This past winter break, my girlfriend and I had our annual visit to the cinema to see the latest Star Wars entry. If I’m being brutally honest, this time felt more of a chore than a genuine wish to see the next instalment of my childhood franchise. And after watching The Last Jedi, I’ve been left bitter and disappointed towards Disney’s treatment of Star Wars. Continue reading “My Thoughts on The Last Jedi”
Japan periodically has a shortage of something. Two years ago it was potatoes and butter. This year, Japan had to suffer through another potato-related shortage as companies decided to cut down their vast ranges of flavours to cope with the problem. Customers flocked to supermarkets to stock up on their cherished “Pizza” flavour crisps. I’ve tried them, they’re not very good.
Instead it’s the shortage or absence of flour tortillas in Hiroshima that has been a bit of a problem. Yes, first world problems. I cook chicken fajitas once every month. It’s my “steak” night, one meal where I splash out a bit. Homemade avocado salsa, sour cream, a couple of Coronas and a frying pan sizzling with chicken, peppers and onions marinated in my own spice concoction. No flavour packets in this household.
While Tokyo and Osaka may be swimming in the abundance of tortillas and fajitas, in my area the likes of sour cream, red onions, coriander and flour tortillas aren’t readily available in my local supermarket. I usually have to make a trip to Hiroshima City Centre or one of the bigger shopping malls. But over the last couple of months I’ve had to make do with tortillas “bowls”, which aren’t the same. Sure, I could begrudgingly flatten into some sort of resemblance of a traditional tortilla, but it wouldn’t work. And no, I certainly couldn’t force myself to make homemade versions either. So for now, I’ll just have to wait until “Mexico” lifts its embargo on trade with Japan.
After watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on Christmas Eve, it seems that my girlfriend and I have contracted “Star Wars Fever”. In fact, my late Christmas present from her was the Imperial Shuttle Tydirium (from Return of the Jedi) in Lego form. I sorely want the AT-AT set, but I don’t think I want to splash out the exorbitant amount of cash on eBay. Anyway, we ended up watching
Christmas has passed, but now everyone’s getting ready for New Year celebrations. New Years in Japan is one of the most culturally significant dates on the calendar, far more than Christmas. People queue outside the post office doors to send their nengajo (New Years Cards), while others line up to withdraw cash for otoshidama (gift money for children). Families decorate their houses with kadomatsu and order osechi (traditional New Year’s food) for extortionate prices. So its fucking nuts everywhere. Continue reading “This Year’s Christmas”
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 decorations have been up since October and the insufferable music is playing on loop everywhere; J-Pop Christmas songs with broken English….kill me now!!! This will be the third Christmas I’ve spent in Japan, and it remains one of the most “depressing” times of the year. My Facebook feed has been plastered with pictures of decorated trees, Mariah Carey live performances, and the god-awful John Lewis advert.
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.