Salt Ramen

May 31st, Thursday:

  • Salt Ramen (Pork, Bean Sprout, Bamboo Shoot, Onion, Carrot)
  • Milk
  • Shrimp Potstickers
  • Taiwanese Tangerine  Jello

Taiwan Tangerine is called “Shiquasa” in Okinawan. The “shi” means sour, and the “quasa” means food. It has a very refreshing scent and taste.

All children–Japanese and not–love ramen. In Hokkaido various places are famous for different types of ramen. Sapporo is famous for miso ramen, often accompanied by butter and corn. Meanwhile, Asahikawa is famous for shoyu ramen, Hakodate is famous for shio (salt) ramen, and Tomakomai for curry ramen. Asked which ramen I like the best, I usually say shoyu. However, in truth, my heart belongs to saimin. Saimin is Hawaiian ramen. It has a crab or bonito based broth with wheat noodles that use egg in place of kansui, and is garnished with green onions, kamaboko, spam, and rolled egg. Oh, and often bean sprouts and char shiu, too. It is truly delicious. Of all the school lunches of my youth, saimin day was by far my favourite, the only contender being the pastrami sandwich day.

Other interesting facts for today: Ramen was formerly called “shina soba”, that is Chinese buckwheat noodles. Also, spaghetti was called “seiyou udon”, that is Western Wheat Noodles. Finally, I wonder do most Japanese people consider the inventor of instant ramen, Momofuku Ando, Japanese?

Sugar Simmered Sardine!

May 30th, Wednesday:

  • Scallop Soup (Scallop, Tofu, Chinese Cabbage, Burdock)
  • Chinese-style Meat and Potatoes (Potato, Pork, Onion, Shimeji Mushroom, Konnyaku)
  • Sugar Simmered Sardine
  • Rice
  • Milk

As usual, the soup was delicious. I really adore soup. In fact, if I could take all my nutritional input in liquid form, I probably couldn’t be happier.  On the other hand, I am not a fan of sardines. Heian women used to blacken their teeth because the bone like quality of teeth was considered repulsive. I want to say that contact with bone was even one of the major tsumi (sins) listed in the Kojiki. The ancient Japanese knew what they were talking about. Bones are exceedingly repulsive. The time I want to come deal with bones is when summoning monsters from the abyss during unholy rites. Thus sardines, being filled with tons of irremovable tiny bones and lacking in monstrous qualities, are fish I cannot enjoy eating.

Corn Potage

May 29th, Tuesday:

  • Corn Potage (Corn, Onion, Parsley)
  • Macaroni Salad (Macaroni Noodle, Cucumber, Tuna, Mandarin Orange)
  • Meat Dumplings in Ketchup
  • Butter Bread
  • Milk

This week, the schools have all been having their Sports Festivals (undou-kai). Anyway who is acquainted with me will surely be aware of my absolute abhorrence of anything that even smells like a “sport”. I could write an essay about the shallow meaninglessness of sports, but this is not the place. Rather, I would like to inform you about a surprising truth: I sort of enjoy (watching) the Sports Festival. Let me explain.

The Sports Festival in Japan has a long history, extending back into the glorious (and militant) Meiji Period. Students are divided up into red and white teams. Red and white are celebratory colours in Japan. If the school is large, other teams will be added, usually blue and yellow, based on Taoist colour theory (ask me for more details, I loved to talk about that). The main event of the Sports Festival is the competition between these teams in various activities. Some examples include relay race, hurdle jumping, giant ball rolling, tug-of-war, throwing bean bags in a basket, lassoing while riding a saw horse,  and who can pick up the most trash within the time limit. These sorts of activities are manifold more useful and exciting than say…. volleyball. But please let me tell you about the true beauty of the Sports Festival. They are given a real meaning, completely lacking in modern sports. The teams are organized similar to vigilante outlaw groups of old. There is a commander and a vice-commander. When the commander shouts and all his followers reply “Osu!”, it is beautiful. When they march to their positions and perform the colour guard–spinning flags of their team’s colour and another painted with their chosen insignia–it is historic. When the commander throws out his long scroll, his vice-commander kneeling beside him, and yells out his challenge, how they will not again suffer the shame of defeat and will show that insolent aka-gumi what true strength is, I hear echoing the glorious deeds of the past!! –when, unlike this easy and lackluster age, life was hard but had real meaning.

In 5th grade, my grade level reenacted the American Civil War. It was absolutely wonderful. Through that, not only could we truly begin to understand the feelings and problems of our ancestors (not that I had any ancestors in the Civil War), but it is something I remember fondly even at this old age. We built battlements of newspaper stuffed trashbags and bullets of flour filled beanbags. I sewed a flag to wave triumphantly, or at least defiantly, at those bastard yankees. When the actual battle occurred, staged upon the grassy battlefield of the playground, I acted as a medic, dragging our wounded to rest beneath the shade of the stink pod trees. The Sports Festival is almost as awesome as that civil war, and it happens every year!

Chinese Egg Soup

May 28th, Monday:

  • Chinese Egg Soup (Crab Flakes, Tofu, Mustard Spinach, Carrot, Onion)
  • Sesame Dressed Vegetables (Spinach, Bean Sprout, Carrot, Chikuwa Surimi)
  • Deutzia (Soy Lees) Croquette
  • Rice
  • Milk

This sort of lunch–with vegetables and without meat– is exactly what I prefer. Unohana (deutzia) is a pretty word for okara or soy bean lees. Okara is a by-product of making tofu. If purchasing tofu, you can usually ask for the okara too, and they will give it to you free. Or at least, the tofu shop I go to does. I recommend you do so, because okara is quite delicious.

Ishikari Soup

May 25th, Friday:

  • Mince Meat Rice (Egg, French Bean,  Chicken)
  • Milk
  • Ishikari Soup (Salmon, Daikon Radish, Tofu, Konnyaku, Carrot, Chinese Cabbage, Burdock)
  • Salt Grilled Mackerel

Ishikari soup is a symbol of Hokkaido. Salmon is a fish with lots of nutrients, especially it includes lots of Vitamin D, which helps us process calcium.

Back in the day, there were no supermarkets. People had to go to a different shop for each different item they needed, or the merchants themselves would come and deliver their goods to each individual house. So I have read. But in the latter days of the 20th century, giant warehouse like supermarkets became to norm. However, Japan still keeps some of the old-fashion ways (for what was wrong with them?) Thus it is still common for vendors of certain goods to come to not their houses but their workplaces to sell their wares. I was reminded of this when the hanaya, or flower vendor, came to school, selling potted flowers to adorn the classroom or take home. Other vendors I have seen lately include the bread vendor, the yakult vendor (both who come once a week), soba vendor, and a vendor selling USB powered fans.

Potato Cake

May 24th, Thursday:

  • Meat Udon (Pork, Naruto Surimi, Onion, Bean Curd, Carrot, Green Onion, Shimeji Mushroom)
  • Milk
  • Potato Cake
  • Fe Wafers

Potato cake (imomochi) is native dish of Hokkaido. Wakayama and Kouchi Prefecture also have a type of potato cake, but although it has the same name, the kind of potato and method of making is different.

I took a poll of some first years this week, asking which they liked better, udon or soba. The results were close, but more students prefered udon over soba. A certain teacher suggested that as children, we are more likely to like udon, but as we grow older, we begin to appreciate the taste of soba. In other words, soba is a more adult taste than soba. When asked my favorite Japanese food, I usually say soba. Of course soba is delicious and a soba restaurant often has many options without meat. Soba also has a healthy and natural reputation, which I think fits with my image.

Furano Asparagus!!

May 23rd, Wednesday:

  • Furano Asparagus Curry Rice (Asparagus, Pork, Eggplant, Carrot, Onion)
  • Milk
  • Acerola Gelee Milk Gelatin
  • Net Grilled Hamburger Patty

The flavour of Furano asparagus is sweet and firm but tender. It’s deliciousness is born especially from the harsh weather of Furano. 

At lunch, student usually push their individual desks together to form a group (han) of 4 to 6 students. These han are given a name and a decorated poster for each is hung in the classroom. The school chores rotation is also distributed up by han. It is also not unusual to do group work or form teams based on the han. The han change members when the seating chart changes, every couple of months. The atmosphere of each han depends on the group. Some will eat in complete silence, but more often the students will chat with each other, and play jankenpo at the end to decide who will clean up what dishes and so on. Less commonly, students will leave their desks facing forward and each individually eat lunch. Outgoing students will chat with their friends while quieter students will merely eat their lunch and go back surreptitiously reading their book (since they technically are not allowed to read during lunch). During my own middle school days, I fondly recall sitting outside under the sheltering branches of a faikus tree everyday to share my bento with my best friend, quite different from Japan and probably most places. Anyway, in older photographs of Japan I have seen (cf. my banner photo), the students sit facing forward and individually when eating. I wonder when eating in han developed as a custom in school.

Girls eating bento lunches at school (1935), taken from Old Photos of Japan.

Healthy Penne

May 22nd, Tuesday:

  • Potato Soup (Potato, Onion, Parsley)
  • Healthy Penne (Penne, Pork, Onion, Carrot, French Bean, Green Pepper)
  • Lemon-Basil Chicken
  • Cocoa Bread
  • Milk

Students must bring 2 things for school lunch everyday. One is a pair of chopsticks and the other is a lunch mat, such as a cloth napkin.  Most students keep them in a rectangular draw string bag. When students forget to bring them, they can filch disposable chopsticks from their friends or borrow from the teacher, but they are usually just out of a lunch mat. The eating of school lunch on a lunch mat or tray is an interesting tradition of Japan. As a child, my school lunch was served on a compartmentalized tray on which the food was directly placed. The tray/plate was then placed directly on the table. In Japan, there are separate dishes for the soup, rice, and okazu.  Today, as it is bread day, there is no rice container and most students break off bits of bread while it is still in it’s plastic bag, or use the bag as a sort of plate (the latter being my method). Anyway, I suspect the wide use of trays to eat off of stems from the traditional Japanese custom of eating everything off a legged tray, which was of course placed on the floor. Thus while Japan has adopted the foreign tradition of using tables (although often low tables without a need for a chair), vestiges of  the days when legged trays were used still remains in the kyuushoku lunch mat.

Croquette

May 21st, Monday:

  • Miso Soup (Carrot, Cabbage, Wakame Seaweed)
  • Fried and Simmered Bean Curd and Cut Konnyaku (Pork, Konnyaku, Bean Curd, Shiitake Mushroom)
  • Root Vegetable Croquette
  • Rice
  • Milk

I remember my first introduction to croquette (or korokke). I was in high school, building a virtual bento box. Virtual mash potatoes breaded and fried and then tucked into an adorable virtual bento box was of course delightful, and from that day on, I wanted to eat a real one. Three years later, my dream was fulfilled when I moved to a dormitory down the street from the Curry House and I could eat all the Corn Croquette and Curry that I desired. Which, I imagine, is why I gained 7 kilos. Apparently, the actual French croquette often has meat in it and is differently shaped, but reading about it, I feel certain the Japanese croquette tastes better. Besides, I am willing to wager most Americans as least are more familiar with the Japanese korokke than they are the French croquette. All that being said, croquette in general are rather oily, am I might have to opt for my mother’s non-fat mashed potato patties over French and Japanese.
As a side note, today’s lunch conversation ranged from duck races to lunch napkins to forgetting of old acquaintances’ faces to the accumulation of fabric that never gets sewn into it’s intended clothing.


Bibimbap

May 18th, Friday:

  • Bibimbap Rice Bowl (Pork, Egg, Bean Sprout, Japanese Parsley,  Zenmai Fern, Spinach)
  • Milk
  • Ankake Soup (Tofu, Trefoil, Golden Oyster Mushroom)
  • Salt-Grilled Trout

Bibimbap is a Korean dish in which Korean style namul and meat is placed on top of rice and mixed together. “Bibim” means to mix, and “bap” means rice.

I can’t say I have ever eaten real Korean bibimbap. When I flew Korean Airlines to France, bibimbap was served both there and back and it was spicy to the point of being inedible. However, school lunch bibimbap is not spicy at all and I enjoy the flavour quite a lot. I doubt it tastes like korean bibimbap at all, a hypothesis underscored  by the fact that one teacher whose favorite lunch is this bibimbap has no special affinity for Korean food at all.  The main disadvantage to this lunch is that since I am not a fan of meat, I have to pick out the scary pork and fat bits before I eat the remaining vegetables and eggs. I set a rather poor example for the students. Furthermore, I would like to comment on the fish.  I did not like fish in America. Last time I ordered fish at a restaurant (visiting the sunny state of California), I could not even finish eating it, it was so bad.  But fish in Japan in invariably delightful, and today’s trout was no different. I love you, Japan. By the way,  ankake soup is a soup made by thickening the broth with potato starch, in the method so commonly used in (slimy) Chinese dishes.