Sunday, August 2, 2015

Japanese Food

S-chan, my friend Jordan, and I
Cooking Sensei #1
I have a running joke with my host sister, S-chan. She is very active and has participated in every single culture class and extra activity that the program has to offer. I think it's great that she's is doing so--it is her first time living in Japan, and she hasn't had a chance to do most of the things that the program has allowed her to try. In comparison, there is me--the graduate student who has to find time for her own research around the piles of homework and who has already lived in Japan and has done all of these activities before. We are very different people, to be sure. However, I will go out of my way to fit certain activities into my schedule, and these certain activities boil down to two types: things that relate to my research and food. Naturally, these activities were all scheduled for the second to last week of the program, with the result being that I had an unusually busy week last week.

Our happy helper, Mae
Wednesday we went to Hakodate Cooking School, which is the local school where students learn to make a wide variety of western, Chinese, and Japanese dishes in order to either start their own store or work at a restaurant or hotel. The school decided that since we were all foreigners with a fairly wide range of Japanese language ability, they would try us out on something that foreigners were bound to like: beef sukiyaki don (a dish made with beef, onion, egg, and mushrooms and served on top of rice). So after we had all donned our spectacular aprons and bandanas, we watched the sensei make the dish first before retreating to our individual workstations to try it out for ourselves.

My friend Nisa with the sukiyaki
It was a good thing that there was a student there to help us out, because the Sensei couldn't translate most of the ingredients he had written on the board, and at a certain point it gets difficult to remember all the steps. Our student was nice enough to let us mess up a few times before coming in to help us, which actually was nice because now I know that you are not supposed to add the sake before the rest of the liquids unless you want it to make a really awful noise. It didn't matter: the end result was amazingly delicious. They even prepared a few other dishes for us to sample even though we didn't have time to make them, so we got to try some really good food.

Cooking Sensei #2
Then on Saturday, we returned to the cooking school for another lesson, this time in the making of traditional Japanese confectionaries that are usually served at the tea ceremony (collectively called wagashi). For those of you who don't know, the Japanese really like anko, the red bean that they sweeten and add to almost all of their desserts. It's not bad once you get used to it, but I know a lot of foreigners who have a problem with the taste and the texture, and while I don't agree, I do understand. So for those people, our foray into the world of Japanese sweets might not have been as wonderful as a trip to Hakodate Milk Factory for some delicious sweet cream. On Saturday, we got to make two different sweets: first, a red bean manjuu, which is like a steamed dumpling with red bean paste inside. The dough was a bit like bread dough, so I got in some good practice at kneading it to incorporate all the flour, and then my group spent a long time trying to figure out how to wrap the dough around the anko (which is very soft and malleable) so that they could be steamed. In they end, we probably didn't have the prettiest dumplings, but they were pretty delicious all the same.
Weighing ingredients

We also got to try our hand at making nerikiri, which is a combination of white and red bean paste. This one was handed to us pre-mixed, but the sensei showed us how to dye the dough with red food coloring to make it turn pink and then shape it into different shapes. For tea ceremony, it is important to use natural ingredients, and many of the foods used in tea ceremony incorporate foods in the shape of things found in nature to reinforce this connection. We made one nerikiri that looked a little like a strawberry and one that actually got shaped into a flower that we then decorated with colored gelatin. They ended up being so pretty that I didn't want to eat mine (I ate it anyway).

While technically I have the recipes for everything that we made this week, I am pretty confident that the only think I will be able to repeat is probably the beef sukiyaki don. I'm certainly not sad (it was so delicious, I ate too much and couldn't manage any dinner), but when it comes down to it, I like that usually when I eat something like anko, I am in Japan. It makes it special in some way.

Beef sukiyaki don, a la gaijin 



1 comment:

おにぎりまん said...

おまんじゅう!Did I tell yuo I used to work at a Manju-ya in LA when I was in college?