Last week’s Venezuela Night was so much fun, that I couldn’t wait to do it again. I’m going to try to do International Night every week, if possible. This week, we went took a Journey to Japan.
Japan has such a rich and diverse culture that there it was difficult to decide where to focus. There are so many recipes, movies, books, crafts that it was a little tricky to narrow down things down. Whereas I had to dig a little to find things to incorporate into our Venezuela Night, Japan was the opposite problem. Too much to choose from. But, unlike last week where I planned everything the day of, this time around I did a little preplanning so I wasn’t scrambling.
As is the tradition here at Mommy Needs Cookies, I started this week’s adventure with a trip to the local library to find some books to incorporate into our dinner plans. I was able to find two great books for little kids that highlighted elements of Japanese culture.
The first was Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth and Priscilla Burris. Natsumi is a little Japanese girl who can’t seem to do anything right. Her family is always telling not so loud, not so fast, not so hard. When village decides to have a culture night, everyone in the family contributes, but Natsumi can’t find her niche. Everything she tries it’s the same thing, not so loud, not so fast, not so hard. But, her grandfather has faith in her and helps her with a way to make her family proud and use her innate gifts to surprise everyone at the event. Such a sweet, delightful way to introduce not only elements of Japenese culture, but also show kids that they can find their own way to contribute while still being true to themselves.
The other book we found wasn’t exactly about Japanese culture, but it did star an item found in most Japanese homes. Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon (currently free if you have Prime Unlimited) is the funny story of a pair of chopsticks who do everything together and are the best friends in the world. They are never seen apart until tragedy strikes and one of the pair breaks his leg. While he heals, he encourages his best friend to strike out and find adventure on his own. At first the lone Chopstick is lost with out his other half, but soon, he finds his way on his own. Once his best friend is all better, they share the new things that Chopstick discovered. Its a funny book with a lot of corny jokes (think Dad jokes). My son loves it, and I found myself chuckling at a few of the puns.
While at the library looking for books, I decided to see if they had any family-friendly Anime movies. We were in luck and they had a copy of Ponyo by Hayao Miyazaki, a master of animation. This adorable movie is a reimagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. This is very different than the Disney version (though Disney is the distributor of this film, so I guess this is technically their version, too). Ponyo is a fish who falls in love with a little boy who rescues her after she gets trapped in a jar. Her father doesn’t want her anywhere near humans, because they destroy the sea (there is a strong anti-pollution theme in this movie) and can’t be trusted. He finds her and brings her back home, but she wants to be with Sosuke, the little boy who saved her. She loves him and wants to be a human, too. So much so that she wills herself to turn into one. Did I mention that Ponyo (and the rest of her family) is magic?
We all loved this movie and it is a new family favorite. My son watched it at least 5 times in the week we had it. It is absolutely adorable. I highly recommend it.
This week’s craft was a bit of origami. I was able to find a couple very simple ones that were perfect for little hands, a puppy and a kitty. I didn’t have any origami paper on hand, so I just use construction paper to make squares. These were super easy and fun to make. Only a few folds and none of them had to be exact. We added some noses and eyes and they came out super cute.
Now, to the most important part of the evening, the food. As I said last week, the whole idea of International Night was because we were trying to eat out less as a family to save a little money. So, we couldn’t just order in sushi and call it a day. Nope, I was determined to make a somewhat authentic Japanese meal. But, to keep my sanity, I limited myself to two dishes this week. But, one of the dishes was really two recipes in one.
My son loves dumplings, so we made some gyoza. I used this great recipe from Steamy Kitchen. I forgot to get cabbage at the store, so we did without and it really wasn’t missed too much. It would have added a little bit of moisture to the meat, but otherwise the flavor was still good without. I also didn’t cut my wonton wrappers into circles because that seemed like an unnecessary step. My folding skills leave much to be desired, so I figured it didn’t much matter what shape the wrappers were so long as they stayed together.
For our main course, I decided to make Chicken Ramen Soup from Fox and Briar. There is a ramen restaurant not far from us that we enjoy, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. The first thing I had to do was make the ramen eggs. You could do without the eggs if you don’t like them or you don’t want to go to the trouble, but it does add a little bit of authenticity to the dish. The eggs need to marinate for at least 8 hours or overnight, so plan accordingly. Mine probably could have gone a little longer in the marinade but were otherwise very tasty. I’m not a huge fan of boiled eggs, but I ate one. My husband had the other 3. My son, of course, refuse to try one.
The soup itself was pretty simple. I used Chinese noodles instead of Yakisoba because I already had them on hand, but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly. It was a little on the spicy side, so I ended up making a plain miso broth for my son with some chicken broth and a little miso paste. You keep the noodles separate from the soup until just before serving, so I didn’t have to do extra noodles just for him.
We all loved the soup. It was as cool night, so soup was the perfect dinner choice. The broth was warming with lots of veggies and meat. We ended up dipping the gyoza into the soup since I forgot to make a dip for them and it worked out great.
My son loved slurping down the noodles. This meal was a hit. My son told me I could make it everyday.
I didn’t make a dessert this time around. All the recipes for Japenese desserts seemed a bit complicated and none seemed like anything my family would really enjoy. Instead, I decided to order a snack box from Amazon full of Japanese junk food and candy. My son had a blast trying all the different snacks. Some of them were quite unusual, and not always in a good way. It was a fun way to end the evening.
We loved Japan. Everything came together so nicely and we had a great night. These International Nights may not be easy, but they are a lot of fun. Where do you think we should go next?