Japanese kitchen in a foreign eye
Japanese kitchen is called "i-ta-ma-e", it has traditionally been a place for men. Working in a real kitchen is so much different from cooking at home. For my first job in Japan, I chose to work in a traditional Japanese kitchen in Hakone since I wanted to learn Japanese cooking. I remember how the guys were all shocked when I entered the kitchen, they were so curious about this foreign female staff! They didn’t even have a female size uniform so I had to wear a male one before having my tailor-made uniform.
The Chef gave me a professional kitchen knife. It is said that in their culture, they only reward their favourite apprentice with this knife.
Call me a man!
My Japanese was not fluent at that time, you can imagine how the names of kitchen tools and ingredients were killing me! Every time I came across a new vocabulary, I had to jot notes immediately and revise for many times. It was a painful learning process indeed. On physical level, the team was kind to me so I never had to handle heavy or hot stuff. But there were times when the kitchen was extremely busy, I couldn't stand sitting there and not helping, so I just made myself a man and helped in all sort of things, hot stuff, freezing stuff or heavy stuff. I also wanted to show everyone that a foreign lady can do what they do!
After breakfast time, the staff would prepare lunch for the whole team; we sat together and ate lunch like a family.
A kitchen is a family
I had a fun time working in the kitchen and the stories were all unforgettable. There was a trainee working closely with me, sometimes we made troubles like spilling something, or ruining a beautiful dish. We would help each other to cover before being discovered by the seniors! The team treated me like a family member, when they cooked something nice, they would prepared an extra portion for me, better than what a customer would get! You couldn't believe how much weight I gained in Hakone! At first I had totally no idea with all their “men's talks”, but few months later my Japanese was improved and I was able to join their conversations and laughed with them.
My last day of work. Thanks to their patience, now I can cook myself nice meals every day.
My last meal in the kitchen. The chef was so kind to make my favourite dish "tempura-soba noodle"!
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