Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Posts Tagged ‘food

A note on Japanese Food Culture

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We are currently enjoying a month in Japan, taking in the amazing shrines, soaking in onsens, admiring Mount Fuji, and chasing the cherry blossoms. But one of the most enjoyable parts of our holiday in Japan has been enjoying the amazing diversity of food here. Virtually every region has its specialty, and we haven’t had a bad meal yet.


Although we have had a few large meals (pictured), even here you can see that the individual portion sizes are quite modest. Each meal has a lovely blend of the various tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and that most ubiquitous of Japanese flavours: umami. Each small dish is savoured, and with the enjoyment of these diverse tastes, you don’t need a lot to fully appreciate the dishes themselves.

This strikes me to be in marked contrast to many Western cultures, (and I am thinking North America here in particular), where I am always horrified at the portion sizes. Its not rocket science to see the correlation between portion size and obesity. And I do wonder about the lack of varied tastes in so much Western cuisine (the major tastes leaping to mind are sugar, salt and fat).

Other things that perhaps contribute to the overall healthier diet in Japan include the following:

  • Soft drinks are not widely available. Vending machines are everywhere, but fizzy drinks do not feature largely. Common cold drinks are iced teas, most served without any sugar.
  • Meals are largely based around vegetables (again, refer to the picture). When animal protein is served, the focus is on fish and seafood, rather than meats. But even when meat is served, portions stay in control. Tofu and soy are widely consumed. Fermented products are commonly eaten. Breads and pasta are not widely consumed. Rice and noodles feature regularly.
  • Presentation of each dish is as important as the taste of the dish itself. Some of the dishes are truly like works of art. Balance, harmony and simplicity is demonstrated in both the tastes and the presentation of the meal.

It has been a joy thus far sampling the wide variety of foods and tastes in this most magnificent country. Highly recommended destination for the foodie.


Written by Mar(k)

April 23, 2017 at 8:26 pm

A Feeding Frenzy

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One of the things we spent a lot of time on in Ghana was cooking.  Partly because we both love food, and partly because Ghana was a very carnivorous place to live, and being only veggie and seafood eaters, we found it was often easier to just cook our own meals so we knew what we were getting. 

Heading to the markets to shop every week was not really a chore, but a delight.  Although it was often very hot, it was good fun to see our regular fruit and vegetable sellers, and stock up on what was needed for the coming week.  We were pleasantly surprised with the variety of fruit and veg we were able to get;  certainly we had anticipated that it would be far more limited than it actually was. 

we bought many of our veg at this stall

There weren’t many sources of protein for vegetarians, but one thing that could occasionally be found was soya kebabs. 

purchasing some soya kebabs

They were great!  Often marinated, a skewer of soya would cost us 10 peshewa (about 7 cents).  So it was value for money, and always delicious when we found it!  Of course, we also learned to make our own tofu at home, but it was very time consuming – a lot of work for not very much tofu!   But never mind.  It was a good skill to have, and I’m sure I’ll give it a go again once we are back in our house in Perth!

When we were in Ghana, we enjoyed the most amazing mangoes we had ever eaten; pineapples, papaya, avocado and bananas were fantastic  when in season.  Apples were imported from South Africa and were comparatively expensive, so we didn’t indulge hardly at all.  Now that we are back home, we are enjoying the stone fruits, as they are just coming into season.  So peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries are all things we are now enjoying.  

buying some fresh fruit

In either case, we consider ourselves very lucky to be able to afford fresh fruits;  so many people go hungry and cannot afford such luxuries.  So when you next sit down to a beautiful meal, spare a thought for those less fortunate….

Written by Mar(k)

November 29, 2010 at 11:07 am

Ouaga – a great trip with friends

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For Mar’s birthday weekend, we headed up to Ouagadougou – capital of Burkina Faso with our dear friends Mike and Charlotte.  Highlight was front row seats at the second night gig of the Jazz Festival…. Toumani Diabate from Mali was headlining.  Dubbed the “Jimi Hendrix of the kora”, his performance did not disappoint!

You can read more about our fabulous Ouaga Weekend by clicking here:

Ouaga Weekend – from Mike\’s Blog

Written by Mar(k)

May 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Surviving as a veggo in Ghana….

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The following article was something put together for the VSO Volunteer Newsletter in Ghana.  We thought our blog readers might also be interested:

A veritable Feast at the Shox's

I thought I would write a little bit about my experience as a vegetarian here in Ghana.  Mostly because I love food.  I mean…. Seriously.  I LOVE food.  It is my life!  And eating well (and eating healthily) has taken on an even more important part of my life here.  My partner Mark and I are volunteering in the Northern Region, based in Tamale.  So far, we have been here six months (out of our planned two year placement).  Even in this short space of time, I must say I have found that

a) the availability of fruit and veg to be better than I had anticipated and

b) other items crucial to life as a vegetarian to be available (albeit sometimes intermittently, or else needing to be purchased from elsewhere, and “stockpiled”).

One of the first things I noticed after a few months, was that we had both developed rather serious anemia.  This is a relatively easy problem to cure, as iron tabs are readily available at a chemist.  I might also say that we are, strictly speaking, NOT vegetarians, but rather “fishatarians”  (meaning we will eat fish, but in Ghana, we limit this to canned tuna and canned mackerel in the ubiquitous tomato sauce).

As I’m sure we all know – Ghanaians love their meat!  and it does, unfortunately, form the backbone (as it were) of most of the staples at a chop bar.  So it has been tough for us to find a very diverse range of foodstuffs to eat when we are not at home.  However, there ARE some fabulous things out there, once you know about them!  One recent discovery has been the sellers of “tofu kebabs” (although strictly speaking, this soya based kebab is more akin to tempeh).  Delicious.  Highly recommended.  10 Pesawa for a stick with four soya chunks and corresponding pieces of chargrilled onion.  Yum.

In the kitchen itself, one of the biggest successes has been utilizing a wide range of spices in cooking.  The selection of ingredients here is certainly more limited than what I am used to in Australia, but the careful use of spices keeps things interesting and varied.  My favorite spice staples are cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, turmeric, oregano and basil.  If you add the always available onions, garlic, ginger, chilies plus good old S&P, you are pretty well able to cater for a variety of tastes!

Trying to get enough protein in the diet is often a challenge.  With more time on my hands here than in my previous life in Perth, I have enjoyed the fruits of my labour in making my own tofu.  The humble soya bean is widely available, and one “batch” of the tofu recipe can provide three great dishes:  soya milk, soya burgers, and of course – tofu!   (feel free to contact me if you are interested in the recipe – originally provided to me – with training!  – by Volunteer Extraordinaire Shirley Somono.  Thank you Shirley!  You are a gem).

Another good protein source is of course, any of the legume family.  My favorites are chick peas and moong dal.  Both are *sometimes* available here in Tamale, so I always make it a point to stock up when there ARE some legumes available.  They store well, keep a long time, and a little goes a long way.  It is wonderful to enjoy again – three great dishes from one soaking of a cup or so of chick peas:  chicks peas themselves (usually for a stew), hommus, and I use the rich flavoured stock in a subsequent soup dish.  I usually save the stock in a plastic container and freeze it for a separate soup making occasion.  It really makes a difference!

I know some of the more remote regions of Ghana have a more limited availability of fruit/veg/dry goods.  We feel lucky to be based in Tamale – the “big smoke” of the North.  We also occasionally get things brought up from Accra, where virtually EVERYTHING can be purchased.

Shirley Athena and Mark enjoy a vegetarian feast

So we are enjoying the challenges of keeping the menu varied, staying healthy, and having our cooking enjoyed by the fellow volunteers who (upon the occasion) come to stay with us!  Bon appétit, everyone!

As an addendum to this note:  a wee story of interesting “supply/demand” dynamics:

We regularly have ladies stop by the office selling various things; ranging from perfume, bananas and peanuts to condoms.  Anyhow, last week an “elderly” lady had a box on her head; when I inquired what she was selling she advised “spring rolls”.  I asked “do they have meat in them?” and she replied in the affirmative.  I said, “oh, I’m sorry – we don’t take meat”.   Anyhow, she duly stored this information…..

This week, we were at our favorite lunch spot, when she walked by with her spring rolls precariously balanced on her noggin again.  I asked her if they had meat, and she said “No, they are vegetarian.  After I spoke with you last week, I decided to try them without meat.  At first, I thought my customers would complain, but so far, everyone is happy with them!  So I made them for you.”  Of course, I then felt compelled to buy a few; but hey – we are happy;  there are precious few things we can buy that are vegetarian here, so this has been a welcome addition to the luncheon options!

Truly a win-win situation:  we get a regular supply of yummy spring rolls, and she gets a few more regular customers!   In addition, her profit margin is increased as she no longer has to purchase meat. Perfect.  Supply and demand in perfect harmony….

Written by Mar(k)

April 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

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Fufu making in ten easy steps (and ten easy photos!)

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One of the classic Ghanaian dishes is Fufu.  It is a fairly labour intensive exercise, which is best described with a series of photos.  Recently we were up in Jirapa visiting some friends;  they were kind enough to organise for the preparation of fufu while we were there!

pounding the fufu

Start with boiling the yams

once cooked, put the yams in a large mortar and pestle

Mark has a go at pounding

It is a yam based dish that is generally eaten with a “light soup”.  The soup is usually a tomato based broth which has fish and/or meat added.  (for this reason, we often can’t order it at “chop bars”.  So that makes it doubly nice that Aaron organised for a vegetarian suitable soup to be prepared for our visit!)

Light Soup

stirring the soup

Pounding the fufu is tough work!  It takes a while, but eventually the yams sort of disintegrate, and eventually start to congeal together to form a lumpy ball which is quite “elastic”.  Once this transformation takes place, you know the fufu is almost ready!

the finished product!

the finished fufu

dishing out the soup

A large “ball” of fufu is added to each bowl;  the soup is then ladled on top.  Your dinner is now ready to be eaten!  This is done (using your hands) by taking a piece of the fufu away from the main ball, scooping some soup up, and enjoying!   It should be noted that one does not “chew” the fufu, but rather just swallows it whole…. hence, don’t take TOO big a ball!  Fabulous!

Mark digs in...

Written by Mar(k)

April 21, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Food

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