To say I like food is somewhat of an understatement. A million years ago I trained as a chef, then I studied nutritional medicine and now I teach cooking in a primary (elementary) school. I love everything about food, and when I teach, I teach the culture, the history and the social aspects of food, as well as the practical cooking. I hope I am also able to impart to my students some of my love of eating and the joy I get from travelling, which for me, revolves very much around food.
So, during a Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, which has been in place since the beginning of August, we have not been permitted to travel more than 5km from our homes. There are no Japanese restaurants in my area. In fact, there are few good places to eat, and we are definitely regulars at those few. However, except for a very basic sushi train place, Japanese restaurants are all too far away from us, and we can’t access the amazing takeout options all our favourite places are offering to their local clientele.
Don’t get me wrong. I love where I live. I am surrounded by, and live amongst, some of the most spectacular temperate rainforest on the planet. I am able to cook most of the things that I am missing eating in restaurants, and can even access Japanese ingredients from an excellent Japanese supermarket in Prahran who deliver by courier to us. BUT… I am unable to cook some of my favourite things from some of my favourite places….
I love ramen. I love yakitori. When we travel to Japan I eat these things on just about a daily basis. Ichiran Ramen (a Japanese chain) is so good, we went to the Times Square outlet while in New York… The planning of trips overseas revolves around a lot of research into where and what to eat. I miss the anticipation of an upcoming trip and the culinary delights that await at the other end. Our very last travel jaunt during COVID was to Canberra. We found an excellent selection of restaurants to eat at and one especially amazing Japanese restaurant, which you can read about here, called Raku. I miss travelling, and I miss travel eating. Maybe I miss travelling because of the eating?
My friend Tomoya, who owns a couple of very awesome restaurants, (which are, incidentally 31 and 32kms away from us, we have checked!!!) makes a ramen broth with his grandmother’s recipe. This chicken stock is so good, it almost makes me cry. It is rich and so full of umami nurturing, I could never hope to emulate it at home. Another friend, Fumi, who owns a funky fabulous bar, also 33 kms from us, serves tsukune, a chicken mince meatball yakitori, with pieces of renkon (lotus root) made by his beautiful wife, Takako, that if I think too hard about how much I miss eating them, along with sharing a sake, it also makes me want to cry. And her tori kawa senbei, chicken skin crackers…oh my Kami!!!! (God).
These restaurants are in my city. Melbourne. But with the 5km travel limit, they may as well be in Kyoto. They feel so far away, and I feel so bad that I can’t support my very favourite restaurants during such a difficult time. There are rumours that the 5km limit is going to be extended this weekend. I have to say, unless it is extended to 35kms, it will make zero difference to me…. I need to get to Collingwood and Fitzroy. It is the next best thing to getting to Japan, which, incidentally feels even more distant than my ability to gorge myself on ramen, yakitori, curry rice, karaage, sashimi, and all the other good things. You can read about Tomoya’s restaurants here and here and about Fumi’s bar here. I highly recommend these restaurants, and if you live within 5km, and have not been eating at these places, do yourself a favour. You will not be disappointed.