I love Japan. Not just Tokyo, although it ranks as my most adored city in the world. I love Japan for a whole host of other reasons. I love her for the food, the language, the culture; I love the breadth and depth of the arts and fashion, the attention to detail, the pride in the smallest endeavour; I love the technology, the swaying skyscrapers, the robots, the self-heating lunch boxes, and the toilets that play music and wash your bum; I love the trains, the train catalogues that sell shoes for short men, and the train ladies with their little carts and high-pitched voices hawking tasty snacks in pretty packages.
I even love Japan for her contradictions and platitudes; that tickets for some of the fastest trains in the world cannot be booked online less than 3 days in advance, and have to be collected in person the day before travel; the pretty, manicured boys who inevitably morph into balding, fat, salarymen with their ubiquitous black suits, tattered briefcases, and stale alcohol and cigarette breaths; that fries cannot be substituted for onion rings although they are cheaper, because they are part of the burger set and a set is a set, and that the counter staff express their deepest apologies for the great disappointment caused.
Last but not least, I love Japan for the seasons (four and very distinct), the mountains (of which there are many), and Hakuba.
Ahh… Hakuba. The main event venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics, Hakuba is a farming town in summer, ski resort in winter, and part of the ancient Salt Road. Hakuba’s landscape is one of snow capped peaks, sprawling rice fields, and a crystal clear lake, dotted with aging chair lifts, dilapidated souvenir shops and abandoned behemoth hotels - creations of Japan’s obscenely rich in the 80’s. Hakuba is a relic of Japan’s glory days, and a showcase of its natural beauty and food.
My husband and I love Hakuba. We spent 6 months there in 2009 and this winter, we took our 14-month-old son. From how eagerly he took to tromping in and eating snow, I think he loved it too. We had a kitchen - a delightful one that is spacious by Japanese standards with all the standard technological trimmings. Here, I cooked some meals for friends and family, enjoyed with really average red wine. The dish that stood out was probably the simplest - a Japanese salad that can be thrown together to accompany barbequed fish, pork ribs, steamed rice or enjoyed as a healthy meal on its own. There, I used a Japanese store bought onion dressing but back in Singapore, I’ve substituted it with our Shallot Kaffir Lime Dressing, and the result is incredible.
Here’s the recipe. Ittadakimasu!
A Japanese fusion salad that can be thrown together to accompany barbecued fish, pork ribs, steamed rice or enjoyed as a healthy meal on its own.
1 Bunch Mizuna leaves
200gm Buna Shimeji mushrooms, roots cut off, separated into individual stalks
100gm Cherry tomatoes, halved
250gm Silken tofu, drained and cubed
3 Stalks spring onion, sliced thinly
100gm Lotus root, sliced thinly
1. Heat 1 inch oil in a wok and deep fry lotus roots until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towel
2. Toss mizuna, mushrooms and tomatoes in Mekhala Shallot Kaffir Lime Vinaigrette/Dressing.
3. Top with tofu and fried lotus roots and drizzle over with a bit more dressing.