The Story

What the Miyake Family Eats
By Lindsay Sterling
Finding out your daughter’s classmate’s father is this city’s most eye-opening chef makes you feel special. But since I’m a food writer who’d only heard about his restaurant, my sense of duty kicked in. The night I went on reconnaissance, neighboring diners at Miyake (129 Spring St., Portland, 207-871-9170) might have heard me commenting on the salad. “Wow! The smoked baby sardines look like white worm larva, but they taste great!” (My husband said it was the best salad he’d had in his life.) My purpose in dining here was to research a claim I’d heard from Mrs. Miyake. And after the thrills of experiencing her husband’s food (raw lobster, Maine sea urchin served in it’s own biological soup and five kinds of raw fish I’d never heard of), I had a feeling Mrs. Miyake might just be right. Her claim: the kids like her food better.
I went over to her house to learn the family’s favorite dish, oyakodon, a traditional home-style meal Mrs. Miyake’s mother taught her to make in Tokyo. Basically, it’s a bowl of rice with chicken and egg. Oyako, she tells me, means parent-child, alluding to the chicken and the egg, and don means bowl.
First she tossed bite-sized pieces of chicken thigh in sake and a pinch of salt. Then she sautéed them with sliced onion in a little vegetable oil. After covering the softened onions and cooked chicken with water and making essentially a quick chicken stock, she flavored it with 3 tablespoons of soba sauce. She’d made this beforehand. It was a reduction of equal parts soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine) steeped with a handful of bonito flakes. Bonito flakes are made out of a variety of tuna that’s been cooked, smoked, sucked dry by some fungi, and then shaved. They look like the woodchips that pad hamster cages. And they taste like canned smoked oysters. She tasted the broth now, darkened with soba, and detected a salty edge that she could smooth off by adding a teaspoon of sugar.
At last the dish was ready for her to perform tamagotoji. Tamago, she says, means egg, and toji, to pack everything together. She scrambled four eggs, lifting scoops with her fork to stretch out any hidden globs. Then with a tiny stream of light-yellow egg she poured through the tines of a fork, she carefully colored the surface of the broth with egg. She let the egg cook about three quarters of the way through on medium-low heat so that the whole mixture seized together. After decorating the top with sliced scallions, she served the chicken and egg on top of rice in a bowl. The final touch was a dash of secret powder from a tiny jar: nanami togarashi. This is my favorite new condiment. It’s ground chili, orange zest, ginger, and pepper, studded with whole black sesame seeds. The texture of oyakodon was so tender, moist, smooth and delicate, it made a soufflé seem crude.
I tried making oyakodon at home. Sun Oriental Market (626 Congress Street, Portland, ME, (207) 772-8675) had all the Japanese specialty items with the exception of sake, which I found at Whole Foods. I was flabbergasted at my family’s response. Any dish that is both foreign and comforting should win some kind of award. I hereby declare, Mrs. Miyake the winner of the I’m Right Honey contest. Though let it be noted that Mr. Miyake never disagreed.
Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2011