The FooDorama Challenge: I Watch It, I Try It!
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Jdorama Inspiration: Shinya Shokudo
Shinya Shokudo (深夜食堂 or The Late Night Diner) is a 10-episode drama that was shown past midnight on TBS and MBS for the Fall Season of 2009. As its title suggests, the drama takes place in a unique, night-shift diner in one of the alley-ways of Tokyo’s busiest municipality, Shinjuku. The dimly-lit diner is run by its cook who goes only by the name of ‘Master’ (played by Kobayashi Kaoru). He opens the diner from 12 midnight up to 7 am with a menu that offers goodwill and just one dish – tonjiru (pork and vegetable soup). If a customer wishes to order something else, the Master will whip it up only if he has the ingredients available. The stories told in this drama are those of the customers that patronize this humble eatery.
‘Master’ Class: Kobayashi (left) plays the enigmatic, unnamed cook in this drama based on a manga by Abe Yaro
I was very well-impressed by this drama’s low-keyed simplicity and quiet charm. Since the diner opens only during the wee hours, it would naturally attract a few but interesting characters as its customers – mostly the city’s nocturnal creatures who work the graveyard shift (a yakuza boss, a stripper, a newspaper delivery boy, a male porn star, etc.). The warmth and calming atmosphere of the diner is set against the contrasting backdrop of night-time Shinjuku’s cold, lonely and impersonal concrete milieu, so it was natural that these customers would find refuge in it. And what gives this drama its stroke of genius is the menu – or rather the lack of it. Since a patron can ask for a simple dish (if the Master has the means to make it), he or she orders a favorite comfort food which in turn conjures up repressed or forgotten memories of family, lost friends or past loves that basically inspires the character to remember what was once lost or left behind, deal with regrets or seek a sense of personal closure as well as fulfillment.
With scenes accompanied by Suzuki Tsuneyoshi’s haunting song “Omoi-de,” Shinya Shokudo is an introspective drama that despite the differences in language and culture, it proves that there is something universal about the topic of food that we could all connect with.
Just like the food it features, the drama stimulates feelings of comfort and good vibes. It is one of the best yet seemingly underrated jdoramas I’ve seen so far (and rightfully deserves a second season, too).
Jdorama Food: Japanese Comfort Food
Comfort food pertains to “foods consumed to achieve some level of improved emotional status, whether to relieve negative psychological affect or to increase positive.” They can be simple dishes that could be home-cooked (sandwiches or soup) or bought from a store (ice cream). For me, the idea of comfort food is something that can be easily prepared anytime, usually made up of left-overs and satiates those annoying hunger pangs that creep during ungodly hours of the night, a rainy day or during dvd weekend marathons.
The comfort dishes shown every episode are the real ‘stars’ of Shinya Shokudo (the drama even offers cooking tips at the end of each episode). They include traditional Japanese comfort food like tarako (cod roe – above left) and ochazuke (rice with green tea – above right); and Western dishes like potato salad and egg sandwich.
The FooDorama Special Challenge: Remembering my own Comfort Foods
This is a special on comfort food – meaning, I will refrain from reprising the dishes featured in the drama since they are just too easy to prepare, does not pose much of a challenge and hence, no need to share recipes. So instead, for this post, I would like to share my very own simple and personal comfort food experiences…
The FooDorama Connection #1: Nekomanma
In episode 2, an aspiring singer comes to the diner and orders nekomanma (literally means ‘cat food’) which is rice with dried bonito shavings and a dash of soy sauce. It is a super easy to prepare and makes use of leftovers – particularly rice and fish.
My Counterpart: Rice with leftover Maling bits
LOL… I’m guessing a lot of my fellow Pinoys can relate to this. Maling is a brand name of a Chinese canned luncheon meat widely available locally. It is the poor man’s Spam… well, even middle class folks like it, too. We did have the occasional Spam but Maling was the canned meat we consumed most often while growing up. Yes, I’ve heard of horrible rumors about this product but it’s cheap anyway, readily available and saves you time. As long as this unsophisticated, much-maligned fare can help ease hunger pangs and gets you through the day (or night)… Lunok na lang, at wag nang mag-isip ng kung anu-ano…
FooDorama Connection #2: Tamago (or Egg) Sandwich
In episode 7, a young newspaper delivery man would order egg salad sandwich at the midnight diner during his breaks. The Master would prepare it for him along with extra ham sandwiches. I had to pause from watching this episode in order to make an egg sandwich for myself. There’s nothing like watching a good drama while having the same food that the characters were enjoying.
My Counterpart: The Tasty Adobo Pandesal
Chances are, every Filipino family may have some leftover adobo inside their refrigerator. This quintessential Pinoy dish is practical, have a long shelf-life (because of its main ingredient – vinegar) and simply delicious. I remember living on these when I was on my own in Cebu. Usually accompanied with rice, this dish could be made into a sandwich, using adobo pork or chicken from the fridge, nuke it up, shred it into thin flakes and spread it along with mayo on hot pandesal (Philippine round bread).
The FooDorama Connection #3: Butter Rice
In episode 5 (which is probably my favorite), a renowned food critic who is used to eating expensive gourmet food, drops in and orders a simple dish that reminds him of his happy, worry-free life as a young man spent with a senpai he had admired. The dish is that of butter rice – steamed rice mixed with a dab of butter and a drop of soy sauce.
My Counterpart: Sinangag (Garlic Fried Rice)
If I could order something from the Master, it would be this: the simple sinangag or left-over rice stir-fried in oil and chopped garlic, with a dash of salt and pepper. One of my early childhood memories is watching TV alone and eating fried rice, cooked and lovingly served by my mother. I remember the rice was so good I ate 2 to 3 plates of it without eating anything else – just the fried rice. I also recall feeling contented and happy as any care-free preschooler at that time. That is why after watching Shinya Shokudo, it made me contemplate on how I long for those times, and how I miss my mother, and so, well… I ended up crying like a baby… *sighs*
The feelings attached to one’s own personal comfort food may differ from one individual to another. Whether to make us remember our moms, or wax nostalgic for those happy youthful times, or simply unearthing lost emotions forced to be buried in exchange for steeling ourselves up as a way of self-protection against life’s harsh realities, enjoying simple comfort food more or less, is a humbling experience that helps reconnect with the child within us. It’s this simple food that reminds us of things that may mean little to others and yet this is what we treasure for it fills us up (physically and emotionally) even for just a fleeting moment.
How about you… What’s your comfort food?
P.S. This post is dedicated to my beautiful and kind MOM. I miss you so much – and not just because of your fried rice (^^)… Love you always and happy birthday!
My FooDorama Challenge LinksComing Soon – FDC#14: Taiyaki (Jdorama Inspiration: Shinzanmono)
FDC#12: Omuraisu (Jdorama Inspiration: Tumbling)
FDC#11: Bibimbap (Kdrama Inspiration: Full House) —————————