Cooks Meatballs in Japan
While I was in Kobe, Japan, sailing around the world
with Semester At Sea,
I took part in a homestay program. It was a wonderful experience
-- bonding with a Japanese woman who invited me into her home for
a two day stay. I think this adventure will make you smile.
Overnight with a
I was in Kobe, Japan with Semester
At Sea I had the wonderful opportunity to take part
in a Japanese Homestay Program. All the 75 students involved
met for a last minute briefing on what to expect and then
we left the ship together and went into the Kobe Port Terminal
building. Waiting for us (in a huge circle) were 75 Japanese
families with dozens of little Japanese kiddies. Each of
the families had been briefed about 'their 'particular student
and each was holding a beautifully decorated sign welcoming
us. Everybody was smiling, everybody was excited. The little
kids were the best -- they knew 'something fun' was happening
but they were a little uncertain as to what to expect from
these foreigners. We (students) were asked to walk the inside
circumference of the circle, reading the signs until we
met our family. Who would it be?
host was lovely...
spotted my host immediately. Megumi was tall, slim, young
(33) and beautiful. She was holding a sign that had two flags
on it -- one Canadian and one Japanese. I liked her immediately.
From her I learned that all these host families were part
of the Hippo Family Club, a group devoted to learning languages
and extending hospitality to foreigners (they excelled at
both). From what I could understand the big group was made
up of local chapters. Our chapter was quickly convened for
a group photo and then we broke up into smaller groups for
a lunch outing at a sushi restaurant. I should have written
'SUSHI' restaurant because this place was huge. Compare it
to a large dim sum restaurant except that the food you ordered
came by your booth on a conveyor belt. Each booth had a 'drive
thru' type communication box in order to make contact with
the kitchen. Once you placed the order you began watching
the conveyor belt for your items to appear. It all works on
an orderly, honor system which the Japanese do so well. If
you want more food you don't pick up anything from the belt
until you've ordered it. I imagined this system trying to
operate in North America. There would be absolute chaos.
Pot Luck dinner...
lunch we all went back to our respective family homes and
agreed to meet again that evening for a Japanese Potluck
dinner. Megumi lives in a small apartment in Mino, a rural
suburb of Osaka. On the drive home my host asked me if I
would like to cook something Canadian for that evening.
At the best of times I am not an inventive cook so my mind
raced to my old party standby -- Swedish meatballs -- something
that could be made easily. The secret ingredients in this
recipe are chili sauce and grape jelly (for the sauce).
We visited three different supermarkets and there was no
grape jelly to be found. What to do? We finally opted for
a jar of blueberry jam with whole blueberries in it. Oh
well, as they say, 'when in Japan.....use blueberry jam
instead of grape jelly'. To give myself courage I convinced
myself I was involved in a Japanese-Swedish-Canadian fusion
cooking experience. I told Megumi that our meatballs with
whole blueberries floating in the sauce would be 'something
different' from the sushi, edamame and dumplings everybody
else would bring. The best part of all this activity was
that Megumi and I dropped all pretenses; we were just two
women trying to get ready for a party. We shopped together,
chopped onions together and patted meatballs together. We
laughed, we joked and I had the best Japanese treat -- actually
being invited into someone's home and preparing food in
their kitchen. For me that was better than visiting twenty
They liked our meatballs...
evening the party (complete with loads of little kiddies)
was wonderful. The friendliness and hospitality extended
to us by the members of the Hippo Family Club was overwhelming.
Everybody chatted, practiced their English, asked questions
about Canada and answered queries about Japan. We played
games, told stories and ate all kinds of interesting food
(including pizza with sweet corn on it). Either our meatballs
were a real success or our hosts were incredibly polite
but the pot we brought was very quickly emptied. Meatballs
were paired with udon noodles, fried noodles, rice balls,
and, yes, even with edemame. Megumi told me that everybody
was asking for the recipe and she would put it on the club's
listserve. How's that for a cultural exchange? Right now
in Mino, Japanese women are shopping for chili sauce and
blueberry jam (the new secret ingredient). You see? That's
how trends begin!
bath was really hot...
night I slept on a futon on tatami mats. My gracious host
thought I might be cold during the night and really piled
the blankets on. I slept so well and so long that, (in her
own words), Megumi said, 'To tell the truth, my husband and
I worried about you seriously'. Poor woman. She thought that
something had happened to me during the night and now what
would she tell the Hippo Family Club? The lovely pampering
continued. A hot bath was drawn for me; I learned that the
Japanese lather up and then shower off the dirt before getting
into their bath to soak. That way their bath can be used for
soaking sessions for the whole family but it always remains
perfectly clean. I loved my soak but I didn't stay in the
tub too long. I didn't want Megumi to worry about me again.
I left the tub water perfectly clean and Megumi transferred
that water to the washing machine to launder her clothes.
How's that for conserving water and energy? Breakfast consisted
of a cup of homemade chicken soup, a piece of cheese bread
topped with hickory smoked cheese and a cup of tea all sprinkled
with lovely discussions on life, families and the universe.
in the park...
our cultural exchange was far from over; the best was still
to come. By eleven o'clock we were packed and ready to go
to our Japanese cherry blossom sansin party in the park. What?
OK. Let me start at the beginning. Japan's Cherry Blossom
Festival was drawing to a close. This Bar BQ picnic was an
'adieu' to this year's blossoms.
Next, a 'sansin'
is a Japanese instrument that looks like a little banjo with
a very long neck. Those attending this party were almost all
people who were taking sansin lessons from a woman whom everybody
referred to as Mama. Mama was quite the character; she ran
the show. My afternoon in the park was all about eating, drinking
and hanging out. Communication was solely by sign language
plus offerings of food and music.
was sad to say good-bye...
drove me back to the ship. We took the small roads because
we both don't like expressways. That gave us more time to
finish our discussion. We ended our homestay with a stop for
coffee and French pastries. I sent a box of chocolates home
for Hiro, Megumi's very cute husband. I told her she was very
lucky I didn't speak Japanese because I would have stolen
her husband from her. We hugged, shed a few tears and said,
evening Megumi' wrote in an email, 'I feel very happy to spent
time (with you)!!'
The next day
this email arrived from my host:
'Monday night Hiro had some chocolate that your gift.
He said very tasty chocolate!! he love them.
He enjoyed to eat two pieces of chocolate tonight too.
When he ate them I also had them!!
I love them. Thank you very much, ARIGATOU Evelyn'.
When I'm ninety and sitting in my rocking chair I know I'll
remember Japanese meatballs in blueberry sauce and Megumi.
If you'd like to see some photos of my adventures with Megumi,
If you'd like
information about the Hippo Family Club, their URL in the
USA is: http://www.lexlrf.org/
In Japan: http://www.lexhippo.gr.jp/