In 1986, at the very grown-up age of 14, I was proud to be chosen as part of the 4-H International Youth Exchange with Japan. For several weeks we lived with a family, learned about Japanese culture and then participated alongside our 4-H/Labo counterparts at camp. I was so thrilled to have my first real foray from home in Japan! So, off I went with my bangs cut short, a fresh perm, recently tightened braces, too many plaid pastel shirts for any living human being, and a resolve to learn all I could and experience something truly different overseas!
I’m so sorry you had to see that. But there I am (be gentle people and remember it was the 80’s) in all my glory as my friend snapped a shot of me counting in Japanese so I didn’t screw up my money exchange. Oh, the memories.
Now that that’s over with, in looking back through my pictures, I sure do have a lot of food photos! I guess food encapsulated much of what was different for me. But one thing I do remember vividly – I loved it. I fell in love with Japanese culture and am pleased that I have passed some of that down to my children. Ask my kids for things they love about Japan and they will easily spout off Origami, Bento lunches, the Bullet Train, Manga, Makimono, Sleeping Capsules (my oldest is dying to try one), Anime, and all the Kit Kat flavors in the world (our favorite is the Green Tea). And while that does not encompass much of Japanese culture, it is a start. I am excited to talk more with them about Japanese culture, customs and history over the upcoming dinners.
One note about Japanese food. A traditional meal is served with many components – white rice, meat or fish, a cooked vegetable and a clear broth (think Miso soup). You can add many of these elements to the meals below to fill out the menu for your family, or leave it simple, the choice is yours. Now go grab some chopsticks because here is the delectable menu for this month:
Soba or buckwheat noodles – Though these noodles originated in China, they are deeply part of Japanese food culture. The buckwheat flour noodles are versatile and can be paired with anything. Our favorite is pork, shrimp and cabbage.
Donburi or rice bowl dish – Easy and yummy, this dish can be made with beef or chicken/egg. A one bowl dinner for sure.
Makimono or sushi rolls – Let your children make their own rolls. Just prepare all the ingredients and show them how to roll it all up in seaweed. This will prove challenge and fun. Perhaps if your kids have never tried sushi rolls before you can start simply with something like a California Roll which is an easy introduction to Makimono.
Tempura – We all know what this is and we all LOVE it so I wanted to make sure the kids (and us) got our fix. Try broccoli, squash and carrot tempura along with your choice of meat. With this dish I would recommend you pair traditional elements of the Japanese meal – specifically rice and Miso soup to round things out.
Pork Tonkatsu or fried breaded cutlets – Join this dish also with the traditional elements of a Japanese meal and get those kids using chopsticks!
Udon or wheat flour noodles – This noodle, like Soba, also originates in China but arrived in Japan around the Nara period. Each region of Japan has its uniquely special udon to offer, making this noodle a national favorite.
Oh, and one more huge note. Let your kids slurp from their bowl. Perhaps one of the most freeing things in Japan was the permission to slurp from your bowl of soup or noodles. Your children will love you for this. Tell them they can pick up their bowl and slurp away!
Here’s to helping our kids become better global citizens – one dinner at a time! Happy cooking everyone!