I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit Japan for ten days. This place was out of this world. As soon as the wheels hits the tarmac and you file out of the plane, you feel the sense of organisation. Coming from Cairo I was shocked at how systematic and easy it was to do things. From filling out a landing card to navigating your way around the city, Japan was definitely another planet, and the people, another species.
We landed in Osaka, a modern Japanese city, home of excellent food. I crave food all the time. As soon as I finish breakfast im thinking about lunch, when I eat lunch I’m thinking about what to have for dinner and when I sleep I’m…well you get the picture.
Osaka is mainly famous for its pancakes and in the handy Lonely Planet guide that I used to navigate the city, it says that “the phase kuidaore (eat ’till you drop) was coined to describe Osakans’ love for good food.”
When you first arrive in Osaka, head down to Dotombori Arcade, but be prepared to be wowed on many levels. The place is a maddening crowd of shops, restaurants, Arcade pinball machines, tourist groups and advertisements screaming right in your face to buy this cream or eat in this restaurant because they have the best sushi. My head was spinning at all the information that is available. In an article in the Guardian in 2005 it says that in an entire day you’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages. In Japan it must be triple that. I became a shopping whore during my time there, so it must have worked.
Dotombori is like the Leicester Square of Japan. Its dirty, sleazy, full of annoying tourists that congregate in large groups and unrefined restaurants in abundance that are over-priced.
When it comes to food, the Japanese know how to do it. It’s not just about the way it tastes, but the presentation of the food is very important. It’s the little details that count. When I have a curry at home it looks like a splatter of spices placed in a plain dish with plain bread and served in mis-matched bowls. That’s the no frills approach to food. When the Japanese do food they like to go the whole hog. A bowl of noodles isn’t just wheat flour floating in a brown broth, but a masterpiece of yellow dough surrounded by an array of fish and vegetables cut into fancy shapes, all served in stylish bowls. The portions are small, not friendly to a western belly, so you might need to order a few dishes each.
I even tried some Sashimi, which is raw fish (Tuna and sea bream). Yes i can’t believe I had some, but I even surprised myself as it was tasty. You need to make sure that you order this from a good restaurant as fish that isn’t fresh will just make you ill. Each meal is usually served with endless cups of green tea. You nearly reach the end of your supply, and in an instant the waiter rushes over with their jug to fill replenish your cup. You don’t even have to ask them, they just know. Service is just as important as the food, and I found the Japanese to be very attentive and helpful.
My only problem with the food was eating it with chopsticks. I still didn’t get the hang of it, instead having to adjust them again and again. I think I should youtube a tutorial on using chopsticks for dummies.
A delicacy I loved was octopus tentacles served in a ball made from batter. The octopus is placed in a deep rounded mould and batter is then poured into the moulds. When one side is done, using the wooden handle, the metal plates moulds are flipped over so that the other side can cook. The gooey texture of the batter and chewy octopus was delicious.
In Koyoto we had a savoury dumpling of vegetables served with green tea. Notice the quaint and stylish presentation.
Even the breakfast at the design hostel we were staying at was stylishly served, resembling a Monocle magazine picture spread. Home made bread served with apple jam, plain yoghurt, fresh orange juice and English Breakfast tea.
McDonalds got in on the act and transformed a plain milkshake into a green tea flavour which tasted nothing like tea, more like bubble gum.
Even the fake food that was used as a visual menu looked good enough to eat
I came upon this amusing blog post by Allena Dillon on her blog and was transported back to last summer when I had a peak in my mums store cupboard. Stacked up in uniform order was colossal jars of Rowse Manuka Honey, epic sized bottles of Nandos extra hot chili sauce and a mountain of quilted toilet paper. Was she preparing for the next nuclear war or the apocalypse? No, she had just been to Costco.
Costco is an American brand of warehouse selling anything from dietary supplements, security cameras and holidays to buying your very own funeral casket available in a variety of mournful colours. Bulk buying is their moto. Don’t bother going there if you’re single, a couple sans children or a die hard minimalist. Costco only attracts and encourages swarms of families with a football team of children to clothe and feed and the fanatical hoarder.
I wonder what the rate of hoarding is since Costco opened up. I assume it to have more than doubled and judging by the scene in the store cupboard that day, the disease has already permeated my family.
*After posting this entry, my sister emailed to inform me that they were actually in Costco getting their eyes checked at the optician. As I mentioned before, they are obsessed by the monstrosity that is Costco. Her emailed only proved my point.
Today started like any other day. Get up, shower, breakfast, carry out the house chores and then take a well-earned rest by lounging on the sofa with a good book. Of course after the book I needed to prepare dinner. That’s where the problem kicks in. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time trying to figure out what to cook every day. I used to be disorganised. An hour before Mr S is due home I would lazily open the fridge door and see what ingredients I had. The shelves would generally appear bare, with the odd rotten onion and a bruised courgette.
Miserably placing the ingredients on the kitchen counter I would hunt the internet for recipes according to what I had. Of course this was bound to be a disaster, as no one wants to eat a tasteless dish of saute onions and courgette. Something had to be done, and fast. So I got wise. I mobilised, I planned, and I executed. I devised a daily menu for the week which I jotted down on a white board, mainly as a reminder for myself and a look at exciting things to come for Mr S (okay lentil curry and rice is hardly thrilling, but it’s easy to make).
No one wants to spend a long time planning a menu, we all lead busy lives right? But trust me, writing one will save you a lot of time, money and excessive trips to the shops. As I had written down all the ingredients, I no longer had to waste my time idling in the isles whilst I tried to remember what I needed. Or worse yet, return home and remember that I had forgotten something.
Today I was craving something typically British and my mouth was salivating when I thought of cheese and onion pie. Good old cheese and onion pie. Whenever I went shopping in my local town centre, I would always stop by the bakers Greggs for a pasty. I have fond memories of biting into the hot center whilst cheese oozed out and the pastry would flake, leaving a mountain of crumbs all over my chin. But now I live in Cairo, and not in the position to saunter into my local Greggs. If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad will go to the mountain.
So mopping the drool away from my keyboard I typed the words “cheese and onion pie recipes” and hit the enter button. Over 16,400,000 results turned up, and all for a humble cheese pie. After reading through various recipes and different versions (some which contained parsley?) I came across a blog by the hungrymanc. He describes his preferences as “I like to cook, I like to eat, I like to read and talk about food.” Being a Manc myself, and at that point a very hungry one, I took this as some sign from God himself telling me to read on. The hungrymanc recommends various recipes, and one that directed me there was a recipe by Geordie duo the Hairy Bikers.
When shopping, I had to wait a ridiculous amount of time at the supermarket cheese counter whilst the lady in front of me ordered everything in sight, only to find that they had no mature cheddar. So I had to settle with a mixture of gouda and Egyptian rumi. I only hoped the pie would turn out fine.
- Frozen ready-made puff pastry (1)
- 50ml/2oz whole milk (2)
- 150g mature cheddar cheese grated (3). I wasn’t able to get hold of cheddar so I used a mixture of Gouda and Egyptian Rumi cheese
- 1 tbsp plain flour (4)
- 2 onions, finely sliced (5)
- 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into cubes (6)
- ½ tsp English mustard (7)
- Salt and pepper (8)
- 50ml/2oz double cream
- 1 egg beaten for glazing the pie
- Usually I like to make my own short crust pastry, but today I cheated and bought ready-made puff pastry. To make your own and for detailed instructions of the pie recipe follow this link.
The dish turned out tasty and was wolfed down served with a salad, and my favourite food-Heinz Baked Beans. I was surprised at how easy it was to follow this recipe. No elaborate ingredients from a Gordon Ramsey dish, no experimental cooking Heston Blumenthal style. Just plain and simple. Rather like the dish itself.
Taking a break from blogging about my Siwa travels, i decided to get an ice-cream yesterday. Only this is no ordinary ice-cream… and no its not ice cream made from breast milk! It’s the new craze that seems to have taken over cairo (still in its infancy though)…