I started to draft this post while standing on line to check in for my flight but am now sitting beside the road in a country where English comes second, right after Spanish.
It feels like every time I get to check in with you lately, the talk is about Japan. I don’t know if I’ve just become more aware of the Japanese influences and culture around me, or if these opportunities have somehow sought me out, or if I’ve subconsciously been looking for them. Cliché maybe, but the longer I’m away from Japan, the more I recognize my appreciation for the Japanese experience: the bathrooms, the efficient transit system, the intrigue of the language, and oh! The 7-Elevens! Even the ramen.
I’ve shared with you moments from ramen at Daikaya and Haikan and Bantam King in D.C. that were welcome reminders of life in Japan but not quite the same. Having tasted the common fare in Japan, it’s harder to appreciate those celebrated as the city’s best. I did make it to Ivan’s Ramen in NYC, as featured on Chef’s Table. I had the chicken paitain, clearly founded on Japanese cuisine, but undoubtedly Ivan Orken-esque, featuring Ivan’s rye noodles and his rich, yet, somehow light chicken dashi.
I’ve spent two weekends working with Chef Sawa in my return to the Chelsea Music Festival after a two year hiatus (spent in Japan). Chef Sawa is cooperator of Shalom Japan, a Kosher-Japanese fusion in partnership with her husband Aaron Israel. The festival menu borrowed dishes from the restaurant menu: wagyu tartare, lox oshibako sushi, tuna tataki foie gras chicken dumpling, wagyu pastrami and an awesomely simple, cold, creamy sweet corn soup, garnished with crispy potato sticks, with creme fraiche, paprika oil. (The oil reminded me of rayu.) I got to exchange a few words with her and last year’s culinary-artist-in-residence, Eric Takahashi. Chelsea Music Festival, it was good to be back. Let’s see what next year has in store.
Between festival weekends, I headed to Izakaya with some friends- the restuarant on the floor above Daikaya. It’s not quite the small intimate bar setting that I would imagine after my time in Japan, though I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the izakayas there. The menu there features lots of fusion. The food was tasty and fun, but as is the constant theme, no substitute for the time had in Japan. There was lots of laughter at the table, and with every taste flowed a dance of celebration. One of my favorite items was the pork belly onigiri, the rice ball stuffed with pork belly.
Anyway! All that to say that as much as I have come to adopt and love the Japanese culture I was introduced and welcomed into, I have finally taken the time to better learn and embrace my own culture.
With my maternal grandmother being from Panama, and my father from Belize, it’s been a mission to make it to both countries to experience first hand the worlds my family has come from.
I’ve made it to Panama! And since landing, the Panama in my blood has been flowing a bit faster. I’m Panamanian and I’m proud! Ha! As this trip goes on, I’m learning just what that means. We’ve so far done a bit of the touristy stuff but what satisfies me most is gaining greater insight into who I am and the stories that have written my own.
There has been discovery and memory, euphoria and nostalgia. It is such a victory to finally arrive in Panama, striving to not relent all that we’ve missed over the years, but cherishing the opportunity to savor what’s remaining, with the guiding memories and tales of my grandmother.
I look forward to more thoroughly sharing our story with you as we flip through its pages- when I’m not biting into a caramoñola or sipping a Balboa.