Japanese grocery shop in London
He leads me through the wide streets of Mayfair passing by the security-locked stores of Jill Sanders, Yves Saint Laurent, and Stella McCartney, across Regents Street to Brewer Street. This is a part of London I rarely visit, for I no longer wear designer clothes. It's also a shortcut to Soho.
On Brewer Street, I see the Japanese noodle shop where I had eaten one late Friday night. Across from it is "Fresh and Wild," the famous organic shop. Next to that is "Relax," a place where you can just drop in, no appointments necessary, to get a facial or a massage.
Where is he taking me? He needs to get rice for dinner. There it is. Not an ordinary grocery store but a Japanese one.
As I take in the odours and the colours, I feel like I am back in Okinawa, my childhood home of eleven years. I see the familiar packaging of noodles, rice, seaweed, and sauces. For a moment I forget I am in central London.
A Japanese grocery shop is not overloaded like Chinese supermarkets. There is space to walk around and to find what you're looking for.
"Ah!" I sigh. "I'm feeling homesick."
Just then I wince back my tears. "We don't have this in the Dutch village where I live. I've forgotten how much I miss Japanese food."
Indeed, in the Netherlands, I rarely ever cook Japanese. I alternate my cooking among Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Italian. To cook Japanese, I would need Japanese ingredients.
"Take your time," my friend says.
I walk around the store. Each step I take, I retreat back in time. Each item I pick up from the shelf, I recall a memory. Eleven years of my youth. That's a long time. It's not a period to forget.
"Oh look!" I point to the candies. "I used to buy all sorts of candies. They are not as sweet as Western candies, far more subtle and delicate. There's plum candy. There's melon candy. There's Felix bubble gum. They don't make them anymore."
I walk to the refrigerated compartment and point to the pickled vegetables in pink, green, and purple colours.
"We don't get these in Holland. Have you tried them before? They're good with rice."
I pick up a jar of nori. "This is seaweed paste. It's really good with rice porridge."
"Speaking of rice, do you want to buy any?" he asks.
I look at the Nishiki Grade A Premium Rice. "This is the best kind," I say. "I grew up eating this everyday."
At last! It's too heavy to haul all the way back to Holland. Without this kind of high quality short grain rice, a Japanese meal will never taste complete or authentic. Maybe that's why I never bothered trying to create an authentic Japanese meal in Holland!
11 August 2004 Wednesday
I had the same feeling when I for the first time returned to Shanghai from Taiwan after 42 years, particularly when I saw the environment in which I was born, the same alley, the same houses, the same faces of neighbors and relatives, the same streets, the same accent. I felt I was going through a time tunnel.