There is always a limit of how much you can eat, and that fact could be haunting for food lovers like myself. Why? Because we don’t know how else to spend a weekend other than eating. When eating is not an option, my old self would pull out an iPhone and glaze on food porn on Instagram all day. But it’s a new year and I decided to date food differently, by joining a Tadaku cooking class.
As introduced in my last article on traditional Japanese cooking, Tadaku is a start-up that hosts cooking classes by local home-cooks eager to share their proud recipes. Featuring classes taught in English and in Japanese, Tadaku caters to both locals and tourists in Tokyo. Joining a Tadaku class is like being invited to a house party; together with the host, all participants cook and enjoy the food together at the host’s home.
The class I chanced upon on the last few days of 2014 was one on Osechi-Ryouri, the New Years Japanese food. The class is suitable for all dear foreigners in Japan; you can be freed from the “Gaijin” label by learning how to cook osechi because not many Japanese cook or even know how to cook it despite it being an important part of their New Years tradition. Plus, osechi is a rare-eat because neither Sukiyabashi Jiro nor Ryugin will serve you any at their restaurants.
Joining this class, you will be greeted by the host Akiko, a professional illustrator and gardener at her local station. If you wish to, she will take you to the local supermarket before her class and show you where to buy the ingredients. When we went, the market was a chaotic jungle of housewives rushing their last minute shopping before the market closes during New Year. We quickly withdrew from the crowd to Akiko’s tranquil respite.
At her beautiful table decorated with traditional New Year cutleries and ceramics, we received a brief session on osechi—how each dish is made a few days before the New Year so the housewives can get a break from the housework and spend time with their families during the holiday. Also Akiko will help you decipher the meanings behind each component of osechi. For instance, did you know that we eat fishcakes of red and white colors because the colors remind us of our national pride of the rising sun? You can test your Japanese friends on this one— I bet they don’t know.
Moreover, Akiko will let you experience only the highlight of the osechi cooking by picking fun dishes out of more than 30 varieties which Japanese housewives usually prepare in the course of up to seven days. That means you won’t have to waste the whole afternoon washing dirt off yams and waiting for dry beans to soften. We made datemaki, fluffy sweet egg roll; namasu, a palate cleansing pickles of daikon and carrots; and ozoni, a New Year’s soup typically with rice cakes and vegetables.
It is fairly easy to get along with fellow participants simply because everyone who joins Tadaku loves food, and there is never a shortage of things to chat about when it comes to food. In my class, every food and item in the kitchen seemed to spark our conversation. For instance, while peeling a yuzu skin for our ozoni and namasu, one participant from the UK shared his grandmother’s secret marmalade jam recipes. Maybe you’ll leave with an extra recipe or two as well.
The day before the cooking class happened to be Akiko’s birthday, so we happily sang a birthday song before digging into our proud dishes and other delicacies Akiko prepared for us to taste. If somebody had seen us dining together at Akiko’s living room, they wouldn’t know we had just met a mere two hours prior. And possibly this is what makes Tadaku different from other cooking classes. You can google any recipe online, but not the memories and experiences attached to it.
Luckily, the end of the holiday season doesn’t mean you won’t get to join the bandwagon—there are many other Tadaku classes planned throughout the year. Akiko also teaches a class on artsy sushi rolls—did you know there is a way to color your sushi pink? Also, Tadaku previously featured a class by a Japanese vegan specialist, Naoko; a macrobiotic cuisine class by Seico, a home-chef with a decade more experience in cooking only with organic ingredients; and many more. Tadaku may be your best Sunday plan, especially if you have eating-heavy events planned on Friday or Saturday…or both.
There are certain times in the year that can make your visit to Tokyo less than idea.