Category Archives: Travel

Japanese Cooking Class in Hiroo

Firstly, I apologize to the… 5 people who read this blog for the half-year hiatus. As usual, I blame life – things have been quite hectic these past few months, forcing me to put the brakes on blogging yet again.

So what has finally inspired me to come out of blogging hibernation?

Food, of course.

As you’ve probably already noticed, I love food. Really, huge fan of the stuff. Now, although my sister is the chef in the family, cooking is something that all the women in my family enjoy doing, and I am certainly no exception.

Always eager to learn new recipes and techniques, I decided that I would try to go about learning how to create Japan’s most famous culinary export – sushi.

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To that end, I was quite delighted to learn about Yuka Mazda. Yuka is a Japanese home cook who has been teaching cooking for over 20 years. After a stint living in the UK, she began giving lessons in Western cuisine to Japanese people upon her return to her home country. Eventually, she also started offering Japanese cooking lessons to foreigners out of her home kitchen.

I first meet Yuka at Hiroo Station, where two other students are also waiting. Together, we walk over to Yuka’s apartment – quite spacious, for Tokyo standards – and enter to find a table laid out with various types of fish, vegetables, mirin, komezu (rice vinegar), pickles, and everything else we would need to prepare our Japanese meal.

“I don’t like to spend too much time explaining things, because then you’ll get bored,” she begins, with a slight British inflection. Instead, she would prefer we learn by getting our hands dirty and diving right in.

And dive in, we do. Yuka begins each step of the process by demonstrating what needs to be done, and then we each take turns cutting maguro and salmon, deveining ebi, seasoning rice, preparing several makizushi, nigirizushi, and even the Western-style uramaki. It’s a veritable sushi-making boot camp, albeit an enjoyable one. And after assembling one roll after another, it’s hard not to get the hang of it. Since there are only three of us in the class, we each get a lot of attention from Yuka. She’s quick to correct mistakes, although she doesn’t hover too much — she gives us a chance to try things for ourselves.

The results from a morning of sushi-making.

The results from a morning of sushi-making.

Throughout the class, Yuka is clear in pointing out what is traditional and non-traditional, as well as some background information on the ingredients themselves, but also encourages us to take these newly learned techniques and make our own creations, incorporating ingredients from our home countries.

Before the class is concluded, Yuka prepares the table with nihonshu (sake), as well the tofu, miso soup and sushi we prepared during the class.

Even if you’re a klutz in the kitchen, I highly recommend taking a class with Yuka. (In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I ended up returning recently with my mother-in-law who also wanted to learn how to make sushi, although this time, I opted for the daifuku course).

Daifuku -- Japanese sweets.

Daifuku — Japanese sweets.

You’ll learn a new skill, and at the very least, gain a greater appreciation for the sushi that you scarf down at your local kaitenzushi.

Information:

Website: Cooking School YUKA MAZDA
Price: ¥4,800 – ¥8,000

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A Night at the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver

While I was in Vancouver, I had the chance to attend the culinary final practical exam at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver, my sister Andrea’s alma mater. The school’s professional culinary program culminates in a 3-day practical exam, during which the students are responsible for designing and executing a fine dining six course meal. Although this meant a great deal of stress and pressure for the students, for the rest of us, it meant an amazing dinner (including wine!).

Most of the guests were friends and family of the students. As someone who had already gone through the culinary program, Andrea was able to sit in as a guest, and – fortunately for me – invited me along. Also present were chefs from Vancouver fine dining establishments such as Hawksworth, España, and West serving as judges.

We were all seated at long tables in an open kitchen, while the students laboured away on the other end. It was a wonderfully relaxed environment, and all throughout the evening we were able to chat with the other guests, as well as Chef Tony Minichiello, culinary instructor and co-owner of the school. Andrea and I were each served dishes from two different menus, but we managed to sneak a few bites from each other’s plates.

The food was superb. My dinner incorporated a lot of ingredients foraged from nature, thus giving it a seasonal and very west coast Canadian feel.  While we dined, we were encouraged to jot down notes directly on the menus to serve as feedback for the students. My notes probably weren’t as useful as Andrea’s (I peeked at her sheet and she had all these comments on texture and flavour combinations and whatnot; among my comments were “holy shit!” and “yum!”). Overall, the meal was wonderful, full of unexpected flavours that really reflected the season and location. Really, a top fine dining experience.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s what I ate:

Polenta "Arancini"

Polenta “Arancini” – Stuffed funghi, chevre, beet & spinach powder

Scallop – “Scrambled” eggs, brunoise of jalapeño, red peppers, shallots, scallop chip

Scallop – “Scrambled” eggs, brunoise of jalapeño, red peppers, shallots, scallop chip

Parsnips – Bark, puree, raw, glazed, garam carrots, pinenut milk, sorrel and wild carrot greens.

Parsnips – Bark, puree, raw, glazed, garam carrots, pinenut milk, sorrel and wild carrot greens.

Consommé – Egg, roasted funghi, grilled corn, smoked consommé, foraged nest.

Consommé – Egg, roasted funghi, grilled corn, smoked consommé, foraged nest.

Salmon – Crispy loin, salmon tortellini, squash “noodles,” prosciutto sautéed chard, salmonberry blossoms, leek & fennel beurre vert.

Salmon – Crispy loin, salmon tortellini, squash “noodles,” prosciutto sautéed chard, salmonberry blossoms, leek & fennel beurre vert.

Quail – Stuffed, “fresh-fried” tomato, grilled oyster mushrooms, pickled mustard, prosciutto sautéed chard, wild alliums, juniper jus.

Quail – Stuffed, “fresh-fried” tomato, grilled oyster mushrooms, pickled mustard, prosciutto sautéed chard, wild alliums, juniper jus.

Apple – Chip, spiced chocolate ganache, sorbet, maple caramel, shattered raspberry, mascarpone, pastry, wild mint.

Apple – Chip, spiced chocolate ganache, sorbet, maple caramel, shattered raspberry, mascarpone, pastry, wild mint.

Bonus — here is a little of what Andrea ate:

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Much kudos to the students of NCAV!

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Hisashiburi, Dr. Sketchy

Ohisashiburi, ne! Sorry, I suppose I’ve been MIA for a while now. It has been a busy month and a half both professionally and personally, and unfortunately, my blog has suffered as a consequence. Gomen, guys!

Anyway, now that things have calmed down a bit, I have been able to squeeze in some vacation time, which has brought me back home to Vancouver for a few days.  Despite living in Vancouver for the first 20-some-odd years of my life, my hometown feels a lot more foreign this time around. I suppose this is the strongest case of reverse culture shock that I’ve felt in some time.

While there are a lot of new buildings and restaurants and bars — I really don’t know what’s cool in this city anymore! — I was relieved to find that one of my favourite local events was still going strong.

Dr. Sketchy’s is a global figure drawing workshop that is “part art class, part cabaret.” I used to attend the Vancouver sessions at The Wallflower quite regularly back in 2010.

As luck would have it, my trip to Vancouver this time happened to coincide with one of this month’s “anti-art” workshops, held at Hot Art Wet City, a new-ish (well, new to me) gallery on Main Street. After almost 4 years since the last time I attended, I really couldn’t resist having a go at stretching my sketching muscles again. I went with a couple film school buddies who are both animators. All three of us are used to translating 2D concepts (in the form of concept art or storyboards, for example) into 3D art, and so it was fun — and quite challenging, to be honest — to have a chance to do the opposite for a change, that is, capture a live three-dimensional figure onto a flat sketch.

The crowd was smaller than I expected, which only made the session feel more intimate. Apart from that, the atmosphere was just as good as I remembered it — a regular figure drawing session transformed into a loose, loud burlesque show which embodied exactly what I love about the local art scene — open-minded, welcoming, and fun.

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Nara with Deer Friends (Nara, Japan)

I’m terribly sorry for the pun, but I really couldn’t resist. Hey, it could have been worse — my alternate title choice was something along the lines of “I’m so fawned of Nara.” (Get it?!)

A few months ago (this blog post is waaay overdue), Edu and I had a chance to revisit the Kansai area, this time with a couple friends who were visiting from the US. We planned a weekend stay in Osaka, but as Nara was closeby (the train ride from Osaka to Nara was less than an hour), we couldn’t resist venturing a day trip to the historic city.

En route to Osaka via shinkansen.

Early morning view from the shinkansen to Osaka.

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Another Reason Why I Love Japan

There are so many wonderful things about Japan, but after what happened today, my admiration for the land of the rising sun has been cemented forever.

Last night, Edu and I were around Shinjuku Station following a nomikai (drinking party), when we decided to grab a late night dinner at McDonald’s. As the last train had already come and gone, this meant that we would need to take a cab back home. Anyway, this morning, as I was heading out for work, I realized that my wallet was missing. I didn’t know the name of the cab company we took, and I honestly couldn’t recall whether or not I even had my wallet with me when we exited the taxi. After desperately rummaging through the apartment, I finally resigned myself to the fact that I must have dropped it somewhere between the McDonald’s in Shinjuku and my apartment in Shibuya ward. 

One good thing that came out of this was that I learned the word for wallet in Japanese: 財布 (saifu).

One good thing that came out of this was that I learned the word for wallet in Japanese: 財布 (saifu).

After going to the koban (local police station) to file a missing articles report, I walked back home, retracing my steps from the previous night.

To my surprise, I noticed that one of the delivery lockers in the mail room had my apartment number on it, indicating that there was a package or something inside for me.

And there it was — my missing wallet, perfectly intact, with all of my cash still inside.

Someone must have found it, and then taken the time to deliver it back to my apartment.

In no other country (at least, none that I’ve lived in) would this ever happen. At best, back home, someone would return your wallet, but expect some sort of reward for doing so. Whoever had found my wallet didn’t even leave any contact information for me to thank them.

That’s it. It’s decided. I am staying here forever. I am raising my children here, and they will be decent human beings because Japan is the best country on earth. 

I ♥ Japan.

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A Super Quick Look at the PlayStation Vita TV

Last month, I received a small consolation for having to wait until February to buy a PlayStation 4 (Japan is the last territory to get the PS4). At FromSoftware’s bōnenkai (Japanese end-of-year drinking party), I was lucky enough to come away with a brand-spankin’ new PlayStation Vita TV (one of the perks of working at a video game studio, I suppose).

Released last November, so far, it’s only available in Japan, although I’ve heard that it’s also set to launch this month in a couple more Asian countries.

I realize now that this photo makes no sense at all. I should have also mentioned that we won some Nintendo 3DS games at the party raffle as well. We were both clearly more excited about the Vita TV.

The cool thing about the PS Vita TV is that, as the name suggests, you can hook it up to your TV and play Vita games with a DualShock controller.

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Unboxed.

My best hand modeling.

My best hand modeling.

It’s no PS4, but it is pretty neat. Plus, at least now I’ll have something to tide me over until next month.

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Oshōgatsu in Tokyo

皆さん、明けましておめでとうございます!

Happy New Year!

Like last year, I was sadly not able to go back home for the holidays. However, it wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as it gave me the opportunity to experience New Year’s in Japan for the first time. It was quite wonderful seeing a different culture’s take on a familiar holiday.  Oshōgatsu (Japanese New Year) in Japan is definitely a more family-oriented holiday than it is in Canada. Most businesses are closed from the 1st to the 3rd of January, and so everyone takes the opportunity to spend time with their families and engage in the numerous customs associated with oshōgatsu.  For our first New Year’s in Japan, we were able to take part in one of those traditions — hatsumōde, the first shrine or temple visit of the year.

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How to Not Be an Obvious Gringo in Brazil

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Don’t be misled by the title — I’m actually still very much in Japan. In fact, I feel like I’m the only one I know who’s not going to Brazil anytime soon! Edu is set to travel back home early next year for a family event, and I recently found out that two friends are planning separate trips to visit Brazil for the first time this month.

Everyone is traveling to Brazil without me! (; ̄д ̄)

Anyway, one of the aforementioned friends asked me if I had any tips for her first trip. As a fellow gringa, my most valuable advice is essentially to try not to look like one.

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Kōyō in Kyōto

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Kōyō (紅葉)

Kōyō (紅葉) refers to the colourful leaves that dominate the landscape in the autumn. Kōyō viewing is a very popular fall activity throughout Japan. With this in mind, we timed our trip to Kyoto specifically to catch the kōyō season, and ended up with more pictures of trees and leaves than I normally take when traveling (and that’s saying something, considering how many tree pictures I usually take).

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Nishiki Ichiba (錦市場 ), Kyoto

Nishiki Market (錦市場), Kyoto, Japan

Nishiki Market (錦市場), Kyoto, Japan

Markets are among my favourite places to visit in any city. They are wonderful place to try new and interesting food, mingle with the locals, and immerse yourself in the culture. With only three days in the Kyoto, we budgeted out an entire day in our itinerary solely devoted to exploring Nishiki Ichiba (錦市場 Nishiki Market).

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