Where did spring go, where did the sakura blossoms disappear to? We’ve barely scraped past the starting point of May, and summer already has its sweaty grip on Tokyo. Today is a blistering 28 degrees, and I do mean hot enough to make my scalp sweat and my neck burn. I came to Japan to escape the tropical heat, and so here I am indoors and away from the blue skies, with a glass of mugi-cha in hand.
Today is one of my rare days off which fall on a Saturday. Working in retail means that I almost invariably work weekends, talking to an endless stream of customers with bullet train mouths. I mean this in the nicest way possible: save for the one or two who have squinted at my name tag and said, ah, you’re not Japanese… the customers at the store have generally been quite pleasant (or at least not unpleasant) to deal with.
So I am slowly settling into the daily grind of working life in Japanese retail, complete with scheduling uncertainties and lots of meaningless apologising. My working hours mean that my nights end later than most, and you might see me on the train with my head bent over a smartphone furiously catching up on the internet.
The relatively late start, however, means that I can have more leisurely mornings. Technically speaking, I should be spending some part of my morning putting on a full face of ‘natural’ makeup as required by my company dress code manual – to which I say, nay! I bite my thumb at thee! Since my (very nice) manager is your average Japanese dude and almost certainly has no clue as to whether I have makeup on or not, I tend to go without, and spend my mornings on breakfast instead.
For the past two days I’ve had tomato salad for breakfast. In Japan, where fruits and vegetables are often inordinately expensive, my local greengrocer is an utter lifesaver. There’s so much to be said for having a fruit and veg shop a minute’s cycle away. Especially on a day like Thursday, when they had a whole basket of tomatoes next to the counter going for 50 yen.
“Is that 50 yen for one tomato?”
“No, the whole basket. They’re a little on the soft side, you see…”
Japanese people like their tomatoes to be crisp, a little astringent, maybe even flecked with green. I share no such tastes, and scooped up the whole lot into my basket. They were verging on overripe, but beautifully sweet and juicy. When sliced they collapsed a little, spilling their innards onto the chopping board. It would’ve quite possibly been a crime to cook these tomatoes. Some people count sheep to sleep; I spent Thursday night pondering the possibilities of breakfast.
This tomato salad is one of the classics I’ve always read about but never made; and now that I’ve made it I’m wondering why I hadn’t ever made it sooner. In fact, I had to get up and make another bowl while writing this post. It couldn’t be easier: sliced tomatoes, torn chunks of toasted white bread, olive oil, basil (which I did not have, but will hunt down at some point), a little garlic. Anchovies, if you’re that sort of person (which I am).
There is a recipe for this at the Guardian, but this salad lends itself well to suggestions and preferences, rather than any kind of by-the-book method. It goes without saying that your tomatoes should be ripe and tasty. I added half an avocado, sliced, on my first go. The second time I sautéed garlic in olive oil till golden and dissolved a few anchovies in the same, pouring that all over the tomatoes before adding the croutons. I would not recommend that you add the amount of garlic and anchovies I do, unless you share a similar manic enthusiasm for these foods.
It is at once sweet and salty, sunny, summery and oceanic. For me, the allure of this salad is not so much the tomatoes as the craggy croutons soaking up all the fishy, garlicky, tomato juice and olive oil sauce – and then devouring them at that midway point between crisp and soggy. The point is to devour this salad post-haste, right after adding the bread (allowing 30 seconds for a photo of some kind). Then, spend the rest of your work day dreaming of breakfast.