COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: Hapa Cooks - A mother's influence turns into a daughter's passion
Photo of me in Sendai, in front of a yaki melonpan truck.
Thank you for being a part of the Kokoro Community! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Sara and I'm half-Japanese. I was raised in Southern California for most of my life but have been up in Seattle for the last four years. I run a little Etsy shop, Hapa Crafts, as well as a food blog still in its infancy, Hapa Cooks.
My favorite part about Japan is not only the food, but also how food is experienced. Ekiben is one of my favorite kinds of foods. Being able to dig into a delicious and thoughtfully packed bento while enjoying the scenery flying by.
When did you develop your love for Japanese food?
My mom, who is Japanese, raised me mostly on Japanese food. So it was only natural that as I grew up, dishes made with ingredients like soy sauce, ponzu, ginger, tofu, natto, etc. were what resonated with me most.
One of my soba bentos
How long have you been cooking Japanese food for and what are some of your favorite dishes to create?
I've actually only been cooking specifically Japanese food for the past three years! My move to Seattle definitely kicked that off. Having grown up in Southern California, which has a very vibrant and sizable Japanese community, I definitely took the access to Japanese food and ingredients for granted. While Seattle has its own Japanese community, it's rather hidden. And the number of really solid Japanese restaurants in Seattle pales in comparison to that of Southern California.
I love noodles, and this is so far one of my favorite bowls of noodles - tsukemen at Tsukemen Enji in Kichijoji.
I've always been a noodle girl, so udon and somen are my absolute favorite dishes to make and, maybe not-so-coincidentally, also the easiest dishes to make. On colder days, which Seattle has quite a number of, I like to whip up some curry or Japanese cream stew. Other honorable mentions including koji salmon, inarizushi and chirashizushi.
Do you tend to make traditional dishes or do you like to experiment?
I tend to make traditional dishes since that's what I grew up on, but I like to swap out ingredients that might not necessarily be called for in the original recipes.
One of my rice ball bentos
What are your favorite ingredients to use?There are so many! I love kinako powder, but that usually only comes in handy when I make daifuku. I've been obsessed with the nama ponzu that I got recently from a Kokoro Care Package. I'm really big on sesame oil. I like to use katsuobushi when possible. When it's summer, I like to incorporate corn into a lot of dishes like rice balls and hiyashi chuuka.
Are there any dishes you find difficult to make?
I'm actually a terrible baker, so roll cakes and mille crepe cakes - as much as I love to eat them - have still proven too intimidating to make. I'll get around to it someday!
We love your blog! What inspired you to create it and what do you hope to share with your audience?
Thank you! My mom has always been my personal radar for good Japanese food - she can tell just from the name of a restaurant whether or not the food there will be good, and she's generally right. Since I've moved away (she's in Southern California), I don't have access to my mom radar, so I've been taking it upon myself to learn what makes Japanese food really good. In the process, I've learned so much - and yes, I'll consult my mom every once in a while - and I'm always happy to share that knowledge with others. I've received a bit of a reputation among my friends for providing good food recommendations, so I thought I should finally jot all of these thoughts down in my blog :)
How have you been enjoying your Kokoro Care Packages so far?
So much! I was smitten when I received my first package, which was sakura themed. The pickled sakura was something I've been trying to find for so long, and I was so excited when I found them in the package. It's been fun to get creative in the kitchen with these ingredients that I definitely could not find in Seattle.
What I love about Kokoro Care is what I also love about Japan itself - all of the unique flavors and foods that you can't find in the states. I always feel so inspired when I come back! This is Miso Pudding from Sano Miso in Kameido.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the Kokoro Community?
If you're outside of Japan, you seriously cannot find these items anywhere. Even in Japan, it might be hard to source some of these items. Like my most recent box, which is Okinawa-themed, it might take some work to get these items in Tokyo. If you're on the fence about a subscription, you should definitely give it a try. What's nice is that many of the items don't go bad quickly, so you can keep them around and use them when you're ready/find the perfect recipe.