Miso Memory

by Hannah Gregory

We would go to the small mall on the corner. First up to the third floor, from the basement carpark to the video rental, then down to the second floor for the restaurant. At the video rental I chose things like Beethoven (I & II), Turner & Hooch, and the Macauley Culkin ones. The chat between them about whether or not she liked or had seen a certain movie or series was more interesting to me than choosing a film for myself, so I earwigged while browsing the video boxes, to their chat which was grown-up, without being dull, maybe even cool. I listened, to find out. Later I would watch the movies in the darkened front room, and was given a dessert pot of Mövenpick or a Häagen Dazs ice on a stick; just me and the two dogs – jet-lagged, alone, and, for now, just fine.

The furnishings of the restaurant were soft pinkish red with dark wood and papery screens dividing the dining booths around the edges of the room. I knew what I wanted right away – I suppose because someone had suggested I have it before – tempura udon soup, with prawns, or maybe just veg: sweet potato slices in crisp shells, lotus root, and something stalky and green; the prawns’ tails fanning out of their coats which fell off into the broth as I ate. Particulates of soybean paste sitting cloudy in the dashi stock, and sharp bright scallions scattered over the top, as I fished for the disintegrating batter with a deep soup spoon.

Digging down into the bowl the fat chewy noodles would stir, slippery noodles that you were allowed to slurp. I learnt this in a different noodle bar where the chefs behind the counter stretched and cut long lengths of elastic dough. I was wondering about the noisy eaters all around me, and he told me that slurping was, in fact, a technique developed to suck up the dripping noodles fast without burning the sides of your mouth. With chopsticks I was already proficient because she had bought me a training pair with rings to put your thumb and two fingers through on my first visit, somehow incredulous that this six year old was not already agile.

The miso with udon was the first I’d tasted and the only one I would know for some time – back in Nottingham in the nineties there weren’t any Japanese restaurants. When I returned to the grey concrete of my school playground during lunch break, I would crave the comforting warmth and saltiness of the broth, and the sweet bite of the prawns – that, or the feeling of being away, alone, and just fine.

 

A taste of home

by Anonymous

Going to my grandparents’ house up in northern Japan was always something I looked forward to. I got to eat whatever I wanted and my grandma knew what my favorite foods were. What I happened to look forward to the most, was a Japanese dish called “niku-jyaga” which translates to meat and potatoes. It’s not like the German meat and potatoes. It wasn’t as dry, and it wasn’t as “manly” or “hearty.” My grandma’s niku-jyaga was more moist and stewy. Natural juices from the beef was blended with the sweetness of the onions, the carrots, and the Japanese condiments used to stew everything together. My earliest memory of my encounter with this dish was when I was five years old. It was a cold winter day in Koriyama, where the dry winds slap your face and make your spine shudder. It was the kind of cold that made you crave soup. My grandma told me that because we were going to have a family dinner, she was going to make niku-jyaga. As an eager child, I jumped to help her peel the potatoes and carrots, and sloppily dumped ingredients into the hot pot. I stood on my little stool, watching my petite grandma dirty her apron and work her magic with a smile. As the scent of niku-jyaga began to fill the house, my grandfather, a man with a nose of a dog, came downstairs. He pointed his long thin fingers at the pot and told my grandma she needed to add more salt. My ill uncle wobbled down the stairs and took his seat and gave his signature crooked smile at the sight of me cooking with his mother. As the niku-jyaga was almost complete, my parents come home, dressed in their business suits, and I ran into their arms and told them I cooked for them. My father, tall and muscular laughs at my excitement, while I pull on my mother’s hand to urge her to sit. As they all sit down, my grandmother and I bring out the niku-jyaga and I brag that I helped make this beautiful concoction. “Itadakimasu” we say and sat down to eat. The niku-jyaga tasted like home. Though my Chinese grandmother and my own mother tried to recreate it, their versions never tasted the same as my Japanese grandmother’s. Her’s tasted like home. I tasted the warmth of her smile, the time put in to cook, and the love she has for me. Her niku-jyaga, to me, will always be the epitome of what home cooking tastes like.

Japanese Halibut

by Anonymous

It was the summer of 2014 when my aunt and cousin came to visit my mom and I in New Jersey. By that, I mean, of course, they wanted to go see Manhattan. During our stay in New York, we decided to go to a Japanese restaurant on the Upper East Side. On the night of that dinner, we encountered a small encumbrance on our way to fish paradise. It was a Friday, during rush hour, and there were no cabs available. The hotel was located in midtown, and the restaurant was more than thirty blocks away. Our options were either walking or biking. My aunt and cousin immediately voted for biking since we wanted to experience what biking in the city felt like. However, what my relatives did not know was I had a fear of riding bikes, especially in a city with so many cars, ever since I fell off a bike at seven, which resulted in a permanent scar on my right knee. Knowing this fact, my mom told me the decision was completely mine to make to whether to walk or to bike. After five minutes of deep introspection, and imagining what my funeral would look like, I made the grave decision to hop on that absurdly tall Citi bike.

I held on tight to the handlebar, and sat stiffly, like a wooden stick on that bicycle. During the whole journey, I rode in silence, completely focused on the back of my cousin’s head, fearful of being left behind, and getting run over. After twenty minutes, we arrived to the restaurant safely. When we entered the restaurant, we were greeted with the utmost of Japanese hospitality. The maître d’ guided us to our table, where immediately hot teas, along with cold water, were put in place. When we sat down on the chairs and settled in, I finally drew a breath, and sighed peacefully. After feeling relaxed, I began to take in the atmosphere of the restaurant. It was cozy; the maximum capacity of customers allowed was around thirty. The waiter came around and I decided to opt for the omakase (selections by the chef) because after having the most dangerous ride of my life, I simply could not make any more decisions.

Not making a choice about what I should eat was the best decision I made. The omakase was exceptionally amazing and innovative. The first course kicked off with one fresh oyster lying gracefully in its shell on top of a bed of moss green seaweed. The second course consisted of perfectly sliced sashimi. The plate of fish was like a piece of Andy Warhol’s art. The fish were vibrant shades of red, pink, and yellow. The toppings on the fish were what really made the sushi pop. The fish were either decorated with unique sauces, such as tofu puree, or combined with distinct food like seared tomatoes. However, the surprise had yet to come.

When the waiter came out with the third course of nigris and started introducing the fish, I was unable to hear a word he said. I was completely enraptured by the sight of the seared Japanese Halibut. The halibut was eggshell white with chestnut colored streaks. The sashimi draped elegantly over a bed of perfectly sized oval- shaped rice. On top of the fish, there was a precisely rounded poached egg sitting gently in the center of the body of the nigiri. This work of exquisiteness was finished off with a drizzle of truffle oil. When I tasted the sushi, it was as if a Mentos-Coke experiment took place in mouth. The halibut melted instantly when I took the first bite. Then, the liquid egg yolk came into mix with the fish and rice. The taste of the egg and truffle oil was delightful, for they did not overpower, but blended heavenly with the halibut. My feelings at that moment could only be best represented by a Pollock painting.
I could never have tasted that impeccable piece of sushi if I had not conquered my fears about riding a bike.