Saturday, February 4, 2012

So what do we eat in Japan?

Sometimes, we're guilty of letting this blog depict a life we don't lead. A life of constant adventures, cultural and culinary. Readers would be forgiven for thinking we spend every afternoon visiting temples and every evening eating Japanese food.

The truth is much more mundane: we spend most days at work and most nights at home. In fact, we eat at home about three nights out of four, depending on how crazy things are at work. A lot of what we eat is essentially American, but often with a couple unexpected substitutions or a little Japanese twist. Nana, who is really the field marshal of our kitchen, does a great job with a limited palette, given all the things we just can't get, or can't get cheaply enough to eat on a regular basis. She manages to keep our diet fairly healthy, too - though not so healthy that a weekly trip to the ramen shop can't put my cholesterol right back through the roof.

Anyway, here's a brief look at a week of meals at our place.


On weekends, we go to the grocery store, which generally means fresh salmon for dinner. Salmon is cheap here, and it's super-easy to cook in the little fish oven that's built into our range. Some weeks, we do it teriyaki style with rice and a salad. This time, we went a little more European - an thrown-together dill sauce, some sauteed potatoes, asparagus, and onions. A baguette, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side.

Like many weekend meals, this one was a joint effort: I did the fish, Nana did the potatoes, and we both kept an eye on the veggies.


Enchiladas. Mexican is a sure sign of a recent Costco run, as that's the only way to get affordable cheese and salsa of any recognizable sort. The tomatillo salsa was actually made with these mild little green peppers you can get pretty much everywhere here. For the filling, Nana used ground chicken, onion, paprika, cumin, and a whole bunch of cabos limes. (Apparently, they're a big thing around here.) We also had some tomato rice in there, all wrapped in a (frozen) corn tortilla from Costco.

Weekday meals are often a bit simpler, as we usually get home late from school. For this one, Nana made shrimp with butter, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus, over rice. Usually, we try to leave enough leftovers for lunch the next day, unless there's a good lunch at school. Sometimes such plans do not come to fruition.

Nana does most of the weekday cooking: she says it relaxes her, whereas cooking at the end of a long day just stresses me out. I usually go for a bike ride instead. It's my job to clean up after the meal, at which time Nana usually curls up on the couch in a metabolic stupor.

There's usually some pasta in there at some point in the week. That's penne with canned salmon, onion, and broccoli  rabe. Kind of like a pasta primavera. The sides are "jalapeno" poppers made with the leftover little green peppers, a bit of cream cheese, and bacon. According to the doctor, precisely the kind of thing I should never eat again in my life. Which means it was absolutely delicious.

We went out. Wednesday is after-school meeting day, meaning sometimes we don't get out of the building until well after 6. Some weeks, when we're feeling particularly pole-axed, we'll stagger into the Lotteria, which is a McDonald's-esque Japanese fast food chain . . . founded by a Korean. (It's complicated.)

Other weeks, we'll pop into Menchanko-tei, a Fukuoka-based chain that specializes in noodle soups in the style eaten by sumo - with smaller portions, of course. This Wednesday, I opted for a yasai banzai ("10,000-year vegetable" or "longevity vegetable") menchanko, while Nana stuck with the classic. Those at the top are fried burdock sticks. Burdock is this freakishly delicious and healthy root vegetable that's cheaper than dirt in Japan.

The little side bowl in the lower right is for cooling and seasoning your noodles. Nana likes hers unadulterated, but I usually take mine with a hefty dose of yuzu paste, a condiment made from a bitter Japanese lime, soy, and a liberal dose of hot pepper.


On Thursdays, we're so busy we can't even remember to take a photo. Thursday is the only day of the week we're committed to getting out of school on time, as that's the only way to make our 4:40 Japanese lesson downtown. Luckily, the lesson lets us out right between Daimyo and Tenjin, two of Fukuoka's culinary hotspots. There's no telling what we'll end up eating on Thursday - though this time it was just a simple Hakata ramen.


Fridays, when we eat at home, we usually throw something together from all the perishables left in the fridge. This usually takes the form of some kind of omelette or stir-fry, though occasionally pancakes are involved.

Yesterday, however, was parent-teacher conference day, so we didn't get out of school until late. Solution? Dinner with two of our Japanese colleagues, at a local place known for its hand-made udon (chewy wheat noodles). I had some udon soup and Nana had some soba (buckwheat noodles), each with another portion of fried burdock.


Seven nights, three home-cooked meals - the sign of a week a bit busier than most.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Snow in Fukuoka

This is what we woke up to this fine February morning.

We don't get a lot of it here, which is kind of a shame: Japanese roof tiled look great in the snow.