Kaori’s home cuisine

If there is one Tadaku host who cooks homely food, it’s Kaori.

Our beloved Kaori.

Our beloved Kaori.

Her menus are very much what you would find if you were staying with a Japanese family: miso soup, a main dish (called okazu) and white rice, with the touch of a master chef, who trained at the prestigious Hattori Nutrition School and spent 15 years in restaurant kitchens.

menu

Kaori’s Autumn menu. In this case, sushi is served instead of plain white rice, and the okazu is salmon teriyaki.

Kaori was one of the first hosts to join Tadaku in Tokyo. She is constantly improving the cooking sessions she offers, adding new menus according to the season and improving her English. She even bought a new dining table, afraid that some of her guests would not be able to sit cross-legged on the floor, as is usual in Japan.

Local markets do exist in Japan (such as Tsukiji fish market), but they are not the line up of stands packed with vegetables and fruit everyone imagines. Markets in Japan are roofed alleys with a couple of grocery shops and dozens of Japanese produce shops selling fish of all varieties, crackers, pickles and prepared food.

Nishiki market (Kyoto)

Nishiki market in Kyoto – a perfect example of what a local market looks like in Japan.

Nowadays, if you want to do the shopping for your everyday meals, you just head to the nearest supermarket, which is where Kaori will take you before your cooking session with her. Supermarkets in Japan are an attraction in themselves. Besides the familiar tomato and cucumber, there are countless unrecognizable products for the non-Japanese.

Vegetables in a supermarket in Japan. Do you recognize any of them??

Vegetables in a supermarket in Japan. Do you recognize any of them??

Many visitors often cannot even tell whether a product is from an animal or a plant. If you don’t believe me, ask Kaori to show you konnyaku when you’re with her at the supermarket! The experience of exploring a supermarket is that much better if you have someone to guide you through the aisles of unusual products.

Konnyaku, the mystery food.

Konnyaku, the mystery food.

If you book a session with Kaori, give her a hug from us. We love her.

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!