After some number of years in Japan, I got engaged to a Japanese man. It was bound to happen since I was past the kurisumasu kēki age already. Let me explain. There used to be a saying–and I’m hoping it isn’t popular anymore–that neither women nor kurisumasu kēki (which is eaten on Christmas Eve in Japan) are any good after the 24th. Indeed, the questions come thick and furious when you reach that age. But at 27, I was finally engaged.
This was the impetus for me to find a cooking school. I had learned to cook on the fly and wanted to be better. Of course, any lessons would be in nihongo, but I figured I could follow. Which was wrong because cooking requires a whole new vocabulary.
I went to enroll at Tsuji Cooking School (now called the Tsuji Culinary Institute). I was living in Tokyo at the time, but this school had originated in Osaka so I figured the recipes would be more to my taste. Of course I planned to enroll in a Japanese cooking class, i.e. not Western or Chinese. Alas, that would not be permitted until I took a fundamental class. So I reluctantly entered the basic class along with a group of other future brides-in-training.
Readers, imagine my chagrin when the very first lesson was on how to cook a hamubāgu! What the heck… anyone could do that, right? No. This was a Japanese hamburger. Here are the steps involved that I still remember to this day:
- Mince an onion. To do this, cut it in half and then thinly slice it, leaving it connected. Then turn and continue thinly slicing. (An illustration would help….)
- Take a slice of white bread and soak it in milk (this makes a filler for it).
- Sauté the onions gently. Let cool.
- Mix the onions with the hikiniku (probably a mixture of ground pork and beef).
- Gently squeeze the bread and tear it up. Add to the ground meat.
- Form patties with a kubomi in one side.
- Heat cooking oil and put in the patties with the kubomi side down. Flip when charred and then cook until juices run clear when pressing with a fork.
- Make the sauce. (Yes, there is a sauce!) As far as I remember, you mix equal parts catsup, tonkatsu sauce and cream to create it. I might be wrong about the cream.
- Put on plate with glazed ninjin and a green vegetable so it all looks pretty (color coordination).
- No bun. Eat with knife and fork!
And I hate to admit it… but it was delicious!
- kurisumasu kēki – クリスマスケーキ Christmas cake. Back in the 1970s Japanese people assumed that we Americans all ate this on Christmas Eve. And were surprised when we had no clue about this cake. They are still wildly popular and you cannot have Christmas Eve without one.
- nihongo – 日本語 Japanese language
- hamubāgu – ハムバーグ hamburger. There are a few words for hamburger depending on how it is served.
- hikiniku – 挽肉 ground meat. Pork was cheaper than beef when I lived in Japan and a burger was always a mix of the two or even all ground pork.
- kubomi – 窪み an indent in something
- ninjin – 人参 carrots