Which bento do you prefer? Japanese bento with rice, or Italian bento with pasta?
Which bento do you prefer? Japanese bento with rice, or Italian bento with pasta?
While ago, I posted my traumatic experience of breastfeeding. Thinking back, I couldn’t wait to get away from the feeling of guilt for feeding my baby girl the bottles all the time, which was exacerbated by the pro-breastfeeding trend in recent years. All I wanted back then was to start giving her solid food as soon as possible so that at least I can feel I am giving something natural, as opposed to something artificial (very biased I know).
As such, I was always picturing about introducing her solid food after she would turn six months, a common benchmark in Japan. I was thinking about moving forward slowly and carefully to see what food our baby could take or not take, as many of the first timer parents would do. I thought of starting off with rice porridge, which is the very first food to start feeding your baby in Japan. It is culturally taken for granted, and if you say otherwise people may get confused. We just don’t know that other options exist. If you ask any Japanese person, I bet almost 99.9% of us would say the same. Historically speaking, rice has played imperative roles over the years in this country, not only as our staple food but also as alcohol (sake), condiments (mirin, vinegar, etc.), glue (used for dyeing), fertilizer…. there is even this old women’s tale that they would give the watery part of rice porridge to newborn babies if their mothers could not produce enough breast milk. It’s almost like you cannot talk about Japan without understanding the importance of this incredible grain, because rice is our norm and the base of what we are.
So naturally, I thought that is what I was going to do for our baby girl. But isn’t life interesting because there is always something unexpected or unthought of happens in your life? When our baby girl was five months old, we visited our family friends in Hong Kong. It was our first trip abroad with our little one, so we packed (more than) sufficient amount of formula and nappies, being very excited for her to meet our friends and their three girls. We arrived at their beautiful apartment in one of the skyscrapers on the Hong Kong Island, and proudly and happily introduced our baby to the entire family. As common in Hong Kong, they had lived-in helpers who excitedly greeted the tiny visitor and reacted affectionately to every single movement she made. At one point the hostess (the mother of 3), the helpers (two of them combined raised more than 20 children), and I were all gathering at their enormous kitchen, talking about babies, tips on parenting, etc. etc. Then suddenly, our friend asked me how old exactly our baby girl was. I said five months, and she enthusiastically said, “oh, so she’s ready for solids! Would you like to try here? M (one of the helpers) can show you how!” And of course the experienced and confident child minder M was beaming with pride, nodding at me with a big smile for assurance. As for me, a moment of panic was going through my head, thinking I was not ready at all even if our baby might have been ready. For a moment I hesitated and was about to decline their offer, but at the same time as silly as it may sound, I didn’t want to appear to be this overly concerned, overprotected and paranoid parent (which I was, of course). And I knew they knew much better. As a result, I found myself saying “OK, let’s give it a try…”
This was how it started, our first baby food experience. According to M, the guru, the best first food is mashed steamed apple, i.e. apple mousse. That’s right, apple, it’s a fruit, not at all rice… Another panic went through my head, but I shook my anxiety off and tried my best to be my normal self. In the kitchen M took out a beautiful red apple and put it in a small boiling steamer, and carefully mashed it when it was done. I still remember this shiny, juicy, almost golden honey like mashed apple M prepared. And she suggested me to give a small spoonful to our baby girl who was curiously sitting in the lilac Bumbo chair on top of the huge kitchen island. It was going to be her very first bite. I thought, from this moment on, her poo would be different forever. She took it, moving her mouth as if she’s really tasting it, and when I offered the second spoonful, she took another, and then another, and then the small portion M had put on a small plate was all gone. Our baby absolutely loved it.
More than three years have past since then, and a couple of weeks ago our now 4 year old was a bit sick with some minor tummy bug. She didn’t have any appetite but would only eat one thing…. and it was apple mousse. Usually in Japan we give rice porridge to those who are ill, which is very common and is followed everywhere including hospitals. But our girl would not eat rice porridge. Every time I made an attempt to feed her rice porridge during her illness, hoping to give her some energy back, she just made faces and spit it out. She just would not eat anything but apple mousse. This puzzled me a lot, because I thought that the rice porridge was the thing to eat when you are ill, and didn’t know there could be any alternative. But through my daughter I finally realised what I took for granted was only true in my home country. When people are ill they actually eat the food they’d feel most comfortable with or familiar with, and this, I now believe, depends on what you used to eat in your early childhood. In my daughter’s case it’s apple mousse, the very first food she ever tasted in her whole life. It is certainly something I did not foresee prior to starting the solids with my girl, and it surely shook my mindset and made me understand about different perspectives in one of the most basic human behaviors.
Menu: Fresh corns cooked with rice (with ‘ao-nori‘ seaweed powder on top), Cabbage millefeuille, La salade a la maman (mama’s tomato salad), Green bean omelet
Japanese ‘kyoho‘ grapes for dessert
Last night we had our good friends over for (early) dinner. Our daughter was so thrilled to have her friends over that she had a hard time focusing on eating at the dinner table. Inevitably her leftover has ended up in her bento box today.
The dishes I cooked this time somehow had a touch of French cuisine but with Japanese seasonings. I think our European friends liked this combination very much 🙂
– Fresh corns cooked with rice, in a Japanese “dó-nabe” earthware pot – I used this recipe from the website called Cookpad (sorry all in Japanese). I doubled the portion.
– Cabbage millefeuille – here is the recipe, also from Cookpad.
– La salade a la maman is a recipe passed on to me by my best friend’s mum who unfortunately passed away seven years ago. I’ve recreated her tasty salad numerous times since she taught me this wonderful recipe. It is one of the simplest, yet the most delicious salads I’ve ever tasted to this day. She told me she almost felt embarrassed to tell me the recipe because it was nothing special. But she always made delicious but effortless dishes. Everything she cooked for us, including this plain sandwich with ham (Jambon Beurre á Paris), was purely divine.
Today is the last day of summer holiday at our daughter’s kindergarten (in Japanese schools, summer holiday usually starts at the end of July and ends at the end of August). I promised her to take her to the jidokan, public play room, in our neighborhood, and she requested to eat our packed lunches there. So here it is, our summer holiday bento.
Menu: Edamame rice, Tomato omelet, Baba ham kyuri
Japanese pear for dessert
Baba hamu kyuri is just sliced ham (hamu) and cucumber (kyuri), sandwiched as shown in the picture. No seasoning at all. My mum (my daughter’s grandmother and she calls her ‘Baba’) used to make this as kids’ appetizer for my and my sister’s birthday parties. She used blocks of ham and cucumber rather than slices, and put them together with a toothpick, making them a nice, bite sized appetizer. I know it’s nothing special, but it still brings my sweet childhood memory to my mind, and wanted to share it with my little girl. I told this story to her once, and ever since then she started calling it ‘Baba hamu kyuri.”