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Have miso, will travel

(article, Liz Crain)

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One of the best online sources of information on Japanese cuisine and recipes is the blog Just Hungry, based in — of all places — Switzerland. Blogger Makiko Itoh is married to a Swiss man and has been wooing the Japanese-food-obsessed blogosphere since 2003. Although she's been known to wax poetic about olive oil and chocolate, Japanese dishes are the core of Just Hungry.
p(blue). Blog: Just Hungry
Average posts per month: 15
Blogger: Makiko Itoh (Maki for short)
Blog place of origin: Currently near Zürich, Switzerland

As a professional Web designer and developer, Itoh spends a lot of time on the computer. When unplugged, however, she sources recipes from her more than 150 cookbooks, recreates family favorites in her kitchen, and takes her readers through the Swiss countryside to visit confectionery artisans and Swiss farm shops.

[%image reference-image float=left width=375 credit="Photo courtesy Makiko Itoh" caption="Cold soba noodles served with dipping sauce make a refreshing summer meal."]
Itoh's blog is useful, in part, for its regular in-depth round-ups. Last summer Itoh hosted a week of miso recipes, with dishes such as corn and chicken miso and grilled eggplant and mushroom miso. This summer Itoh plans to devote ample time to various Japanese cold noodle dishes. 
Where do you source your Japanese ingredients in Switzerland?
We have a small Japanese grocery store, plus a Korean grocery and a few other Asian (Chinese, Thai) stores in Zürich. The supermarkets carry a few things, too. When that's not enough, my mother sends me some things, especially dry ingredients, or brings them with her when she visits from Japan, which is about twice a year. I also occasionally use mail-order sources.
What Japanese foods do you miss the most?
Fresh fish dishes of all kinds — not limited to sushi. I find the selection and quality of fish here not as good as I'd like compared to Japan.
Name a few items that are always (and never) in your pantry.
Well, when I run out of soy sauce, salt, black pepper, miso, canned tomatoes, lemons, fresh ginger, onions, or garlic, I start to panic. Plus rice and pasta.
On the other hand, I rarely (if ever) have frozen prepared foods, except for the occasional box of fish sticks. I do have frozen vegetables like peas, and berries. No canned vegetables, except for sweet corn, beans sometimes, and tomatoes.

[%image cherries float=right width=300 credit="Photo courtesy Makiko Itoh" caption="Nothing beats fresh cherries in summer."]
How has Swiss cuisine affected your culinary ways?
I love to use many typically Swiss foods — cheese of course, chocolate, the wide variety of delicious sausages and dried meats. Swiss cuisine is generally very uncomplicated, and I like that kind of cooking.
What's the Just Hungry community like?
It's quite mixed. I think I have quite a lot of male readers for some reason — or at least I get a lot of email questions from them. Of course, people from all around the world who are interested in Japanese food visit often. A lot of Asian people, mainly female, visit too — not necessarily Japanese, but from Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, etc. One community that I was a bit surprised by are English-speaking expats living in Japan, although I guess that makes sense.

How often do you travel to Japan?
About once every two years, though I haven't been back in some time for one reason or another. I'm overdue for a trip!
What's the least-understood aspect of Japanese cuisine?
I think there is a perception that Japanese cuisine is totally healthy and low-fat and so on, but that’s not the case. There are quite a few deep-fried dishes, a lot of things are quite salty, and many dishes use a fair amount of sugar. Overall, though, it may be healthier than many other cuisines. One reason may be that Japanese people tend to eat a small amount of a variety of things.
What kind of palate did you have as a child?
Food-wise, I was very adventurous. I have clear memories of foods that I had when I was young, including the first meal we ever had in Paris when I was about six. I had two delicious boiled sausages of some kind and a plate of perfect French fries.


h1. Liz's favorite posts


1. Basics: Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce
A dozen Japanese herbs and vegetables to grow
3. All natural instant pickling (tsukemono) seasoning mix
4. Produce: Mushrooms, on the wild side
5. Basics: The essentials of a Japanese pantry

What's the first dish you made on your own?
It was probably Japanese-style hamburgers, which are more like what Americans know as Salisbury steak than the standard plain ground-beef-type burgers. I think I added way too much salt, though, and my family couldn't eat them.
How has food blogging changed your daily life?
I'm so aware of chronicling food-related moments, such as spotting some unusual fruit, or a beautiful display of pastries. And I always carry a small camera around with me, in addition to my cell phone, as well as a small notebook to jot down things.
However, I should say that I was food-obsessed way before I started my food blog. I think this stems from my parents. My mother has been enamored with food (though strangely she doesn’t cook much, except for some Japanese basic dishes), and my father has several binders full of business cards that he's collected from restaurants he's visited over the years since the 1960s.
What's the strangest thing that ever came about from your blogging?
I have been online for quite some time and, honestly, little surprises me anymore. For example, I met my husband, who was the main reason I moved to Switzerland, online (in pre-Web days, even), which a lot of people find radical. But I've heard even more wild life changes that have happened from online encounters. 

I think that the Internet is just another way for people to communicate with each other, and blogging is just a part of that.

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.

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