Written by Toshiki Nakashige
My podcast co-host Susan McCormac snapped this photo of me while we were eating dinner and recording a podcast episode. Our version of the blueberry amazake sorbet didn’t come out quite as nicely as the image in the August Nourishing Essentials Care Package pamphlet, but boy, was it tasty.
I produce and host the podcast The Big Root with Susan, and the premise of our show is to celebrate “Everywhere Japaneseness.” Japaneseness is a concept we appropriated from a sociological book called Redefining Japaneseness. Susan discovered her Japanese heritage about 20 years ago at the age I am now, and as two unlikely Japanese American friends who come from different cultural backgrounds, we wanted to create a podcast that captures what being Japanese means in the broadest sense. The “everywhere” part of the tagline is inspired by the city where Susan and I live, New York.
As a project rooted in the stories of people, we are inspired by our listeners to delve into different aspects of Japanese community, business, and culture. When Lillian Rowlatt, co-founder of Kokoro Care Packages, found our podcast and reached out to us for a potential collaboration, we quickly recognized the spirit of everywhere Japaneseness inherent in their product and arranged to record a podcast episode where we unbox, prepare, and enjoy the Japanese ingredients in the August Nourishing Essentials Care Package. The episode “Out of the Box” aired on Friday, September 20. We also feature fresh produce from Suzuki Farm in this episode, and if you’re on the East Coast, you can enjoy fresh Japanese fruits and vegetables delivered to your door.
Not only because I thought of a witty caption to accompany a picture of me admiring dessert, the product that distinguished my experience having a homecooked dinner with our Koroko Care Package was the amazake.
First, I’m not much of a sweets person, so despite their admittedly kawaii marketing, other subscription boxes containing Japanese snacks and candy don’t appeal to me. The amazake was the perfect amount of sweet.
Second, I’ve had amazake before, but the Care Package encouraged us to try traditional Japanese ingredients in new ways. Transforming a dessert typically enjoyed as a drink into a slushy sorbet reminds me not to take Japanese culture so seriously. And this idea has been a theme in the podcast. Speaking with Rona Tison, Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations and PR of Ito En (North America), the company that popularized bottled unsweetened green tea, in our first episode [link to: ], I learned that I shouldn’t shy away from green tea just because the rituals surrounding tea ceremony intimidate my American sensibilities.
Exploring Japanese cuisine in my New York apartment without the pressure of thinking, “Am I doing this right?” reminds me of childhood memories with my parents making ugly gyoza (mine were ugly, not my mom’s) and messy temaki overflowing with tuna and avocado (again, mine because my dad is a sushi chef). In the curated age of Instagram, I’m afraid to share photos of homecooked meals, but this time, I was proud of what Susan and I created.
The other notable exploration that we embarked on was with the aged red wine vinegar. Red wine vinegar isn’t the first thing on our minds when Susan and I think of authentically Japanese condiments, but reading about Asaya Vinegar and the level of craftsmanship that’s involved in preparing a bottle, we were convinced that this product uniquely embodies Japaneseness through shokunin culture. The aged quality lends itself nicely to a sparkling sake cocktail. We have featured sake experts on the podcast twice already, so there was a continuity of that theme in this episode as well.
We enjoyed other items in our Care Package more traditionally, including the soba hiyashi chuka that came out beautifully and also excited my dog the most as we were (correction: Susan was) shelling and deveining the shrimp. We also grated daikon, literally “big root” in Japanese and the namesake for our show, and garnished the soba. You’ll hear that we got too excited about the daikon.
Listen to “Out of the Box” and other episodes of The Big Root at thebigrootpodcast.com or search for us on your favorite podcast app. Susan and I are grateful to Lillian Rowlatt and Aki Sugiyama for giving us the opportunity to feature Kokoro Care Packages on our podcast. There are a lot of excellent Japanese restaurants in New York, but spending a night at home was the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer.
About the author: Toshiki Nakashige is a nisei Japanese American who lives in New York. A scientist and writer, he constantly seeks to exercise his left and right brain. In between producing podcasts, he walks dogs and eats curry udon.