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!

Seiko’s macrobiotic food

Have you ever heard of macrobiotic food? It is a kind of diet that originated in Japan in the beginning of the 20th century, and is based on seasonal, local and unprocessed food, especially grains, combined into meals according to the principle of balance. That is, the balance between ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ ingredients. Macrobiotic meals are often vegan, though sometimes they can include some types of fish or other animal products, and are said to have innumerable health benefits.

Seiko has been cooking macrobiotic food since she was in her early twenties. She lives in a spacious family house in the outskirts of Tokyo, in an area sprinkled with small vegetable patches and big parks. She and her husband Osamu, a painter, lived for several years in Europe before coming back and settling in Japan. One of their main motivations, she said, is to keep in touch with other cultures by meeting foreign travelers, since they rarely have the opportunity these days. Seiko is fluent in English, and Osamu also speaks some Spanish and Italian.

The Hirota family

The Hirota family in a nearby park 2 years ago.

Nearby park

In Machida, where Seiko lives, there are big wild parks and even some vegetable patches.

As a lover of macrobiotic food, Seiko was excited at the idea of teaching the basics of this philosophy to interested foreigners. She started by creating a macrobiotic menu for autumn, a season in which your body needs more nutritious food to cope with the colder weather, or in macrobiotic terms, more ‘yang’ food to balance the ‘yin’ cold weather. These include root vegetables, used in her konsai soup and the sweet potato and pumpkin salad, and heavier grains such as millet, used in her millet hamburger called takakibi. And voila, the result.

Autumn macrobiotic menu

Autumn macrobiotic menu: root vegetables (or konsai) soup, millet hamburger, sweet potato and pumpkin salad and brown rice.

The menu also includes black sesame tofu, not displayed in the photo above, which is one of my all time favorite Japanese dishes (and I can tell you I have tried it a lot in my 8 years in Japan). The name is misleading, because even though it’s called ‘tofu’, it doesn’t contain any soy beans. Sesame tofu is a jelly made with sesame paste and kuzu (a climbing plant) powder. It was created in the Buddhist monasteries in Japan, where only vegan food was served.

White sesame tofu

White sesame tofu with its usual miso paste sauce. Delllllicious.

If you decide to learn macrobiotic food from Seiko, you will have a great assistant in the kitchen: her 3 year old daughter Ryuju!

Ryuju

Your 3 year old assistant during Seiko’s cooking session!

Yuko’s wine bar near Tsukiji

I met Yuko at one of the Spanish cooking classes I held at home in September this year. As usual, the participants to that class asked me what I do in life (besides cooking), so I explained Tadaku, which was yet to be launched. She immediately fell in love with the concept, and we arranged a meeting a few days later to provide some more details, where she could avoid having to worry about the tomato sauce or the lamb getting churned in the oven.

Yuko is the owner of a cozy, stylish wine bar near the famous Tsukiji market in Tokyo, the biggest fish market in the world. She goes there several times a week to buy fresh seasonal ingredients for the food she serves at her bar. She knows the place well, and has her selection of small shops she always goes to.

Yuko's wine bar

Yuko’s wine bar, with kabosu (a Japanese citrus) liqueur in the foreground.

Tsukiji, the biggest fish market in the world

Tsukiji, the biggest fish market in the world

When I explained about Tadaku, she started imagining taking guests for a tour through Tsukiji market before her cooking class. Yuko really enjoys sharing true local Japanese culture with foreigners, as she herself oftens travels to Italy (her Italian is pretty good!), and was telling me that the best moments she had were the times she spent visiting local markets and being introduced to local dishes by her Italian friends. Yuko is talkative and outgoing, and loves what she does.

We decided to prepare a menu that included a visit to Tsukiji market, something that most travelers interested in her cooking class would certainly appreciate. The menu includes Chanko Nabe, a kind of fondue often eaten by sumo wrestlers due to the high quantity of nutrients and calories it contains. It is made with fish, vegetables and a little bit of meat. At the end, when only the soup is remaining, white rice and egg are added, mixed together and eaten to close the meal with another couple of hundred calories. Recommended for sumo aspirants or for a cold winter day. Look here for more details.

Chanko nabe

Chanko nabe, a typical sumo wrestler meal. Hundreds of calories packed in a small pot.