Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fukuoka in Five - Cooking Lessons in Atsuko san's Kitchen

When traveling, Jay and I are always on the look-out for  new and unique experiences that will 
allow us to know more about the place,  the people and the culture.  On this trip I decided to
take the Fukuoka Home Cooking Class which would be held right in the home of the teacher --
now how interesting and different would that be!

The Fukuoka Home Cooking Class is offered by a local tour company called Trip Insight.   We were told the teacher would meet us at  Befu Subway Station, just a 20 minute ride from our hotel.

After we all met up, our first stop was a neighbourhood supermarket where we shopped for 
some of the ingredients we would use for the class.

This very charming and pretty lady is Atsuko Kuga, our  teacher  who would share her personal recipes and teach us how to cook some basic Japanese dishes this afternoon. 

As we walked through the supermarket Atsuko san pointed out some of the various
ingredients normally used in Japanese cooking.  I never realised there were so many varieties
of  soy sauce available,  a whole shelf of them!

We bought some boneless chicken -- both breast and thigh fillets.   Atsuko san mentioned that 
Japanese prefer dark meat so breast meat is quite inexpensive.  We also got some watermelon
for dessert,  plus tofu, spinach and  carrots.

Atsuko san  lives just five minutes away from the supermarket.  Once inside her lovely and comfortable home, she invited us to relax  and served us green tea and senbei or Japanese rice crackers. 

Before any cooking could be done, Atsuko san had us wear these aprons.   I thought Jay would put
up a fight but he wore his blue floral apron with much aplomb. 

Time to get cooking!  This is Atsuko san's very complete and spacious kitchen,  fitted out for 
her students.  She had two small stoves ready,  one for Jay and one for me.   The first recipe we learned was tamagoyaki, the Japanese rolled omelet. It was intimidating  to see how deftly
Atsuko san spread the egg around in her special tamagoyaki pan.   
I told her I was getting so shinpai desu or stressed.

It may just be an omelet but it requires skill and nimble chopsticks.  Jay definitely got the hang
of it before I did.

To keep a nice shape, Atsuko san taught us how to gently wrap the finished tamagoyaki in 
bamboo mats.  No squeezing please!

Next up was chicken teriyaki.  Jay chose to work with breast fillet while I had boneless thigh 
fillets. Atsuko san asked us to butterfly the chicken then pierce it all over with the knife to 
keep the meat from shrinking and curling up.

Jay being the health minded person that he is removed the skin from his chicken breasts 
while I, the gluttonous gourmand that I am, opted to keep the skin on.  I actually think
that the skin keeps the fillets from drying out.  You can always opt not to eat them once they are cooked.

Atsuko san taught us a trick that she said all Japanese moms do every single day in the kitchen -- 
chop up tofu in equal sized squares without using a chopping board at all,  just the palm of 
your hand.  This definitely requires a soft touch or you could end up losing a few digits.  
The tofu would be used for our miso soup.  
Atsuko san being the remarkable cook that she is, makes her own miso from scratch using 
fresh soybeans.  Her miso tasted deep and sweet,  so much better than store bought.

Part of the afternoon's course included vegetable tempura.  Atsuko san showed us the proper 
way to cut the fresh shitake mushroom so that it would cook faster, and look better too.  
Jay's knife skills were so good his shitakes looked  much better than my mangled ones. 

Here is Jay dipping the vegetables in batter for the tempura.

To make sure the different vegetables were cooked just right, Atsuko san shared a valuable tip --
fry leafy vegetables in hot oil,  count to five and remove,  for onion rings count to ten, count to  fifteen for mushrooms and twenty five for sweet potatoes and carrots.  
Ichi, ni, san, yon, go .... I was really glad we still knew how to count in Japanese!

Time to plate the food!  With a few sprigs of maple leaves from the tree in her front yard as
garnish, Atsuko san showed us how to slice the omelet and set it on the plate.    It was so
simple but looked very appetising,  like a tamagoyaki tree!  Really,  the Japanese are the best
at food presentation.

And here are the two plates of chicken teriyaki that we cooked, set amidst fresh greens and 
sliced tomatoes.  Can you guess which is mine and which is Jay's?

Et voila!  We managed to cook all these -- the tamagoyaki, miso soup (simmering on top of another stove),  chicken teriyaki and vegetable tempura.  It took us two hours to prep and cook but it was such an interesting and entertaining two hours.  We learned a lot and we also laughed a lot.
We must have been Atsuko san's noisiest students ever.  She is a wonderful teacher who made cooking fun and put us completely at ease.

We brought the dishes out to the tatami dining room and Atsuko san showed us how to set the table, Japanese style. 

Doesn't it look so inviting?  I still cannot believe that Jay and I actually cooked all that.   
Atsuko san is not just an amazing teacher, she is a miracle worker as well!

As we were getting ready to try the dishes on the table, one of Atsuko san's sons arrived from 
Tokyo where he lives and works.  I am sure he is used to seeing strangers and foreigners messing
up his mother's kitchen.  Earlier on, we also met Atsuko san's youngest  daughter who spoke very good english and was friendly and just as gracious as her mom. 

Time for a "we-fie" with the best Japanese cooking class teacher ever!

Atsuko san was so thoughtful, she  prepared these certificates attesting to our  newly learned
Japanese cooking skills.  We even had a mini graduation ceremony of sorts.   It was such an enjoyable experience.   I am sure that there are other Japanese cooking lessons available but
probably none as personal and delightful as the one we had in Atsuko Kuga's home, 
in her very own kitchen.
If you are ever in Fukuoka, this is something you will want to include in your itinerary!

Otsukare sama deshita, Atsuko san!  Domo arigato gozaimashita!


After coming home from Fukuoka, Jay continues to practice his newly discovered cooking skills. 
Yes, he still wears an apron, though not as flamboyantly floral.  And yes, we did buy a special pan 
so we can have a Japanese rolled omelet anytime we want.  Jay has practically perfected the 
art of a good tamagoyaki.
Thank you for bringing out Jay's hidden talents, Atsuko san!

Thank you to Atsuko san too for her photos used in this post! Photos 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14.


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