Monday, August 22, 2005

How to boil rice

Geraldine finishing the obento

My near-total immersion in all things Japanese continues apace - whether its reading about the country, studying the history, learning the language, or defeating her armies on Battlefield 1942 at my local LAN gaming cafe. This weekend I added another string to my Japanese bow by learning how to cook proper Japanese food at a college course. I had noticed the one-off course when I was signing up for the language school, and suggested it to my flatmate Geraldine who is also a fan of raw things on rice.

The course was held in a school in Leichhardt, an area with a large Italian population a short bus ride west of the city centre. There were about 15 people in the class, run by two Japanese ladies. I've never even considered going to a cooking class before, but I've got to say it was pretty good. There was a mix of people there from the older serial mature student types down to working travellers like us. After a quick introduction to Japanese food, we had a traditional elevenses of green tea, rice crackers wrapped in seaweed and a 'healthy snack' - small bags of flaked almonds mixed with tiny dried fish. I do mean tiny, the longest of these dehydrated guys was about the width of my thumbnail. They reminded me of the neon tetras I used to keep as a young lad. Still, they tasted pretty fishy - and went well with the almonds.

We learned to cook chicken teryaki, salmon, bean salad with sesame dressing, egg roll, and rice balls. The method of doing the rice was interesting, as it took ages, but produced amazing sticky rice - the proper stuff. You have to knead the rice under cold water until no more starchy stuff comes out, apparently - then leave it for half an hour before you start cooking it. I just boil it for 20mins and drain the scum off - but no longer! We watched while Sumi-san did a demonstration, and then divided into groups of four and did our own versions. We were paired with a couple of students (the young variety) who enjoyed themselves despite having almost no cooking skills - but the food we made was amazing. At the end each foursome had prepared their very own Japanese obento lunchbox and we all sat down to eat. It really was good stuff, and thanks to the course, I now know how easy most of it is to rustle up.