I was still in Iowa when the email invitation came through… “There is an opportunity for one OTA board member to travel to Japan as an ambassador US organic industry….” You know me well enough by now dear reader that a good foreign escapade replete with culinary and cultural opportunities is right up my wanderlust alley. I was being called on to represent the U.S. organics market, provide insights into our products and trends and encourage organic more trade. How could I say no?
The flight went as smoothly as can be expected for a 10 hour excursion with (I was to find out after we landed) a virgin long haul pilot. I arrived in the bustling city of Tokyo late in the afternoon greeted by a stoic driver donning white gloves and doily covered car seats. We sped through Tokyo with ease. The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world with 37.8 million souls. That is a lot of hungry people looking for good, healthy and hopefully organic products!
Into the hotel to freshen up and stay awake for the balance of the day was my only goal. I was instantly bemused at what I will refer to as “the plumbing” in my room. The fixture was a modern marvel of the art of sanitation, festooned with a myriad of settings for volume, temperature and all manner of jets. I needed a user’s manual to figure out this simple rudimentary function!
Out into the wonders of the street I plunged to negotiate the metro station and experience some night sights. The throng of humanity that greeted me in the train station was shocking and stimulating. My head spun from the signs in what looked like a combination of hieroglyphics and numbers. I spotted a woman in a traditional Kimono standing serenely amongst the fray. On the sideway lumbered what appeared to be a sumo wrestler in training, not quite gargantuan enough to be colossal but still quite formidable. Somehow I made it to an electric destination with billboards flashing and a curious number of young women dressed in what I can only describe as a combination of French Maids and Little Bo-Peep attire. For a certain fee the inquisitive could be served tea with one of these caricatures of anomime lore. On what planet had I landed?
Frankly the people here are quite lovely. They are respectful, unflaggingly helpful, forever bowing and opening doors. I feel surrounded by their civility and grace. Now I desperately needed to experience some of their delectable and cultured cuisine!
I selected a small, family-run eatery specializing in breaded pork cutlets, topped with mounds of steamy cabbage and crumbled bits of nori. There were a few variations of this theme on the menu but it was basically a pork and cabbage house! I am ashamed to admit I didn’t get the name of the dish but it was delicious and reminiscent of the Iowa pork tenderloins my grandmother used to serve forth with steamed cabbage on Sunday nights! There was a bit of protocol to follow in this Japanese tradition, mixing the tender and crispy cutlet with soft rice, potent wasabi and sprinkling aromatic green tea on top. The pickled vegetables on the side added pungency to this simple traditional supper much like my grandmother’s homemade gherkins did in my youth. My hunger was properly sated and I felt very much at home in this foreign land because of the simplicity of that meal. My grandmother would have been pleased.
I trundled off to bed with a full belly and visions of more meals and cultural curiosities to come. I am here for a mission and plan to begin anew tomorrow, representing U.S. organic in this island nation who just happens to be the world’s largest importer of foods.
Stay tuned for more as I travel into the world of Japanese cuisine and culture with an organic bent.