Tea ceremonies, happiness and keema
Before setting off to visit a new place, as well as a guide-book, I try to read some fiction from the country that I’m going to. It gives an added dimension to the journey and a context that I might not have taken in by reading bare facts. Driving to Palmyra in Syria wouldn’t have been the same without imagining Lady Jane Digby on a camel emerging from the hills, eluding brigands. In the Country of Men painted a picture of life in the early days of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, where neighbours distrusted one another and people disappeared, which was important to remember when I saw his face emblazoned on every street in Tripoli proclaiming his 39th year of power.
Japan seems so exotic and such an alien culture to me that getting my nose into several books would be essential prior to a visit. I’m currently reading Dance, dance, dance by Haruki Murakami (author of Norwegian Wood) and the social conventions of Japan are coming across loud and strong in this off-beat novel where brand names and fast food have been adopted with gusto. The first book I read about Japan (and reread over and over again) was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden which took me into an elegant world of good manners and tea ceremonies. My daughters also enjoyed this wonderful tale of a child’s experience in a cold foreign land and how the dolls helped her to feel less home-sick and lonely.
Dubai is not like a foreign country at all in some ways. The street signs are in English and there is a huge range food stuffs on offer. Living in Japan as an expat must be pretty daunting. A friend told me how going food shopping was incredibly difficult. It’s hard to imagine feeding your family when you can’t read or speak the language and you don’t recognise a single thing as edible in the shops. I am even fairly mystified by the Japanese section in my local supermarket. My friend did go and visit lots and lots of beautiful temples while she lived there. For some lovely pics visit this post by White on rice couple.
Sushi, sashimi, teppanyaki and the satsuma have been successful exports but just as the Japanese have embraced many Western things from Burberry to Manchester United Football Club, they have also taken to a culinary import with enthusiasm; curry. According to Madhur Jaffrey, (who is at the Emirates Literature Fest in March) most Japanese families eat curry at least once a week and like us Brits (whose enthusiasm for curry has made it our unofficial national dish) they have adapted recipes to their tastes.
Most Japanese cooks use a ‘roux block’ as the base for the sauce and add vegetables (which are already chopped and bagged as curry packs), meat and possibly curry powder. Fruit and cream are also popular additions. They also like keema often with the inclusion of tofu. I searched for a recipe for Japanese curry that appealed to me but in the end fell back on an old favourite. I don’t pretend that the recipe below is a Japanese version in any way shape or form, but I make it at least once a fortnight for my family (who would rebel at tofu). It’s the ultimate quick to make, satisfying to eat comfort food, while dreaming of cherry blossom and tea ceremonies.
I ‘visited’ Japan as part of Foodalogues’ Culinary Tour around the world. Joan has taken us to Panama, Alaska, Turkey and next we are off to Thailand. Foodalogue has a delicious round-up of other recipes inspired by this virtual trip to Japan.
Keema (adapted from recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Feast)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced, grated or finely chopped
- 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 2 and half centimetre piece of ginger, finely grated or chopped
- 2 small, hot green chillies, finely chopped with seeds
- 1 and a half teaspoons sea salt
- 11/2 teaspoons garam masala
- large bunch chopped coriander
- 700g lamb mince
- 250g frozen peas
- some boiling water (I fill half the tomato tin and rinse it)
- Juice half a lime, or to taste
- Heat the oil in a wide pan one big enough to take everything comfortably later (I use a Le Cruset cast iron pot) and add the onion and garlic. Cook on a high heat until they become golden brown.
- Turn the heat down, and add the can of tomatoes, ginger, chilli, salt, garam masala and a handful of the chopped coriander. Stir until the mixture becomes shiny, and then add the mince breaking it up with a fork in the sauce.
- Add the boiling water. Bring the pan to the boil and then turn it down to a very gentle simmer. Half cover with a lid.
- Cook for about 20-30 minutes, by which time most of the water should have evaporated and the lamb will be tender.
- 5 minutes before the cooking time, cook the peas in a generous amount of boiling water for about 3-4 minutes (I use the microwave). Stir the peas into the keema.
- Squeeze in some lime juice to taste and sprinkle the remaining chopped coriander over the top.
- Serve with plain, fluffy basmati rice and some mango chutney, with some lime quarters on the side.