When my children were very, very small, we went to live in Tokyo. My husband was transferred there and we thought it would be a great opportunity for him and an adventure for us all. I admit it, I was terrified. Having two small children made me averse to adventures.
The first time we ventured out it was for groceries. We headed toward the main shopping street, which I later came very much to appreciate. It was not far from our apartment in an area teeming with fellow Expats, so finding all sorts of different foods from around the world was quite easy. My husband and I ended up fighting because I was afraid of everything and refused to pay the cashier (the intense jet lag didn’t help either). Not the best of shopping trips and not the most auspicious of beginnings.
I did, however, eventually relax and regain some self-confidence. What a strange and beautiful place Tokyo turned out to be. And ironically, when it came time for us to leave, I would have liked to have stayed longer.
Tokyo has hills like San Francisco. I would put the kids into their stroller and power walk up and down those hills every day to get to playgrounds, shops, and the all important American Club for preschool a few hours a day. We walked past the garbage men doing their calisthenics in cloven shoes early each morning. We walked past the shops that sold the most incredible bread (yes, bread, white bread of all things) and fresh tofu and fabulous sushi. We walked past parks where feral cats languished and huge crows with enormous brows cawed at us suspiciously. We walked past the Korean embassy where every day, like clockwork, there was a loud demonstration. All this walking was good for my heart, and we also were getting to know the town.
Tokyo was full of surprises. Maybe foremost among them was the delightful variety of foods. We dined at fabulous French and Italian restaurants as well as at a cool and wonderful Israeli restaurant, while the Indian restaurant where my husband would stop on his way home from work had the best nan I ever have tasted.
The other culinary surprise was my cooking class with an elegant and welcoming Mrs. D’Sousa. I met her at the American Club. She was tiny and worked out harder than anyone else there. She was a bit older than me, her kids were off in the United States attending college, and she missed them dearly.
The American Club was a strange place. There were lots of Ladies Who Lunch and their snobbery was rampant. I mostly ignored it even though it was a bit much to take. Mrs. D’Sousa, however, was always friendly and always happy to discuss food even though she always was on a diet she did not need. She was a superb and enthusiastic cook who started to teach cooking classes to distract her from the absence of her children. It was Mrs. D’Sousa who taught me how to make tandoori chicken without a tandoor and an Indian rice dish that remains in my repertoire. I will never forget her kindness.
Our Reluctant Correspondent is Sarah Dearmont; Mrs. D’Sousa’s recipe for rice with lemon and cardamoms appears in the practical.