I’m a person who likes to eat. Even more, I am a person that likes to converse, often at length, about eating. Working around food, I talk to so many people every day that share this pleasure. If you follow my Instagram (@modestbread), you also know I love to use my Stories to show you what I’m cooking and eating. This was truly captured in my recent six-day, solo trip to Japan.
I’ll admit that exploring a foreign country as a single was a mix of excitement and anxiety. I often felt like the bravest person and the biggest coward all at the same time. What’s worse, about two days of not communicating with anyone around me, I experienced a new kind of loneliness. It wasn’t a sad, “I’m totally alone” feeling. More like a, “I have this experience to give and no one to give it to” tugging at me.
The feeling was punctuated seated at a communal table at a small Katsu-style restaurant on Kyoto, enjoying some of the best fried food I’ve ever had in my life. I was able to communicate with others around my by way of head nods of enjoyment and smiles. A young boy seated next to me helped me negotiate the individual mortal and pestle filled with sesame seeds I was to use to make my sauce. This simple act eroded all of my loneliness.
I was reminded how much food plays an essential role in community building. Few moments are as special as breaking bread in celebration or on a special trip because we know the food we’re eating is more than a meal. Food is powerful. It brings us together, it gives us the backdrop to helps create new memories. Sharing a meal is an intimate experience, and those who sit beside us at the table share in that experience. I was almost in tears walking through Nishiki Market, watching hundreds of people from a handful of countries enjoying “foreign food” for the enjoyment of experiencing another culture.
Per a recommendation, I also enjoyed two nights in a Roykan, a traditional Japanese inn. In existence since the 8th century, they are arranged like a bed and breakfast. The rooms are tatami-matted with communal baths and hot springs, futons for sleeping, and I was asked to wear yukata, a traditional garment akin to a summer kimono.
At a Roykan, guest are expected to converse with the owners. My Roykan was owned by an older couple that every day prepared a traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast. They didn’t speak a word of English but still ensured that I was comfortable at every moment. Enjoying family recipes prepared in someone’s home is one of the most intimate experiences a person can have.
I often find that when I eat at a friend’s for dinner they are often very embarrassed or they apologize. Dining in a restaurant where there is an exchange of goods for money is entirely different than the pure joy of eating a home-cooked meal that someone prepared for you with love. It is simply one of the most gracious acts and, by far, my favorite dining experience.
So often I have heard chefs say Tokyo, actually Japan in general, has some of the best food in the world. If you have been lucky enough to experience this yourself, you know it to be absolutely accurate. What is not unique to Japan is the profound impact of enjoying food with another person. There is even research out there that suggests sharing a meal with a loved one can have major, positive impacts on your relationship. Owning Stomping Ground, creating a space for others to better know and understand one another, is such a gift that I often take for granted. It took traveling to the other side of the world to be reminded of this.
If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.
2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301