We have moved bedrooms and had a bit of an upgrade. We now have bunk beds and we seem to be sharing the room with fewer kamemushi (aka stinkbugs) than in our previous room. These little blighters, the size of a fly, are common in Japan and pretty harmless, but do release a stink if bothered. Helena elects to take the top bunk which has no sides to it. ‘It’s a long way down if you fall’ I say, ‘yeah’ she says ‘I want lots of sympathy if I fall’. ‘To be honest’ I say, ‘I think you’ll be dead if you fall from that height’. She’s not so keen for the top bunk anymore, and so I take one for the team and make the top bunk my new home. One morning, Helena says she thought there was another earthquake in the night, but actually it was me just turning over in bed. We’re eating a lot of pizza over here, so maybe it’s hit my waistline more than I realized.
We are now on breakfast duty 3 or 4 mornings in the week. One of Aussie guests says to me one morning ‘Are you the egg man?’. I say ‘yes I think so, would you like me to get you some more?’. He continues ‘No more, but they are delicious!’ One of the staff here also commented ‘Those eggs are the bomb!!’ Guys, I’m literally just making scrambled eggs, but hey I lap up the praise. I confess I have watched a video on YouTube with Gordon Ramsay showing how to professionally make scrambled eggs and also how to professionally swear. While Delia Smith once got a pasting in the news when she brought out a book teaching us how to cook eggs, I do pick up a couple of pointers from Gordon and I’ve not wasted 3 minutes of my life. Add butter, together with un-whisked eggs to the pan and cook those eggs f*cking slowly are the key points I took away.
I’m pleased that the Aussie guests like the eggs. The other day I cleared away what I thought was all rubbish outside of their room. ‘Helena’ I said ‘we’ve hit the jackpot here, they’ve left coke, snickers, milky ways and loads of booze for us!’ That evening the owner asks us if we’ve seen all the food and drink the guests left outside of their room.The penny drops, “what a muppet” I think to myself, they’d left it outside their room to keep cool and they hadn’t checked out. We return all of the food and booze minus a couple of sugary items. I feel like I’ve redeemed myself somewhat, cooking them a tasty breakfast everyday since. A week later when the Aussie guests are actually checking out they say ‘Keep cooking those delicious eggs mate!’ I feel like I had a fairly good handle on Scrambled Eggs before I came to Hopi Hills but perhaps I’ve now found my calling in life, CEO at Hopi Hills (Chief Egg Officer).
In the restaurant kitchen I seek out the ingredients I need from the walk-in fridge. Some things are more clearly labelled than others. The Japanese language doesn’t have the equivalent of the English letter “l” according to Google. So the box labelled “Rettuce” contains a green, leafy vegetable that is used in salads and you will know well. All those customers at the pizza joint that I turned away asking for a “meat rover pizza”, I apologise, please come back and I’ll serve you up a delicious salami and sausage covered pizza. For the record my Japanese is pitiful (despite my LinkedIn profile at one point saying that I could speak 6 languages), and asking Japanese people to order from me in English in Japan does at times feel a little embarrassing and awkward.
The last time we ate out for sushi was in Tokyo, near the old Tsujiki fish market. We opted for one of the smaller sushi set meals on the menu. I warned Helena about the sea urchin, from the time I’d had it previously, ‘the texture is like eating a soft squidy light brown dog poo (I imagine)’. Helena has the urchin and actually totally agrees with me. Washed down with some miso soup and that’s a couple less sea urchins to stand on in the sea and skewer your foot on. The rest of the sushi was delicious.
One day we ski in Rusutsu and Helena sees there is a sushi restaurant on the mountain ‘That’ll be expensive’ I say, to which she responds that I always say that. My counter argument is that when you’re up a mountain and away from the sea, perhaps fresh fish should not be the first choice of meal. Instead we opt for a Beef Ramen at the gondola base station; the restaurant has one of those vending machines that you put money into, push a button and it spits out your meal tickets. It’s sort of exciting because you’re never 100% sure what you’re ordering, all of the buttons are in Japanese and I’m matching the prices to pictures on the wall in a kind of Uno type food game, hoping I’m going to enjoy my food lucky dip. Just please don’t let it be sea urchin again. Thankfully I get a tasty Beef Ramen with udon noodles. It’s customary over here to slurp the noodles loudly if you’re enjoying them and while it feels very un-British, I give it good go and slurp away.
The evening meals here at Hopi Hills are traditional Japanese, but the breakfasts I would describe as Western. For the two of us this usually consists of three courses, toast & jam, porridge & fruit and a bit of fried breakfast. The French girls seem pretty astounded at the amount of food us Brits can put away for breakfast; they have their orange juice and one slice of toast, while we are wolfing down the calories. Should one get lost in the backcountry, those extra calories will be very welcome. Helena affectionately refers to me as “The Human Dustbin”, due to my eating abilities; I’m sorry but a measly pain au chocolat and a jus d’orange is just not going to cut it for me.
Helena greets the customers in the morning and makes coffees. Despite her never drinking tea or coffee, she’s doing a good job and even practicing her coffee art. The Aussies here seem pretty obsessed about the process of making good coffee; the Australian coffee culture is one of the most refined in the world apparently. If anywhere has a refined Diet Coke culture, I reckon Helena could compete at a high level (soz H but you do call me a dustbin).
I’m working a pizza shift with Marion and we’re talking about food we both enjoy making. She tells me she likes to make pattiserie. When she asks me what I like to cook and I respond with ‘I actually like British cuisine’ ooh la la, she seems astounded that two words can actually be linked together. I guess Jamie Oliver and Tom Kerridge are not topping the cookery book charts in France just yet. With Marion’s bit of je ne sais quoi on the doughs and my pizza toppings, we manage to keep the customers happy.
The staff food here at Hopi Hills is actually pretty good. One of the favourites is okonomyaki, which is a Japanese pancake made of batter and cabbage. Okonomi means “what you like” and yaki means “cooked”. We get a whole selection of things that we can add to it, including vegetables, seafood and meats. One of the best things about it is just saying the name ok-on-om-i-yaki, it just feels quite good to say and you feel a tiny bit Japanese; saying “cabbage pancake” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.