In 2006, after a long flight from Chicago to London, transiting in Dublin, then what seemed like an even longer bus ride from London to Brighton, I finally made it to the University of Sussex’s international graduate apartments. And I was exhausted. It was late in the evening. I was in an unfamiliar place with strangers who had already moved in a few weeks ago (my three flatmates, two Japanese and one Thai, had all arrived earlier to take English classes – and were wondering who the person who got the biggest room was, yes, by pure luck of the draw I got the biggest room in the four-room flat, and it had a sea view, as the apartment building was just across the beach, one of the reasons I wanted to live there). I was hungry. The porter who gave me the key and some brief instructions was friendly but had other students waiting to ask questions so was only able to supply me with: “try the fish and chips down the street”. I didn’t want to tell him that after a long day of almost non-stop travel, I wasn’t quite ready for greasy food.
I sorted out some basic things and had a quick shower. And braced my introverted self for some socializing, and went to chat with one of my new flatmates, to ask her for recommendations on where to go. I found her in the kitchen preparing some dinner. Which she kindly offered to share with me. Perhaps I looked pathetic and half-starved. I’m not quite sure, but I’m forever grateful. It was a simple dinner. I can’t quite remember what we had but knowing Yukiko, it probably had a lot of vegetables in it. Perhaps a salad? And that was the start of our friendship.
Over this slightly less than one year in the same flat on Kings Road, we shared meals together, sometimes went grocery shopping together, shared our music with each other and chatted about everything. I edited her thesis. I dragged her to see The Flaming Lips with me. She met my boyfriend (now the Husband) who flew over from Illinois where he was doing a graduate degree (we met a few months before we were both due to leave for a year overseas. Most of our relationship was a long-distance one). I met her sweet younger sister who visited from Japan, and despite not speaking much English, wandered around London herself and even took in some Wimbledon matches.
And we’ve kept in touch ever since. Through emails, snail mail, the occasional Skype session. She attended my wedding in Singapore in 2008. It was her first trip to Southeast Asia and she really loved it, especially all the spicy food.
It was from her that I learnt more about Japanese cooking. I’d loved eating out at Japanese restaurants for many years by then but it was never something I dared to attempt at home.
Of course what I call Japanese cooking isn’t authentic, as I am not Japanese. Then again, while I am Singaporean Chinese, would I really call my cooking Singaporean? Or Chinese? Not exactly.
Anyway, one of the Japanese dishes that Yukiko introduced was chirashizushi, which is sashimi scattered over sushi rice. Her mum occasionally sent over care packages which included these rice seasoning packets that had a type of sushi rice marinade with finely sliced vegetables like carrots and lotus roots. All you do is cook two cups of rice and when it’s cooked, pour the seasoning mix into the warm rice and stir well. It makes for a quick simple meal. I often pick up some these packets from the Japanese supermarket in San Jose.
(The sushi rice mix hasn’t been stirred into the rice yet)
So it was Yukiko’s birthday earlier this month and I guess I must have subconsciously been thinking of her when I pulled out the seasoning packet and Harumi’s Japanese Cooking, which Yukiko sent as a birthday present one year. I love Harumi Kurihara’s take on Japanese food. Simple, modern, elegant. Like her tofu avocado dressing. Tofu with basil and gorgonzola dressing! And the yummy vegetable dishes like green beans with minced meat. And I really appreciate the very clean look of her cookbook.
(I love these two pages, for its look into the many different dishes that Japanese households use. One seldom sees different shapes in Chinese households, as we seem to prefer round bowls and plates, at the most ovals.)
I’ve used the teriyaki marinade recipe a few times (it’s quite basic, some sweet, some savory:
1 tbsp mirin – I’ve seen recipes that call for equal parts soy sauce to mirin, so it’s really up to you
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp sugar – or more if you’d like it sweeter)
And so went with a chicken teriyaki dish, using boneless chicken thighs. And then some really garlicky green beans with a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil and some sesame seeds on top. Perhaps more Chinese than Japanese but it worked well together.
Wee Reader definitely enjoyed it, then again he’d eat almost anything with seaweed sprinkled on top.
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