It’s a new year in Japan now, at least. I am currently in Sweden, having spent Christmas and now New Year here for the first time in three years. Three years ago there wasn’t much snow and cold, which kind of defeats the purpose of going to Sweden in the winter in my opinion, and impairs the Christmas feeling.
This year however awards us with a great cold and snowy winter. Yesterday morning when I was still up at my grandmother’s place in the village of Vittangi, outside Kiruna, a good couple of 150 km or so north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun doesn’t rise for a month during the winter, we went for a walk with the dog in -29℃. My beard froze to ice from the water vapor in my breath, but the dog doesn’t mind the cold at all.
It’s been an eventful year for me, with some turbulence and good stuff, but also a lot of tiredness. In the end I find myself in a better position than a year ago, all things taken together. Tomorrow we’re getting on the plane home to Tokyo, via Amsterdam, including a 6 hour visit to Korea where we plan to stop to have some spicy barbecued meat and kimchi on the way.
Right now I’m in Uppsala, the old university town north of Stockholm – also, conveniently, the city closest to Arlanda airport. We had sushi with miso soup for lunch today at Yukikos sushi, the new one in the market hall (Saluhallen) in the center of the city. Quite good, especially – as expected – the fresh salmon.
The second, and more interesting, experiment in merging Swedish and Japanese culinary cultures today is this Ramlösa chūhai that I made as an apéritif before New Year’s dinner. Chūhai, for those not in the know, is a simple drink made by mixing barley shōchū (a Japanese spirit, not to be confused with rise wine) with soda and some fruit flavoring, usually some citrus fruit in a highball glass, on ice.
One thing that Sweden has right is the ubiquity of tasty carbonated water. These are often flavored in very imaginative ways. Since my mom happened to have a small bottle of Iichiko shōchū (one of the best when making chūhai) in the fridge (!), I bought some Ramlösa, the king of Swedish carbonated waters, with blåbär (“blueberry”, a delicious type of bilberry) flavor, and also one with pear and lemon balm flavor, and mixed these together with a slice of lime. Here’s to a happy 2010!