It’s a rare thing to find an author whose novels I love in equal measure. Banana Yoshimoto is one such person. I’m not sure what it is about her stories that captivate me so much. Perhaps it’s their deceptively simple spirit and humble yet poetic quality. The various settings evoke my tender memories of Japan- the seaside air and congenial atmosphere of a traditional inn in Goodbye Tsugumi, the high-rise Tokyo apartments in Kitchen, and the tranquil beauty of a lake in The Lake. They strike close to the heart of humanity by revealing the nuances and contradictions of our relationships with others, be it friendship, parental relations or romantic love.
While cruising on a highway the other day, I marvelled at a lush canopy of tall trees lining the edge of the road, stretching their elegant limbs towards the sky. They might be part of a virgin forest. These trees- possibly older than anyone on earth- stand strong and silent, but I wonder what stories they have to tell. What changes have they witnessed over the years?
I find the deep green of forestry a soothing balm for the soul. I hope they’ll remain in their place for time immemorial.
A long time ago while on a flight, I suffered from the burning desire to talk to a certain someone. I obtained an airline postcard (apparently airlines offer mail services) from the stewardess and wrote a letter to that individual.
Why am I recounting this? Because one day I came across that letter again. I’d never posted it. Seeing it felt… oddly gratifying.
Yesterday I lent a hand to my brother and sister-in-law’s move to their newly-renovated apartment. I feel tremendously envious of them- having our own place is a dream for me and my sis. It’s like a blank slate that lends itself to creativity and self-expression. It’s an oasis of calm, a secret corner sheltered from the rest of the world.
I wonder when I’ll be able to attain it?
Continuing the theme of unforgettable flavours, I watched Ozu’s Ochazuke no Aji last night. The fact that an estranged couple of different social class and family upbringing can bond over a humble dish of Ochazuke (rice with condiments, submerged in green tea) is very telling of food’s ability to speak to the soul. Ochazuke is a quintessentially Japanese dish usually made at home with leftovers. Its simple and primitive taste is a metaphor for what marriage should be- honest at heart. Taeko, the wife, finally realizes that marital pleasure is derived from commonplace gestures, easy company, mutual respect and understanding of each other’s habits. The ability to uncover such subtleties and complexities in familial relationships is what makes Ozu a great filmmaker.
Just finished Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, the author of the delightful The Elegance of the Hedgehog. In his dying moments, the renowned food critic Pierre Arthens embarks on a mental journey recollecting culinary experiences in his life, in search of that elusive flavour he so desperately needs. It got me thinking about those times in my life when I’ve chanced upon a taste of something sublime, a sensation so strong it left an indelible impression on me.
Udon- These thick, chewy buckwheat noodles swimming in a broth of umami goodness are pure comfort food. I had the wonderful opportunity of making them from scratch on an exchange programme with a Japanese school. The bowl of piping hot udon (udon I’d made with my own hands) that emerged bested any I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I was filled with a deep sense of contentment, and yet profound sadness as well because I knew udon would never taste so good again.
Sweet Potatoes– Freshly roasted on an elemental wood fire, bought from a man selling them by the roadside during a mountain drive in Kagoshima, Japan. I remember nibbling on them while gazing at a hauntingly beautiful, desolate landscape of natural hot springs spewing all around us and a deep crater filled with lava. We fed the leftovers to astonishingly docile mountain deer.
Bread– The taste of my mother’s freshly-baked bread, hot from the oven, has marked me for life. I’m utterly incapable of having refined, preservatives-laden, tasteless supermarket white bread.
Golgappa/ Panipuri– Crispy deep-fried hollow shells that I fill with a mixture of diced tomatoes and beans. I carefully pour in a good amount of green liquid to complete this simple ritual and pop one whole into my mouth. It explodes into an addictive mix of savoury, tangy, slightly spicy juices that prompts me to reach for another.
(this list is by no means exhaustive)
At the beginning of the film, lingering close-up shots of the couple’s nude bodies show them entwined in an embrace. This intimacy is merely physical as they’ve yet to bare their souls to each other.
Hiroshima and Nevers… what do these two places have in common? Nothing, it seems, just as our protagonists appear to be worlds apart.
‘What were you doing when the bomb fell on Hiroshima?’
‘I was on the street in Paris.’
‘I heard it was a sunny day in Paris.’
The male protagonist’s casual remark reveals our attitudes towards those who’ve never experienced war- the sense that they don’t know what it’s like. In fact, they do. All of us do by virtue of the human empathy and capacity for sorrow and pain. War has a rippling effect; a strange way of spreading its noxious waves even to those removed from the main action. Hiroshima mon Amour links two individuals on very different cultural and emotional planes in a poetic depiction of universal grief and suffering.
Just finished Banshun (Late Spring) by Yasujiro Ozu, who’s shaping up to be one of my favourite filmmakers. It stars the luminous Setsuko Hara as Noriko, a young woman living in post-war Japan with her elderly widowed father. They are perfectly content with each other’s company but societal pressure forces Noriko’s father to seek a husband for her.
The image of Noriko on her wedding day, dressed in her finest kimono garb and lifting her shining, tear-filled eyes to her father as if silently confirming ‘is this what you truly want‘, really strikes my heart. In a lone moment after sending his daughter off on her honeymoon, her father peels an apple slowly in one continuous motion, and the skin lands on the floor. That simple shot poignantly symbolizes the inevitability of life; the submission of Noriko and her father to fates drawn for them.
The Salad Stop- All the salads here are pretty much top-notch (haven’t tried the wraps). While not all are vegan/ vegetarian, you can easily request to substitute the meat for another ingredient in the same price range. My favourites? The Go Geisha (Japanese-inspired with edamame and soba noodles), Habibi (Middle Eastern with falafel included), Cheaper than a Facial (love the tanginess of the Thai lemongrass dressing) and Iron “Wo” Man (substitute the feta cheese for avocado).
The Soup Spoon- Get the Pumpkin Soup (deliciously smooth) and the Falafel Hummus Wrap (immensely satisfying). I’m eager to try other vegan options on the menu.
Bibigo- Offers vegetarian bibimbap (cold or hot stone) with a choice of rice- get the brown or red rice. I especially love the variety and generous serving of ingredients which combine to form a very nutritious, satisfying meal.
Veganburg– For those who crave a good ol’ burger but thought it’s impossible to have a meatless patty, this place is for you. I’ve only tried the Cracked Pepper Mayo, Smoky BBQ and Char-Grilled Satay. All three were pretty good. Their burger buns, which include whole-wheat ciabatta and rye bread, are healthier and taste better than the refined, commercial ones found at most fast-food joints. I also like the texture and taste of their patties which are made from beans/ lentils. I wouldn’t say that these burgers contain enough vegetables to make a balanced meal though.
Brownice- You didn’t think I’d leave out desserts, did you? This is ice-cream done the vegan way, with brown rice milk. I find the flavours more ‘pure’, as ice-cream made with cow’s milk tends to be too rich, sweet and cloying for my taste. My personal favourites thus far are the Pumpkin Coconut, Dark Chocolate and Pandan. Yet to try their vegan waffles and mud pie.
For me, the whole idea of a vegan diet is nutrition, not deprivation. I delight in ingredients which taste fresh, wholesome and not overcooked. Eating a proper vegan meal makes me feel energized and great.