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.
Shirasu-donburi (baby sardine with rice), made only in 5 minutes.
Rice (frozen – defrosted), Shirasu (baby sardine), chopped spring onion, egg (sunny side up), sliced Nori seaweed, dash of soy sauce
Last Saturday, our daughter’s primary school held “Undōkai” at their school ground, which is an annual Sports event organized by the school and students. The entire school (1st to 6th graders) are divided into two teams, White and Red, and compete. It is quite serious and formal – in a way it looks like a mini Olympic, with a proper opening ceremony with speeches & singing of the national anthem, followed by numerous games including cute dance performances and the exciting relay race, and completed with an impressive award ceremony.
It was the first time for our little girl as well as for her Dutch father to participate in the Japanese Undōkai. She just took it as it was, but my husband seemed to have gotten a little taken aback, describing it as a “military inspired parade”. I think he was exaggerating a bit, but maybe it could be a bit overwhelming if you’d never seen it before as an adult.
Anyway, at Undokai, traditionally everyone eats (usually homemade) bento for lunch on a picnic mat. I didn’t make anything special for the occasion but simple onigiri and some leftover side dishes. Still, we all enjoyed it together with all our friends.
To our surprise, our daughter ended up last in her group for the 40m dash. We always thought she was very athletic, but this proved us to be super biased about our own child. Instead, she performed superbly for the dance performances, showing us all the sweetest dance moves. Perhaps she could be a future performing artist…? … I know, I know, I shouldn’t pressure her into anything…
Win or lose, it was a great, memorable Undōkai, and we are very proud of her.
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.
Tricolor Donburi (“soboro” chicken crumble/scrambled egg/green beans)
Miso soup (with cabbage, carrot, spring onion & potato)
Pumpkin in dashi broth
Okra/cucumber/Wakame seaweed in vinegar sauce
Click here for chicken soboro recipe
Gulp! Someone is missing out something delicious tonight.
… 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.