Saturday, July 17, 2010

Train Treats: Tamachi

This crazy space egg is actually a hot dog stand, solving at last the age old problem of hot dog stands not being at all cute. Or that clean. Two of these adorable little shops face each other right in the station once you are through the turnstile at Tamachi on the Yamanote train line. Which is perfect when you are running late for work. Hot dogs are a breakfast option in Japan--I know, it sounds nuts at first, like how Alyssa Milano had a record deal here in the 90s. But really, it's sausage, bread, sometimes cheese--breakfast! It doesn't hurt that the dogs here are hammy and snappy, which is nice in the morning.
 I love the surrealist pastoral display. Especially since some of the little pigs have ribbon collars. By far the best styled hot dog ever.
The other stand is staffed by an identically dressed and pony-tailed woman. I think at a certain time each day they rumble. But this one sells waffles! Breakfast again? Not so much. Mostly these are considered sweet treats here, and they are nearly always Belgian style (ie. not the ice cream and syrup smothered kind I used to pass out into in Brooklyn).
 So many flavors! Plain, maple, strawberry, cream cheese, honey-lemon, chocolate... there are even bite-sized ones, though they were sold out this time. The minis, or "puchi" as they are called in imitation of the French petit, are rice flour based, which makes them chewy and soft, kind of like a french twist doughnut, but less airy. Tossed in table sugar, they are a delight. This is why they sell out.
 Tai Puchi is the name on this little truck parked outside the station most weekday afternoons. They sell mini versions of an old fashioned Japanese sweet, tai yaki. They are only shaped like sea bream, or tai. Inside they are filled with sweet bean. Usually they are a little smaller than your hand, but this truck sells bite-sized ones with a bevy of fillings. The sign on the passenger window is for green apple cream.

I have a hard time resisting tai yaki anyway, but making them tiny leaves me entirely helpless before them. So light and pancakey! I went with the traditional bean, plus chocolate and vanilla cream. Carrying the paper bag of hot, fresh little fish reminded me of picking up zeppole--you have to pop at least one in your mouth right away, all warm and sweet. Then you listen to them moving lightly in the bag all the way home. If three or four make it to the rest of your family, well, that's a moral victory.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lunch Lady

Lunch (below): udon noodles with fish cake, quail egg, wakame, and shitake; grilled salmon with burdock root and carrot; mixed vegetable salad; orange wedge. Snack (above left): corn. Late snack (above right): cucumber sandwich.

 Lunch (below): miso soup with daikon; grilled chicken hamburger patty with broccoli and carrot; konyakku and carrot; rice; kiwi. Snack (above left): damn right, that's a homemade doughnut steaming up the glass. Late snack (above right): grilled miso rice ball.
 Son of Z and Mini Z both go to the same government subsidized daycare, which is run more or less like a preschool/kindergarten. It's a little building with two floors and a tiny kitchen in which a fevered crew whips up everything from scratch, minus the bread, pasta, and crackers. Usually the drinks are either milk and/or hoji-cha, a mild tea with no caffeine. It's not Iron Chef, but it always looks and smells good, and it's always fresh. Every day when I come to get the kids, everything they ate is on display in a little case. The Professor and I often wish we could slip in and eat with them, but the chairs are very, very small.

Lunch (below): sauteed chicken; wakame soup; cucumber salad; banana; overgrown madeleine. Snack (above left): rice ball with edamame. Late snack (above right):cold noodles with cucumber, ham, and egg.
Lunch (below): fried salmon with tomato and bean sprouts; pasta salad; miso soup with tofu and green onion; orange wedge. Snack (above left): banana cake. Late snack (above right): missing! I showed up too early.
Like most Tokyo schools, there is no cafeteria, so the kids eat in their classrooms. The meals are set up and served with little trolleys and trays. Older kids eat buffet style, serving themselves, and everybody takes turns pitching in with set-up and clean-up. Once it's served, they do their little bow and "itadakimasu!" before digging in. Of course, you may wonder if they really eat this stuff. As in any school, there are dissenters, picky eaters, children who eat erasers. What? Sometimes they smell fruity. Really, though, it turns out that if you serve it, they will eat, and that includes okra, eggplant, and fish with skin. And somewhere, Jamie Oliver weeps manly tears into a non-stick wok.

Lunch (below): vegetable omelet; chicken rice; consomme with potato and carrot; wakame and cucumber salad; watermelon. Snack (above left): kinako (sweet soy powder) toast . Late snack (above right): yakisoba.

 They have cooking days once or twice a month, where the kids make something and then eat it for lunch or snack. Once it included a trip to the store, and once it was sweet potatoes they dug up on a field trip to a farm. Digging up sweet potatoes while wearing little matching hats. The agricultural cuteness is paralyzing. And they chop. With knives. At first, I worried, having seen Son of Z at his most spastic, jumping on the couch to Billy Idol. But they manage. They recently made butter, which I remember doing as a kid in school. Do they still do that? I really appreciate the fact that the kids are not only eating real food, but engaged and learning to eat well and properly. That way I can feel better about letting them eat Halloween candy on the couch for dinner.

Lunch (below): stir-fried eggplant and pork; rice; mitsuba salad; miso soup with daikon and tofu skin; pineapple and cheese. Snack (above left): cracker and yogurt with watermelon and cherry. Late snack (above right): missing! too early again.

Lunch (below): simmered fish; pumpkin salad with cut vegetables; miso soup with onion and mushroom; grapefruit wedge. Snack (above left): okara cookies. Late snack (above right): inari.
Once a month, there is a party for all the kids who have a birthday that month. There is a homemade cake--usually sponge with whipped cream and fresh fruit, which is kind of the Japanese go-to for birthdays--and they all sing. The whole thing puts my own school lunches in stark relief. Everybody was always so excited about that frozen pizza with the foamy white crust. Mostly I brown-bagged it until junior high, when the un-coolness began to chafe. Right. Because bag lunches were really why I wasn't popular.

Lunch (below): three-bean curry with sausage; tuna vegetable salad; consomme with onion and potato; watermelon. Snack (above left): french toast. Late snack (above right): okonomiyaki.

Lunch (below): udon noodles with cabbage, ham, egg, and cucumber; vegetable tempura with okra and pumpkin; yuba and vegetable salad; orange wedge. Snack (above left):fried rice. Late snack (above right): rusk toast.