Peanut Butter: A Lament

Lest you think everything is peachy-keen here on the food front here, let me clarify one thing: some foods that I consider staples are frustratingly hard to find, not to mention painfully expensive once you do find them.  Foremost among these items is cheese, which remains a sore subject for me.  However, what I’d like to talk about today is peanut butter, something I’m sure many American ex-pats miss as much as I do

When I first arrived in Japan and was feeling particularly homesick, I ventured to the grocery store in search of some familiar, trusty PB.  What I ended up buying was “peanut cream” (ピーナッツクリーム), a pale, gooey, heavily sweetened and cornstarch-thickened affair vaguely reminiscent of wood glue in both color and texture.  This was a mistake I would not repeat.

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Summer Noodles

Hiyashi chuka

Although rice is unarguably the mainstay of the Japanese diet, noodles are just as important to the cuisine, with many people consuming them as often as rice.  This is especially true during the summer, when the notoriously humid and stifling weather makes even eating seem like a chore (or so I’ve heard.  We’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming…)  Indeed, the thought of a steaming hot bowl noodles (or rice) in the middle of July would kill even the heartiest eater’s appetite.  Luckily, the Japanese have devised a number of delicious (and healthy) ways to consume noodles when the weather’s warm.  These dishes are quick to prepare, requiring little time behind the stove, and they also take almost no effort to eat, a great boon when the dog days of summer are upon us.

The basis of all these dishes is some form of chilled noodle, usually dipped in or lightly dressed with a dashi and soy-based sauce.  Many of you have probably heard of zaru soba, but the others may be unfamiliar.  Below, a quick run-through of four common Japanese summer noodle dishes.

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Hong Kong

Hong Kong street

I am and probably always will be a city person.  When I was five, I had the great fortune of going to Paris.  Upon setting foot in the city for the first time, I declared, “I love it here – it’s even louder and dirtier than New York!”  (Perhaps Paris seemed dirtier because at that moment I was surrounded by hundreds of pigeons.  Or perhaps it was because of the cigarette smoke that hung in the air no matter where we went.  Looking back, it seems inconceivable that Paris could actually be that dirty, but it felt so then…)  Now, Paris and New York don’t make the most likely comparison – one is known for its beauty and charm, the other for its grit and cutthroat, fast-paced lifestyle – but my five-year-old self thought it completely natural.

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