Wednesday, 13 March 2013

of parents and children in a bowl...

Growing up on a steady meat-and-potato diet whose only exotic reprieve was a weekly Italian pasta or Swiss cuisine (a la quarter-chicken dinner), I often wonder what it would be like to have been part of a broader culinary culture. To me, a culinary culture is the sum of key ingredients prepared in a myriad of ways, the technique of which is passed down from one generation to another.

For example, the ABCs of Japanese culinary culture is summed up in the ordinal letters of SA-SHI-SU-SE-SO: 'sa' - さ -for sato (sugar); 'shi'  - し - for shio (salt); 'su' - す - for o-su (vinegar); 'se' -せ -for sesame (which is actually goma in Japanese); and 'so' - そ - for o-soyu (soy sauce, more often pronounced o-shoyu). Upon these ingredienents is built a delicate and sublime culinary tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation. Like anywhere else, regional variances and specialties exist alongside new foods introduced to Japanese culture (they are among the world's largest consumers of curry, for example), but these five staples are found in every kitchen.

As an exchange student in Yokosuka, exchanging recipes with a Japanese family has greatly impacted my own culinary repertoire. Introducing my host family to a few of my successful dishes(lasagna was a big hit) led to lessons in the basics of a few key homestyle dishes. The communal Sukiyaki stew has long been a favourite, but other dishes like the art of dashi (kelp and bonito-based stock),the delicate-balance of a tempura batter, or preserving veggies in rice vinegar and rice bran are skills I regularly employ even today. 

A recent visit from Australian family provided me with the opportunity to show my 11-year old cousin how to make a basic Japanese dinner. Presented by my mother the secret basket ingredients of the ever exotic boneless chicken and bell pepper, nothing could be more symbolic of passing down culinary skills from parent to child (or, in this case, host mother to exchange student to cousin) than a big bowl of oyako: a chicken-and-egg stirfry that literally translates as "parent (oya) and child (ko)."  Not only do I love the dark nature of the name of the dish, but it is also an easy stirfry that anyone parent and child can do together:

Ingredients - Stir-fry
2 tablespoons oil
300g Boneless Chicken, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 shiitake mushrooms (or 8 button mushrooms), thinly sliced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
4 eggs, beaten

Ingredients - Simmering Stock
1/2 cup stock (dashi, chicken, or vegetable)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin (cream sherry as a substitute)
1 tablespoon sake
1 tablespoon sugar

1) Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok. Add onions and fry until opaque.
2) Add chicken. Stir-fry until no longer pink
3) Add mushrooms and green pepper. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
4) Add all but 2 tablespoons of the simmering stock. Bring to a boil and cook 2 - 3 minutes
5) Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons of stock into beaten eggs. Pour egg mixture over stir-fry and cook for 1 minute until eggs have set.

Serve over rice and with a German Riesling (the slight sweetness will balance the salty/umami flavours of the stir-fry).

So, there you have it. The perfect parent-to-child recipe to share with your family in hopes that you too will develop your own culinary culture, even if it is passed on from a Japanese host mother to an Australia girl by way of a Canadian exchange student cousin.

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