Cooking with our neighbors is one of the great things that we have experienced here in Tokyo. Befriending your neighbors here in Tokyo is not very common. Some of my friends have not even seen the face of the person living next to them. Maybe because most of the people here are busy juggling with work and their own lives. Hence, we are very grateful that we are close friends with some of our neighbors. They make our stay here enjoyable and memorable. We consider them as our nearest family since both me and my husband are not originally from here.
Here is our apartment, we are quite close with the Japanese family living next to us as well as the Lithunian and Russian families on the opposite end of our corridor. The walls between our houses do not hinder us to share happy times together. We help each other in every way we can. And despite the difference in our schedules, we make time to share a meal or explore our community.
Once in a while, we meet with our Japanese and Lithunian neighbors share a meal together. Sometimes we go to a restaurant within our community or we take turns hosting a dinner. Our origins make it more exciting because we are able to share local food from our countries or places. Cooking with them, I did not only learn how to prepare Japanese or Lithunian food. I also learn the culture and their story.
The Lithuanian Cold Pink Soup
I am not a fan of beetroot and dill. But when Ausra (our Lithuanian neighbor) invited us for lunch one summer, I became a convert. She and her husband prepared a cold beet soup (Šaltibarščiai). It is made of red beets, cucumber and boiled eggs with yogurt and dill. It is refreshing especially during summer. We partnered it with potatoes also sprinkled with dill.
Making my own pink soup might be a challenge since beets are not always available here in Japan but I have learned to use dill in my cooking a lot. I also tried to it them so that I would have a year-round supply of this herb.
Aside from the pink soup, they also introduced me to their special anthill cake (Skruzdėlynas). It is a stack of fried pastries with honey and raisins. It is very simple yet very tasty!
Cooking Japanese Food
My husband and I love Japanese food even before coming here in Japan. Moving here was a haven for us as we have immediate access to freshly-made sushi, authentic ramen, and a variety of Japanese delicacies. Thus, learning how to prepare and cook some of the Japanese food from the locals was like a finding a gold mine. We are very glad that our Japanese neighbors, Yukiko and Shun, were kind enough to teach us some specialties from their hometown. Shun grew up in Hiroshima. One summer, he showed us how the Hiroshima people prepare their okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is similar to a pancake but with cabbage and meat topped with brown sauce, mayonnaise, dried parsley, and Bonito fish flakes. It is mostly cooked on a teppan or hot plate. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is special and requires some skills when cooking. Unlike the usual okonomyaki, the ingredients were layered instead of being mixed together. They also add soba noodles and fried egg as topping.
Yukiko, on the other hand, taught us how to cook takoyaki or octopus balls. She said that she learned it from her mom when she was still a kid. It was one of their family's pastimes in Niigata.
And a few weeks ago, we learned how to make sushi! We asked Yukiko to show us how make the sushi maki or roll. We were surprised to learn that Shun worked in a sushi restaurant when he was still in the university. He taught us how to make our own sushi.
Sharing Our Culture and Traditions
In terms of sharing one's country's culture and traditions, my husband and I are at an advantage. We are like hitting two birds with one stone 😉 He is a German and I am a Filipina. From time to time especially during special occasions, we share with them some food from our countries.
We might not be together forever, but the memories and learnings we shared will always be there. Soon we will say goodbye to both families as each of us will either go back to our home countries or hometowns. But we will never say goodbye to the friendship. We know that even if we no longer live in the same place together, we will always be friends.