Simmering expectations: relearning how to procure, prepare, and present food in Japan

Those who know me well know that I love to cook. Since I was around the age of 3, I was cooking alongside my mother while pretending I was the next James Barber (albeit, a much tinier, thinner version). I would imagine that there were cameras filming us and take the audience through the process step by step. Of course, I was a terrible cook back then, but my mom was my number one fan. And that’s all that counts when you’re a kid.

As I matured, so too did my culinary skills and tastes. I’m by no means a professional chef. I’m just an avid amateur who knows what textures he appreciates and which flavours best mingle together on his pallet. Like James Barber, I believe that measurements are best used as guidelines rather than hard, fast rules. Consequently, I can’t bake to save my life.

I thought I had it all figured out until we moved to Japan. I suddenly found myself lost in the supermarket struggling to read labels, cursing my small two-burner gas stove, maligning my lack of proper utensils/tools, mourning my lack of an oven, and cringing every time I set foot in our kitchen with counter-tops three inches below my waist (and I am by no means a tall man, standing in at a modest 5′ 10″). In the beginning, cooking felt like a waking nightmare.

Slowly, I began to adjust. It was either I eat or starve. As starving wasn’t an option either my wife or I fancied, I decided to conquer my fear of our tiny kitchen while seeking out every nook and cranny where one might procure “exotic” foods, such as decent cheese, full-flavoured spices, and semi-edible bacon.

If locating basic ingredients, such as tahini, jalapenos, or dried onion flakes wasn’t already hard enough, learning how to stomach the prices was. Slowly, I have become desensitized to the price of pretty much everything except fruit. No longer do I quail when I finally find celery for 128 yen (or $1.66 CDN) a stick. By the time I find it, I’ve probably searched through three supermarkets already. It’s likely also in terrible condition. That being said, I absolutely refuse to pay 980 yen ($12.77) or more for a watermelon the size of a five-pin bowling ball. You soon discover what you really need to cook with, and the prices those ingredients or foods command eventually becomes a moot point of contention.

Of necessity, I’ve also taught myself how to cook various foods which simply cannot be located in Japan. Pierogi, for example, are a staple of pretty much every single Canadian supermarket’s frozen food section. In fact, according to Wikipedia, we are second only to the US as consumers of store-bought pierogi. However, people in Japan simply look at me quizzically when I mention Polish or Ukrainian food, so as you might have guessed, there are no pierogi in Japan. Out of sheer necessity, I concocted three different fillings for the modified pierogi dough recipe that I located online: pizza, cheddar & fresh herbs, and sauerkraut & bacon. Falafel, hummus, and tzatziki are just a few of the other foods I’ve had to learn to make myself. If you want it, you just have to make it. I’ll be sharing these – as well as other – recipes in our new “recipes” section and our 「日本語のレシピ」 section.

So as I relearn how to cook with what I have here in Japan, I came to the decision that I would love to share the process with you. From here on in, join me as I explore the tasty treats of Japan, scour Japan for ingredients, make what I can’t locate, and share my favourite recipes in two languages!



4 thoughts on “Simmering expectations: relearning how to procure, prepare, and present food in Japan

    • I know! Pierogi are a staple food back home, eh?! With any luck, I’ll have a solid recipe for you to work from posted by the end of the week! That one is going to be tough to explain in Japanese though (-_-; )

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