Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

My Japanese Cooking Experience

I lived for two years in Tokyo, and although I already had an abiding love of all things Japanese, especially the food, while I was there, oddly enough I missed the comfort foods of home, such as macaroni and cheese and Campbell's tomato soup, and also my favorite California nouvelle cuisine paired with luscious Napa Valley Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. My son Will is practically made of peanut butter & jelly and Wendy's salad bar, as those were the things I craved most when I was pregnant with him in Tokyo.

But since my return to the U.S., I just can't get enough of Japanese food. I cook something Japanese-style at least once a week in my own kitchen, whenever we eat out it's almost always at Sushi Mambo, our favorite neighborhood sushi bar, and every so often, I get the urge to put on a full-scale miso-shiru-to-green-tea-sorbet dinner...not to mention all the takeout sushi I consume on the fly. I sometimes wonder if I would ever tire of it if I ate Japanese food on a daily basis. After all, I also love Italian pasta, Arabic fatoosh, Indian curry, and hey, good old burgers and fries once in a while. But that's the beauty of ethnic food. Unlike lovers, nobody expects you to be faithful to just one :>)

I've been making Japanese dinners in my own kitchen for ten years now. Ever since I've been living on my own in Napa, I've made a Japanese birthday eve dinner for my son Will. He was born in Tokyo, and every year, because Japan is 16 or 17 hours ahead of California, depending on Daylight Savings Time, his actual Japanese birthday happens on the eve of his U.S. calendar birthday. So each year since then, I've been preparing a Japanese birthday eve feast for him (although sometimes we've been known to cheat and go to Benihana instead :>)

When I make a Japanese feast, I usually serve those spicy little sembei rice crackers for nibbles while I'm in the kitchen, and I serve up all the other dishes together, once they're done. A typical menu includes a tiny bay shrimp and cucumber salad dressed with rice wine vinegar, miso soup with tofu and wakame seaweed, gyoza potstickers, yakisoba noodles, plain white rice, skewers of teriyaki chicken bits, and sushi maki filled with cucumber, avocado, and imitation crab. It's a very labor intensive dinner, but the results are always so worth it. And it always makes my son feel special on his Japanese birthday.

This time however, I want to expand my horizons, so I'm thinking of doing some seared fish for an appetizer, some more elaborate and elegant sushi combinations, perhaps a little sashimi with fresh daikon, and maybe even a hot-pot dish like shabu-shabu. I'm ravenous just thinking about it. Somebody hold me back, before I go banging on the door of Sushi Mambo after hours, demanding to be let in for an order of tekka maki!