School Lunch in Japan June 12-15

Tuesday June 12

Milk, a-sa chanhan, fried gyoza, chingensai soup

This meal hits a lot of Okinawan flavors. The chahan is a typical Okinawan fried rice flavored with dashi and garlic, but with a-sa, a local sea plant that is also often used in soups. The gyoza are originally from China but are tastily adapted in a variety of ways throughout Japan. With my island being so close to China, it’s no wonder we get unique twists between the two cultures in our food. Chingensai is a leafy vegetable that I’ve grown and grown to love. Its perfect grilled or in soup.

This week, I’m rotating through 6 elementary schools. One of them had classes on Sunday for the parents so there was no school lunch, and Monday was a day off in return.

Wednesday June 13

Milk, bread, chicken teriyaki, daikon salad, mushroom soup

Chicken teriyaki is probably one of the most well-known Japanese dishes in the US. It’s hard for me to envision chicken and a sweet and savory sauce going bad, and its very tame for western palates. Still, it’s not something I see very often in our school lunches. The chicken is a favorite with the students, and it was delicious, but it’s definitely not an every month kind of food. I ended up making a teriyaki burger, topped with a bit of the salad, and several of the elementary students around me followed suit. Still the majority of the students ate them separately. Dipping bread in soups or sauces, and even sandwiches, still aren’t a big part of Japanese cuisine.

The soup was tasty with a the long thin white mushrooms called kinoko and Chinese cabbage. Daikon is giant radish, but with a milder flavor than you might expect, especially after being cooked or pickled. The salad added a nice contrast to the sweet and salty teriyaki.

Thursday June 14

Milk, millet rice, fish with yuzu and miso, stir fried papaya, sawa soup

The highlight of this meal is the baked fish. The yuzu adds a hit of acid that gets mellowed out with the light addition of miso. Miso of course pairs very well with many types of fish. You might be a little confused about the papaya. Papaya taken when it is still green acts like a vegetable. With a consistency similar to daikon, it lacks the sweet and mushy texture ripe papaya has. It is one of my favorite ingredients in irichi, with a subtle flavor hard to describe. Irichi is a type of quick stir fry often seen in Okinawa, but not to be confused with chanpuru.

The soup was mostly root vegetables with bits of pork and burdock root (another vegetable I wish I had found long ago). Also, the soup featured a specific leaf common in Okinawa, especially in yagi (goat) soup. Most Okinawans will ask you if you can eat it since many people (including locals) aren’t a fan. It has a mellow flavor that rises to a slightly astringent bite at the end that I find isn’t unappealing with the saltiness of the soup and other flavors.

Friday June 15

Milk, Neapolitan spaghetti, green bean saute, satsuma potato

The last meal for this week is quite different from the others we have had over the last few days.  Spaghetti with mushrooms, onions, veggies, and sliced hot dogs for protein.  Along side was a saute of beans and other vegetables with  a bit of meat and a bit of satsuma potato for dessert.

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