Meg Tanaka is the co-owner of Japanese cafe CIBI in Collingwood, Melbourne. Pronounced 'chi-bee', CIBI translates 'a little one' as an expression of a way of living characterised by curiosity and playfulness with a natural sense of delight.
Can you tell us about the significance of the Miso Soup recipe that is featured in your Food For Everyone poster?
I believe everyone has their own food memory and it can be their soul food to carry through life. Miso soup is a soul food to many Japanese people, me included. Ingredients can vary between households and regions across Japan. This is my family’s miso soup recipe that I grew up with. Waking up to the aromas of my grandma cooking miso soup and rice, with seasonal produce harvested from her vegetable garden. Goodness that makes your body and soul happy. Grandma's miso soup has been part of CIBI’s traditional Japanese breakfast since we opened. Grandma would be very happy!
Can you share one of your happiest food memories?
Childhood food memories still live with me everyday, it's amazing. Okayama, Japan, where I grew up, is beautiful Japanese countryside and my food memories start in my family and grandparent's farm and local community. Produce shared and brought into the home kitchen. Walking through the bamboo forest with a basket, to harvest shiitake mushrooms and when my cousins visited from the coastal area, we would enjoy their catch of fresh fish at breakfast. I am smiling now!
If we were to peer into your pantry and fridge, what are 5 things we would always find?
Hard to pick only 5 things! Definitely a lot more 'must' ingredients in my pantry and fridge!! But here are my top 5 picks:
Various kinds of salt for seasoning and cooking for different types of food and cuisine. Using the right salt produces the right flavour.
I love keeping a bottle of good mirin from Japan in my pantry. Often I use it when I make Japanese food to add a richness of flavour to a dish. And sometimes, I use it for making stew, marinading, and making sauces. It's a secret ingredient!
A good sake for cooking. When I do Japanese food at home, a good sake for cooking makes a good difference to the dish. I like simple good food, so using good ingredients are the key for my style of cooking. When I say ‘good sake’ that doesn’t mean I use premium, but I use reasonable price drinking sake for cooking.
Kombu to make dashi (stock). This is a 'must' item in my pantry. I use it not only to make dashi but also cook rice, risotto, stew, casserole, hot pot, and other dishes. It gives a good depth to the flavour to the dish — I like to keep the cooked kombu in the dish and eat its too. Delicious.
A good local extra virgin olive oil, I use it all the time. We are very lucky to be able to get good olive oil in Australia. I love using our local oils for Japanese food to European food, too. If I have some good produce from my friend's farm or the weekend farmers' market, I just rinse them drizzle with olive oil and good salt, that’s all you need to enjoy a good produce sometimes.
What do you like to cook for the people you love?
I am always conscious about eating good food with balanced ingredients, right portion and good nutrition. It's something we have been practicing at CIBI since we open the doors in 2008, and it the same at my home.
Especially having 3 young boys at home, this is the best way to feed everyone. My typical dinner at home with kids, will always be a main with a few vegetable dishes – cooked vegetables and salad, we enjoy having seasonal ingredients and some sort of grain on the table. And when I find good produce at a farm, market, and local stores, I get excited and start exploring what I can cook for the night, and what wine would match, and ended up inviting friends (always spontaneous!) to share the joy of produce. Also, when I plan to invite our friends, I love planning based on what our guests like paired with what is in season. Lovely “omotenashi” mind running through me when it comes to having friends over.
What are your favourite rituals around food and dining?
Family new year ”O-sho-gatsu” food preparation and celebration. Looking back on my family traditions when I was growing up, I realise I have been repeating the tradition at my Melbourne home. There are lots of delicious memories from each year. It is like celebrating Christmas with family here — I cook a traditional Japanese new year dish on New Year's day and invite our Melbourne family friends over to celebrate the beginning of the year each year.
And each season, I am busy preserving seasonal produce, pickling, drying, jamming, and making sauces. I follow my grandma’s traditions and apply the same practices in Melbourne with local produce.
What sort of food did you eat growing up?
Growing in up in a countryside of Okayama and living with big family (4 generations in a same roof), food I grew up with was very traditionally Japanese. Especially my great grandma's food to my grandma’s food, looking back, I feel so lucky.
It was very homely, what you would call "garden-to-table" food. There was always rice and soup with main dish and some preserves from home grown vegetables. Often our farmer neighbours would deliver some produce or preserves they had made. There used to be a tofu cart, seafood cart, all sorts of food grocery carts coming to my small hometown to deliver local produce.