Tuesday, July 14, 2009

summer vacation sweet sorrow

As Tokyo makes its lumbering transition from sticky rainy season to hotter, drier high summer, I am blessed with an incredible seven weeks of vacation! On the negative side, this blog will suffer a bit until September. However, I'd like to spend some time researching kyuushoku more, and post whatever I find. Perhaps I'll visit the famous (and only) kyuushoku restaurant in the world. Or cook my own! Maybe get into some compelling history. Either way, today's lunch was a nice send off, a classic grilled fish/vegetable/rice/miso soup combo. It's steeped in tradition, folks, hundreds of years of simple cooking reflected here. I'll miss thee, sweet kyuushoku, until September!

[clockwise from rice]

- rice (gohan ご飯)
- potato stew (jagaimo no nimono じゃがいもの煮物)
- Spanish mackerel teriyaki (sawara no teriyaki サワラ照り焼き)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)
- miso soup (miso shiru みそ汁)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

bi bim bap?

"Sugoi" (awesome!) was the first word out of the P.E. teacher's mouth upon seeing today's lunch. Sugoi, indeed. I thought it was Japanese "taco rice" because I saw a bottle of something that looked like hot sauce, and cheese-like decorations on the rice. But lo, it was the famous multicolored Korean rice vegetable bowl, bi bim bap, or as the Japanese call it, bi bin ba. The "hot sauce" turned out to be Korean kochujang (maybe) and what sits atop the rice is not cheese, but shredded, fried tofu. It was okay, scoring low on authenticity after having eaten the real thing in Seoul. While the crunchy and sweet cucumber paired well with the spicy beef strips, an unassuming bunch of perfectly ripe grapes stole the show.

[clockwise from bi bim bap]

- bi bim bap (bi bin ba ビビンバ)
- cucumber sticks (kyuuri きゅうり)
- grapes (budou ぶどう)
- seaweed soup (wakame suupu わかめスープ)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

something new, something old

Thursday and Friday were a hit and a repeat: Thursday featured a succulent teriyaki-glazed swordfish.

[clockwise from rice]

- rice
(gohan ご飯)
- braised potatoes (jagaimo no kinpira じゃがいものきんぴら)
- swordfish teriyaki (kajiki no teriyaki 照り焼き)
- vegetables dressed w/soy broth (dashi shouyu ae だし醤油あえ)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)

But Friday's meal closely resembled Monday's, that is to say, spaghetti bolognese. This one apparently had beans in it. Somewhere. I can't complain though, the potatoes were good, and the cute teacher gave me a big helping...

[clockwise from spaghetti]

- spaghetti bolognese (bīnzu iri mīto sōsu supagettei ビーンズいりミート ソーススパゲッテイ)
- salad (sarada サラダ)
- fried potatoes (jagaimo kara age じゃがいもからあげ)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

three new kyuushoku photos!

I've been busy, real busy. But I have photos from the first three lunches this week, they were all quite delicious.

Monday was spaghetti -- I'd say once a week there is some kind of Western food. According to what I can make of kyuushoku history, because of near famine conditions in Japan after WWII, school lunches originally had to make use of cheaper ingredients like skim milk powder and flour. It wasn't until 1976 that rice was introduced, thanks to a surplus of government-distributed rice. Needless to say, the spaghetti was not bad. With potatoes? Uhhh...why not?

[clockwise from spaghetti]

- spaghetti bolognese (supagettei mīto sōsu スパゲッテイミート ソース)
- roasted potatoes (rōsu poteto ロースポテト)
- asparagus salad (asuparagasuiri yude yasai アスパラガス入りゆで 野菜)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)

Tuesday was chirashi zushi -- often translated as "scattered sushi," it's basically a bowl of rice with sushi ingredients on top, instead of everything rolled up. It's colorful and easy to make, although I don't think the school was using properly vinager-ed sushi rice, it was just normal rice. There was also no raw fish, although I still wonder what the purple stuff was. The soumen (thin ramen noodles) was simple and tasty. My favorite was the frozen satsuma orange. Not sure why it was frozen, other than for it to be novel and delicious, and also the peel came off much more easily.

[clockwise from sushi rice]

- scattered sushi
(chirashi zushi ちらしずし)
- frozen satsuma orange (reitoumikan 冷凍みかん)
- vegetables with sesame (yasai no goma aie 野菜のごま相)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)
- soumen noodle soup (soumen shiru そうめん汁)

Wednesday was a standard, a kind of potato-pork stew called jagaimo no soboro ni. It's hearty and delicious, a little sweet (maybe they're using mirin (sweet sake)?). The fresh watermelon was great.

[clockwise from rice]

- rice w/ bonito flake topping (gohan furikake katsuo ご飯ふりかけかつお)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)
- watermelon (suika すいか)
- boiled vegetables w/ mustard sauce (yude yasai karashi ゆで野菜からし)
- potato-pork stew (jagaimo no soboro niじゃがいものそぼろ煮)

Friday, July 3, 2009

summer udon

Here's a quick look at what I had today: hearty udon with fried tofu, squid and sweet potato tempura (!) and a boiled veggies with a sesame dressing. The (!) after tempura is my surprise over the fact that someone went to the trouble of delicately breading and deep frying thousands of pieces of sweet potatoes and squid for public school children.

Cold udon! Come summer in Tokyo and restaurants start asking you "tsumetai?" when you order noodles. That means you can get them cold in a cold broth. Amazing how different temperatures can bring out different flavors. Duh. But still. And I really like the fact that summer heat brings cold noodles. Just a simple nod to the seasons, but nevertheless...mmm. A tiny girl instructed me to properly eat this dish by dipping the tempura in the broth. My heart leapt.

I didn't get the official menu from this particular school, so this is my rough translation based off what 8 year old children told me:

[clockwise from udon]

- cold udon with fried tofu (hiyashi kitsune udon 冷やしきつね うどん)
- squid and Japanese sweet potato tempura (ika satsumaimo tenpura 烏賊甘薯てんぷら)
- boiled vegetables w/ sesame dressing (goma yude yasai ごま ゆで 野菜)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

never stop learning. never.

And good day to you! Just today I finally figured out why my attempts at re-creating kyuushoku-style pickled vegetables have failed: they're not picked, they're boiled! Hmm. And to think, I've spent the last 2 months pickling vegetables almost every day with little success.

One of the only English-speaking teachers (actually THE only English-speaking teacher out of my four schools!) was translating some of the menu for me today. The ever present side of vegetables (usually consisting of beansprouts, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, etc) haunts my day and night. I really have been trying for a while to figure out how to replicate it. Most the time a bit of zing is added, like some sesame oil (or seeds), ginger, or a new one today: tiny fry. I'm not actually a big fan of the fry. They have quite a strong fish taste, are crunchy (bonettes and all) and you can see their ever tiny little eyes pleading with you. But I guess they must be healthy and flavorful. One day, maybe. The stew was hearty and good (chicken in there?) and the "peanut toast" was, uh, interesting. Best of all, I think I had my first complete half hour long conversation in Japanese, at least the children didn't look at me strangely or seem exasperated. I felt (nearly) like a social dandy, deftly leading conversations along such erudite topics as "how old is your mom" and "in America, elementary school lunch tastes like dead bugs."

[clockwise from stew]

- "corn" stew (kōn shichū コーンシチュー)
- "peanut toast" (pīnattsu tōsuto ピーナッツトースト)
- milk (gyuunuu 牛乳)
- boiled vegetables with small fish (jakoiri yude yasai じゃこ入りゆで 野菜)

People still don't know what to make of my fascination with school lunch. As if I'm fascinated in tube socks or something similarly bland. I still am trying to think of some excuse as to why I'm taking pictures of everything. You just don't get it people! If only you knew the shit I ate as a kid...