Home-taught cooking lessons by Japan’s foreign residents offer a taste of cuisine and culture

Kyodo

Cooking classes run by foreign residents at their homes are spreading across Japan and growing more popular, offering students an authentic taste of a variety of cuisines.

Women have been particularly drawn to Tadaku, an online service that matches teachers with those who want to learn about a particular cuisine.

Students get more than just a taste of a new style of food — they can also learn about a new culture.

Ebru Ispir, a housewife from Turkey, started a cooking class at her home in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.

A recent session was attended by four Japanese students. Welcoming the four, Ispir, 43, introduced herself in fluent Japanese.

“Nice to meet you. I am Ebru. I want us to cook together and be able to understand each other.”

The class began with ethnic music playing in the background. The day’s theme was okāsan no aji (mother’s taste). Ispir explained how to make eight dishes she learned from her mother, including simmered beef and a burnt eggplant salad with pomegranate extract.

Ispir, who hails from Istanbul, came to Japan in 1996 for a graduate course at Okayama University. She later settled in Tokyo after finding a job in the capital, where she lives with her husband, who is also from Turkey.

She was inspired to teach cooking because she liked being a host.

“I also want to introduce our culture through cooking,” she said.

As the recent lesson progressed, Ispir and the participants engaged in a lively conversation. One asked her about Ramadan, the Muslim holy month marked by daily fasting, and the difficulties it brings.

Ispir responded by saying, “I gain some weight during the Ramadan period because I eat meals in the evening.”

Her remark drew laughter from the participants.

Among them was Rei Fujimoto, who was happy to take part in the four-hour session with a fee of only ¥5,300.

“I was nervous because it was my first time to visit the house of a non-Japanese person, but I felt like I was coming to the house of a grandmother I know. It was good to have a firsthand experience with Turkish home cooking and someone from Turkey,” Fujimoto, 29, said.

In recent years, websites like Tadaku (www.tadaku.com) have helped spread the popularity of this type of lesson. Tadaku itself has played a significant role in raising the profile of home cooking classes by foreign residents. It has registered teachers, or what it calls “hosts,” from about 80 countries and regions. Nearly 200 hosts offer classes in 19 prefectures, concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Classes on cuisine not rarely served in Japan — such as that from Zimbabwe or Palestine — are also being offered.

As of Dec. 14, the 19 prefectures included Miyagi, Aichi, Kyoto and Okinawa.

Many of the classes have fees ranging between ¥3,000 and ¥5,000. There are also some hosts who opt to teach in English or their native language, with some participants also interested in learning the language.

Tadaku President Shunsuke Ishikawa likened the classes to a “one-day homestay” program.

“What is fascinating about cooking classes by foreign residents is that one could learn about the food, history and culture of the (host’s) country,” Ishikawa said, adding that he hopes to spread the business throughout Japan.