So at the end of February week I flew to Japan to stay with my Japanese friend and her family. I had such a fantastic time and learned loads more about Japanese family life, culture and of course FOOD. I want to introduce you to the Japanese concept of “おふくろの味 (ofukura no aji)” or “mother’s taste” as I reckon it’s going to feature in a lot of my meals in the next couple of posts. This phrase is all about meals that are commonly eaten in Japanese homes, but every family will have their own variation on the recipe. I’ll try and find a link to a recipe for a guide though. My Japanese mother cooked me so many beautiful meals so I’m really excited about the next couple of posts! I’m also going to be posting soon about some of my favourite Japanese experiences and places and some general Japan travel tips.
23/02/15: Chicken teriyaki – British Airways
Aeroplane food is awful. Just awful. I’m not going to try and argue otherwise. Unfortunately I have to log something from every day and this time I had to use up chicken teriyaki (gutted!). It turned out to be vaguely palatable and was definitely better than the alternative meal that unfortunately I can’t remember.
Similar recipe: http://www.justonecookbook.com/recipes/nikujaga/
Nikujaga is a meat and potato stew (niku meaning “meat” and jagaimo meaning “potato”) cooked in a sweetened soy broth. It’s the first of the “mother’s taste” meals I’ll be talking about from my stay with my Japanese friend’s family. This was a filling, simple dish that was just what I needed while still recovering from my jet lag. Jet lag affects everyone differently and can affect the same person differently on different trips too. I really struggled in Japan especially with my appetite so this was a great warming meal that was nice and easy to eat. It’s not too heavy on the meat, which is added primarily for flavour, and you can use beef or pork depending on what you have in/fancy.
25/02/15: Miso ramen – Tsujita, Iidabashi, Tokyo
My friend had pretty much planned our day around her favourite little ramen joint in Iidabashi that she has been dying to take me to. The first good sign was the queue outside the door! (There was a heater and some tea so don’t let the queue put you off). My friend and I both went for the slightly stronger of the two miso ramen options and it was delicious! The noodles were the perfect texture and the broth was beautifully rich. It’s a little tricky if you don’t speak Japanese as you order at a machine out front and the buttons aren’t translated and there aren’t any pictures to help either. There are, of course, a number of ways to approach this: 1. You might be the type of person who finds this sort of lucky dip situation exhilarating and be willing to just pick one at random – absolutely go for it because you probably can’t go wrong here; 2. Watch what the person in front of you in the queue does and copy them – if they are Japanese then they probably know what’s good right?; 3. Ask the lovely member of staff that stands outside the door for some help.
This was really tasty and sounded really simple to make. In Japan they use a lot of thinly sliced pork so perhaps in the UK it’s easiest to find some lean, fairly thickly-cut bacon perhaps? All you do is marinade the pork in soy sauce, ginger, and a bit of honey to your taste (another “mother’s taste” dish) and fry before serving with some salad leaves and a bowl of rice. I haven’t tried this recipe cold, but I have seen similar ginger pork bento recipes so it could be that you could have lunch-box leftovers too.
My friend and I prepared these miso chicken nuggets together. They are simple to make and pack a real punch of miso/sesame flavour. They are great served warm and eaten with rice and salad but also work packed into bento and eaten cold because they don’t dry out or lose flavour as they cool down. I don’t think it’s that easy (or possible?) to get minced chicken in the UK so I’ve made them since with minced turkey and they worked out just fine. Basically get a 500g packet of minced turkey, mix in 3.5 tbsp miso paste, 2.5 tbsp Japanese mayo (e.g. Kewpie mayo), 1.5 tbsp cooking sake, 2.5 tsp sesame oil and 2.5 tsp grated ginger. Once that’s mixed, chuck in a load of beansprouts roughly chopped into inch-long bits so you get a lovely crunchy texture. Don’t scrimp on the beansprouts – in fact you should challenge yourself to see how many you can fit in! Then shape into little sticky nuggets and fry in some oil. Careful not to have the frying pan too hot as miso burns really easily and you want to make sure the meat cooks through without charring the outside to a black crisp! Err on the side of cooking them for longer and don’t be scared because it’s really difficult to dry these babies out.
28/02/15: Pork gyoza
This dish probably most demonstrates the “mother’s taste” concept. My friend swears that her mother’s gyoza are not only the best gyoza in the world but the best food in the world…a bold statement! I have actually tried these family gyoza before on a previous trip, but this time I was able to help out with folding them which I found pretty simple to get the hang of. I don’t have helpful pictures from this occasion but I’m sure I’ll make another gyoza variety soon enough so I’ll include some pics of how to fold them. I reckon gyoza are something you can be pretty adventurous with and try different fillings so watch this space!