Name: Ayano Hodouchi
Blog: Figs in the Sun
Location: New York, New York
What is the first meal you ever cooked?
I think it was a pancake – a big, fluffy pancake. One of the picture books I loved the most as a child was a series called “Guri and Gura.” (The original is in Japanese but has been translated into several languages, including English.) In one of the books, Guri and Gura (a couple of field mice) find a huge egg. It’s so big they don’t know what to do with it, so they decide to make the biggest pancake ever. They go home and grab a big pan, flour, butter, milk, sugar, a bowl, an eggbeater, two aprons, matches, and a rucksack. The image of this big, yellow, fluffy pancake cooking in the middle of the forest, attracting all the animals nearby, caught my imagination and I kept on obsessing about huge pancakes. I think by the time I was 10 or 11, I was making pancakes for Sunday breakfast while my parents were asleep.
If you had to blog about one ingredient every day for a year, what would it be?
Hard question. Cheese, perhaps. Asian cuisines traditionally don’t use cheese, but otherwise, most dishes benefit from a bit of cheese in (or on) it. Cheese is great for baking as well, I can think of dozens of bread, cookie, and cake recipes using cheese. I could introduce various types of cheese – fresh, blue, smoked, goat, sheep, water buffalo – and probably by the end of the year I would start dabbling in cheese-making myself!
I will never eat:
Offal. I know there are many different recipes using various organs in European cuisines (not to mention Chinese,) but in Japan, organs are considered “unclean” parts of the animal and traditionally not eaten. Having grown up in a Japanese household, I stay away from organs. That said, I do occasionally eat chicken livers if they are cooked very well, but that was a recently-acquired taste for me.
Who would you love to have over for dinner?
The obvious answer – family and friends. I love having friends over on a weekend afternoon; they bring wine and cheese and we always have a lovely cheese board on the table. I love feeding people; always worry about not having enough, discover that I could have fed twice as many people and try to coax people to come back the next day for another meal.
What’s your go-to quick and easy dinner?
I usually have individual portions of rice frozen in the freezer, so I make a Chinese stir-fry – quick, easy, and you can put just about any kind of meat and vegetable in it. But if I’m too tired and lazy for even that, or if I have almost nothing in my fridge, I’ll make oyakodon – all it needs is some chicken, an egg and half an onion; it takes 5 minutes to make and is a warming and filling Japanese comfort food.
What’s your favorite restaurant and what do you order there?
I haven’t had much opportunity to explore around New York yet (there are so many!) but there are several unforgettable places around the world where I’ve been – the Stolle chain in Russia (originally from St. Petersburg) has the best pelmeni I’ve ever eaten, as well as fabulous pirogi, or Russian pies. My favorite is the chicken pie with rice.
In a tiny village in Drome, there’s a small café in an antique bookstore that I always try to stop by – every item there, from the salads to the rustic pies and cakes displayed on the old wooden is a delight. There, I had, for the first time, brandade de morue, a whipped emulsion of salt cod. I tried to order it in other places, buy it at supermarkets and make it myself, but could never get that degree of delicate perfection. I finally recreated it myself the other day, and it was well worth the three days it took to make it! There’s nothing like the bliss of tasting again a perfect dish that I sought in vain for years.