless, I remember the scenes very fondly and the warmth I felt. I often use the mamma’s recipes to this date, feeling grateful how incredibly lucky I was to have an experience like that.
Fast forward to the present Tokyo, my daughter and I were visiting our dear friends’ house for a play date one Sunday afternoon. The lovely host suggested that we make Gyōza, Japanese-adapted Chinese dumplings, together for early dinner. There was another family and a newly arrived au pair from England who was kind of forced into our cooking spree. While the kids were playing and minding their own business, we began to make the dumplings, each of us spontaneously taking a different task to work in a highly efficient manner. We enthusiastically chatted and laughed as we moved about, chopping cabbage in high speed and mixing ground meat with our bare hands. The room started to get filled with the complex aroma of garlic, shiitake mushrooms and freshly cooked rice, with the kitchen counter and floor covered in white flour. All of us gave Gyōza cooking tips to the humble, seemingly overwhelmed au pair, encouraging her to join us for the Japanese cooking routine.
After nearly two decades since my encounter with the sweet & lovely Italian mammas, I seem to have become one myself too, but the Japanese version of it. At that time in Italy I never knew, that being a “mamma” is such a special thing: being surrounded by the people you love, who appreciate the food you cook.
Photos by courtesy of A.C. & M.T.
My best friend was in town from Italy, and we went for lunch in one of my favorite venues in my neighborhood in Tokyo.
Sasha Kanetanaka 茶酒 金田中.
They are operated by the renowned, time-honoured Japanese dining establishment called Kanetanaka. Sasha offers Kanetanaka’s quality dishes in affordable pricing, in a sophisticated contemporary cafe-style space designed by photographer/architect, Hiroshi Sugimoto. Their use of refined materials is evident as soon as you walk in, greeted by Japanese style rock & moss garden with streamlined table setting. Whenever I go there, it makes me feel as if I am dreaming of walking into a serene temple in Kyoto, gently covered by the morning sun.
They offer seasonal Lunch course, always with this breathtaking, inspirational presentation.
It is the space I come to appreciate my Tokyo life, with their considered tableware, attention to detail, use of natural materials, focus on fresh ingredients, everything handled with great care.
For those who visit Tokyo anytime soon, here is the link to this sublime restaurant. Stop by, even for a brief tea break for an excellent, worthwhile dining experience.
For the past week, I’ve been trying to prepare healthy meals as much as I can, which is inspired by the well-balanced meals introduced in the book I’ve recently read, by Mrs. Kimiko Horikoshi, the wife of late Danjuro Ichikawa and the mother of Ebizo Ichikawa, both are renowned Kabuki actors in Japan. It is amazing to know how much thoughts have been put into their meals everyday. Certainly it is something to aspire to, although my architect-desk-working husband may not need so much nutrition on a daily basis!
Thursday 23rd, Sashimi dinner with my daughter
Friday 24th, Fried Aji (yellowtail mackerel) dinner, minestrone soup, Tofu/Edamame salad (following the recipe by Mrs. Kimiko Horikoshi)
Monday 27th, Hiyashi Chuka (it literally means chilled Chinese) noodles*, with chicken veggie soup
* Hiyashi Chuka noodles, is a perfect dish for a hot summer evening like last night (32C in Tokyo, hottest I’ve ever experienced in the month of May). Served with boiled chicken filet (used the boiled water for the soup), and black vinegar & sesame sauce.
… have a bowl of Zōsui.
Zōsui is rice porridge cooked in broth. I mixed in a bit of miso paste to taste. It’s very light and easy to digest, which I needed desperately today.
Beside me my husband was eating bread for lunch (we both work from home). In our household, it is quite common to eat completely different types of food at the same time, especially for lunch. Perhaps it is one of the most important, unspoken rules we have at home in our international marriage – leave each other alone when eating your comfort food.
During this year’s so-called Golden Week holiday, we visited my family and relatives in Gunma prefecture, 150km north of Tokyo. Growing up, all I wanted was to get out of the suburban city where we lived, but going back there with the new perspective through my daughter’s eyes, everything looks different. Thanks to her, I’ve rediscovered what I had missed and failed to see all these years ago.
For the past few years in every May, we visit my aunt & uncle who live in the mountains for Takenoko diggings. After climbing up the ladder on their retaining wall to get to the bamboo grove behind their beautiful wooden house, we avidly started searching for the little shoots peeking out of the fertile soil. It is my daughter’s third time this year, and she appeared to be confident and know exactly what to do with the large spade.
We dug more than 20 of them and brought all of them home, many of which we shared with our neighbors back in Tokyo. I cooked a few of them (need to boil them for an hour as a preparation), from Takenoko rice, Takenoko curry and the most popular Takenoko Tempura (fritter). I served the tempura on the bamboo plate handmade by my auntie, as a side dish to the Udon noodles also from my hometown of Gunma.
School run is a big deal. This morning, I was getting things done from one thing to another, packing my daughter’s bento, doing dishes, putting my makeup on while drinking cappuccino in the bathroom, putting breakfast on the table for my daughter, eating my breakfast standing up, and so on and on, so that we can go out the door in order to make it to her school on time.
Her bento had already been prepared on the kitchen counter, but I just didn’t have time to take a picture of it. My iPhone was within my daughter’s reach, so I asked her to take a picture of her bento for me. She is well aware of my routine to keep the record of her daily bento, so she was very cooperative. She grabbed my iPhone and placed it in front of my face to unlock it, and took this beautiful image.
I always take her bento photos from straight above and never thought of changing the angle. I didn’t look at the photo right away, but when I did, it took me by surprise as the image gave me a totally different impression, with somehow different lighting and ambience from mine. It perhaps looked more… sophisticated. For the past three years, I’ve made her bento so many times and took a few photos each time. But I have never taken anything like what my daughter took today. Maybe it’s because I was more focused on being consistent each day, and unfortunately failed to see things from various perspectives.
With my daughter’s graduation approaching in four days, I won’t have so much chance to practice my photography skills on her kindergarten bento. Still, it feels as if my daughter has taught me an important life lesson, right before her three year kindergarten life is about to complete.
Nikudon, pork on rice, is one of the most popular recipes in my blog. It is my mum’s recipe and was passed on to me and my sister before we “married out of the family”. I’m planning to pass it on to my little girl too, once she becomes old enough to be able to handle knives and gas stove.
Incidentally on the same day, my parents came all the way to Tokyo from their home in the countryside, in order to buy their youngest granddaughter a so-called “Randoseru”, a chunky backpack used by the most of elementary school children here in Japan. I don’t know when it started, but it is kind of a modern tradition for grandparents to buy a Randoseru for their grandchildren. Our daughter was no exception, and her eventful visit to the Randoseru shop was carried out with her proud grandparents.
Additionally and coincidentally, we found out that the word Randoseru is derived from the Dutch word “ransel” (backpack). My Dutch husband got pleasantly surprised that his roots, hence our daughter’s too, is also part of her exciting milestone happening away home home.
Despite the distances, our daughter is surrounded by the traces of her roots, whether it’s the food we eat, the words we use, or the custom we follow.