Appreciating the Tastes of Home Dining – Culinary Expert, Satoko Nagahama
Beimen (北門), the North Gate of old Taipei, has been watching time passing for the past century and more. In February 2016, once the access road to Zhongxiao Bridge (忠孝橋) was demolished, Beimen could finally show itself again to Taipei citizens. Taipeiers suddenly became aware that this city had a timeless old soul hiding beneath its trendy new look! People here savor everyday life primarily through food – meal after meal, day after day, year after year; and they’ve built up memories according to taste, which they now can follow on a path back home. About 16 years ago, Satoko Nagahama (長濱智子) married a Taiwanese man and has lived in Taiwan ever since. She still makes her own dashi (Japanese style stock) in order to keep alive the tastes of her Japanese youth, and although she preserves this gustatory memory, she has definitely made Taipei her home.
The Missing Taste and the Taste We Miss
The richest expression of culture any overseas mother can pass on to her children is the taste of her hometown food. In 2002, Nagahama started her new life in Taipei, which wasn’t a difficult decision as she had been to Taiwan several times and it had always left a wonderful impression on her. She had also gone to school and worked in Hong Kong, Mainland China and elsewhere in Taiwan. She loved the local cuisine and the friendly Taiwanese people, but when her child was born, her connection with this society weakened a little, and her child began thinking about the meaning of “home.” Nagahama couldn’t help but wonder: “As a mother living away from her own country, what can I pass on to my child?”
“People say that a child’s taste buds develop before the age of 10. And eating out all the time certainly won’t help a child remember its mother’s home cooking. Mothers are the enlighteners of children’s taste buds, and the culture of cuisine does have shapes, colors and aromas. So, Nagahama decided to immerse herself in culinary research, starting with the four essential types of dashi: kelp, dried bonito, small dried fish and mushroom. Nowadays, while enriching her creations on the Nagahama table, she often remembers her own mother: “When I was young, there weren’t many chances to dine out. Mom made every meal herself, and I just took it for granted. It wasn’t until I went to work in Hong Kong that I realized what a privilege it was to have someone cooking for me every day.”
The World of Japanese Cuisine and Worldly Japanese Cuisine
Cooking three meals a day is a lot of work, even more so in the fast-food world of today. Time is more than just money now, it’s something money can’t buy. As Nagahama has said: 20 years ago dinner was served in the traditional Japanese style, which included a piece of fried fish, one stewed dish, some miso soup and plain rice. But the modern dinner table might only have beef brisket stew with rice and vegetables. In addition to traditional fare, current Japanese cuisine also incorporates elements of European, American, Asian and Chinese kitchens. And Japanese homemade dishes are gradually being replaced by food that can be served quickly and conveniently, such as sandwiches, pasta, pizza or curried rice. Noticing this change, Nagahama decided to collect her cooking ideas and put together a book; she also opened a Japanese cooking class in which she promotes original flavors and does not make adjustments just to please Taiwanese taste buds.
In March of this year, Nagahama approached National Taiwan University (國立台灣大學), Ryukoku University in Japan, Japanese Culinary Academy and the EVA Air about holding a seminar entitled: “The Taste of Japanese Cuisine” at GIS NTU Convention Center. In this seminar, the participants started by discussing the role of umami in basic Japanese cooking, then they explored the most typical kaiseki ryori (a traditional Japanese multi-course meal) to uncover the extremes of aesthetics that Japanese cuisine tries to pursue.
The Japanese diet has undergone major changes from the 19th century till now, particularly since World War II. At the beginning of the 21st century, it seems to be a good time for Japanese cuisine to rebound and rise again. The Japanese government and people have worked together to protect and promote the four core components of their cuisine: “local ingredients,” “a balanced diet,” “seasonally-inspired appearance,” and “annual festivals;” and were able to put Japanese cuisine on the UN’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013. It must be pointed out that the chairman of the Japanese Culinary Academy, Yoshihiro Murata (村田吉弘) played an essential role in making this happen. The crisis of decline was seen as an opportunity. Over the past ten years, Japanese cuisine has become increasingly popular all over the world. The latest Michelin Guide Taipei lists six Japanese eateries in their top twenty!
A Passion for Cuisine and a Passionate Cuisine
Various forms of Japanese cuisine are booming all over the world. It is as exquisite as shiki, or lacquerware, and adds color to our lives. But when you are at the dinner table with the warm, dim light of memory filling your consciousness, you’ll realize that the food of home was like a comfy bed, where your family’s anxieties, exhaustions and worries faded away, and all the broken pieces of life were mended. As mother of two boys, Nagahama often spends her weekends and holidays on the soccer pitch, or in the suburban mountains observing nature. At the beginning of this year, she bicycled eighty kilometers from Gongguan (公館) to Daxi, Taoyuan (桃園大溪). She says: “I hope my children learn to cook.” So, as you work to bring out the umami in your recipe, remember the secret of cooking: the people you dine with may be different, but you’ll always remember the one who cooked for you.
Born in Osaka, Japan, Satoko Nagahama moved to Taiwan in 2002. For many years, she has devoted herself to the teaching of culinary arts. Her methods are based on the principle: “Keep it natural and simple,” and on the enhancement of original flavors. In her homemade cuisine classes in Taipei City, Nagahama uses stock that delivers an authentic Japanese taste, in the hopes of arousing people’s passion for cooking. She is the author of the cookbook: The Secret of Stock Full of Umami: Keys to Handling Ingredients of 4 types of Stock, and making Authentic Japanese Homemade Dishes (《鮮味高湯的秘密：掌握四大高湯食材熬煮關鍵，做出道地的日式家庭料理》).
Shopping With Satoko Nagahama at Local Markets
“Taiwan’s traditional markets are full of fun!”
Occupying an area of over 7,000 pings, or 23,140 square meters, Binjiang Market (濱江市場) is one of Nagahama’s most frequented food emporia. The produce here comes from the mountains and ocean, and includes both budget-priced and high-end products. You can find fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality meat, and the best in seafood shipped directly from the fishing ports. If you love gourmet food, or are simply interested in cooking and ingredients, you’ll definitely find something here to interest you. Want to learn the ingredients’ secrets? Chat with vendors, and they’ll reward you with tips that only the experts know. Enjoy a fun experience filled with local Taiwanese color!
336, Minzu E. Rd., Zhongshan Dist.
Fruit and Vegetable Market: Mon~Sun 04:00~12:00
Fish Market: Mon 09:00~17:00; Tues~Sun 07:00~19:00