When some foreign embassies in Tokyo began looking for a cook, they didn't have to look far for someone who could prepare their native dishes.
They turned to Yuriko Aoki, a cooking expert on the world's local dishes, who was spreading information about international cuisine.
The embassies of Bulgaria, Mozambique and other nations, which did not have chefs from their countries on hand, asked her to cook their local dishes.
Aoki, formerly a magazine reporter, was a professional in terms of information gathering, but she was a self-taught cook.
So in 2014 she joined ANA InterContinental Tokyo, where she trained for about two years among colleagues more than 20 years her junior.
At the kitchen of a hotel where events with hundreds of participants are held in succession, the hectic schedule was more than she had imagined. In addition to being expeditious, the staff were expected to care for the guests’ health-related diet restrictions as well as permissible foods based on religion.
During holidays, Aoki visited affiliated hotels around the world and learned about cooking and excellent service directly from the chef and other staff.
While she made dishes for embassies based on such experiences, she realized that food had the potential of being a means of communication.
Aoki feels that learning about and respecting the food familiar to the other person helps people understand each other beyond differences in languages, religion and customs.
Aoki is often invited to the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia. Serbia, whose politics and sports often make the news, is a "nation of gourmandise" rich in meat, freshwater fish, dairy products, wine and more.
Prebranac is a nutritious, typical home-style dish made by baking beans and onions in the oven.
Aoki incorporated frankfurter sausages and made a filling dish. The paprika enhances the flavor of the ingredients.
Japan will be hosting a series of international events including the G-20 summit and the Rugby World Cup this year and the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games next year.
Aoki says food is the "most powerful item to connect people with happiness."
She hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the food of various countries and regions and also spread the food culture of her own country, which is rich in local colors.
250 grams large haricots (shiro-ingen-mame) (or daifuku-mame or white runner beans (shirohana-mame))
2 medium-size onions
1.5 Tbsp paprika powder
2 Tbsp oil (sunflower seed oil if available)
3 to 4 frankfurter sausages
Rinse beans briefly in colander and place in pot. Add more than twice as much water and leave overnight. (Large beans should be immersed in water for a day.) To prevent beans from going bad in water, reconstitute in fridge during summer.
Pour water out and pour in just enough new water to cover beans. Cover with kitchen paper and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook for about an hour until tender. Change paper occasionally to remove foam. Add water if reduced. Drain when done.
Finely slice onion, make about four incisions with kitchen knife on surface of sausages.
Add oil to frying pan, sautee onion over medium heat until transparent. Add paprika, salt and mix.
Spread half of onion in bakeware, spread beans and then rest of onion. Add just enough water to cover content.
Bake in oven preheated to 190 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove and mix lightly. Add salt to taste. Place sausages on top, lower temperature to 180 degrees and bake slowly until surface browns nicely.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column