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12 posts categorized "Khoi Dao "

11/18/2014

GOING BEYOND THE BATTER WITH TAKOYAKI – MORE THAN JUST A GREAT JAPANESE SNACK

One question which I get asked a lot here is “what’s your favorite Japanese food?”

Now, taking into consideration all the great gastronomical treats Japan has to offer, it’s no surprise that for some, picking a single favorite dish might be a little difficult. For me however, there’s no doubt that the honor should go to a little wonder called “takoyaki.” It’s a simple snack which I love almost as much as life itself, and in this blog entry, I’m happy to report that I’ve recently had the chance to actually try my hand at cooking it.

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Homemade takoyaki: the finished product!

As my host grandmother is the one in charge of all the meals at home, she’s taken it upon herself to know everyone’s favorite foods. When I told her that my first and only gastronomical love was takoyaki – a popular Japanese snack made by cooking chopped octopus in spheres of gooey batter – she made sure to schedule a trip to the home of my host mother’s younger sister (technically my host aunt), who owns a takoyaki pan; I remember it was on the last Monday of October that we finally made this trip.

We arrived at my host aunt’s home in Odaiba just a few minutes shy of 4:30PM – a rather unusual time for a meal, but as good a time as any for takoyaki. All the ingredients and equipment we were going to need had already been laid out on the dining table: a large bowl of flour batter, chopped octopus, pickled ginger, bonito flakes, several condiment bottles, and a takoyaki pan. Needless to say, I was quite excited.

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Where gastronomical wonders are born

Before we began, my host aunt gave me a much-needed rundown on how we were going to proceed with cooking: heat and oil the pan, pour the batter, insert octopus, then garnish with condiments. As a single takoyaki takes the form of a sphere, I knew that the tough part was going to be flipping each batter ball over in the pan’s semi-spherical molds, using nothing but toothpicks – and I was right. Barely two minutes into that stage, my grandmother had to ask me to stop prodding at the batter balls, because she couldn’t cook and laugh at me struggling at the same time. And if I’m being completely honest, it really was a laughably pathetic struggle – who knew moist batter could be so slippery? So I threw in the towel after the “insert octopus” stage, and just watched my aunt and grandma flip takoyaki spheres like professionals.

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Trust me, it's harder than it looks!

Simply eating takoyaki is already a great experience on its own, but actually partaking in the cooking process brought me to a whole new level of appreciation for this Japanese snack. It wasn’t just due to the fact that homemade food is inherently better than store-bought food; I was consuming the result of my (host aunt and grandma’s) hard work, which tasted awesome.

In addition, cooking is an experience that really succeeds in bringing people together, even when language and cultural barriers are in the way. As my Japanese is still at the intermediate level, I am only able to communicate complex thoughts after expending a considerable amount of effort. Whilst cooking however, I was able to simply enjoy myself and everyone else’s company. It turned out to be a great bonding opportunity, and if I wasn’t sure before, I am now: choosing to do a homestay was the right way to go with this study abroad adventure to Japan.

All things considered, I think it was a really successful day. The only downside I can think of is the fact that store-bought takoyaki will now never taste as great to me – but even then, it’s still possible for one to make each store-bought takoyaki experience a unique one. For example: I know for a fact that different takoyaki stands in Japan offer their own unique selection of sauces to spice things up, whilst others offer fillings that aren’t octopus (like chocolate). However, both of these things are blog entries for another time.

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I wasn't lying about the chocolate!

LOOKING FOR A LOCAL FAMILY RESTAURANT IN JAPAN? HOW ABOUT DENNY’S

It’s no secret that many aspects of Tokyo take after the west, but the last thing I expected to find when I got here was a Denny’s. Then I recalled that Denny’s is actually a pretty widespread chain of family restaurants, and the more I think about it now, the sillier I feel for not having seen it coming. Still, I managed to do a pretty good job of telling myself that I had come all the way to Japan to enjoy uniquely Japanese things with my tight budget, up until a certain Saturday evening in October; that was when nostalgia and vicious curiosity eventually got the better of me, and I decided to explore this Japanese take on a uniquely American dining experience; it turned out to be a pretty cool and interesting adventure.

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Good ol' Denny's!

I was ready and eager to sniff out any detectable differences the moment I stepped into the restaurant. The first thing that came to my attention was how much tidier the Japanese Denny’s was: the floors and furniture were spotless, the front cash register was always manned, and the waiters/waitresses could be summoned with a press of a button. In short, the place felt like a fancy restaurant, whereas the design of a typical Denny’s back home is closer to that of a more casual diner.

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Yours truly, feeling fancy

Even the menus look fancier, as crude as that statement sounds. In addition to the varieties of steak, one could find several uniquely Japanese culinary creations, such as omelet rice and matcha green tea ice cream; the desert menu was especially stunning. Of course, being the manly man I am, I ordered the steak. That was when the biggest surprise came.

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Brown: the color of flavor

In all my years of dining at Denny’s in the United States, I have never come across a cut of meat that looks like that. This is as good a time as any for a confession: I didn’t pay enough attention to the taste in order to make a fair taste comparison (which I guess is the important part), but that’s because I was a little too busy being seriously impressed at the look of that steak. This isn’t to say that Denny’s back home is inferior in any way – the two are just shooting for different aesthetics. Personally, I think it’s an interesting window into the way Japan regards the western style of dining as cultured and fancy, whereas back home, the sloppy presentation assists that old, “homey” diner effect.

It’s also interesting to note how foreign cuisine is incorporated into the American gastronomical scene. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is fortune cookies. In spite of being a purely American invention (they really aren’t a thing in China), fortune cookies have become a quintessential part of the Chinese food experience in the United States. Though I’m certain that most patrons of Panda Express back home know that finding little prophetic papers in cookies isn’t an actual part of the Asian way of life, it’s still an interesting example of how Asian food is represented and marketed in a different culture. With that parallel in perspective, Japan’s Japanification of Denny’s doesn’t seem all that outrageous anymore. This “Japanification” isn’t restricted to just Denny’s though, as I learned when I moved on to patronize McDonald’s and KFC. Though the infrastructures of these fast food restaurants are more or less identical to their American counterparts, the menus are (unsurprisingly) different; for example, the McDonald’s here offers customers teriyaki and shrimp burgers.

Looking back, dining at Japanese Denny’s was a pretty fun and eye-opening experience, and I would absolutely return for a second, third, and maybe fourth meal. That steak really wasn’t half bad. Though maybe next time, I think I might go for the omelet rice.