I get restless by the end of January. Even my favorite soups and stews need a rest by mid-winter.
It started with a quick trip to an Asian grocer. I went for basic supplies, but it wasn’t long before I was longing for the foods I’d had during the happy year I’d lived in Japan.
Ironically, I came home with the very foods that had been the most difficult for me to like. I am an adventurous eater, but during my first six months in Japan, I did not want anything to do with unagi, or eel.
Two other ubiquitous foods in Japan are mochi, a dough made of pounded rice, and azuki, sweetened red bean paste. My mouth would screw up and I’d back away. “No! None for me, thanks!”
Japanese food recalls the scent of ocean, volcanoes and jungle in the air. The flavors are so subtle that I truly do believe that they are impacted by the environment in which they are eaten. Something is surely lost when there is no ocean nearby, nor any volcanoes.
It must have helped that I’d recently watched “Spirited Away,” an animated story by Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.
Today, the bite of the wasabi horseradish paste, with the heat of the pink pickled ginger that accompanies unagi (eel) sushi, made me feel as if I was going through an honored ritual. First, a sneeze, then an all over warming as they go down. Unlike most sushi, the eel is not served raw. It is tender, perhaps a little crunchy, and is always cooked in the same sweet/savory sauce. Afterward, I am both lazy and alert.
The mochi, filled with red bean paste, is filling. For me, it was pure nostalgia.