It’s still hot and muggy here on Ye Olde Kanto Plain, although this evening, finally, we had a break and a breeze. His Royal Highness and Naval Officer (pro tempore), Prince Charles Julius of Minatogaoka is home from sea for a short while, but had to spend all last weekend on the ship either on duty or giving tours for “Friends and Family Day.” I am probably the only spouse that skips this 6 am to 6 pm, day-long cruise, including wandering around the smelly ship, oohing and aahing over weaponry and fire extinguishers. I could barely make myself interested in ship engineering and weapon systems when I was a midshipman in college and I was being tested on it; it’s impossible for me to fathom a day on that ship now. Maybe if I could hang with the cook who, my husband reports, once made his grandmother’s jambalaya recipe for the XO’s dinner, now that would be a day out.

This afternoon I went to Nojima Park near my house for a BBQ given by the one of Yokohama’s International Lounges (my Japanese teacher volunteers there). I met a fairly interesting mix of ex-pats from Bulgaria, Switzerland, Canada, and the US—all men married to Japanese women and who had moved back to Japan. Oh, and a bunch of Japanese people, super nice, kind of embarassingly nice, the kind of nice that makes me want to run screaming, you know, nice. The Japanese volunteers grilled up some yakisoba, sliced beef, weiners, squid, and assorted veges. Against my better judgment, I impetuously ate some grilled squid, to which, tragically, over the past few years, I have developed a terrible allergy…but that’s another gastro-intestinal story. Back to the BBQ:

The Bulgarian and I talked about Kotooshu (the Bulgarian Ozeki) after we did the normal “Hey, you’re not Japanese!” ex-pat convo, which goes like this:

Hello, I am [insert random non-Japanese name, point at name tag]. How do you do? Where are you from? How long have you been here? Where do you live now? In a van down by the river, how interesting! Do you like it? Is it a quiet neighborhood? Do you have children? You sold them into slavery? Do you know where I can score some H? How about a decent baguette?

Small talk makes adrenalin pulse through my body. I’ve always suspected that everyone wants to skip the first five minutes anyway, so I usually do. My standard mode is to attack on the food angle. In this case, it was easy. I asked him if he knew of a place to get good yogurt, because the Japanese yogurt brands were too sweet, even when they were supposedly “plain.” That did it.

“Well, that’s difficult, because even the brand they call ‘Bulgarian’ here is no good, too sweet, what do they put in it? Like a kind of corn syrup or starch or something. Anyway, try the Co-op brand and perhaps the Meg Milk one. It’s all about getting a mixture of the Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus Bifidus…”

No lie, the dude could talk yogurt. I even scored a recipe for Tarator, the Bulgarian summer soup made of yogurt, cucumber, garlic (“if you like”), dill, some oil and water, and walnuts “to make it rich.” Here’s a recipe that seems to match what he told me. He says some people grate the cucumber, but he prefers a small dice on the cukes so they retain some crisp texture (“shredding makes it too soft and mushy”).

His wife was a very charming Japanese woman with whom I was enjoying a long conversation. But then she said a sentence which caused my conscious brain to stop functioning for a moment. In response to the question,”What was your favorite meal when you were a child?” she responded, “Well, when I was a kid, I was never interested in food.” I stared at the hyper-petite woman while my ravenous inner child cracked open a lobster and dipped it in butter, scraped a leaf of artichoke with her teeth, took a bite of orange poundcake, had a sip of overly gooey onion soup, and mentally ate enough for the two of us…plus a guest.