Throw Some Curry on the Barbecue

Another year, another field trip. This past Monday was Aomori High School’s annual school excursion. I wrote about it last year, but seeing as I rarely miss out on a chance to gush about eating delicious food with my kids, I couldn’t resist writing about this year’s trip, too.

Hard at work, slaving over the grill.
Hard at work, slaving over the grill.

Most of the teachers move through the grades as the students do, meaning that the graduating seniors will have been taught by the same teachers for three years when they leave for college. I, however, am forever stuck with the first-year students, which means this year’s trip was basically a repeat of last year’s. Not that I’m complaining. It gives me a chance to get to know my students outside of class. And even if there weren’t massive amounts of food involved, I’d love it just for the view.

I never get tired of scenery like this.
I never get tired of scenery like this.

As always, creativity was brought in full force by the grillers extraordinaire. Japanese people love their 焼き肉 (yakiniku, “grilled meat”), but they’ll throw just about anything on the barbecue. I saw my kids throwing together huge dishes of fried rice, お好み焼き (okonomiyaki, a savory pancake) and 焼きそば (yakisoba, which is basically Japanese-style lo mein). That’s a pretty standard affair, though.

One of the groups did stick to tradition and made cheeseburgers.
One of the groups did stick to tradition and made cheeseburgers.

It was the kids who were concocting giant pots of curry, cheese and chocolate fondue, and pancakes that were really impressing me. Sure, it might not be a hamburger, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less delicious. One group even took it upon themselves to make Korean bibimbap.

Bonus points for utilizing the leftover grill space for eggs.
The ambitious bibimbap. Bonus points for utilizing the leftover grill space for eggs.

The other teachers and I also grilled, but our platters of meat and vegetables were provided by the park/venue we were occupying, so our options were pretty limited. I managed to circumvent that, though. My own contribution to the teacher’s meal was a few dozen Nutella oatmeal cookies. I’d baked up far too many for the dozen or so teachers to eat, and I knew if I took them back home, I’d end up just eating them myself.

My plan of action: scope out the food that looked the most delicious and barter with its cooks. “私は食べ物を交換したい” (Watashi wa tabemono o koukan shitai) became my phrase of the day. It means, “I want to trade some food,” and it got me plates of fried rice, okonomiyaki, and curry in exchange for my cookies. My favorite exchange might have been for these delicious, doughy pastries filled with cinnamon sugar and toasted walnuts. Whatever kid thought to put that on their menu gets my salute.

From dumplings to pancakes.
From dumplings to pancakes.
This thing was amazingly good.
This thing was amazingly good. Fluffy and sweet.

By the time we boarded the buses back, we were all victims to overly full stomachs and sleepy eyes. On the way there, my bus had been boisterous, but on the way home? The only sound came from one of the kids snoring.

The bus ride home also made it apparent just how quickly winter is coming. Aomori is Japan’s largest producer of apples, and the orchards are resplendent with the ruby red orbs. As full as I was, I couldn’t help but crave an apple or six as I watched orchard after orchard blur past my bus window. Fun fact: the famous Fuji apples don’t originate from anywhere near Mount Fuji; they’re actually from Fujisaki, a town in Aomori.

Sure sign that autumn is coming: golden rice fields.
Sure sign that autumn is coming: golden rice fields.

Japan’s obsessed with pristine, gorgeous fruit, so the trees are equally dotted with silver globes as they are red. The silvery foil wrapped around some of the apples ensures that they stay as perfect as possible before they’re picked and sold. Some of the trees also have silver foil spread underneath them. This reflects the sunlight onto the underside of the fruit, ensuring that it’s as perfectly colored as the apple of Snow White herself. (Seriously, Japanese people want their apples in as perfect a state as Americans demand their Hollywood starlets.) I can’t wait for massive crates to show up in my grocery store…but then again, I think I’m still waiting for all the barbecue food to work its way through my stomach, so maybe it’s better that I have a few more weeks till that.

Usually the apples are wrapped in silver, but I could only get a decent picture of some encased in blue.
Usually the apples are wrapped in silver, but I could only get a decent picture of some encased in blue.

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