Sunday, December 14, 2008

We Got the Beets

A few years ago, my then-neighbor Adrienne bought a juicer and began making juice out of everything she could lay her hands on: garlic, carrots, apples, ginger, celery, spinach...all were drawn into the vortex. But one vegetable eluded her: beets. It seemed that she could not find a beet anywhere in Tokyo, at any price. I had not given much thought to beets in many years but began to keep a sharp eye out for them whenever I went shopping. And, indeed, beets were nowhere to be found. A few months ago we did spot some at the Kinokuniya supermarket in the basement of the Bunkamura building in Shibuya...puny things for about 3 bucks each! We wrote beets off and moved on.

But Christmas is the season of miracles. On Friday night we attended a bonenkai party where we met Alex the Russian. Nick's first question: where the heck do you find beets in this town? Alex scores his -- affordably -- at the OK Market near Yoyogi Uehara station. He even makes a sweet liquor infusion out of them. But then, the following night, we attended a Slow Food party at the Shinjuku Kumin Center and what to our wondering eyes should appear but a boiling cauldron of home-made borscht! Synchronicity! One of the organizers, Noriko, orders her beets from a food co-op and the resulting soup was served with fresh cream and yogurt. The borscht had a special Japanese touch: a dash of Awamori, high-octane Okinawan rice liquor, to give it a special zing.

The party was a very yummy affair with guest foodies from all over Japan. We met Narita-san, a master soba maker from Tokyo; Meero-san, an international food consultant from Hokkaido; seed savers from Osaka; and Masu, who throws monthly fruit, music and art parties in Aoyama (reservations in English and Japanese at Most of the guests had arrived before noon and spent the day cooking together in the well-outfitted kitchen-cum- function room overlooking Shinjuku Gyoen. We dined by candlelight with the lights of Shinjuku glowing in the distance. As we left around 9 pm, people were still arriving to share food and comradeship. We received a large, lovely beet as an early Christmas present.


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