Friday, February 25, 2011

Do you Shabu?

While we lived in London, the husband and I had a regularly scheduled date night every Saturday.  I'm finding that this is even more of a requirement here in Tokyo as I don't see him at all during the week.  We eat dinner together a max of 2x per week (including weekends) - the hours that he is keeping right now are looooonngg but I think that is to be expected when undertaking a new role.   So last Saturday night we booked the sitter (at an equivalent of over $20/hour - ouch!) and set out for Roppongi - an area of the city mostly known for touristy hotspots, bars and clubs.   I had read a review of a shabu shabu restaurant and was dying to try it out.

After walking up and down Roppongi dori (Roppongi street) a number of times, we finally located the restaurant.  Whereas we are trained to look for locations on street level, Tokyo uses a multi story system. Your intended location could be sub street level or up 3 or 4 flights of stairs.   Upon entrance to the restaurant we were greeted by two tuxedoed men with the customary "Irrashaimase" which means "welcome".   In some restaurants, you seriously want to run for cover when the entire waitstaff shouts it at you when you walk in the door, it's a bit startling.  We were shown to our table by our hostess dressed in full kimono, immaculate of course.    

After settling on a white wine for me and a Sapporo for the husband, the fun really began.  Shabu shabu consists of a meal of thin slices of beef (or pork or seafood) along with vegetables - shiitake mushrooms, leeks, rice noodles, tofu, spinach, cabbage, that you cook yourself in boiling dashi (soup stock)at your table.  Similar to fondue but a bit healthier than oil, cheese or chocolate!  We were given 3 dipping sauces - sesame, garlic chili and ponzu (yuzu + mirin+soy sauce) and large bowl of the veggies and tofu and a platter each of beef.  Chopsticks completed the place setting.  The meal was delicious and so fun too.  We had a bit of challenge retrieving slippery glass noodles and tofu out of the boiling dashi with chopsticks but persevered and were rewarded at the end of the meal with a soup made from the stock  plus spring onions and additional noodles brought to us and prepared by our waitress.  

The dessert of gelatinous cubes of lemon curd? floating  in more jello was not something to write home about.  Note to self: go elsewhere (like to TGIF next door to the restaurant) for a real dessert experience.  We opted instead to hit up a notorious hotspot - Motown bar.  Hiiillllarious.  Small, dive bar, 3 floors up from street level, smoke filled and frequented byJapanese women looking for gaijin, couples on awkward dates, business men...and us.   Strangely androgynous look to the waitstaff and the husband and I started placing bets on who was male and who was not.  fyi - all were male, but so very pretty.  Odd.  Motown was packed to the rafters and with no identifiable dance floor, everyone was getting down with their bad selves in the middle of the floor, between tables, en route to the toilets, you name it.   All dancing to Billie Jean and then trying to Bring Sexy Back....amazing people watching as you can imagine.  Headed home reeking of cigarette smoke - so nasty.  Am waiting for Tokyo to go smoke free at least in the restaurants and coffee shops.    

fyi - shabu shabu is so named as it is allegedly the sound the meat makes as you swish it around in the boiling dashi or it's from the sound that the dashi makes as it boils.

And that's your Japanese cuisine lesson of the day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finding My Feet Feb. 15th 2011

Finally it feels like I/we may  possibly be getting into the groove of things here in Tokyo - woo hoo!  G is enrolled in an international nursery and absolutely loves it.  He is playing soccer once a week at the Tokyo American Club (TAC) and does gymnastics on the weekends.  The soccer is hysterical to witness and the term "herding cats" does come to mind.  I made the rookie mistake of wearing inappropriate footwear -knee high equestrian boots anyone?  to the first class not understanding the amount of parental involvement required.  Now I know and Converse it is!   Knowing that it's genetically impossible for my child to be an Olympic gymnast as he's not exactly a petite flower, I take him to gymnastics to improve his coordination, balance and more importantly his confidence.  Generally a bit reticent in a new situation, he shocked the hell out of me and volunteered to be the first one to hang from the "high bar" - 4 feet off the ground and let the instructor help flip him over backwards.  Baby steps...literally.

My twice weekly Japanese lessons are still going strong.  Thus far we've covered - introducing yourself, how to order in a restaurant, how to shop (like I need help with this -ha!) - how to ask for a larger size, a more expensive item(ha again!), a different color etc. and finally the all important taxi cab vocabulary.  My sensei, Ichikawa-san is a huge advocate of visual learning so all of these lessons are accompanied by cut out pictures of items.  Ie:  a large pizza vs a small pizza, different colored sneakers, an expensive watch, car, handbag vs a cheap watch, car, handbag.  In our last lesson we utilized a large fold out map, a matchbox car and I was asked to request, while making the car move around the map natch, that the cab driver stop at the next corner, the 2nd intersection, at the hospital, the bank, make a get the idea.   On a positive note, she informed that she believes I could be semi-fluent in 2-3 years...if my head doesn't explode before then of course.

The whole family has started taking advantage of our membership at TAC.  I've been attending a Core Conditioning class every Monday morning that I really like and The Husband and I have been making a concerted effort to go to the gym every weekend.  I guess he wants a Cameron Diaz bikini body by summer too.  TAC offers a childcare option so we can drop G off for an hour or so to play in a supervised environment while we work out and then afterwards we can all grab lunch at one of the onsite restaurants.  I was ecstatic to discover the well stocked library with English books (difficult to procure here and if found, ridiculously expensive) for both adults and children.  Just finished The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb and loooovved it.   There is a small group of women, myself included, that has decided to start up a new book club/book exchange that I'm really looking forward to and will be lobbying for One Day as our first book.  If you haven't read it, pick it up!

Last week we attending a wine tasting benefit for The Tyler Foundation which works to make life easier for children and families battling childhood cancer here in Japan.
Expats Kimberly Forsythe and Mark Ferris founded the charity after their son Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia at less than 1 month old.  He lived for 23 months , spending most of the time in hospital undergoing treatment.  The Tyler Foundation provides counselling and support for parents, a therapy dog - Bailey, a Beads of Courage program for children undergoing the treatment and a Shine On! house (similar to the Ronald McDonald house in the US) where families can stay, rather than a hotel, while their child undergoes treatment.  It is a fantastic charity providing a much needed support system here in Japan and one which with I hope to become more involved.

Must run as today is sick day number 2 for G.  Upper respiratory infection with fever and cough.  Viral so "just let it run it's course".  I learned two lessons yesterday (sick day number 1):  pouring Listerine mouthwash on the 15 year old cat "to wash Riley's bum bum" does not make anyone happy.  And secondly, a spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but a spoonful of honey makes my child projectile vomit.  Fun times in the big city, until next time...


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Full of beans Tuesday Feb. 1, 2011

During my usual Tuesday torture aka my Japanese lesson, we deviated from the normal lesson plan to discuss Japanese culture, specific to February.  I found it quite interesting, so I thought I would share.

February is the coldest month of the year in Japan.  Snowfall is quite heavy in Hokkaido and the Japan Sea coastal areas and many snow festivals are held there during February.  We in Tokyo, bordering the Pacific, do not experience snow which is just fine by me.   Having grown up in Wisconsin,  I am quite happy never to lift a shovel again.  The Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido is famous for its extremely large snow and ice statues and replicas of famous buildings and people from the mainland of Japan as well as from all over the world to come and see them.

February the 3rd is Setsuban.  On the lunar calendar, this is the turning point from winter to spring - woo hoo!  To celebrate the coming of spring and to drive away evil spirits, a bean-throwing festival is held.  Do not ask me what kind of beans, I do not know.  I assume dried beans and not frozen green beans although I could be wrong.  At Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, men and women born under the same zodiac sign of the current year (toshiotoko and toshion'na), throw the beans - this is great for celebrity spotting...if you're down with Japanese celebrities, which I sadly am not.

At  home, one of the parents (generally the father) dons a rather scary mask in the entranceway or the living room and the children throw beans at him and shout "Evil spirits outside, good luck within".  Putting the mess aside, this sounds like a lovely tradition although I have yet to convince The Husband to participate.  Apparently being pelted by rocks, err I mean beans is not the way he wants to end the day.  G will be partaking in this festival on Thursday at school (yay, no mess at home) and I'm waiting to hear his take on the celebration.

The next day, February 4th, is Risshun which means the first day of spring.  Although it remains cold throughout the month, plum blossoms and daffodils begin to bud and I'm told that you can smell the fragrance in the chilly air.

One twig of plum blossoms,
One twigful of
 - Ransetsu

A little Haiku for you, until next time.