I’ve never been as grateful for my love of food as I am here in Japan. Specifically, baking. Nothing says “I understand you” better than kneading tough dough with my host mom, or realizing the cookies are too dry from using Japan’s more popular cake flour. Don’t know what to say over dinner? Express my endless love for okonomiyaki. Or comment on the cooking channel we watch every day.
Thinking back, I think I underestimated the power of common interests. I get along great – best friends great – with my roommate, for instance, but we don’t have many common interests outside of being lazy and liking to shop and eat. More than interests, we share two years’ worth of common experiences and common humor. But in Japan, where experiences largely differ due to culture and personalities difficult to convey over language barriers, I’ve come to appreciate – no, desperately search for common interests.
And so 70% of my host mom and my conversations revolve around baking or cooking. And I guess that’s okay. She’s 65 years old, and that makes me realize… what do I talk to my parents or grandparents about? If not about what we’re doing at the time, it’s largely about life and childhood stories, respectively. If we weren’t family, would we have anything to talk about? But maybe that’s the magic of family; I question myself in conversations a lot: Am I being funny? Am I saying interesting things? But that doesn’t matter with family. I guess I’ve come to think of my host family as family in that sense, and it’s all thanks to cookies and cakes.
My dialogue with my host family has made me more aware of the nature of my conversations. Another being how much my parents and grandparents listen, like my host parents, to my life while sharing little of theirs. Though I talk about my internship-finding struggles with my father, he rarely shares details about the status of his business venture unless I ask. In my experience, the minimal information sharing corresponds to advanced age, but perhaps it’s culture as well? Regardless, I’m resolved to make a more conscious effort to ask about my father’s daily life and troubles when I head to China at the end of this month.
All in all, I’m more thankful that ever for my friends and family who stand my chatter on a regular basis, and look forward to English convos when I get back – in less than a month! Wow, time passes quickly.
I’ll conclude for some pictures of last week’s cinnamon rolls and the Doll’s Day (Hinamatsuri) onigiri I made with my host mom, and some baking tips:
- FLOUR: The most popular Japanese flour is CAKE flour (薄力粉, 8-10% gluten). Most American recipes call for All-purpose flour (中力粉; 8-11% gluten), which is vital, when following an American recipe, to creating the correct texture. In the case of cinnamon rolls, I used Bread flour (強力粉; 12-14% gluten).
- Using cake flour to bake the cake for cake pops turned out surprisingly okay… though the cake was flatter than usual.
- Using cake flour for thumbprint cookies made a really dry, flat cookie that baked super quickly, and was surprisingly good. Though not a thumbprint cookie by any stretch of the imagination.
- Japanese eggs are slightly larger than American ones, but I haven’t seen any notable differences in result.
- Japanese butter tends to come unsalted.
- For these harder to find flour types and other uncommon ingredients, like instant dry yeast, I recommend specialist baking stores. If you’re in Kyoto, the Takashimaya along Shijo-doori (near the Kawaramachi intersection) has a great one in the corner of the basement.