It’s pretty funny how, since we returned from Italy a week ago, I’ve made either Italian or Japanese food for every meal. I guess I’ve subconsciously been looking for comfort due to missing my sister and coming off such an amazing trip, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I often find comfort in food. Don’t worry- I’m not sitting on the sofa armed with three pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and a ladle! It’s just that both Italian and Japanese cuisine have always been my favorite (J’s too- he must have been Japanese in a former life!) so it makes sense to want to come back to what you know and love when you’re feeling a little down.
Teishoku, or a “set meal,” is typical in Japan. It usually involves a protein of some sort, whether it be a piece of grilled fish, chunks of fried chicken or any sort of meat. Add a couple of sides- Japanese potato salad, vinegared cucumbers (sunomono) and the two constants of teishoku- soup and rice- and you’ve got your set meal. Many restaurants throughout Japan offer these sets at bargain prices during lunch hour, and during my early, dirt-poor Tokyo years they became my main meal of the day. Usually priced anywhere between 500 and 1200 yen, teishoku lunches gave you a variety of foods in a healthy, balanced meal.
The other night I whipped up a teishoku for dinner using what we had in the pantry, leftover rice and some veggies I had in the fridge. Here are the players:
Canned nizakana, or braised fish. This one was mackerel in a sweet soy sauce. I know what you’re thinking- “Canned fish?” and I do admit to an unnaturally deep love for fish in a tin (uh, there’s a reason why this blog is called ‘Tuna Toast’). But hey- don’t knock it til ya try it! For about $1.50 per person, you can get a nice portion of tender mackerel stewed in a flavorful broth, and guess what you have to do? Open can, put on plate. Dinner is served. I put a dab of hot Chinese mustard on the side as a compliment to the slightly sweet broth on the fish. It was fabulous!
The supporting players:
Renkon no kinpira: Lotus root stir fry. I bought a small lotus root from the Japanese market, sliced it relatively thin on a mandoline, washed off the excess starch and sauteed it with sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce, chili flakes and mirin. It’s crunchy, spicy, salty and sweet and goes great with a piping hot bowl of rice.
Ingen no goma-miso ae: Green beans with a sesame-miso paste. In a mortar and pestle, combine toasted sesame seeds, a bit of sugar and a bit of white miso paste. Pound it until the ingredients are combined and the sesame aroma is released. You can add a splash of warm water or bonito stock if you want to thin it out a bit. Toss with lightly steamed green beans.
Combined with some short-grain sprouted brown rice and kelp broth soup with carrots and onions, this teishoku made a complete, satisfying and healthy dinner. It also keeps your mouth busy since it has to go back and forth and around to several different dishes and flavors!
I hope you’ll get a chance to make your own teishoku at home- it’s open for interpretation so have fun with it! And as they say in Japanese- いただきます-itadakimasu!