Day 2 of Ghibli feast
Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro
What food can you think of from the film My Neighbor Totoro?
The vegetables they chilled in the river look great, don’t they? But unfortunately, I HATE cucumber. There are two foods I don’t like and will not eat. Cucumber and cilantro. I don’t just HATE them I DESPISE them. It’s not like I’ve never had it. I’ve tried them and decided that I’d never eat them again. All my friends think it’s the funny that I HATE cucumber though. They say it’s the most non-offensive food, and they never met anyone who HATES it.
Anyway, enough with that evil food…
The other popular food in the film is freshly harvested corn. Mei and Satsuki carves “To mom” on the outside the corn and delivers it to their mom. The scene is very moving, but the uncooked corn is not much of a “food.” You can also see Mei eating caramel candy on the back of the truck, and the rice cakes and bean cakes the old lady made look delicious too. But we had toast with an egg, pancakes and sausage, fish and pumpkin pot pie before this, and we hadn’t had rice yet that day. So us being big rice lovers, I decided to make the bento box Satsuki prepares for Mei in the film.
I love that Satsuki and Mei cook for themselves. They’re both very young, yet it looks like they’ve been cooking since they’re even younger. Satsuki doesn’t waste any time when she cooks, and you can see Mei grilling fish outside. While she cooks breakfast, she also packs lunch boxes for her father, herself and Mei.
[Mei's bento made by Satsuki]
The fish was pretty small, and I figured it was either shishamo (salt water smelts) or mezashi (Japanese anchovy). I found good shishamo at a Japanese super market, so I decided to use shishamo. If you’ve been to Japanese style izakaya, you might have had shishamo. It’s about 4 inch long, and usually grilled. You eat the whole thing, from the head to the tail. The bones are so small that you don’t feel them at all. It sometimes comes with a slice or lemon and grated radish.
I love shishamo but I’ve never actually cooked it, so I looked for the best way to cook grilled shishamo without a grill. The only thing you have to be careful when you’re cooking shishamo is that he fish is so small and the skin is very thin, if you don’t cook it well until it’s dry, the skin will stick to the bottom of the pan and break off when you try to flip it. After looking at a couple of different methods, I decided to use the frying pan with parchment paper method. I don’t recommend aluminum foil because the fish’s skin may stick to the foil.
Put parchment paper on the pan, and gently lay shishamo on it. (No oil needed)
Cook them in low to mid-heat, until the skin is completely dry. The water drips out from the fish, and start to sizzle, but don’t move the fish!
When you think the skin is dry, hold the tail gently and lift the fish. If the skin isn’t stuck to the bottom, flip it over, and cook until nice and brown. If the skin is still stuck to the bottom, keep cooking.
It sounds simple and easy but the important thing is to wait for the skin to dry completely. I can’t remember exactly how long I cooked, but it took a lot longer than I expected. While I was cooking, I tried to lift the fish a couple of times because the skin looked pretty dry. But the skin on the bottom was still stuck to the paper, so I let it go. At that point, I wasn’t sure if the fish would come out good, but after a long wait, I tried to lift the tail again, and it came off the paper very easily. So if you’re making this, just be very very patient.
I also tried to cook some in a toaster oven. (I put parchment paper on top of aluminum foil.) It came out fine, but I felt that the ones cooked on the frying pan were juicier on the inside. Also the fishy smell stays inside the oven for a while.
Before I started packing the bento, I studied the bento carefully again.
I realized that Satsuki filled the whole bento box with rice! I totally thought the other side of the bento box had vegetables or something, but you can the whole bento is filled with rice. I guess the Kusakabe family really loves rice.
I filled the bento box with rice, and put shishamo in the middle. I sprinkled sakura denbu on rice, and put a sour plum. Then I put sweet peas I had bought, and realized that it probably wasn’t sweet peas in Mei’s bento… I didn’t think the color would be so different. =/
Well, I couldn’t help it, so I got regular peas later, and made the bento again.
Sakura denbu is basically sweet fish powder dyed pink. It’s mainly used for sushi (rolls) but can be used on regular rice. I thought maybe the pink stuff could be salmon flakes at first, but when I did the research, pretty much everyone believed that it was sakura denbu.
It made more sense when I actually ate the bento. Sour plum is very sour, and shishamo is kinda salty, so the sweet sakura denbu was the perfect neutralizer. As I ate this bento, I wondered if I’d have liked it at Mei’s age. Sour plum, grilled fish, and peas… Not sure if I’d be so excited and jumping up and down for it. As matter of a fact, I didn’t like sour plum when I was little because it was too sour. I guess good kids like them appreciated any food back then.
Eating this bento reminded me of how my dad always made me rice balls with sour plum in it, and I always had to remind him that I didn’t like sour plums. He’d just say “Oh, you don’t like them?” I don’t think I’ve told him that I can eat sour plum now but I don’t think it really matters anymore. He probably still doesn’t remember that I didn’t like sour plum anyway.
Our next feast was Spirited Away!
You can also see these pictures in Ghibi feast set on my flickr page!