Remember how we harvested some veggies today? Here’s my favorite one:
Loving this bento series on album covers:
Weezer – Green Album: Cabbage, nori, ham, kamaboko, paprika, rice.
The rest can be seen here.
Whenever I have soba noodles, I am brought back to being a child at my grandpa’s summer cabin in the mountains of Nagano. We used to walk down the curvy roads until we reached the main town in Karuizawa, where we would we would have (in my opinion) the best soba in the world. This restaurant was a local legend: Japanese style with everything made out of wood (most of which painted black), and each table had smalls jar of diced green onions, tōgarashi, and ground daikon. Recently, I’ve heard that they have become so successful, they’ve expanded to another location. Good for them.
Before serving the food, we would receive a small plate, a grater, and a newly picked stick of green horseradish, with which we would grind our own fresh wasabi to be dumped in the broth in large amounts because it was so good.
When the noodles arrived seasoned with shredded nori on their bamboo boxes, I would immediately dig in, grabbing huge clumps with my chopsticks and practically baptizing them in my perfectly mixed broth before consumption. Once we had finished, my grandpa would request the soba yu, the hot water that the buckwheat was boiled in, and we would pour it from a ceramic kettle into our broth to dilute and heat it. We would then drink it like tea.
Whenever the wasabi was too strong for me to bear and I found myself clutching the top of my head, my grandpa used to say, “Hana ni kuru. Sore ga ii.” (It’s a good thing it comes to the nose). He was convinced soba yu had medicinal properties, and still is to this day. Because of these memories of carefree summers in a beautiful place, soba is my favorite food.
Growing up, there were two tales I remember the most from my book of Japanese folk stories. The first was Momotaro and his quest to rescue treasures and women from Oni Island. The second was called “Saru Kani Kassen,” and was about a crab, a monkey, and a series of anthropomorphized inanimate objects.
Once upon a time a crab was happily walking along eating his onigiri (rice ball). His neighbor, a hungry monkey who only had a persimmon seed, didn’t want to wait for it to grow so he asked the crab if he wanted to trade items. The crab thought it was unfair, but the clever monkey told him that once the crab ate the onigiri, it would be gone permanently, but if he planted the seed, he will have persimmon fruit forever. Then the crab agreed and planted the seed in his garden, where he told it to sprout, or he’d dig it up and throw it away. Scared, the tree quickly sprouted. He told it to grow tall and bear fruit or he’d cut it down with his claws, and the persimmon tree quickly obeyed.
But then the crab noticed it couldn’t reach the fruit, so he asked the monkey to get for him. The monkey ran up the tree and began eating the fruit himself. Angrily, the crab yelled at him, to which the monkey threw a persimmon at the crab, cracking its shell and crushing it to death. The crab’s children swore blood vengeance on the monkey and enlisted the aide of a chestnut, bee, cow dung, and mortar. They all went to the monkey’s house while he was away and hid in different places. When the monkey came home, he was warming his hands by the fire when suddenly the chestnut sprang out of the fireplace, burning him. He ran to the water to douse his burns when an army of baby crabs began pinching him. Panicking, he pulled out his hands and placed them in a jar of miso paste instead, to which a bee flew out and began stinging him. The monkey ran out of his house, slipped on the cow dung, and landed on his back. Then the giant stone mortar leapt off the roof and crushed the monkey to death. The end.
Six years ago my family moved to Japan for several months, during which I recall a surreal experience that arguably bordered on the magical. It began with my dad’s simple craving for spicy food––particularly Thai food. Having begun to miss the Thai restaurants from my Californian hometown, I too felt the craving and we set off on a quest to find the spiciest Thai restaurant in Tokyo.
Over the course of several weeks, we sampled a variety of Thai places. Although we left each place happy and full, they did little to stem our craving and only increase our curiosity on what the city had to offer. My dad learned from a colleague of a low-profile spot in Ginza, a couple blocks south of Yurakucho Station, and we decided to check it out.
We walked up and down the busy street for twenty minutes looking for the place but couldn’t find it. Then, all of a sudden, we could smell the sweet aroma of boiling coconut curry coming from the nondescript stairs leading down to an outdoor basement entrance. As we descended the staircase, we automatically noticed how bizarre it was; towards the bottom, someone had decorated the room with paint and plaster so that it looked like a cave, complete with mine lamps strung along the ceiling. There was a large wooden wall at the end of the room and an elephant mask on the adjacent cave wall with the words “押す” or push under it. So I did.
Immediately the soundproof wooden wall slid back revealing the a loud bustling Thai restaurant with wispy drapes forming canopy-like tents around diners and tables. We ordered up a little bit of everything on the menu. It was very spicy and very tasty––an experience that extended beyond taste and into my other senses as well. Similarly, through Tanizaki’s detailed depiction of sights, sounds, and textures, I view Count G’s episode as extending beyond the mere sense of taste, making his dining experience that much more memorable.
Garden was looking good today! Most likely due to the strange pseudo-rainy weather we had this morning. Plants are definitely ready for transplanting. I gave a little less water because the soil was already damp and am glad I didn’t hold back too much because it became quite sunny again in the afternoon.
There is a high-end restaurant called Evia that specializes in classical Greek cuisine. A couple of years ago, my family made reservations for a late evening dinner. Although I do not recall the exact circumstance of our reservation, I vividly remember Evia’s delicate candlelit ambiance to be quite beautiful, though I suppose humbler than the feast of the Japanese dignitaries Cwiertka mentions in Western Food, Politics, and Fashion. Nevertheless, this restaurant unsurprisingly had courses ranging from $50 to $100 a plate, so it was by no means a mere food joint. As there were plenty of striking parallels between the two food experiences I recall an epiphany I had that evening after finishing my meal.
First of all, food arguably in itself––its taste––maximizes its physical sensory pleasure without having to be upper-class culinary masterpieces. Cwiertka mentions this with the overarching Japanese ideology of washoku as “tasty,” beautiful, yet less classy sustenance compared to the more nutritious and expensive yoshoku. Today, perhaps the tastiest foods out there are from noodle stands along streets in Bangkok or at a hole-in-the-wall taqueria in east LA with burritos to die for. However, what does differ between these types of eateries in terms of “class,” “quality,” and cultural “taste” is use of––as mentioned––service, ambience, and decor. The Seiyoken’s managers understood this, as did our sharply dressed waiter at Evia whose simple actions––describing the evening’s specials in salivating detail, making suggestions with warmth and professionalism, and taking orders through memory without the use of a notepad––elevated my dining experience to that of “taste.”
Ironically, I ordered the roasted wild boar with vegetable-filled parchment as my main course that evening. The waiter complimented my choice, saying, “It is a most exquisite meat. Once you try wild boar, you can never go back to pork or beef again.” (This is true, he actually did say that.)