“Heinz Beanz”, originally “Heinz Baked Beans”, are a staple of any Brit’s diet. From school dinners to late night snacks, they’ve become a distinct part of Britain’s culture and it’s cuisine. But unlike Jordan’s Fruit Muesli, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and Lee and Perry’s Worcestershire Sauce, baked beans have yet to make it to the shelves of Hiroshima’s import shops. If you google “Japan Baked Beans”, you’ll witness a plethora of panicked British expats across Japan in the process of going “cold turkey”. One particular post being from a person desperately searching for shops that can cater a 7-day-a-week supply. He/she must really love his beans……It’s not me if you’re wondering. Continue reading “It’s The Small Things: Heinz Beanz”
“What popular foods does the UK have?”, asks the same teacher every month. And I always respond with “Fish and Chips, Roast Beef and Indian Curry”. Curry has become a quintessential dish for British people stemming back to the 1800s. In fact, Chicken Tikka Masala has been labelled as “a true British national dish” by many with its origins in Glasgow. Strangely, I didn’t really enjoy spicy food until I was about fifteen. Some would call it blaspheme especially since my birthplace has the title of 2016’s Curry Capital of the UK. Takeout nights would be a pain for Dad, as he’d have to make two stops; The Bharat for curry and Casa Pizza for my solitary pizza. But now Indian food is one of my favourite cuisines.
I’m going back to the UK for the Summer Holidays. So when I recently called home, my mother asked what I wanted to eat when I arrived. I instantaneously answered with “Fish and Chips”. Whether it be sitting in the garden of our family house back when I was a kid, or in the pub before an away football game, I have fond and delicious memories of eating them. In Japan, it’s not uncommon to find a rather underwhelming offering in Irish Pubs. But for a nation that slaps tempura batter on everything from prawns to asparagus, it’s strange that they’ve yet to understand the beautiful romance between the potato and white fish. That’s not to say the Japanese have no idea about the dish. On the contrary, if there’s one thing that Japanese people know about the UK aside from the Queen, Peter Rabbit and David Beckham, it’s “Fish and Chips”.
Occasionally the Mitsukoshi Department store in Hiroshima organises a regional food and goods fair based on a specific area of Japan or from around the world. During this past week, there’s been a British Fair offering “real” Britishness in the form of various stalls and temporary cafes. I tend to avoid these foreign attempts at British culture. Usually my critical and cynical side takes over and it typically ends up being a disappointment. Toad in the Hole without gravy, scones the size of pennies, and serving milk tea with syrup are a few examples I’ve unfortunately experienced. But with my girlfriend intrigued by British Culture and especially baking, I found myself being dragged along. Continue reading “A British Fair in Japan”
I’ve already explained my fondness for Christmas Mince Pies, and its seems that I’ve unfortunately inflicted my girlfriend and her family with this seasonal, baked addiction. My wonderful mother has been sending M&S pies in her care packages, but they’ve always been gobbled up in a couple of days. And it seems that Christmas Stollen has stolen
The Christmas banners are already up in shop windows and in department stores, much to my frustration. Meanwhile the smell of artificial pumpkin spice and over-sweetened cream hangs in the air of shopping arcades and offices. I have to say, Japan really goes full-on with the decorations for every festival and season. Pumpkins in October, Cherry Blossom in Spring and Santa in December. Yet many don’t understand or know the “Nativity Story” behind it all. And if they do, they ask me how Santa Claus fits into the birth of Jesus. Anyway I digress, back home in England the smell of brandy, dry fruits and baked pasty is a delightful one that conjures up one image; the humble mince pie.
Mince Pies are a staple of Christmas in Great Britain, and have been since its origins in the European Crusades during the thirteenth century. The trading/ pillaging of exotic spices, fruits and foreign cooking were brought back home. To which, in true British culinary style, we baked them into pies. Originally, mince pies actually had meat in them. Whether it was a leg of lamb, or a cow tongue, the combinations of spices and fruit have remained the same. Interestingly, during the English Civil War and the rise of the Puritans, they were banned along with the celebration of Christmas for being too Catholic and fun.
Nowadays the meat has been dropped and mince pies have firmly become sweet, baked goods. The filling of “mincemeat” is a combination of dry fruits, brandy, sugar and spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg). During my second year of secondary school (junior high), we made our own in Design Technology/ Home Economics class. Unfortunately some students hadn’t understood the difference between minced meat (ground beef) and mincemeat, which caused some problems during the lesson. Meanwhile the pastry is a basic shortcrust variety using flour, plenty of butter, sugar and eggs. It’s all rather simple, which perfectly highlights British baking in general. Brandy Cream (brandy, cream and sugar) is the traditional condiment to a mince pie, but I’ve never been a big fan of the combination. Instead a cup of hot tea will suffice.
Finding mince pies in Japan has been an impossible feat. I’ve checked import stores, foreign-run bakeries, and “English cafes” with little success. It seems that Japan has adopted Christmas Stollen (from Germany) as the foreign, seasonal sweet of choice during Christmas. Therefore, I’ve been reduced to asking my mum to send a box of them from home. They’ll usually tide me over for a week. Then the cravings kick in. However my girlfriend and I are going to attempt to make them this Christmas. It’ll be interesting to see how they turn out. Fingers crossed.
They say that “Culture Shock” is a big problem when staying in a foreign country for an extended time. While it hasn’t affected me to the same degree as others, there are some small things I miss from home aside from family and friends. And Roast Dinner is one of those.
I love food, my wide frame is a good indication of this, and it’s undoubtably clear that the Japanese do too. Food is an essential part of any culture, but here in Japan it’s quite simply ridiculous. In fact when I competed in a Japanese Speech Contest back in 2015, I spoke about my bafflement towards it’s prominence in all facets of Japanese life. My speech got some laughs, hopefully not from the sight of a large British man in yukata and small geta sandals. And I actually came third place which wasn’t too bad.
After retreating to the glorious buffet at the back of the room, various people came to discuss my talk, most sharing similar thoughts to my “critique”. Others ironically suggested that I should write a guidebook or blog about Miyoshi, and it’s local wine, food and eateries. I actually spoke jokingly about how Japanese guidebooks or tour magazines offer page after page of local delicacies and key places to eat rather than sightseeing locations. Meanwhile Japanese TV constantly barrages the population with variety shows showcasing endless segments from kitchens and restaurants, all with endless, orgasmic cries and screams from it’s guest “stars” and “live studio audience”. Half the time I feel I’m being duped into watching subtly and ingeniously devised food pornography rather than the baseball highlights. Food is everywhere in Japan, and there’s no escape from its tempting allure.
From Ramen to Tonkatsu (breaded deep-fried pork cutlet), my students and Japanese friends always ask me about my favourite Japanese food. I often retort the question by asking “What British Food do you like?”, to which I’m met with hesitance and bewilderment. It’s clear that Japan’s concept of “British Food” largely surrounds our love for Fish and Chips, and our “Tea and Cake” culture. Ironically, I was talking to one of my fellow teachers who had watched a programme about Great Britain. He explained that the show had rated British food as some of the worst on the planet. Additionally it concluded that our roads are full of pot-holes, but there’s some truth to that. Apart from those two topics of sheer importance, apparently the rest of Britain’s culture was deemed too irrelevant to comment on by the presenters. Fucking Japanese TV.
Sunday Roast Dinner has a cultural significancy in Britain that is hardly addressed outside the country. But while it’s origins surround Christian traditions and the customs of Sunday Church, my atheist family never gave a crap about the religious relevance. We all just sat down at the table and stuffed our faces with Roast Beef, Roast Potatoes, Yorkshire Puddings, Vegetables and Gravy. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t Sunday, we’d have Roast Dinner on Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we didn’t give a flying toss.
Roast Beef was always my favourite, whilst Pork and Chicken made their regular appearances at the dinner table. We never had Roast Lamb though. My mother and my brother weren’t keen on the strong flavour. Meanwhile Yorkshire Puddings were only served with Roast Beef, and occasionally sausages. No mash potato was allowed and “Veg” only included Potatoes, Broccoli, Carrots, Peas, and occasionally Cauliflower, in cheese form. And there was always plenty of Gravy. Being a middle-class family we had two types of the “good stuff”. One was the expensive Marks and Spencer‘s vacuum-sealed variety, and the other was the legendary Bisto brand, my personal choice.
Sure it’s not as delicate as sashimi, or as refined as tofu, but I really miss sitting around the kitchen table, the smell of slow-cooked meat and the indulgent taste. So what’s stopping me from making it over here in Japan? Well, the lack of a decently-sized oven and the uncommonness of large joints of meat doesn’t help. I’ve actually found two spots in the Hiroshima area that offer “Sunday Roast Dinner”; the Irish Pub Molly Malone’s and Cafe Mike and Shirley. The latter is a personal favourite, definitely worth the hour and a half train ride to cure my longing for proper, British home-cooking.