Our day had began by walking a few blocks to meet a local lady named Mrs. Katsui. When my cousin’s family had first moved to the area Mrs. Katsui had been extremely helpful to them with pretty much everything. She knew where the best places for grocery deals were, her English was excellent and her organisation skills were impeccable. We knew she would be the perfect person to accompany us as we travelled around the Osaka area. That day we had planned to take a trip to Nara – which I have so many pictures from so I’ll be making it into a separate post!
After dropping off a few small parcels at the post office, we started walking towards Mrs. Katsui’s house. The outside was clean and modern-looking with a few fruit bushes toppling over the balcony. Despite its exterior, the house still managed to conceal a few traditional features you would expect in an older Japanese building. One such feature was the large wooden door that slowly slid open to reveal a very friendly-looking Japanese lady. She welcomed us into her home as if we were family she hadn’t seen in years. We proceeded to take off our shoes in the entryway or genkan and lined them up so they were pointing towards the door. This is a common act of Japanese etiquette. She then led us up a wooden panel staircase to the kitchen. The whole house was well lit by the large sliding windows and appeared to follow the central tenets of minimalism. I was admiring how organised her home was as she kindly poured us some Japanese tea which was accompanied by some sort of shrimp cracker. Whilst seated I caught a glimpse of something small moving around under the blueberry bush outside. She told me that she had a pet tortoise which she had acquired from a neighbour who mistook it for a rock in the middle of the road one evening. So ever since then, to stay out of harm’s way, the tortoise has been living comfortably under the plants on Mrs Katsui’s balcony. I thought it was a nice little story. From there we began to plan our trip to Nara, using maps to note down the main places we wanted to visit.
Throughout the trip to Nara, I had asked Mrs. Katsui where the best places to get typical Japanese dishes such as Okonomiyaki and Katsu Curry were, to which she never hesitated to reply that hers were the best. So, later on that evening Mrs. Katsui had offered to prepare us some Okonomiyaki at her home. It really was as good as she said! It was also really interesting just seeing how everything was prepared. Just in case you’re not entirely sure, Okonomiyaki is typically a savoury dish. It’s created using a thick batter which usually contains grated cabbage, sweet potato, flour, water and eggs. The literal translation is ‘grill what you want’ and many establishments in Japan allow you to do just that! It would normally be cooked on a heated plate in the middle of the table known as a teppan. As the name suggests, once you have the batter you can add anything you like to it. It is sometimes referred to as Japanese pizza, which all makes perfect sense now. That evening Mrs. Katsui prepared three flavours for us: shrimp, thinly sliced pork and minced beef. She laid down the basic batter on the hot plate, added the additional toppings then poured more batter over the top to conceal. Since there was so much food Mrs. Katsui’s husband and two young sons later joined us. The two boys were a bit shy at first but they came out of their shells more as their mother encouraged them to practice their English. They said they found English very difficult to learn (which is totally understandable) but I was still amazed at how well they pronounced everything! It was definitely a lot better than my Japanese which – at the moment – is limited to three phases: arigato gonzaimasu (thank you), Konbanwa (Good evening) and hai (yes). Mr. Katsui also became less shy when we complimented the Otafuku he had prepared. This is a thick, barbeque-like sauce that is usually brushed on top of the Okonomiyaki when it has finished cooking. When Mrs. Katsui translated to him that we had said ‘your sauce makes the whole dish!’, he was overjoyed. There are also a few other toppings that are normally used to finished off Okonomiyaki, these include a drizzle of Japanese mayonnaise, anori (seaweed flakes) and katsuobushi (a finely shaved, fermented, smoked tuna). What’s interesting is when you sprinkle the katsuobushi flakes on top they sort of dance from the heat. I couldn’t wait to try everything and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do so in a real Japanese household.
Earlier in Nara we had visited a farmer’s shop and purchased some fresh soy beans – which are used to make a side dish called Edamame. I am still craving this now in the UK! I actually did some digging and found that you can buy the beans at Tesco. Wagamama also offers them as a side – if you want to them already prepared for you. They’re really simple to cook yourself though. All you do is simmer the beans in salted water for about 5 minutes, drain them, then store them in the fridge. To eat them you pop the beans out of the pod and dispose of the rest. Mrs. Katsui had made some paper boxes out of junk mail for us to throw our used pods in. She told me that it was very normal to be taught origami at school in Japan.
I decided to share this night on the blog because I really think it’s days like this that leave you with the best memories. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to visit the main sights of a place but it’s also rewarding to see a city through the eyes of a local. Mrs. Katsui’s hospitality and cultural knowledge were faultless and I couldn’t be more grateful to have met such a wonderful, kind-hearted lady during my time there. It just goes to show that although language barriers exist, they can easily be broken down if the desire to understand and learn is there.