// Mid-afternoon, Shinobazuno Pond, Ueno Park, きょわ素晴らしいです
“I wish there was more green around here,” my spontaneous explorer friend and food buddy for the day remarked. “The gardens back in Argentina or Germany always looked greener”. Looking around I couldn’t agree more. Concrete paved most of the park and the few patches of grass were covered in park-goers and fellow tourists. Still, it was hard to complain with the the sun out in a cloudless sky and a light breeze playing across the water. It was the rare nice day since I arrived in Tokyo and with Asahi beers and a Sakura Yakimochi (Charred Cherry Blossom-flavored rice cake) between us, I could forgive the otherwise grey landscape.
// Late night, multiple trains from Narita to Tokyo Proper. つかれった
Getting lost in a foreign country’s subway system is far from romantic. Absent are your fellow backpackers whom you companionably nod to from across the car, the starry-eyed lovers cuddling in the corner, the gentlemen who offer seats to old ladies with knitting projects or pastries in hand. There is no rumbling excitement of a population marching towards the future but a subdued desperation that usually fills public transportation at the end of the working day, cog gears hurtling back to worn beds to grab any sleep they can before the next gray day.
The Subway Sutras
The train(s) from Narita to Chuo at 11 PM on a Thursday night were far from romantic. Take away any public Wi-Fi, hearing your own language, any printed map or written directions and it becomes downright nerve-wracking. To the left were monochrome suits and red faces, the smell of beer and smoke wafting through face masks, to the right, other nine-to-niners contorted in sleep. In between were blurs of beige and grey with the occasional neon scurrying between platforms, mouths hidden behind more face masks behind which sorely needed directions lay. Yup…I was lost. The directions I looked up while still in New York looked simple enough: take the Skyliner to Nippori, switch to the JR line to Uguisudani, walk a few kilometers. Boom. Staring at a Japanese subway table that looked more like the Diamond Sutra and less like a map though is an entirely different practice. Couple that with multiple exits per subway, multiple companies running them, trains that actually run on time without waiting, and the fact that I misread my hostel’s address, and a leisurely one hour trip turned into nearly three with a mile hike to cap it all off. Muzukashii desu.
More Subway Rules
I remember the first time I had kinilaw (kee-knee-lau…not the “law” in “lawyer”), Filipino cured seafood similar to the more well-known ceviche. It was a weeknight back in Saudi Arabia and my mom was hit with one of those rare nights of laziness so we bought food from the corner kalinderya serving the local Filipino workforce. Amongst the requisite containers full of greasy adobo, menudo, and chop suey was one filled with cubes of white fish and Thai chilis swimming in a milky white liquid. Looking back, that shit wasn’t good at all: the fish overcooked and chewy, the acidity overpowered by the too finely minced peppers, and the onions beginning to seep their purple into the liquid. But without a frame of reference, I remember my eyes widening…the perfect moment of childhood discovery. The burst of sharp sourness from the Datu Puti vinegar, the firm flesh…the rawness! Ever since then, kinilaw was a treat. From lunches during sweltering Saudi summers to seaside feasts back in our hometown of Iloilo, kinilaw provided the much needed bite to cut through the rich Filipino spaghetti (it contains condensed milk…a story for another day) and meat-heavy dishes without the tired pretension that ceviche sometimes carries (ceviche does NOT belong in a martini glass slathered with guacamole and salsa…gtfo!).
The origins of kinilaw are murky and I’m sure indigenous cultures all over the world began using acid to cure their seafood and extend its shelf life. However, I really like this legend I stumbled upon on the Bisaya blog Huni sa Daplin:
I usually skip the baking section of most food magazines. Pies with flaky crusts, light and airy cakes topped with glazed fruits, rich and buttery cookies, macarons made exclusively for well-lit Instagram photos, mocking me with their all-knowing glossy stare: “You can’t bake for shit”. And to be honest, that’s mostly true. A co-worker once gave me a supposedly fool-proof recipe for sugar cookies with less than 5 ingredients and the whole mess looked more like a lumpy, rectangular Sicilian flatbread pizza instead of the homey, round circles of rustic sweetness they were intended to be.
And so I usually forego recipes that even involves yeast, rolling, or proofing for something…meatier, vegetable-ier, anything entree-ier! Until I couldn’t. I had promised to bring a dessert into work and I was running out of meringue-based, no-bake ideas and every food magazine I had subscribed to was extolling the virtues of a warm pie. In a fit of pie-ophobia, I opt for the cop-out solution: the Galette. No exacting crust pleats, no mishandled lattice tops, no possibility of fruit exploding through the top in a volcanic mess of burnt sugar…just a rough, quick, almost child-like creation of fruit in baked dough. Pair that with fresh whipped cream (all those meringue-based desserts trained my whipping arm well after all!) and the wrath of the Baking Harpies is assuaged for another day. Thanks Bon Appetit (with some tweaks)!
Early Spring is now a season I really look forward to with its promises of patio brunches, beautiful people watching, and the ability to wear something more flattering than a poofy jacket paired with chapped skin. But Spring during my college years wasn’t as…”Spring-y”. Most student groups plan their largest events during these months and for me, I somewhat dreaded spring as it meant back-to-back meetings planning event after event. However, Spring also heralded the start of Bake Sale season as groups sought to fund events and as an equal open diner, this was open season for all things carby. Sure there were the usual cookies and brownies (in varying shades of chocolate) but the real treats were the cultural delicacies: the orange, sticky Indian Jalebis that had to be washed down with tea, the Chinese Moon Cakes, the Arabic Baklava, and when you hit the jackpot and stumble on an all out ten item dessert buffet? Well…makes you forget the next five planning meetings on your calendar.