Non-Fiction

My Trip to Japan | Day 9, The Cooking Class

Previously: I toured the Kyoto Imperial Palace and had a hearty dinner pancake

November 10

It would be a big day; my first official ‘activities’ day.

As mentioned before, I used the website Govoyagin to get ideas of what I wanted to do during my trip to Japan. I booked a couple activities too. My bike tour had fallen through, but my cooking class was still good to go.

I woke up and did the usual, except I spent some time watching Japanese-dubbed CNN on the TV in my cabin.

I had to wake up early because my cooking class was at 9:30am. It was only a 12-minute walk away, but I didn’t want to be late so I was out of the hotel by 9:00am.

When I arrived, the street was empty. It was a side street that could accommodate one car at a time, but there were none in sight. There was the sign for the kitchen, Cooking Sun, so I knew I was in the right place. I just wasn’t sure if it was open yet.

I mentioned this when talking about restaurants before, but it’s so easy to get tripped up with Japanese entrances. It’s sliding doors, right? I couldn’t tell you if they have locks, because I never dared to try. My western hang-ups made me hesitate.

So, walking up to Cooking Sun with no ‘Open’ sign or the indication that I could enter, I stood outside awkwardly. I learnt my lesson from J-Cycle (but at least there they had clear signs of life. Cooking Sun – not so much).

It wasn’t 9:30 yet, so I rounded the block briefly. When I came back, it was the same deal. I lingered, debating if I should try walking in, until a middle-aged man approached.

“Here for the cooking class?” He asked.

I nodded and he ushered me in.

He wasn’t one of the teachers, but he worked there. Cooking Sun is someone’s renovated house to accommodate a large, open kitchen (not common in Japan, to my understanding). The back appeared to be the offices and the upstairs was the dining room.

Immediately after walking in was the mud room. I took my shoes off as I greeted the teacher, Iko. As I did so, a white woman walked in – another student. She had signed up with her husband, but he was back at their hotel doing laundry and would be along shortly.

Iko sat us down in the room next to the entrance – a sitting room with couches and a table. She served us tea and made light conversation. I also spoke with the white woman whose name now escapes me so let’s call her Bridgett.

Bridget and her husband (let’s call) Sam were from Austin, Texas. They were in Japan for a week, focusing mainly on Tokyo, Kyoto, and would be taking a day trip to the town that produces Subaru cars. The were unhappy with the 2016 election – she told me it really bummed them out the day before.

Waiting for Sam to return, Iko gave us the recipes for the meal we would be making. It was a special ‘lunch’ itinerary, versus a dinner version. I had opted for this earlier class because I wouldn’t have to cook fish – perfect.

Side Note: I was still sick. If anything, this would be my biggest sick day because I was coughing loudly and uncontrollably. Troublesome since we would be cooking, but no one was too bother by this – we were making our own individual meals anyway.

When Sam returned, explaining he’d had to pop out again to put their clothes into the dryer, we washed up and put on special aprons. I like Japanese aprons; they’re stylish, covers your upper-body, and have short sleeves. It works – all it would need is a pocket.

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Me in the apron

The menu called for gomaae (salad), teriyaki chicken, tempora, miso soup, and a sushi roll.

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I won’t go over everything we did. It was fun, we talked, and we learned. Iko taught us about traditional Japanese ingredients – like Dashi, dried fish that looks like a plank of wood – and how to properly prepare it. We used eastern-style cuisine tools like a cooking chopsticks, a square frying pan, and a pot that looks like an old-fashion kettle (I think to stop hot oil from flying upward).

Early in the class, Iko told us that the Olympian Ashton Eaton had been at Cooking Sun a few weeks ago. I’m a huge Olympics fan, so this made me freak out. I thought it was so cool knowing I was doing the same thing as a gold-medal winner. What if I had come to Kyoto sooner, could I have shared a class with him?! But he had booked a private lesson with his wife. Still, so crazy.

Iko asked us about ourselves, which somehow led to us talking about the 2016 election. Again, Bridgett and Sam disliked how Trump won. Iko asked if they had voted for him and they both laughed. Bridgett said “People who vote for Trump don’t travel.”

That really stuck with me, because it was sounded super true.

The only really issue I had cooking was deveining the shrimp for the tempora. I don’t like seafood or shellfish, so I never prepare it at home. In fact, before this trip I don’t think I’ve ever eaten shrimp before in my life. BUT, I had told myself I’d try new things.

Bridgett was a vegetarian, so there were times when I worked with Sam (since we were cooking chicken). We all worked together to make sushi rice. They were good people, I’m glad I shared the class with them. Actually, they booked pretty last minute, so if not for them I would have had a private class!

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Iko, Bridgett, and Sam making sushi rolls

Class started 9:30AM and we cooked for around 90 minutes to two hours. By the time we finished cooking, it was close to noon – ideal since we were making our own lunch.

Every time we finished a part of the meal, we plated it in a fancy bento box. When everything was ready, we carefully brought our lunch upstairs to the dining area. There was a small mishap were a stray elbow almost took my bento out, but I caught it and all disaster was averted.

Everything in the final meal was prepared by us, save for the tea we were served. Iko congratulated us on our hard work and took some photos of us. Thereafter, we were free to eat. IIRC, we had about 45-minutes before we had to officially leave because the afternoon class would be starting.

Bridgett, Sam, and I remarked on how delicious everything was. Although it was not hot – I’ve learnt throughout my trip that not all Japanese food needs to be served at high temperatures – it was all scrumptious.

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The final meal. Yum!

Before that lunch, like I’ve said, I hadn’t eaten shrimp in years. I don’t like seafood or shellfish, but I really like tempora. I was trying new things, so I overcame my bias and ate that shrimp.

I didn’t have a revelation regarding fish, but I didn’t spit it back out. A hell of a start I’d say.

Bridgett and Sam ate a bit faster than me, so they left first. I say my goodbyes, told them it was a pleasant time, and hoped they had a nice rest of their trip. They said the same. I finished my meal alone.

I wasn’t there too long by myself, maybe a few minutes. Short enough that by the time I left the dining area, Bridgett and Sam had just put on their shoes. When done, I hovered around the small Cooking Sun shop, heavily considering buying one of the aprons. But I got the hype out of my head and instead opted for some cooking chop sticks (chop sticks, but a lot longer).

I’m still using them today when I make omelet rolls.

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