Roman Holidays!

I spent a great deal of last year travelling throughout Europe, with one of my final destinations being my beloved Rome. I’d been there for the first time only several months earlier, and loved it so much that I just had to revisit. And it happened to be perfect timing, as it was around the time we’d just started to do our first Tadaku host hunt, and a lot of the initial interest was from Rome.

One of our very first interested hosts, Andrea, was kind enough to invite me around to their house to ask a little more about how Tadaku works, and to hear whether I felt they were suitable as hosts. And suitable hosts they were indeed!

Andrea and his wife offer 3 traditional Italian menus in Rome.

Andrea and his wife offer 3 traditional Italian menus in Rome.

Andrea, his lovely wife and their 8 year old son live in a beautiful apartment right next to one of the largest parks in Rome, Villa Doria Pamphili. A beautiful surrounding, but an even more beautiful home! They grow olives, lemons and other fruit and vegetables on their rooftop, where they like to host parties overlooking the park.

Villa Doria Pamphili, right across the street!

Villa Doria Pamphili, right across the street!

After the amazing hospitality I witnessed as soon as stepping in the door, the next thing I noticed was their real passion for food and cooking. Being busy with their work and their son in recent years, Andrea and his wife have had limited time to travel for leisure, and so loved the idea of sharing their culture with international travellers through Tadaku.

Andrea and his wife have clearly read these books a few times.

Andrea and his wife have clearly read these books a few times.

While offering me a range of delectable antipasto and bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and basil, they explained to me the various types of pasta, olive oils and cheeses in Italy. Not only was it a treat for the taste buds, but a great learning experience in Italian culture and cuisine.

The antipasto arrives.

The antipasto arrives.

And then came the carbonara. Oh, the carbonara. Many may not realise this is a dish local to Rome, but while being so simple, it was just unforgettable! I learnt a trick or two from the kitchen about cooking pasta to perfection, but I’d likely be in big trouble if I was to share that one here.

I'm caption-less!

I’m caption-less!

Andrea and his wife are offering 3 different menus on Tadaku:

Carbonara

Roman Holidays – only Rome! – featuring the carbonara I was lucky enough to taste!

Cotoletta alla milanese

La Dolce Vita – a bite of Italy – with traditional Roman bruschetta and homemade fettucine

Parmigiana di Melanzane - Eggplant parmigiana

The Leopard – a traditional Sicilian menu, inspired by the beautiful novel based on the history of the Sicilian family of the Prince of Salina

Throughout all my extended travels of Europe and Asia, this evening was one of the most memorable, and it just reinforced in my mind how rare and invaluable an experience like this can be.

Many thanks to Andrea and his family!

Toshi-koshi Soba in Japan

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Many have probably heard of Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles, but toshi-koshi soba may be foreign! This is a tradition, which still remains very common these days, of eating soba on the final day of the year, often close to midnight. Soba noodles are thin and very long, and so are said to bring longevity to those who eat them. I have to say, I feel a year younger today!

Mochi-tsuki in Gunma Prefecture

Japan has a culture so rich and so deep that even after having been here for 6 years, I’m still hearing new customs and traditions for the first time. Mochi-tsuki is something I’d heard about before, but never had the chance to try. This weekend, however, I was lucky enough to be invited out to Gunma prefecture to join the ceremony with a friend’s family.

My friend's house in Shibukawa, Gunma prefecture.

My friend’s house in Shibukawa, Gunma prefecture.

Mochi is Japanese rice cake, made of mochigome, a short-grain rice, and is eaten year-round in Japan, but is traditionally made in the mochi-tsuki ceremony on the 30th of December each year.

Mochi

The mochi starting to look more like mochi!

First, the rice is soaked overnight and then cooked by steaming. It is then placed into a hollowed out wooden mortar called an usu, and hammered with wooden mallets called kine. Usually the hammering is done by two people, alternating in a steady rhythm to avoid hitting each other (the kine are very heavy!).

Cooking the mochi.

Cooking the mochi.

This family's 'usu' is almost 100 years old.

This family’s ‘usu’ is almost 100 years old.

Every now and then, the mochi is turned and wet a little more, and after it reaches a smooth consistency, it is placed onto a large wooden board and covered with a special flour, before being rolled flat with a rolling pin. It can be formed into various shapes, depending on the dish it is being used for.

Mochi gets very sticky and stretchy!

Mochi gets very sticky and stretchy!

The 'kine' being used to hammer the mochi.

The ‘kine’ being used to hammer the mochi.

Rolling out the mochi.

Rolling out the mochi.

Our mochi batches almost ready!

Our mochi batches almost ready!

The most well-known dish in which mochi is used is the traditional soup eaten on New Year’s Day, o-zōni, but mochi is eaten in a number of different ways. There’s also kinako-mochi (mochi coated in soy bean flour, and also often brown sugar syrup), daifuku, or anpin for those using the Gunma dialect (sweet red bean paste wrapped in mochi), or various other sweet and savoury treats.

O-zōni, the traditional New Year's Day soup.

O-zōni, the traditional New Year’s Day soup.

Kinako-mochi - usually eaten for good luck.

Kinako-mochi – usually eaten for good luck.

'Daifuku' or 'anpin'.

‘Daifuku’ or ‘anpin’.

Eating traditional meals with Japanese families has always been the highlight of my time in Japan, and even better is being involved in the cooking process!