Who are we?
Born in Tokyo, Yumi is a freelance consultant, curator and interpreter for film festivals/promotions, media producer and lectures multi-cultural communications at university. Growing up in Indonesia and Singapore, in a house with ‘an open culinary mind’, as she puts it – and later on living in Austria and Germany – meant that Yumi’s encounter with Jewish cuisine was not particularly challenging. “I visited Israel four times: I tasted Persian food in Tel Aviv and Kubbeh in Jerusalem,” she says. “I like Nir’s cooking and the vegetable salad he prepares with plenty of coriander (cilantro), although, in Japan vegetables are often cooked or grilled, and coriander isn’t exactly everyone’s favourite.”
Born in Tel Aviv, Nir is a tour guide in Tokyo and a partner at Million Steps, a consulting firm aimed at connecting Japanese industry with Israeli entrepreneurs. “My father always held a green onion in one hand – and a good salami in the other,” he says. “My grandmother, who came from a Russian home, made borscht soup and Vinegret salad. On my father’s side we also ate duck with Czech style dumplings and apples-horseradish mix. One thing that’s for sure: eating kosher was not something we practiced at home.” In 2011, Nir was appointed as Cultural and Scientific Attaché at the Israeli embassy in Tokyo. Japan, which until that point in his life had been “just about Suzuki Jeep,” as he put it, changed his life and his daily menu forever.
Born in 2015 in Tokyo, Kai is in nursery. His parents attest that he is a big lover of bell peppers in a variety of colors and an avid lover of the salads that Aba Nir chops. “But most of all he enjoys his grandmother Yoko’s tsukemono pickles. According to Nir, “our child is well-fermented”. “The land of fermentation – there are many options in Japan and tsukemono has traditionally been playing the same role as yoghurt.” says Yumi who thrives on fermented food.
“Our grandmothers make chicken soup that cures every ailment, while here in Japan they make tsukemono” says Nir. “In fact, this is the Japanese penicillin.”
Where was the photo taken?
The family lives in Setagaya, Tokyo, one of the 23 wards that make up the central part of the Japanese capital. They usually meet friends outside of the home. It is not so common to host friends at home. “We prepare the food here in the kitchen – and then head out to the park for a picnic,” says Nir. “Corona Practice. Tokyo is a very big city, and the people here prefer to see each other and eat together outside“.
Our family kitchen
In the Matsushita-Turk family kitchen, you will find soy sauce and miso paste made from fermented soybeans, alongside olive oil, tahini, and also soup mandels that grandmother sends Kai from Israel. “He likes to eat them in miso soup,” his mother says, adding with a smile: “Every Japanese household has its own rules on how to prepare certain dishes like miso soup, but Nir inspired me to cook outside of the box.” In the past year, following the pandemic, Nir, an avid chef that had time constraints, has started cooking more regularly. “What’s nice here is that we buy the raw ingredients from neighbors who grow their own fruits and vegetables in small allotments.”
The house recipe: Schav (Sorrel) Soup with a Japanese twist
“When I make this soup I always think of my grandmother Fanny,” says Nir. “She immigrated to Israel from Russia and on those sweltering hot summer days she would cook us Schav soup.” The cold sour soup, which originally contains Schav (Sorrel lives) or spinach, potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, to which Nir adds Japanese ingredients such as daikon radish greens (when in season), shiitake mushrooms, yuzu – a Japanese citrus – and miso.