I’m into decorating. I’ve managed to turn an ex-boyfriend’s headboard into an art piece. It’s too bad that I didn’t take a picture of my work. I would really like to display it here. He had a lot of used stamps that he wanted to keep and an old headboard that neither of us liked. So, while he was at school, I tore those stamps off the envelopes, dipped them in a mixture made of water and synthetic resin adhesive and pasted them onto the headboard. His aunt came over to ask me if I wanted lunch while I was working on my art project. I think what I was doing was not anything that she was expecting to see that day, not on any other day either.
I figured that if the witch from Hansel and Gretel can be creative enough to come up with the idea of decorating the exterior of her home with candies, I can do something crazy, too!
I painted over the wall facing the veranda in my ex-boyfriend’s apartment using white paint. I picked a simple picture that I liked as inspiration. I picked up a small paint brush and just drew on the wall. I named it JJ’s laundry room because that was where the washing machine was.
That was fun. Maybe I will use the exterior of my house as a canvas next time.
I was not in the mood of spending too much time on making dinner, so I opened up a can of Thai green curry to go with some rice. I don’t necessarily have a healthy diet(consuming too much sugar if you can tell by the title of my blog), but I do try to maintain a healthy intake of vegetables everyday. Since my Thai curry is an Asian dish, I figured that I needed an Asian salad to go with it. Hum…what do I have to do to asianize my salad?
I went online searching for recipes of “oriental salad dressing”. Many of them are quite similar to the following recipe:
Combine cabbage, scallions, and sesame seeds in a medium-size bowl. Mix vegetable oil, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a cup. Pour enough dressing over slaw to coat; refrigerate, covered, to blend flavors. Add more dressing, if needed.
I didn’t use cabbage, didn’t feel like it coz the color of my salad wouldn’t be as pretty. I just chopped up whatever vegetables that I had in the fridge and made an “Asian dressing” for it.
So, sesame seas and soy sauce(and maybe sugar counts, too) are what made the dressing Asian? It got me thinking about what I know of Asian cooking. A long time ago, when I was about 15, a neighbour of mine came over to hang out with a few friends of mine in our kitchen. I don’t remember what dish we made, but whatever it was, it was Chinese food that we made according to him because we put soy sauce in it. “Making Chinese food is easy. Just add soy sauce to anything and it becomes Chinese food”, he said. I just laughed at the comment when I first heard it. However, as years went by and as my knowledge of cuisines of the world grew, I began to feel that my neighbour’s comment maybe wasn’t actually that far off.
Yes, most of the Chinese food dishes I know do call for soy sauce. He wasn’t wrong there. But just adding soy sauce to your food probably doesn’t mean that it will taste good. The golden rule that I am going to share with you is using the three fundamental ingredients of Chinese cooking, ginger, garlic and green onions to make Chinese food. When I stayed in Stockholm for a couple of months in the summer, a friend of mine said that she wanted to make Chinese food with me. Honoured, I felt. Nevertheless, I love making food, I love being in the kitchen, but making Chinese food was never necessarily my thing. I guess my Chinese/Taiwanese heritage advertised my ability of making Chinese/Taiwanese food without me knowing. Why is making Chinese food not my thing? Allow me explain. I did grow up eating Chinese food. My grandmother made it, my mother made it, my aunts were making it all the time. Coming from a rather traditional Chinese family, my family often emphasized their point of the kitchen being a woman’s place. While each woman in my family(except my mother, she never really liked cooking, cleaning up and that kind of stuff) is proud of her place in the kitchen, everyone of them repeatedly tells me about Chinese cuisine being the world’s number one. Well, I have nothing against Chinese food. I love Chinese food, however, I like French, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Thai and everything else, too! In attempt to show my family that there are just as delicious ‘foreign’ dishes out there, I have invited them over for dinner for quite a few times. I’ve tried making Italian, I’ve tried making Korean, I’ve tried making Japanese. What I got in the end out of my effort? A reputation of ‘taking a long time to make anything’. No appreciation what-so-ever(in fact, I think my grandma choked on all the garlic I put in the Korean food that I made). Chinese food is the best. I rest my case!
Enough ranting, getting back to the point that I want to make in this article. You can tell by my Chinese family’s reaction that making Chinese food is not supposed to require a lengthy preparation. In many cases, Chinese food is almost the opposite of Japanese food: big portion vs. small portion, quick vs. lengthy preparation and hot vs. cold and raw. Fancy restaurant Chinese food such as Peking Duck and Shark Fin Soup requires a lot of work. No one I know makes them at home. However, when it comes to home cooking Chinese food, it is supposed to be quick and simple.
When I stayed in Europe, I figured that since I was often the only oriental-looking person I saw walking down the streets and I had a reputation(being a Asian food guru that is) to live up to, I’d better got to work. As a result, I made fried gyoza, spring rolls and wonton soup for the very first time, all while I was there in Europe. I did end up having a fun Chinese food-making session with the friend from Stockholm. Although, without writing anything down, I kept telling her that making Chinese food’s simple, all you have to do is to “just this, just that”. And I came to realization afterwards that ‘cooking by concepts’ isn’t probably more difficult than it sounds. I didn’t exactly write down those concepts for her, either… So, here, I am writing my “simple” concepts of Chinese cooking down:
Remember the three ingredients that I talked about? Ginger, garlic and green onions.
First, heat up a little bit of oil in your pan. Fry finely chopped(or roughly chopped..doesn’t actually matter) ginger or garlic or both. Stir fry it until you smell them.
Second, add your chopped meat or vegetables or both in, preferably Asian vegetables to make it authentic. (Chinese cabbage, bean spouts, spinach, mushrooms and you name it). Root vegetables will have to thinly sliced, needs water and takes longer.
-> you can add alcohol(something Asian, rice wine or Shaoxing is good…not red wine or white wine, too overpowering) between those two steps to flavour it. not too much though. 1 to 2 table spoons?
Third, add the green parts of the green onions in(chopped in the same length as your vegetables) stir fry till it looks done. Season it with something you like(salt, soy, sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce and etc.). Taste it and adjust the seasoning. Garnish it with finely chopped white parts of the green onion if you like.
P.S. Coriander(a.k.a. cilantro or Chinese parsley) are great for garnishing as well. But I tend to use green onions more often because I know a lot of people who do not like the taste of fresh coriander. You don’t have to garnish your food but this very last step makes it look that much more authentic.
Voila! That’s all. You can apply the above to almost all leafy veggies that you can get your hands on I think. If you have an impression of Chinese food being all stir-fry, I don’t think you are wrong. “How do you know what to fry though?” My answer is this, remember the last time you had take-out Chinese? Just do what others do. Certain things just go very well together. Egg and tomatoes? Who would have thought??
After watching Julie and Julia, I began to wonder. Wanting to know what “one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man” was about, I googled Julia Child’s beef bourguignon’s recipe. It looked a lot like a recipe for making a beef stew. I searched for a number of recipes of beef stew and even landed on one that calls for pretty much the same ingredients. Could they be essentially the same thing? Can beef bourguignon be the fancy French name for beef stew? How is a beef bourguignon different from a beef stew? My research thus began.
Judging by beef bourguignon’s name, I know it’s French. Beef stew on the other hand, I am not so sure. A stew by definition is a combination of solid food ingredients that have been cooked in liquid and served in the resultant gravy. If so, ancient people all over the world had access to beef. Carrots, onions, peas, mushrooms are all typical vegetables found in western cuisine. I wouldn’t be surprised if one person in Germany and one person England both decided to cook beef in some sort of liquid and serve them that way on the same day. So, the conclusion that I would draw from my brief research is that a beef bourguignon is a French beef stew dish that calls for red wine. By the way, I just googled the meaning of the word, bourguignon. Google tells me that it is “reduced red wine with onions and parsley and thyme and butter”. There we go. There is nothing Google can’t answer.
One of the nose pieces of my glasses fell off. I went in the store where I bought them from to get it fixed. I didn’t know what it is called in Japanese(I did not know how to call it in English either, I had to ask my sister about it). So, I went into the store and said “sumimasen, korewane…. In translation, I said: “excuse me, this is…” I pointed at the nose piece and dragged the last word of my sentence. “Hai, shosho omachi kudasai“, the clerk quickly responded. He understood exactly what I wanted, told me to wait a minute while he tried to fix it for it.
‘Ten’ means dot in Japanese. Therefore, ‘ten ten ten’ in Japanese just means ‘dot dot dot’ in English. I moved to Japan about three years ago. I signed up for a upper-beginner class at a Japanese language school when I first got here. I could speak Japanese somehow due to years of TV-watching, but I was far from being fluent. After taking a displacement test, the upper-beginner class is where they placed me. I was placed in the uppser-beginner class with a number of classmates. My classmates and I always hang out after school, eating, drinking and doing homework together. None of us spoke perfect Japanese and somehow I naturally became the one who sounded out everyone’s order when the waiter or waitress approached us.
Maybe it was because I was often the only Asian person sitting at the table. Maybe my classmates just had a whole lot of faith in me, although we were all at the same level when it came to the Japanese language. Maybe, my language ability is excellent – I acted like I knew what I was doing and somehow any Japanese waiter or waitress would magically understand what I was trying to say. Please read on to see how it done.
Japanese people have a culture of avoiding confrontation – a tendency to avoid conflict. I have known this for a very long time. I wrote an essay and made a presentation about this in my Asian Studies class. I don’t know I noticed this in the first place, but by know I have heard enough people talk about the lengthy meetings they experience at Japanese companies to be able to tell you that it is not just my own speculation. Japanese people in general don’t like making direct comments and it appears that many of them appreciate the beauty of vagueness very much. I was told that the reason behind this is that because Japan has a big population density, they do so that everyone can live in peace and run things more efficiently.
Let’s talk about the lengthy meetings first. I think Japanese meetings become extremely lengthy for two reasons: Japanese’s people’s detail-oriented personality and their tendency to avoid conflict. Japanese workers are in general very detail-oriented. In a western country, more expensive items are often of much better quality than items of much cheaper price. In Japan though, although high-priced products often do come with superb quality, even the low-priced products come with more-than-decent quality – Convenient store foods, 1000 yen lunch combos, Daiso are just a few examples. Japanese product designers would notice the littlest problem that a customer may have and design a product to solve it. A clerk in a Japanese department store is taught to bow(even when no one is looking) before he or she goes inside the employee-only space and respecfully back into the entrance. You can often find stools in the elevators for the elderly. And let’s not start with the butt-washing toiletry. As a customer, I love Japanese products. They are great; their quality are superb; but no one said anything about the processes of coming up with those amazing products being short.
Like I mentioned in the above, Japanese people don’t like confrontation. Especially at meetings, people are expected to express their opinions without pushing others’ buttons. What happens in a meeting is that people have to master a skill called ‘air-reading’. ‘Kuuki o yomu'(空気を読む) literally means ‘reading the air’ in English. In a more proper translation, it means to be sensitive to a given situation. This is probably not a foreign concept to other East Asians. Being a Chinese child, I grew up having being told to always read my parents’ faces in order not to get myself into unnecessary trouble, though I have not mastered it all at, not after 29 years. If reading the air is a unfamiliar concept to you and you live in Japan, I’d tell you to start learning. It is a survival skill that you need in Japan. If you come from outside of Japan and are somewhat familiar with this concept, you should know that the Japanese take it to the next level because being detail-oriented, they can’t help noticing your every little move. Again, I see the beauty in this concept, however, I can’t exactly say it is the most time-efficient way of making communication.
Back to what I was talking about initially. Because Japanese people are so well trained in their ability to read a situation, you don’t actually need verbalize your conversation entirely. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you want to ask a Japanese waiter for something and don’t know how to say it in Japanese, just first, excuse yourself with a sumimasen(because you are a polite person who deserves his or her attention); second, lift, point, or make whatever gesture to imply what you need(because he or she will be reading your every move); and third, begin your sentence and then gradually mute yourself before you get to the vocabs you don’t know how to say(because you don’t have the 5 seconds to waste on looking it up in the dictionary on your smartphone). Oh! Making a I-need-help facial expression helps, too. Your waiter is then likely going to respond by filling your sentence.
You: sumimasen……(lift your cup a little and make a I-need-help facial expression, don’t forget the mute).
Japanese Waiter: kohee wa irimasuka(would you like coffee)?
If your waiter didn’t guess it right, the first time:
You: Ah….(tilt your head, make a not-that-one facial expression, mute the end of your sentence).
You can continue with the above action while he tries to fill the end of your sentences. Move on to the next step when he gets it right.
Japanese Waiter: ocha desuka(tea)?
You: Hai, arigatougozaimasu(say yes and thank you with a smile).
For those who have an interest in learning more about simple non-verbal Japanese language or for those who do know know how to make a head tilt properly, the video below will give you a pretty good idea:
A little note here. I hope that I did not make myself sound sarcastic. My boyfriend often says that I do. I am not kidding about the ten-ten magic. It really works! Japanese people do this also, though they clearly don’t do so because they don’t know how to say something in Japanese. They mostly do it when they want to reject you. Maybe ‘no’ is considered too straightforward and confrontational in Japan, when a clerk wants to tell you “sorry, we can’t do that”, he or she would likely say “sorewa chotto…(with a mute at the end)” or “muzukashiidesune…”(also with a mute at the end). The first typical answer means “that is a little…” and the second one means “difficult…”. You will almost never hear the word, iie, the actual word for ‘no’ in Japanese. Travelers to Japan and dear fellow foreigners in Japan, I hope my article helps.