Hosting two Thanksgivings in Japan taught me to love the holiday and its food again. My friends are amazing cooks, and the sheer sense of community, of getting together to remake a tradition in our own way really made the holiday feel special.
Last year, I did a recipe-roundup of our meal. This year, I’d like to offer more recipes and suggestions for making Thanksgiving special in Japan or wherever you are.
Recipes marked with an asterisk indicate that the recipe contains ingredients that may be unavailable in a standard Japanese grocery store but are available at import stores and gourmet stores. (And there’s notes, as always, either on the recipe page or by the title if it’s off-site.)
Throughout my four years in Japan, I had to figure out solutions to issues with ingredient availability and cooking equipment to be able to eat the food I wanted. I’ve just started a new resource with some of my tips for what to substitute and what to make at home. Some of them seem really obvious, but they weren’t to me at the time.
On reflecting on four years of cooking in Japan, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about which kitchen appliances were useful and how larger appliances differ from their North American counterparts. If you’ve just moved to Japan and aren’t sure if you’d rather have a food processor or a blender, or if you’re unsure of what is available and where to get it, this is the guide for you.
On my first Thanksgiving in Japan as an exchange student, I had cold tofu for lunch and felt exceptionally sad. After two years of not celebrating the holiday while I was in rural Japan, I decided to host a Thanksgiving potluck for my friends last year, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Everyone’s favorite dishes–even ones I really disliked as a child, like green bean casserole–were exceptionally good. The atmosphere was good, too–everyone seemed really excited to be there and to share their dish; plus, there was no weird gender segregation in the kitchen!
Kabocha-Apple Whole-Wheat Turnovers
If you’re living in Japan, making your favorite holiday dishes can be somewhat difficult. Maybe there aren’t fresh green beans in late November at your store; maybe your moven is too small for a turkey. I’ve gathered up some of my recipes (and some from other blogs) that would work well for your fall/winter holiday parties below.
Finally, let me take the opportunity to express how thankful I am for all of you. Whether you’re a commenter, a twitter friend, or someone who has actually been in my kitchen, your support keeps me going on days when I’m down and out Darwin-style. You all push me to write more and try harder. So thank you. Really, truly.
Food homesickness is the plague of not just expats but those who move from region to region– for example, Homesick Texan is a food blog about recreating Texan/TexMex cuisine in New York. The way the author writes about food memories and the problems recreating beloved foods when you can’t always find ingredients really resonates with me as a foodie and expat.
As for home baking, if you consider the Japanese home kitchen, you’ll see why cookies are considered to have high technical difficulty here. A cake can be poured into a rice-cooker or a pan and generally cooked all at once, but cookies tend to be baked in batches. While a full-size oven can accommodate large cookie sheets, baking about 24 cookies at a time, an oven range, which is about the size of a microwave, can usually only take 6-9 at once, and that’s if they don’t expand.
Luckily for the cookie-lovers of Japan, I’ve spent several years working on cookie recipes that actually work in the oven range. You can adapt many recipes from back home by using these general tips for successful cookie baking in Japan:
Early May means fresh bamboo shoots are in season again here in Ishikawa, and I received not one but three lovely shoots from my friends and coworkers this year! 2012 is apparently a bumper year for bamboo in the forests and in my kitchen.
Whether you purchased or received fresh bamboo, one large shoot can seem like a lot to cook up. The best English-language resource for cooking bamboo is, in my opinion, Makiko Itoh’s Just Hungry. The reason why I have only one bamboo recipe on this site is because I always use hers! What I do have to offer is how to cook raw bamboo, my master list of bamboo recipes, comments, and my own photos. Enjoy! [Updated 5/18/2013]
More Bread Revolution and Guide to Flour.
One of the biggest challenges–and triumphs– for me during these 2.5 years living in Japan has been creating bread products I could easily purchase back in the US: pitas, tortillas, flatbread, pizza dough. I experimented (usually disastrously) with a few things in year 1, namely pizza dough, which was passable but not fantastic, and tea bread, which refused to cook through no matter how I reduced the recipe or what device in which I baked it.
Flour tortillas for a cooking lesson
My first success was whole-wheat soda bread. Pizza dough took two years and five different recipes. Tortillas and pitas, which I was stupidly convinced couldn’t be made at home until Cheruko of Hokuriku Expat Kitchen decided they could, turned out to be incredibly simple. I, like many Americans, thought bread-making was some sort of epic process, a choice between hours of kneading and rising and punching dough or investing in a breadmaker that would take up precious storage space. It’s really not that bad. I’ll speak more on this later with each recipe’s time-commitment information, but I full work-time, work out, have an active social life and hobbies, and I still have time for bread-making. The rising time, depending on the recipe, is often ideal for cooking the rest of a meal, enjoying a TV show or book, or even an evening trip to the gym for the longer risers.
So, now that you’re less worried about OMG BREAD, let’s get started on building your expat bread factory. First, we need to have a chat about types of flour. If you’ve never baked in Japan, you might be surprised to know that flours that are not all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour is what we Americans use in damn near everything (unless you are a pastry shop or gluten-intolerant)–and isn’t as easily found in Japan as cake or bread flour. The contents of this article have been cross-posted to resources.