Many years ago when our kids where young we invited a Japanese foreign exchange student to live with us. It was only for a few weeks, but was one of the best things we could have done to introduce our children to a different culture.
Her name was Etsuko. We loved her right from the beginning. We shared our American traditions with her and she shared her Japanese culture with us. One of our favorites was her recipe for sukiyaki and rice (recipe below). We all liked it, and I mean all. Even the kids. I think it was because it was from her. If I had fixed it on my own it probably wouldn’t have been such a hit.
Making it fun
However, you can make it a hit with your children if you first give them a taste of the culture. Show some pictures of Japanese cities and countryside. Show a picture of Japanese workers in their rice paddy fields, wearing their coolie hats. Talk about some interesting things about the country and the people. Show a picture of them in the traditional costume. Help them know what an advanced culture they have become, leaders in technology, etc. You can even decorate with a Japanese lantern from a party store, or whatever strikes your fancy. Setting the stage in this way will make it more fun for the family.
Then say, “Tonight we’re going to pretend we are in Japan eating a traditional Japanese homemade meal. We can all pitch in.” Have everything organized and ready for them to do their part. Even have some chopsticks on hand—also available at the party store. You can show this youtube video to learn how to use chopsticks properly.
Long after Etsuko left, we fixed sukiyaki on a regular basis. It helped us all remember her and the fun she brought into our family. The kids would help. That will be the key for you as you try this delicious recipe. Kids usually like what they help fix. To this day we still cook it, even though the kids are all grown up and gone. We fix it because we like it. We think you’ll like it, too.
Here’s the recipe:
Sukiyaki (serves 6)
1lb. round or sirloin steak cut into thin strips 2 inch by 1 inch (your butcher can cut it for you)
1 large onion cut in quarters, then eighths lengthwise
3 stalks celery cut in ½ inch diagonal pieces
4 carrots cut lengthwise 2 inch by 1/8 inch
10-15 mushrooms cut lengthwise
Sauce: Mix 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/8 cup soy sauce, dash of garlic, 1 cube boullion, ½ cup hot water.
Using 2 tablespoons oil or more brown meat in a wok or large frying pan, add onion and sauce. Cover and simmer 3 minutes. Add celery and mushroom, cover three minutes, stir after each addition. Thicken with light cornstarch mixture (about 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1/4 cup water) Still till glossy.
Serve immediately with a scoop of rice at the side. Garnish with round slices of oranges and kiwi or whatever fruit you like.
Broaden cultural experiences
Introducing different cultures and their food into your family life can be educational and fun for your family. If you have neighbors of different cultures, invite them over and let them share their traditions with you. These are the things kids remember. It helps them to see the world in a broader sense and become more understanding and appreciative of others.