I can’t say that I’m actually hitting every one of my learning goals for the year. I’m doing pretty good on my reading list, and language learning is, well, relatively on course. Others are lagging. I haven’t even taken the guitar out of the case. Expanding my food repertoire and knowledge, on the other hand, has come naturally and enthusiastically. In Montreal, I learned about my breads, viennoiseries, and French cuisine, as well as some Quebecois staples. In Argentina, I learned about ice cream, the art of grilling, and wines. Vancouver? Vancouver is an amazing place to learn about Asian cuisines. We’ve barely begun to scratch the surface.
During the month of February, I focused on learning more about Japanese food. While I did my best, I did let myself get distracted. First, I was gifted a bag of paella rice and the chorizo from Oyama started calling to me. Then, with Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t resist making an andouille (Oyama could become a habit) gumbo and a king cake. And did you really expect me to not have something Chinese on Chinese New Year?
As for that Japanese food project, I like to think I held my own. No longer do I think Japanese food is only udon noodles and sashimi. Shiitake mushrooms were in and out of our kitchen like crazy. The tub of miso paste is nearly gone. I bought soy sauce at crazy rates, ate tons of rice, and learned plenty of Japanese words that I continue to mispronounce 🙂 I tried my best to go into every dish and ingredient with an open mind. Some pleasantly surprised me. Some, well, will probably never make their way into our normal shopping rotations. For better or worse, the list of the month’s Japanese foods (that I can remember at this moment) are the following.
- Tempura: I just went veggie. Can you believe I hadn’t actually tried it before? I ordered out for this. Deep frying at home seemed like a mess to avoid.
- Cured Brill: When I layered salt and raw fish between kelp sheets, the husband kept his qualms to himself. I think we were both unsure about how this would go, but it ended up being my favorite at-home dish. And it was super easy.
- Udon Noodle Bowls: Dashi, quality noodles, and whatever we felt like.
- Tonkatsu: Something we’ve actually made at home before. Was nice to know what we were doing for once.
- Konnyaku: This is taro root powder gelatin. Or diet food. It’s got a strange smell, a weird texture, and frankly, while I believe better cooks can make it bearable, I do not believe they can make it taste good. But please, prove me wrong.
- Yokan: Bean curd dessert jellies. Really, I came around to like these by the end of the month.
- Mochi (with red adzuki bean soup): Nope, that hard white square you see in the Asian foods aisle is not soap. Those little rice cakes puff up like crazy and become stringy and chewy. I will not say that I loved this, but I didn’t dislike it. As for making red bean paste from scratch, it triggered my memories from last year’s self-poisoning incident.
- Black Sesame Ice Cream: I’ve been working my way through the pint for a couple weeks. Some days I think this is the best ice cream flavor known to man. Some days, I feel the complete opposite.
- Ramen: Oh, wow. After reading through Ivan Ramen, we ventured out to two of Vancouver’s ramen shops. I’ll recommend Kintaro Ramen in Vancouver. I now want to travel to Japan and simply spend days on end slurping noodles and avoiding eye contact while at baths.
- At-home gyoza: Fun to make. Easy to make. And way cheaper this way!
- Miso soup: A staple during the month. Add some tofu, wakame (seaweed), and shiitakes.
- Miso-glazed salmon: We live in BC. Salmon had to be done.
- Teriyaki Trout: Though my ferry operator told me not to, we marinated this for a good hour and a half. And I’m glad we did.
- Daikon Radish: Grated, sliced, raw, cooked. Any other way possible.
- Veggie Sushi Rolls: I am horrible at rolling these. We attempted twice. I think I actually got worse on the second night’s attempt.
- Umeboshi: Holy pickled plum. So intense. This is another thing I just can’t figure out if I like.
- Japadog: I did it. And I ate it on the side of the street while passersby wondered if I knew that QP Mayo was dripping down my face. I did.
- Oyster Motoyaki: I think I’d like my oysters done a bit differently, really. Is hard to find the oyster meat under all of that jazz, but they did taste good.
Like I said, I didn’t eat Japanese food for every meal of every day. For the most part, breakfast consisted of the usual suspects (Jordan’s working on perfecting his curry omelette), plus a brunch at Cafe Medina. My food distractions really came when we wanted to make something special to celebrate a holiday, visitor, or event. Here are some of our other notable meals, snacks, or ingredients.
- Soursop: It’s like that delicious cherimoya fruit, except it’s not so sweet that you can’t finish your portion. Good stuff. People often say it’s a mix between a pineapple and strawberry, if you can imagine that.
- Sans Rival: I make this Filipino cashew meringue cake for special occasions. Leah visiting was just such an occasion.
- Sesame Ball with red bean paste and Steamed Pork Buns: Stopped in at New Town Bakery in Chinatown to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
- Buddha’s Delight with Cloud Ears and Dried Lily Buds: Continuing on that Lunar New Year streak, I had a couple friends over for some Buddha’s Delight and Chinese almond cookies.
- Chorizo and Scallop Paella: Because when you have saffron and paella rice, it’s hard to say no to this.
- Fresh green peppercorns: What a refreshing little mouthful of peppery flavor.
- Mardi Gras King Cake: My third year making this ring cake. Too festive with the colored sugars.
- Andouille and Chicken Gumbo: Roux, file powder, and delicious andouille sausage. I think I need to start making this more than once a year.
Speaking only for myself (because I know how much the mister hated the umeboshi and the konnyaku), I will say that I had a lot of fun trying new foods in February. Even when things are, uh, less-than-my-favorite, I still have fun trying. Up until now, March has been of the same ilk: some things delicious, some things awkward, but all of it interesting. We’re already started on our lo meins and chow meins, and I’ve got a little something braising as I type this. Any time I think I’m starting to learn a good deal about cooking, baking, or even eating, I learn of something else. That’s just the way I like it.
Happy cooking. Happy learning.