For this first blog post, I am going to share my Hokkaido milk bread story, how food shapes relationships, and why I’m starting this blog.
During a hot and humid adventure in Japan last summer, I tasted Hokkaido milk bread for the first time. My best friend and I had just eaten Totoro cream puffs at Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory in Tokyo, and I couldn’t resist buying this mini loaf of milk bread from their bakery upstairs. I had been reading about milk bread all over the internet, and it had already become a widespread food blog/instagram sensation.
On our walk back to the train station, I unfastened the green twisty knot, opened the cellophane, and gently plucked off a piece to try. The milk bread was soft, fluffy, and slightly sweet. It was perfect.
Eight months later, after moving into a humble kitchen in the Petworth neighborhood of D.C., I attempted to recreate this cloud-like dream of bread. Being a cake and pie maker, I never had the patience to make yeast breads and allow the dough to rise. I promise you, homemade milk bread is worth the wait. After two successful rises, the loaf came out golden brown and filling the house with its rich, sweet scent.
Here is the recipe for Hokkaido milk bread by food photographer and blogger (and lawyer??) Cynthia Chen McTernan of Two Red Bowls. The soft, cloud-like texture is in part thanks to the tangzhong in the recipe. Tangzhong is a Japanese technique that involves cooking together a small amount of flour and liquid, and adding it to the rest of the yeast dough mixture. It is known to further soften yeast breads and rolls.
This bread is great by itself, but a little blackberry jam or chocolate hazelnut spread never hurt anyone.
Food is how I bond with family and friends. My parents showed love for my sister and me through cooking for us. I show love for people through cooking dinners and baking cakes for them.
When I make a new friend, the thing that instantly bonds us is love and passion for food. After I befriended a coworker at the National Park Foundation, we met at a Cuban restaurant for dinner. Having not known each other for long, we both narrowed our eyes and asked at the same time, “Do you share food?” The answer was clear and with all formalities cast aside, our tiny table for two was shortly overloaded with platters of papas rellenas, empanadas, and pollo apporeado.
Two months after I moved to D.C., I joined the DMV chapter of Progressive Asian American Christians (PAAC), which I was part of back in the Bay Area. Knowing no one, I showed up to their holiday potluck with Tupperwares of spam musubi. I was instantly welcomed into the home of someone I had never met, and everyone’s excitement about the feast we had all put together melted the anxiety away. As the newest member of the group, this was the message given to me that night: join the family, there is much to share and you are welcome here.
Similarities in food also indicate similarities in how we grew up. It is a large defining feature of our culture and our socioeconomic status. My Asian American friends and I bond over our favorite foods and find ways to relate to each other in ways we don’t relate to other people. We gather in phở restaurants and dumpling houses to celebrate our friendships. We make pan-fried noodles and bánh xèo for each other at home, to show that we care.
We remember growing up as low to middle income families in East San Jose, and going to Red Lobster for special occasions. I nodded approvingly as I read about younger Michelle Obama’s dinner dates at Red Lobster where she, too, considered it a fancy place. Oddly, it was an empowering moment while reading her book Becoming.
We were taught how to value food by our parents. I have friends who would just stare with mouths agape when people threw away half the food on their plates. Growing up, our parents would have slapped us if we wasted an ounce of food. Our parents knew struggle as immigrants and waste was not a thing to ever be done, not then, and not now.
Now that I am living in D.C. (and in a position to bake in my spare time rather than bake for my livelihood), it feels like the right time to start this blog. I’ve been sitting on this idea for perhaps a couple of years, and I’m excited to bring together two major parts of my life through writing: bonding with people through food, and bonding with people through issues we care about. Here at the nation’s capital, I am surrounded by activists and people who are passionate about social causes. These people inspire me to keep learning, keep listening, and keep striving for better. I feel like sharing a meal is the perfect way to open up a conversation about things that matter to us.
Food welcomes people. Food connects people.
I hope you enjoyed the first loaf out of Petworth Kitchen! For future blog posts, I will be inviting local D.C. activists to my table to share a meal and talk about what drives them.