The Challenges of Cooking in Japan

Living in Japan, you have to make many lifestyle adjustments; cooking and baking is one of them.

The other day, my dad made an amazing poppy seed lemon cake using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Problem was, it used eight egg yolks and I didn’t really have a recipe to use up the egg whites. A few days later my dad made macaroons using two of the egg whites, and I just was given some peppermint candies, so I used a recipe from Simply Recipes to make peppermint meringue cookies. It requires that you cook the cookies for just one minute at 300°F/150°C, using the residual heat overnight to make the cookies nice and fluffy.

The first problem, though minor, is the units, especially for temperature. Most recipes use imperial units for baking, yet most of the world uses metric units and you have to refer to an external source for converting units. Maybe I’m just really lazy.

Second is the ovens. Most homes in Japan don’t have gas ovens, and if you do, you pay through the nose for one. Often, it’s a combination electric oven/microwave (if even that). The size is smaller, AND most models have fans to cool down the oven after it’s used. That means I couldn’t use the residual heat overnight… but I overcame that by simply unplugging the ovens so the fans couldn’t spin 😀

The final and most frustrating problem with this recipe was the recommendation to make it on a dry day. Too bad—Japan, being an island country, can be considered relatively humid almost every day. I should have realized that the recipe would fail when the crushed peppermint candies started to stick to each other, but I pushed on to see if the recipe would work. It didn’t. Everything was gooey in the morning, so I continued to bake them for 10 minutes at 100°C to dry them out, to almost no avail.

End result: the meringues tasted good, but were more of a chewy/icky candy mixture in your mouth, like melted marshmallows sans third-degree tongue burns.

There are issues with cooking in Japan, most of which can be overcome, but with recipes that are humidity-sensitive, it may be best to leave those untested (unless you have a dry room in your home that’s artificially adjusted to have ultra-low humidity).