They often brag that Japan has four distinct seasons unlike Ireland, and indeed, it did neatly switch from Autumn to Winter overnight here in Kyoto. Winter, as we all know, is porridge weather. Unfortunately though, porridge is not really heard of here in Japan - to get across the idea you'd have to say something clunky like oats-mugi okayu. This is the first time I felt that something I take as the most normal of dishes might be quite foreign and strange to some: when the name has to actually explain what it is in the culinary terms of another culture; that's when you feel it.
I'm sure porridge is yet to have its boom in Japan - seeing as it's often eaten in the ever-trendy Nordic region - but for the moment it remains rather obscure and therefore difficult to obtain without laying down a few Noguchis. What I'm getting at, Irish people, is that you should be bloody glad of your delicious and cheap Flahavans Organic Jumbo Oats: 1kg for about 2 quid. If you're not that fancy you can get more for less of course but for me even the regular sized organic oats are a serious compromise. Here you pay twice the price for the half the amount of tiny powdery tasteless American oats that come in a horrible silver resealable plastic bag - the concept of paper packaging is something the food industry really struggles with in Japan - which is covered in words telling of the nutritional wonders of this strange matter to an assumed ignorant average Japanese shopper.
So while I can't enjoy the delicious porridge that I now have an even greater appreciation of, I will share my favourite recipe for you at home to enjoy. I can't remember when I started making porridge like this, it happened at some point during college. At some point Flahavans Jumbo Oats, a Tesco bag of lunchbox apples, raisins and ground almonds from lidl came together in a holy union that was delicious but also effective both nutritionally and economically - I recall it worked out as something like 7c for breakfast. Once I graduated from college I became more accustomed to buying apples at Temple Bar market and upgraded from the dubious and often disappointing Cox to bright, sweet, yet tangy Elstars. Toppings also vary based on availability on a given morning but nuts and seeds are the way to go. Ok this is it:
Robin's Apple Porridge
- Flahavan's Jumbo Oats - about a cup, or a handful and a bit, more accurately.
- One apple of your choice: I recommend Elstars. Stay away from Pink Lady whatever you do.
- Half a lemon
- A scattering of raisins
- About a tablespoonful of ground almonds (other options: chia seeds, toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
- Option: A drop of milk.
- Option: Honey or Orchard Syrup
- Oats in pot. Add enough water to cover then some. Add the raisins and turn on the heat.
- If you have a ceramic hob and it takes ages to heat up now is the time so grate your apple while stirring the porridge occasionally. Once it's grated lemon juice it so it doesn't discolour. If you have more control over the temperature of your hob, do this step first.
- As the porridge comes up to heat you need to keep stirring. This is really important as it makes it really creamy and stops it from sticking.
- Once it's porridgey in consistency and bubbling add the apple and mix in.
- Take off heat, serve up in your bowl and add toppings. It starts to set quickly in spite of the heat so that's where the drop of milk comes in. It pluses the natural creaminess of the oats and boosts the ground almonds too. Orchard syrup goes well with this but just a drop. If you fancy something crunchy, then toasted seeds and honey is for you.
To imitate this in Japan with infinitely inferior ingredients is depressing. It costs something like 3 euro a bowl and is totally off balance in flavour. I've tried to come up with the Japanese version of my cheap satisfying porridge and I reckon, for starters you'd be better off make actual okayu which is rice porridge and for extras I go with either banana and black sesame seeds or tsubu-an (coarse azuki bean paste) and kinako powder, cooked with soy milk. This, to Japanese is pretty much dessert, not breakfast. Since I prefer to not have to defend my breakfast from judgemental eyes as I'm eating it, I usually opt for the more typical natto on rice or something else savory. Though I probably needn't be so self-conscious; my housemate habitually eats processed cheese and anko on toast. I know, shocking. That's a world without porridge for you.