Travel-wise, our wings may be clipped but our tastebuds can still soar, and helping to set us off on?fresh?culinary adventures,?Today?with Claire Byrne?began?a new segment about?travelling through food.
The foodie du jour was?entrepreneur?and founder of the 'Fused' brand?Fiona Uyema, with advice about dipping?our?toes?into?Japanese-inspired?food – in honour of the start of the Olympics. Uyema isn't your average?Tipperary surname, so Fiona explained:??
My husband's?grandparents?are?Japanese – from an?island?down south of? Japan? called?Okinawa?[...]?I?met my husband?when?I?was a?student?in?Japan?[...]?he was born in?Brazil?but grew up in a very strong?Japanese?cultural?environment?in?Brazil.??
The couple met when they were both working in Japan and while?Fiona's?husband, Gilmar, had a?cultural?connection to?the country, what?brought?Fiona?there?????
When?I?was in school, thinking about what?I’d?do in college, nothing was really standing out to me,?to be a nurse or a teacher or a doctor.?So, I?remember?thinking, I? know? I'm?hungry to learn about different cultures and?travel so ?I? studied? International? Business and?Japanese?in DCU.?
And finally,?in her third year of?college, Fiona headed to?Japan:??
I had?a?bit?of knowledge of the culture?before?going there as a student,?[...]?but reading about it and living it were?certainly?two different things.??
Fiona was placed with a family to help her acclimatise to?life?in?Japan?for her fist three months,?but even this soft transition came with its?challenges:??
In one way it was nice to have a?family?for the security but in another way, around the clock you were?completely?immersed into?that?Japanese?culture.??
It was this immersion that kick-started her love for Japanese food and food culture:??
Breakfast was at 6am. Basically it was the leftovers from dinner the night before because in?Japan?leftovers?are reused.??
This was one of the key tenets she saw taught at home and cultivated at school too, when Fiona worked as a teacher for 2 years:???
[The students] all take part?in making lunch. They have?charts?on food waste, on labels, so they really get an understanding of food and a passion for it from a very young age,?which is?phenomenal.??
So,?the?Western?notion (and obsession)?with?'clean food’ is?actually fundamental to?the?food?culture, with?seasonality,?providence?and a?minimal?amount of processed food?at the core of?home cooking.?
And?for?Fiona, images of young?Irish?kids eating sushi with chopsticks fills her with optimism about our expanding tastes:??
There’s definitely an?appetite?for?Japanese?food?and trying it. I even noticed with my own?business, so many more people wanted to?try something?different. They were cooking more at home and they wanted to try their favourite?restaurant?dishes?in their?own kitchen...???
So,?should we take the plunge and whip out the fugu and nori???
When?I'm?teaching?Japanese?cooking to groups?I?always?say start with something simple, because if you go straight into the most?complicated?sushi?roll, if? it's? a? disaster?you're?never going to try it again.
Fiona?recommends?easing yourself in with a sushi wrap – folding it into four?squares and?filling it with?familiar?flavours?like cooked?chicken or?smoked salmon, and using whatever veggies are in the?fridge.?????
A lot?of?Japanese?home-cooked?dishes?are really?delicious?and actually?really?easy?to make once you have some key?ingredients?in your?press?like soy sauce. Like,?teriyaki is so easy to make at home, you can make it with just soy?sauce and honey?and?kids love it.??
Fiona and?Claire?also discussed the?relative?merits of katsu curry (a?comfort-food, not for everyday consumption) and ramen (slurping is encouraged) but one fail-proof recipe?Fiona?recommended?was her instant pot-noodle, made in a?glass?jar:?
You have your wok-ready?noodles, [...] finely chopped veg. You?have a dollop of miso paste,?that's?your secret ingredient, that’ll give all the flavour?– a Japanese-style miso paste, a really delicate light coloured?one,?and you can?really then?add what you want – peas, sweetcorn, simple ingredients.?
And with so many fans of food prep, this is right up their alley – the jar can be left in the fridge for a few days and when you need it,?simply?add boiling?water?and leave it for 5 minutes?and you can just top it off with some chilli, soy or whatever takes your fancy.
For anyone considering a trip to Japan in the?future, Fiona has key tips to avoid any?cultural?faux pas;?from tipping, to bowing, to chopstick?protocol.?And?you?can hear the full?interview here.??