One thing about leaving Japan, if you're a teacher, is that you will never leave hungry. Thanks to students and employers I have been treated so far to at least four dinners from a company banquet at a huge wedding hall to lunch with students at the neighborhood Indian restaurant, a dinner at a tony Japanese-Italian fusion place, and just leaving my stomach but not my memory, a home-cooked meal made with enormous care and forethought to accommodate my allergies and vegetarian diet.
Last night my young married student made a wonderful dinner for me that changed my mind about macrobiotic cooking. I had expected rather bland fare, but she surprised me with food that was fresh, flavourful and honestly good. Some of the combinations were sublime. She cooked chunks of Japanese pumpkin in a simple fresh tomato, coriander and lightly spiced sauce so that the the earthy pumpkin came through as the strongest element, while the other flavours were each distinct and opened one by one on the palate. Like Japanese double consonants, each pronounced distinctly, no blends. She followed that by dredging renkon slices (lotus root) with potato flour and flash deep-frying them before adding a little sauce of soy and vinegar. They were nutty, crispy, and sublime.
There was a tiny bowl of onion soup, a whole small onion floating in a bath of a mild vegetable broth finished with a tiny bit of butter. It was so soft that each layer of the onion could be picked up with chop sticks and dropped into a waiting mouth. There was no hint of bitterness; it was simple and perfect.
She stir-fried fresh green onions in a bit of ginger, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Wow. And the main dish was a bowl of genmai, brown rice, which she had cooked perfectly in a large Le Creuset cocotte and topped with sturdy short lengths of steamed green onions and twin fried tofu chunks, which she had bathed with a bit of flavourful sauce and scattered with shredded nori (thin crisp mild seaweed). Just enough to make me almost full but with room left for a simple dessert of a bowl of big sliced strawberries and tiny shortbread cookies made with rice and potato flour.
With this wonderful dinner we had a bottle of Sakura wine, which is a light and slightly sweet white in which a cherry blossom has been marinating until it resembles a translucent and gracefully floating sea creature. My first experience with this particular wine, it had a delicate flavour reminiscent of ume (Japanese plums). Or for those in Japan or in the know, the same undertone as the cherry-leaf wrapped manju just coming into the cake stores now.
Can the real cherry blossoms be far behind?
I think not with mild weather this week in the mid teens and lots of sunshine. The rape blossoms are in blinding yellow flower, the fields are full of green vegetables, we are eating broccoli rabe fresh from the garden, and the wonderful promise of a spring I will not see here fills the air. A sadly sweet time to be leaving, but with a contented full belly.