Talking of Food is a magazine website set up by a group of people who love not only food but also the diversity of its culture. It is not bound by idealogy or momentary fads but has an open mind towards opposing views. Its contributors are often experts in their field and discuss wide ranging subjects such as antibiotics in the food-chain, the opposing arguments on GM food or the future of farming. On a lighter note see how they make noodles in China or follow Elisabeth Luard's classic series on European Peasant Cookery.

In the latest entry in A Landlady's Diary, Zara G meets Yoshi and intoduces some spice into his culinary life!

My curiosity about all things Japanese grows ever stronger. Those of you who have been benign enough to read the earlier entries of “A Landlady’s Diary” may recall my fascination with this people and their culture.

I struck it lucky recently as I had an opportunity to host a young Japanese man, Yoshi, 30 something. The image that sprang to my mind when I first set eyes on him standing in the porch, was of an animal, possibly a donkey, at the base of a Himalayan mountain, lugging monolithic-looking trunks for the privileged to enjoy their passionate pursuit of climbing - a challenge that leaves me non-plussed. (Why would any one wish to inflict such discomfort voluntarily?) His entire body was weighed down with backpacks, wheelies, cameras, tripods and more.

Aesthetics, or the lack of it, is something that does not go unnoticed. There was something time-warped about his dress sense. I noticed the jauntily placed beret (or maybe it found its own position as there was no free hand to re arrange it); faded jeans with creases (those old enough to remember – the very pale denim of the 70’s-80’s); a short-sleeved T-shirt over a long sleeved one, terminating in rather worn-out hiking type of boots, which had obviously seen better days. But the most striking thing about this new arrival was his ink black beautifully shaped eyebrows which framed a very chiselled, structured face with a clean shaven equally elegant head. His complexion was so pale that you almost felt that he had spent his entire life under a shady tree.

When he greeted me in the typical Japanese style, although I could not for the life of me comprehend how he could do it considering the load he was carrying, I was very touched by his impeccable manners. He gave me the most beatific smile with teeth so perfect and white that he could most certainly have been a model for Colgate. The usual conversation ensued, enquiring as to how the flight was, any difficulties in finding my house etc. that took care of the small talk and formalities.

My new guest was a photographer for a very reputable magazine and he was appointed to take photographs of polar bears and the northern lights. No, relax, not in NW London but in Canada! Communications were tricky due to language limitations and therefore scarce and not helped by the cultural differences.

I naturally assumed that after a very long flight the first thing on the list would be to head straight to the bathroom. How wrong I was and how different we all are and thank god for that. Hours on a plane at the best of times leaves even the most intrepid traveller exhausted, but more so if you have never been outside your country of birth. The stress levels must have been exacerbated by the kg he had been toting from the airport and, via several changes on the underground and the long walk from the station, to the house. I was absolutely horrified when he declined my polite enquiry and said he would go to bed. I saw him next morning!

That meant breakfast time – I happened to be having my breakfast at the same time and was utterly astonished at the contents of his cereal bowl. Something sickly like Coco Pops from Iceland, jaffa cakes that had been torn to shreds along with a couple of slices of Kingsmill white bread also broken up – and of course a dash of milk. It reminded me of the barium meal I had to have pre x-ray a very long time ago. I could vividly recall the nausea I had felt almost as if it was yesterday. I hurriedly finished my breakfast!

Dinner was equally shocking to witness; spaghetti once boiled, chucked in a larger bowl, lashings of tomato ketchup smothering the entire contents of the bowl. Every suppertime was exactly the same. He stayed 4 weeks.

I could bear it no longer, so when I had a friend over for dinner as a birthday treat I asked my guest to join in. I really went town and made an authentic curry feast. A friend of mine had given me a jar of green chilli and coriander chutney. Lethal is the only way to describe it. My Japanese guest had never tried a curry before in his life and of course he had no idea of the explosive quality of this home made chilli concoction. I noticed something strange going on but I decided it would be impolite to stop and stare. Whilst we were all talking, drinking copious amounts of red wine (he was a complete teetotaller) and chatting away, my guest had his head down and with each mouthful (never looking up throughout the meal) he would hold his fork midair and make an almost orgasmic sound. I could swear he was in a trance.

After that experience I felt obliged to offer him the chilli chutney every mealtime. He consumed it daily with absolutely everything he ate.

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