After my first experience of macrobiotics, in February this year, at the Penninghame Foundation in Scotland, I could not wait to get home and stock up on the basic ingredients to cook some delicious macrobiotic meals. The food at Penninghame was what really caught my imagination. If this simple, healthy food could taste so good, I wanted to be able to cook it every day. We had some basic cookery lessons learning how to cook a few staple meals, such as lentil burgers, broccoli and tofu stirfy, brown rice, rice balls, miso soup and various grains and dressings, and I was desperate to continue this when I left.
I found myself picking up vegetables and grains I had never heard of and had to make long lists to take with me on shopping trips because I was visiting aisles in the supermarket I had never been down before. But the selection was so limited – you have to go to the really big shops to get some of the more “unusual” ingredients and a lot of the stock is Clearspring products, which is great, but can be pricey. It’s usually found under a section called “world foods”. A lot of the macrobiotic way is based on the Japanese diet, and despite there being Yo Sushi, Itsu and Wasabi restaurants across the UK, the ingredients have not made it to the mainstream. It seems we love to eat this food but we are all too lazy to cook it. It does take some effort.
I was fortunate, with a job in central London, to be close enough to visit the Japan Centre regularly. What a place to explore and find all the staples for macrobiotic meals. All types of Miso, short grain brown rice, shoyu sauce, soy sauce, Umeboshi plum sauce, daikon, ginger, hard, soft, firm, tofu, seaweed salad, fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms, bancha tea – and so on. And the prices are fair (miso sachets, which are great if you are on the road, are around 2 UK pounds for 12 sachets instead of the 4 UK pounds for 4 sachets in the major supermarkets).
After a few months of browsing, collecting and experimenting my stock cupboard at home looked like a mini Japanese supermarket. All the refined sugars were out. Beans, pulses and grains were in. My fiance was fascinated by all this and a keen guinea pig. We both balked at my shiitake tea (even with the promise that it helps to eliminate fat from your body), but he loved my brown rice, shoyu sauce, salmon and adzuki beans cooked with seaweed (apparently cooking the beans with strips of Kombu can help prevent wind, which helps when trying to build up friendships on a commuter train).
When we had to move to Paris it broke my heart to leave most of my collection behind. I gave a lot of it away as I did not want to explain why I had half of the Japan Centre in my bag on the Eurostar, rather than clothes. I’m going back to the UK at the end of this month for my god daughter’s naming ceremony, and will collect a box of my macrobiotic ingredients.
Any move is disruptive to routine, and for the first couple of weeks in Paris I have been completely seduced by the food. At the bottom of our street we have a fromagerie, a boucherie and a boulangerie. Parisian’s would say – bien sur! – but back in the UK it’s rare to have such choice, with entire shops dedicated to specific types of food. The other day I walked past a shop entirely dedicated to Pistachio nuts. Not all nuts. Just Pistachio nuts. So if Paris loves food, then surely I am more likely to find my macrobiotic ingredients here, than back in the UK… I can’t wait to start the search. I just have to dodge the cheese.