Sometime last week.
It’s a little after 5 p.m., and I am squatting near my cart in Musashi (my local grocery store) in what I call the “sauce” aisle, determined to carry-out cooking a Japanese meal, trying desperately to find the right shabu shabu sauce because last week I bought the wrong one. So the teachers at my school tell me when I showed them a picture of the bottle.
I am tired. I am hungry. I am confused. And my phone battery just died. I can’t read the Kanji, so I look for anything resembling the sha in hiragana. For the 100th time, I wish I was in a country that embraced chocolate and cheese and wine instead of seafood and soy sauce and sake. I begin to feel overwhelmed and take a breather from the “sauce” aisle. I do a lap around the small frozen food aisle, aka my comfort zone. A frozen pizza makes its way into my cart. (This happens once or twice a week.)
Determined, I go back to the sauce aisle, and in broken Japanese, I ask someone “Shabu shabu…..doko desu ka?” making wide gestures with my hands at the shelves of bottles, instead of the grammatically correct “Shabu shabu no tare wa doko desu ka?” phrase I had practiced earlier. He stares at me. Tells me, “chotto chotto chotto” (wait, wait, wait). And then leaves.
I wait. I wait. I’m thinking that Heidi Swanson or any of these ah-mazing food bloggers, would be out of their Zen cooking minds over here and whipping up their own homemade versions of Japanese roasted sesame-miso-ginger sauces for their own unique shabu shabu creations, but for me, that involves finding more than one bottle after I have taught high school students all day. Muzukashii. While I am waiting, I keep scanning the shelves, and I find it! Yatta! I hold it like an Oscar in my hands, grinning like an idiot because I have never felt so f-cking excited about a bottle of sauce in my life.
I pay for my groceries, pile them into my shopping bags, walk home, unload them into my dorm-size fridge. I make something that turns out to not be shabu shabu at all because even though it is a simple recipe, I have the wrong pan. By now, it’s late. I sit and eat my non-shabu shabu dinner – the sauce is divine just drizzled on things – at my tiny table with no chairs, which doesn’t really matter since it’s just me, light some candles, and listen to some new tunes (music from Cullan, which I never would have listened to on my own, but actually like) while I catch up on Internet life on the other side of the world or read.
Instead of wondering, “What is going on?” like I used to, seven months in and now I think more along the line,”Yeah, this is how it’s going.” And I go back to doing what I’m doing, wondering if I will be bored or grateful to return to American grocery stores.
*Amazing green tea selection.
**I need to learn to like cooking with tofu.
***I need to learn to like mushrooms.
****Yes, they have drinks with collagen in them.
*****Teeny tiny baking section.