Culture

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Wigilia calls for 12 dishes on Christmas Eve, with a mushroom soup that steals the show

A handwritten mushroom soup recipe.
A handwritten mushroom soup recipe.
Tony Skrzycki’s mushroom soup. Photo: Cynthia Skrzycki

For generations, Poles in the homeland and in the U.S. have had a rich, delicious tradition on Christmas Eve. Wigilia, pronounced vi gil ya, is a bounty of mushroom soup, noodles, sauerkraut, poppy seed, fish, pierogi, fruit compotes, and other foods that make special the night-before-Christmas.

My family and millions of Poles the world-over consider this meal a vigil — hence Wigilia. Among Polish Catholics, it is one of the oldest and most cherished holidays of the year, and foods and customs from different regions in Poland have become part of an unbreakable tradition handed down through generations.

The extravagant…

How a tiny serving of Japanese pickles can make a huge difference

An illustration of a Japanese meal with pickles.
An illustration of a Japanese meal with pickles.
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

What is this little thing in my bento box?

If you’ve ever picked up a Japanese bento box or ordered a traditional Japanese meal, more likely than not you would’ve found that it came with a tiny portion of pickles. Perhaps a small red umeboshi on your rice, or a bit of purple shibazuke piled up on the side, it’s not uncommon to find one or the other tucked into a Japanese meal.

Pickles are hardly the main event, yet why are they so ubiquitous throughout Japanese cuisine?

Pickles are so commonly found in Japanese dishes, that they’re actually seldom mentioned — like how you’d expect your fries to…

Embrace ichibutsu zentai and worry less about how to eat

A whole fish.
A whole fish.
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

When you think of Japanese food, there are many things that come to mind, but more than likely you’d probably think of fish.

Given that Japan is an island nation with a rich history of seafood this is unsurprising: While seafood consumption has decreased in recent years, Japan is still among the top three countries in terms of per capita seafood consumption, trailing just behind South Korea and Norway. At peak, Japanese people were eating over 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of seafood per person a year, about 1.5 times more than their meat consumption. …

In Japan, there’s a different perspective on vegetables

An illustration of broccoli
An illustration of broccoli
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

I watched my friend add an extra three tablespoons of olive oil to her broccoli with a mixture of amazement and skepticism. She then broiled it in the oven until the florets were basically charred through, and the stems soft and wilted. Then she added a dollop of butter and a dash of salt.

The broccoli tasted good, but it didn’t quite taste… like broccoli anymore, I suppose.

Plain vegetables are not bland vegetables

Watching my friend cook broccoli, at first, it occurred to me that my friend was simply picky and didn’t like the taste of broccoli. But when I realized that she cooked all…

Waking up to freshly cooked rice will restore the magic of the day

An illustration of a Japanese breakfast
An illustration of a Japanese breakfast
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

My breakfast shapes my perspective on the state of the world and the way I see myself that day. If I eat like my world is falling apart, it will feel like it’s falling apart. If I eat like I have it together, I will be able to successfully seize that day. Sometimes, a sense of ownership over your day is as simple as that.

While emotions don’t reflect our reality, they play a big role in the way we perceive it, and our actions reflect that. So if you’d like to try making a Japanese breakfast, don’t be intimidated…

A vegetable-loaded alternative to plain rice

Drawing of furikake rice and a mountain yam.
Drawing of furikake rice and a mountain yam.
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

On a lazy weekend morning when I’m hungry but unwilling to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen, healthy and vegetable-rich dishes often take a backseat. But to prevent such habits, I have a repertoire of quick and simple ways to add more fresh vegetables to my meals, and tororo furikake rice takes a special place.

While a stir-fry or a thick sauce can be a nice way to add decadence to a meal, when I’m thinking light and refreshing, my favorite way of flavoring rice is done without using oils or heavy salt. …

Trade shaming for moderation

A watercolor of a restaurant

If you type into the Google search bar, “What is the healthiest prefecture in Japan?” one spot comes out on top in big, bold letters: Nagano Prefecture.

Some people might be surprised, expecting Okinawa to be the healthiest prefecture. The Okinawan diet is famous around the world and its people are known for living long, healthy lives. While this is true, especially among traditional Okinawan communities that continue to adhere to old ways of living, Nagano has surpassed it.

In 2015, the people of Nagano had a life expectancy of 84.72 (81.75 for men, 87.68 for women), an average that…

And how to make it your own

Okinawa, an island prefecture in southern Japan, stands out among a country that is already well known for longevity. They have a much lower rate of coronary heart disease compared to mainland Japan.

Mortality rates from coronary heart disease and cancers in Okinawans, Japanese, and Americans (Source)

A separate study on Japanese centennials living in Okinawa, where the researcher went back and analyzed at what age these individuals were able to live independently (cook for themselves, do their own house chores, live in their own home, among other factors), came to another fascinating discovery: The study was only on 22 individuals, but among them, 82 percent were still independent at a mean age of…

How to eat for a long and happy life

A watercolor illustration of an elderly couple.
A watercolor illustration of an elderly couple.
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura

I was recently reminded of Japan’s high longevity rate when I came across a headline in The Japan Times: “Centenarians top 80,000 for first time.” According to information released by Japan’s health ministry in July, Japan’s average life expectancy was 87.45 for women and 81.41 for men in 2019, a record number.

Japanese centenarians fascinate me, and the advice they give to reach longevity is always a fun read, but the truth is that I’ve never felt the need to live to 100 unless I knew I would be with a sound mind and strong body. …

Heated

Food from every angle: From Medium x Mark Bittman

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