This time we made Tonkatsu! Before I can talk about learning to make Tonkatsu from Fumika, I must first mention Sunshine Cafe. Sunshine (as we call it) has been in the neighborhood forever, or at least it seems like it has. It is a simple, non-fancy Japanese Restaurant that serves straightforward, comforting homestyle food. It has almost no ambience other than its lack of ambience, it has dusty plastic food in the window and I've always said, it feels like you're eating in somebody's Japanese Grandma's living room. What makes Sunshine so special for us are two things -- the food, which always, always tastes great and lovingly prepared -- and the staff, namely Dan the waiter, who always has a twinkle in his eye and always seems genuinely happy to see us. And the other thing that I appreciate about Sunshine is that this is one place where my picky eater Sam has always been a bit more adventurous. (Probably because he's been coming since he was in utero.) Sam likes their gyoza, their potato croquettes, their Udon and Soba and most recently, he's become a huge fan of their Tonkatsu -- which is a breaded and fried pork cutlet. I know, not the most exotic thing in on the planet, but that he is eating his way around the menu is progress for Sam.
When Sam heard I'd taken a cooking class with Fumika he pleaded with me to have her teach him how to make Tonkatsu. He didn't have to plead, I was happy to have another chance to cook along with Fumika and thrilled he was showing some interest in cooking. (I get a little bit lonely flying so solo in the kitchen at times.) So last Monday afterschool, Fumika came to our place and showed us how to make three dishes: Tonkatsu, Gomae (spinach "salad") and Miso Soup with Japanese Sweet Potatoes.
To be honest, I knew that I could easily find the recipe for the Tonkatsu and Gomae on-line (But Miso Soup with the Japanese Sweet Potatoes was totally new to me) but I wanted Sam and Ben to meet Fumika and have the experience of learning how to cook something from someone other than me. We gathered all the ingredients, put on our aprons and each had different tasks. Fumika toasted the sesame seeds for the gomae and quickly chopped up green onions and the sweet potatoes. I washed the spinach in cold water and got the super fun (and satisfying) job of pounding/tenderizing the pork. And Sam and Ben got to work the Tonkatsu station, dipping the pork cutlets into the flour, egg and then the panko crumbs. They were in heaven! And I was so tickled to have my boys and Fumika in my tiny kitchen with me.
Sam even worked the meat in the hot oil, learning to respect it and to be careful of it.
The other thing I liked about this experience is that our dishes didn't taste exactly like the same dishes at Sunshine. Fumika added the toasted, ground sesame to the blanched spinach and it gave this version of gomae a nuttiness that I liked. (But Ben, a Sunshine gomae freak, wasn't as impressed with this subtle change.) And the Tonkatsu that we made were larger and more tender than they are at Sunshine. Sam was super proud of this and ate his entire cutlet.
And I prior to meeting Fumika, I didn't know what made a Japanese Sweet Potato different than an American one until I tasted it. Oh my, it's like eating chestnuts, quite nutty with that sweet creaminess you get only from chestnuts. And bobbing around in the miso broth made for such a hearty and comforting soup. I will definitely be making this soup again. Ted joined us just as dinner was being served and we sat around the table, talking about food and Japan and soccer and school. It was coming around the table in the best way for all the right reasons.
We are so lucky to have met Fumika. Unfortunately (for us) she is moving to Austin, Texas on Tuesday so this was almsot like a chance encounter to cook with her two times. We hope to stay in touch via letters (thereby feeding my letter writing jones) where we can share recipes and news of our everyday lives. See what cooking together can do?
You can check out Fumika's post on our tonkatsu lesson (as well as a silly shot of Sam) here.
And now I am going to keep my eye out for other people in the city who might like to teach us other cuisines . . . pierogis, tamales, raviolis, so many opportunities!