As I mentioned in one of my earlier Experience posts, I love taking cooking courses when I travel. I feel even more strongly about it here in Japan, as the skills I learn can actually be readily applied in my own kitchen as I attempt to cook more in the style of my adopted home. And when the fledgling Tokyo cooking school Buddha Bellies began offering a bento making class, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Much like my own business, Buddha Bellies is a one-woman affair, the brainchild of English teacher and trained chef Ayuko. As she only offers lunchtime classes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays (and the occasional weekend), it took some time for our schedules to align (my trips to Tokyo fall mostly on weekends). Ayuko’s kitchen space is also limited, so classes are rarely more than four to six people. But it’s a cozy space – as Ayuko shares a workspace with the borrowing library of Kodansha International Publishing, the walls are lined with pictorial coffee table books, kids stories, and cooking manuals with stunning photography.
Though the sushi class is the most requested, I asked Ayuko for a bento making class. If you are the first customer to sign up on a given date, you have the good fortune of picking the meal. Though I indeed had my first choice of menus, I was joined by three other friendly travelers. Together, we followed Ayuko’s clear instructions (we received written copies of all the recipes to use there and take away with us) and chopped veggies and octopus for a salad, mixed teriyaki sauce for chicken and scrambled eggs to roll up into sweet omelet squares. With a miniscule kitchen, Ayuko often relies on portable gas stoves , which did a fine job of cooking our teriyaki chicken. Aside from setting up the stoves, it was a truly hands-on experience and my loaner apron had the stains to prove it.
With Ayuko’s help, we embellished our bento box with decorative seaweed strips on our rice balls and learned the proper placement of the food in each compartment. And then, of course, we arrived at the finale – the devouring of our attractive creations. 🙂
A Buddha Bellies class won’t take too much time out of your sightseeing schedule, but it will introduce you to typical home-cooked Japanese food and a lovely Tokyoite who is passionate about sharing her knowledge. Just bring your enthusiasm … and your appetite!
Learn more about Buddha Bellies on their website.