Monday, May 01, 2006


(Note: This was first written on Sunday, April 30th. Today refers to Sunday, yesterday to Saturday.)


Today, when we went to Hideaki’s parents’ house to cut down a tree branch that was in danger of hitting the roof, it was spontaneously suggested that we have “bar-b-que” for lunch.

The men chopped up the extraneous branch and burned it in an indentation in the ground. When the branch got nice and hot—when it turned a charred grey but was still glowing like a coal—they put in a clay flowerpot and put a grill covering over it. On this, they cooked thin strips of meat, small fish, and cut vegetables.

I sat or at times lay on the tatami mat and cushion in a room which, when the sliding door was open, overlooked the grill. Wisps of white ash and the smell of smoke blew in with the breeze. The men would pass us plates of recently cooked meat and vegetables and we would dip these into a dark, sweet sauce and eat them warm. I especially enjoyed the potatoes, boiled first, then buttered and wrapped in aluminum foil and grilled for five minutes more—I seasoned it with salt and pepper before I ate it. There were also tender strips of beef, marinated in sauce, and chicken and sausages, which burst juice when you bit into them. And there were soft mushrooms and slices of pumpkin.

Mayumi served me orange juice and chilled ocha, and Hideaki’s genki (lively, energetic) mother ran around, telling “Becky-san” to eat more. Near me, Megumi drew. For desert I had strawberry Hagen-daas, and afterwards, I lay contentedly on a cushion and began writing. Mayumi sat with me, quietly staring outside where the scent of smoke still lingered and listening to the sound of wind.

Mexican Food

Several people have asked me how making Mexican food for the family has been. So I shall tell you: I suffer a minor heart attack every time I make the family dinner.

Yesterday, for example, I was going to make hard and soft tacos for the second time, but we had run out of corn tortillas and none of the import stores had any. So I decided to switch to burritos. But wouldn’t you know, the flour tortillas my family had sent me were moldy. So I made five hard tacos, and used the left over meat and the beans I had heated to make a bean dip. Mayumi had bought tortilla chips, so we all ate nachos. I, in the meantime, was perspiring quietly to myself about whether my family would like it and whether I had made enough food. The answer was, yes, they did like it, and, no, I hadn’t made enough. As proof, after eating all the tacos, a bag of chips, and a small casserole dish of bean dip, my family still had room for a couple bowls of rice, miso soup, and a plate of sashimi.

By far, my most successful Mexican dinner was the first one. I made hard and soft tacos for my family on the 9th of April, along with refried beans and Spanish rice. Before I had even begun to cook, I was having nightmares about not being able to find a cheese grater. (By the way, Mayumi bought pre-shredded cheese.) Why was I so nervous? Simple; it was the first time cooking for my family and the first time Kengo and Megumi would ever eat Mexican food. Add to the fact that I didn’t even have proper measuring cups, and you can see why I began to fidget.

In fact, I spent a good few minutes debating in my head how I was going to serve the food. In my family tacos and burritos are a make-your-own affair; I lay out the ingredients and everyone puts in the amount beans, cheese, vegetables, etc. that they desire. I had qualms about serving food to my family in this way, primarily because, A. I didn’t know whether Kengo and Megumi would even know how to make their own tacos, and B. the table seemed too small for pans of beans, rice, and meat; bowls of tomatoes and lettuce; a package of cheese; and plates, cups and silverware. So, I made each plate up individually. And I, again, made up each individual plate when they requested seconds.

The unhappy result of which was that I was tired from running back and forth all through dinner, and by the time I sat down to eat, my own food had long gotten cold. But everyone seemed to enjoy the food, especially the soft tacos. Hideaki said I should open my own Mexican restaurant in Nagoya. Both he and Mayumi were very grateful to eat Mexican food again. That filled me with a warm, fuzzy glow that not even the inevitable stack of dirty dishes could drown out.

I also made huevos rancheros on Easter, but that didn’t go over too well. Megumi thought the enchilada sauce was too spicy and couldn’t eat it. And no one could pronounce the name of the dish.

Karage and Chahan

In Japan, the school year ends in February and begins again in April. So, for two months, while the Japanese students were off playing, we Ryuugakusei (exchange students) had all of Nanzan’s campus to ourselves.

Sadly, this state could not last.

With the return of the Nihonjin (Japanese people) and, especially, the influx of freshmen, my world has gotten crowded before I even step on campus. The subway is now jam-packed with students, especially on the 8:30 and 3:30 trains. Every day, as I exit the subway, I have to fight off hoards of people handing out tissues and fliers. These annoying solicitors, who I mentioned in a previous post, had left for most of winter, but returned in full force in the spring, stronger than ever; every day, every day, I have to pass through a “bridge” of at least six of them. And on campus, the streets, computer labs, and cafeterias are crowded.

The good news is that some of the smaller eating places, which had closed when the students left, are now open again. My favorite and, by far, the best of these places is the Croissant Café. My friends and I eat there everyday for lunch.

The specialty of the café is actually ramen, but I don’t care much for ramen and my friends rarely eat it. Instead we nearly always order karage chicken and chahan rice.

Karage is Japan’s version of fried chicken. According to Julie (who gave me the recipe), it’s breaded with a combination of fine corn meal, flour, garlic, and ginger; once it comes out of the frying pan, hot, it’s tender and juicy. Most everywhere on campus sells karage for about a dollar, but the Croissant Café’s is the cheapest and the best.

The Chahan, or Chinese-style rice, is excellent too. You can either buy a half set for 200 yen or a full set (which comes with a small cup of egg drop soup) for 350. The rice itself is warm and buttery and peppery, with little pieces of ham stuck here and there.

Though I’ve tried ramen and hayashi rice (plain white rice covered with a vaguely sweet sauce) on occasion, generally, I just order karage and chahan. Not the healthiest lunch, I know, but it is quite delicious. Afterwards, I like to get a Giant sundae cone, which, despite its name, is only moderate in size, but at 100 yen, a pretty good deal.


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