Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cooking As a Pastime

Heart onigiri at Bar Eden.

Until I went to Japan, I wasn't much into cooking. The most complex dish I made was Rice-a-Roni. Not that I'm making gourmet dishes now; I'm not. But, I wonder if I should be, or at least learning how.

My cooking...

Three of the people I lived with while in Japan were excellent cooks. I know; I got to eat some of their creations. The first person was my roommate when I lived in a NOVA apartment (NOVA is the name of the first company I worked for in Japan, since gone bankrupt and bought out by another company). The other two were housemates when I lived in BB House, which, sadly, ceased to exist soon after the death of the owner, may she rest in peace.

The one thing the three of them had in common was preparing complex-looking, delicious Asian cuisine. Only one of them prepared Japanese cuisine; my roommate was originally from Indonesia (he's Australian), and one of the housemates was from Myanmar.

For the sake of not embarrassing them, let's call my roommate M, my housemate from Myanmar Y, and the housemate from Japan K. M often made more food than he could eat, so I got to try much of what he made. Of Y's food, I only got to eat an occasional soup, but they were tasty. The one who did the most cooking, however, and whose food I ate the most of, was K. In fact, K cooked for the whole house on occasion, and also spent a whole night making food for a hanami matsuri (cherry-blossom viewing). If not for her, I wouldn't have eaten my final day in Japan, since I spent most of that day making my room look immaculate.

...versus K's cooking.

I bought a Japanese cookbook while at the Tokyo Animation Exposition. Not surprisingly, it had a manga slant to it, its title being (wait for it), The Manga Cookbook. So far, the most complex recipe I have tried is a bento, but due to the amount of resources (food) required and the amount of time it takes to prepare, I have not tried many of the advanced recipes in the book--like okonomiyaki--and the ones I have tried, I haven't done often. In fact, most of my cooking in American (and in Japan, too) has been relegated to cooking spaghetti in a pot and adding spices to the sauce. I also make a mean tuna for sandwiches.

My attempt at bento.

Cooking is a lot like writing. It involves creativity, the look and taste (style and substance) must be appetizing, and the best cooks, like the best writers, aren't afraid to experiment. And ultimately, food and books are labors of love, which are then turned loose on the public in order to await judgment--though their verdict doesn't much matter, in the end. The process is what's important.

I remember watching the anime for Video Girl Ai, where Moemi cooks for Yota, who is secretly in love with her. Even though she cooks for him out of kindness, and not love, I thought (and still do) that a woman cooking for me--out of love--would be the most wonderful thing in the world. Hmm, maybe the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach. The reason I find such a declaration of love so moving is because of the work involved in making a meal for someone. You are devoting your time and energy (lots of it) to someone else's happiness. Time and energy are what we give to endeavors that we love, and to people that we love. To spend so much time making something that will disappear so quickly is, in effect, the ultimate sacrifice that one can make for another human being.

Sashimi (raw meat) in a restaurant in Sapporo.
(note: those are my friend's hands, not mine)

Getting back to my original thought, I have been thinking recently that I should learn how to cook like my friends in Japan. The timing has to do with the Korean soap opera that I've been watching, since the main character is a pastry chef, but I feel that the show is just stoking flames that have long been smoldering in my soul. Cooking and preparing food appeal to my sense of creativity, as well as my love of solitude--though cooking is never as solitary a pursuit as writing is, even when done alone. Plus, none of the jobs I have looked at since I returned from Japan have captured my imagination. Cooking would. Maybe not in a crowded restaurant where the patrons care how hot or cold their meal is over whether it's a masterpiece of cuisine, but rather in a bakery or a cake shop, or at a small restaurant with a dedicated staff. If nothing else, I can cook at home, relieving the stresses of the day with a culinary delight created with my own hands.

I don't know. All I know is that I can't keep doing what I'm doing. Writers may need rooms of their own in which to write (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf), but they need a life beyond their rooms in which to live.

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