During my year of study in Italy, I became especially close with six of my classmates – I’ve never given them a collective name, but today I’ll call them The Italy Six. After graduating everyone scattered across North and South America, but we chat on Skype regularly and email each other a lot. I mean it – if one of us sneezes, eats an especially good cookie, or has a good/bad/regular day, the others are likely to hear about it within minutes. These ladies are so, so important to me, and I can’t imagine my life without them.
Carey is one of The Italy Six, and this weekend I got to see her. Not as a grainy image on my computer screen, but as a real live person I could hug, talk about cheese with, hug again, and bake cookies for.
Carey and her boyfriend Jon live in Brooklyn, but were recently in Seattle on business. They rented a car, popped up to see me, and we had a quick but wonderful visit. When they arrived, they handed me a copy of the new Ottolenghi cookbook as a gift. Remember how it took me a year to convince myself to buy Plenty? Well Jerusalem is now out, and Carey purchased it. For me. I screamed.
Other than continually flipping the pages of my new book, what did we do while they were here? Well, yesterday I fed them half of Richmond. Jon and Carey love pineapple buns, so we first went to Lido and managed to snag the last three buns on the tray.
I asked for them with butter, though Carey and Jon found the quarter-inch slabs to be a little overwhelming (and fair enough, I ploughed through it but think I might have a l’amour de buerre problem). With some slight rearranging, they were able to have their pineapple buns and a reasonable amount of butter, too. They were still warm, crackly-sweet on top, and pure, golden goodness.
We then headed to Steveston, where our first order of business was visiting The Sweet Spot. They had several new things out, including nutella-filled brioche, neatly-cut slices of carrot cake, and cinnamon buns. Carey opted for a flourless chocolate cookie, and Jon bought a giant coconut macaroon. They tucked both treats away, and enjoyed them later on the drive back to Seattle before catching their flights.
Next, specifically for Jon, we popped into Mary’s British Home; he spent his first seven years in London, and really misses the snacks of his childhood. As soon as he discovered a bin full of “Twiglets!!!!” he kind of lost it. Neither Carey nor I knew what they were, and finally got him to explain: they’re marmite-flavoured crunchy wheat sticks. He left with several bags, and was pretty excited to have Twiglets in his life again. Really, what would people do without Mary’s British Home?
Then it was time for our main meal. As New Yorkers, Carey and Jon have access to just about every kind of food imaginable, but there are certain things that even NYC can’t offer. A yoshoku restaurant in a Canadian fishing village with Japanese heritage is one. Moncton Cafe, located on the main drag of Moncton Street, just opened, and the owners also run Ichiro and Takeya Sushi.
The interior was spacious, uncluttered, and a warm retreat from yesterday’s chilly weather. The menu featured Japanese yoshoku, a western genre of Japanese cuisine. I found this articulate explanation of yoshoku on the blog Just Hungry:
Japanese culture has always freely incorporated ideas and aspects of other cultures, often adapting it to an extent that it somehow becomes uniquely Japanese. Food is no exception. Chinese food (mostly of Cantonese origin), called chuuka has been incorporated into everyday household cooking, so that some items are as familiar as onigiri or miso soup. Many European style dishes have been incorporated too, and adapted to Japanese tastes. These adapted European style of cooking is called yohshoku or youshoku, which can be translated as “Western food”.
Yohshoku is not the same as imported cuisines that have been kept true to their origins. There are as many authentic Italian, French, and other restaurants in Tokyo as there are in any other major international city. Yohshoku is western style cuisine that was introduced a long time ago, and the well known dishes in this genre would be totally foreign in any other country. Some items that were originally introduced as yohshoku are so well entrenched in Japanese food culture that they straddle the line between washoku (Japanese) and yohshoku (Western).
This is similar to the way western-style dishes have been adapted for HK cafe menus, or in reverse, the way Asian food has been adapted for western palates. It’s a topic that invites endless conversation.
We went with three of the chef-recommended dishes: the Hamburg Steak ($13), the Chicken Nanban Bento Box ($12.50), and the Mentaiko Pasta ($12). Each came with a starter bowl of broth and vegetable soup; it was very simple, and a nice way to warm up.
The dish most often recommended to me by other people who’ve dined at Moncton Cafe is the Hamburg Steak, and it was worth following their advice. The hearty meal consisted of sticky sushi rice, a hamburg patty covered in a thick, dark gravy, a side green salad, and a small scoop of potato salad. It was a rich, savoury, and oh-so-comforting dish.
The beef-based gravy had sauteed onions and various kinds of mushrooms, and was stellar when combined with the rice.
As we ate, the topic of our favourite foods came up; Carey and Jon know each other’s down to “mini quiche” kind of detail, which is quite impressive. A few bites into my gravy and rice, I declared one of my favourite foods to be white rice + sauce. As lowbrow as that sounds, a good sauce mixed with rice can make me (perhaps unreasonably) happy, and Moncton Cafe delivered on this front.
But let’s not forget about the beef! This hamburg steak should not be confused with a hamburger, because they’re two very different things. You wouldn’t go slapping this piece of meat on a bun with cheese; the minced beef steak was well-seasoned, fork-tender, and incredibly juicy. It was a thoughtfully-done ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of dish, with rice swapped for the potatoes. It may be old-hand in Japan, but this is a new brand of comfort food for me.
Carey’s bento box was tasty – the fried chicken was drizzled with ‘tartar sauce,’ though it tasted mainly just of Japanese mayo, and the various other compartments were filled with small and precisely cut pieces of tofu, vegetables, and fruit.
The little fruit bowl had slices of kiwi and bright orange persimmon, which neither of us had eaten since being Italy. It was sweet and delectable.
Jon’s spaghetti was tossed in a spicy cod roe cream sauce, and came with a wedge of focaccia. It had a well-seasoned, subtle flavour and the pasta was properly cooked, but it wasn’t spicy at all. I’d order this if I was in the mood for something simple, but not if I was craving bold flavours.
For dessert, we split a single serving of the housemade Houji Ice Cream ($4). Houji is a Japanese green tea that’s been roasted over charcoal. The roasting gives the tea a reddish-brown colour and reduces the amount of caffeine, making it more ideal to drink in the evening.
The dessert was served in a chilled ceramic dish with a crispy homemade waffle cookie. The ice cream was barely sweet but earthy, slightly toasted, and almost coffee-like in flavour. It was a light and refreshing way to end the meal, and I’d certainly recommend it.
After our late lunch, we had to part ways. They needed to get back to the east coast, and I needed to get writing. Carey and Jon, thank you so much for trekking up to Canada to see your old pal. I had such a good time, and will hopefully be able to show off Richmond to more of The Italy Six! Actually, the next visit is already planned – stay tuned near the end of December for a visit from Lauren and David of Los Angeles.
And another thing to watch for? Recipes from Jerusalem. I can’t wait to get cooking…..
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available
You can also try yoshoku at Aoyama in Aberdeen Centre!