Buy the Biggest, Handsomest Cookbook, and Woo Your Man

Photo: Hiiragiya Bekkan Annex, Kyoto

Midori’s cooking was far better than I had expected: an amazing assortment of fried, pickled, boiled and roasted dishes using eggs, mackerel, fresh greens, aubergine, mushrooms, radishes, and sesame seeds, all cooked in the delicate Kyoto style.

“This is great,” I said with my mouth full.

“OK, tell me the truth now,” Midori said. “You weren’t expecting my cooking to be very good, were you — judging from the way I look?”

“Not really,” I said honestly.

“You’re from the Kansai region, so you like this kind of delicate flavoring, right?”

“Don’t tell me you changed style especially for me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous! I wouldn’t go to that much trouble. No, we always eat like this.”

“So your mother — or your father — is from Kansai?”

“Nope. My father was born in Tokyo and my mother’s from Fukushima. There’s not a single Kansai person among my relatives. We’re all from Tokyo or Northern Kanto.”

“I don’t get it,” I said. “How can you make this 100 per cent authentic Kansai-style food? Did somebody teach you?”

“Well, it’s kind of a long story,” she said, eating a slice of fried egg. “My mother hated housework of any kind, and she almost never cooked anything. And we had the business to think about, so it was always ‘Today we’re so busy, let’s get a take-away’ or ‘Let’s just buy some croquettes at the butcher’s’ and so on. I hated that even when I was little, I mean like cooking a big pot of curry and eating the same thing three days in a row.

So then one day — I was in the fifth year of school — I decided I was going to cook for the family and do it right.

“I went to the big Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and bought the biggest, handsomest cookbook I could find, and I mastered it from cover to cover: how to choose a cutting board, how to sharpen knives, how to bone a fish, how to shave fresh bonito flakes, everything. It turned out the author of the book was from the Kansai, so all my cooking is Kansai style.”

“You mean you learned how to make all this stuff from a book?!”

“I saved my money and went to eat the real thing. That’s how I learned flavorings. I’ve got a pretty good intuition. I’m hopeless as a logical thinker, though.”

“It’s amazing you could teach yourself to cook so well without having anyone to show you.”

“It wasn’t easy,” said Midori with a sigh, “growing up in a house where nobody gave a damn about food. I’d tell them I wanted to buy decent knives and pots and they wouldn’t give me the money. ‘What we have now is good enough,’ they’d say, but I’d tell them that was crazy, you couldn’t bone a fish with the kind of flimsy knives we had at home, so they’d say,

What the hell do you have to bone a fish for?’

It was hopeless trying to communicate with them. I saved up my allowance and bought real professional knives and pots and strainers and stuff. Can you believe it? Here’s a 15-year-old girl pinching pennies to buy strainers and whetstones and tempura pots when all the other girls at school are getting huge allowances and buying beautiful dresses and shoes. Don’t you feel sorry for me?”

I nodded, swallowing a mouthful of clear soup with fresh junsai greens.

Norwegian Wood
– Chapter 4 – 
Haruki Murakami

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