During my first few weeks in Japan, I struggled with something many other American expats experience: peanut butter withdrawal. Although I’ve mostly overcome that problem, I occasionally find myself pining for other Western foods. For example: cheese, once a refrigerator staple, is now a very rare luxury. However, as my culture shock diminished, my desire for these foods also waned.
Since I’d rather spend my money on gorgeous Japanese produce and sublimely fresh tofu than on overpriced foreign imports, my diet has inevitably changed. As an occasional vegetarian back in the States, it wasn’t difficult to make an affordable and protein-rich meal, thanks to the help of one key ingredient: the egg. Here, too, eggs are an important part of my diet. I often slide a fried egg over vegetables (see the recipe for kinpira gobo, below) to make a satisfying, healthy dinner. Other times, I’ll nestle a soft-boiled egg in a bowl of noodles for a quick lunch, or tuck a few slices of hardboiled egg and spicy daikon sprouts into a mayonnaise-smeared baguette.
Besides the occasional meal at a local Korean restaurant Chicago, my first real exposure to that country’s cuisine was in the test kitchen of Saveur magazine, where I interned this past summer. In preparation for the October issue, we were testing a variety of recipes for kimchi, all of them made entirely from scratch. On the roster were the classic baechu (cabbage) kimchi, mild water kimchi (made with daikon, Asian pear, and scallions), spicy daikon kimchi, and stuffed cucumber kimchi. (You can find recipes for all four on Saveur’s website.) For the most part, I was in charge of testing the recipe for thecabbage kimchi, which involved chopping and mincing no less than twelve ingredients. Suffice it to say that by the end of end of my stint, I felt pretty confident about my kimchi-making skills.