A Table with Naoko Tanijiri
I love food, good food, so getting to know Naoko was pure bliss for my senses. She is not only a great woman to hang around with, but she is one of the most amazing female chefs I know. Everything she whips up is entirely home made, with the best ingredients she can lay her hands on. She goes out of her way to source everything and has a wonderful anecdote for each ingredient and its maker, bringing a very conscious touch to her cooking.
Naoko Tanijiri is a mother of a little boy, wife to renowned architect Makoto Tanijiri, proud owner of her restaurant HITOTEMA (open every Friday night), and more recently the writer of "The Art of Japanese Home Cooking” cookbook. She’s also a creative director of brands and for photoshoots. Busy as she is, meeting her in one of her secret places in Tokyo is always exciting. So grateful to call Naoko my friend and to bring her world to you here. Best go taste it when in Tokyo!
Hey Naoko, Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m from Kamata region at the edge of Tokyo city. I grew up there. My mother always supported my family. We lived eight people together in our family house. Now a days it’s quite rare to live with the family. So I live with my husband and my son in Shibuya area, close to my restaurant, Hitotema, which I open one day a week.
Besides handling Hitotema I handle photoshoots for other people, magazines and sometimes I model too.
When did you open HITOTEMA?
I started HITOTEMA four years ago.
Before that in 2010 I switched my career into the food world from the fashion world. I used to assist the fashion stylists in London and became an independent stylist three years into the business. By the age of over thirty I started to loose my passion to follow the latest collections of labels. I started to feel worried about the waste of products every four months and didn’t feel comfortable in this industry anymore.
Sine I was a child I really liked cooking. I used to be a very shy person so when I cooked there were people who could eat my dish. My mother used to cook stew or gratin for me, for my father it was simple sashimi to go with beer and sake, and for my grandparents she baked fish older people like. I was inspired by her. Since I was very slim I was also very weak and I didn’t like my body. Going out of the house was uncomfortable for me. I could never win at school sport even if I tried. I preferred to spend my time in my house instead of going out and played with flower, bread or baking powder.
I never lost my passion about food since I was a child. So when I doubted the fashion business I had the chance to work with a food designer Ayako Suwa. Her work is so amazing. I felt in love with her work in the magazines. So I knocked on her door to work with her and she accepted. This marked the beginning of my new venture, driven by admiration and passion.
What’s the theme of your restaurant, HITOTEMA?
HITOTEMA means one small touch - one small touch makes things so different. Not two, not zero, one is enough. Also in Japanese “Hito” means Humor, “Te” means hand, “Ma” means distance. I really like the meaning of the word and the kanji. Distance of creating and eating goes together. Also there is only one table in my restaurant, so it feels like family members who come to my place. Everyone eats the same meal at the same time, seasonal, different each time. I try to make Japanese mothers dish for my customer. I don’t have any distinguish between my family dish and my customers dish.
When I opened HITOTEMA my son was three months old. In order to keep the work life balance I decided to open my restaurant once a week. Even now he is three years old, I really like this rhythm. It’s quality over quantity. I can keep my passion as my hobby as well as follow my other work.
The news of my place spread fast from word to mouth. There are customers waiting to visit my restaurant and I feel the pressure to live up to their expectations, changing the menu once a month. It gives me time to prepare all the homemade ingredients and drinks on time as well.
Naoko just launched her first cook-book. Get a glance at her skills here where she is sharing one of her iconic recipes here- Apple/Tomato Fermented Syrup.
5 apples (1kg apples) or 1kg tomatoes + 1.1kg brown sugar
Slice thinly with skin, put in bowl, if it’s apple , remove seeds.
Use the seeds in a smoothie, they have anti aging effect.
Place both in big jar previously whipped with alcohol.
Add 1.1kg of brown sugar in total: alternate fruit and sugar layers cover with gaze and stir once a day for 4-12 days (4 when it’s hot, 12 when it’s cold)
When you stir and bubbles appear, that’s the sign of finished the process.
Sieve through mesh - keep liquid in sterilized jar in fridge - serve with sparkling water or in green juice.
Use fruit remains in bath for face and body care knotted in the gaze.
I love how you use the seeds as an anti aging smoothie or the enzyme fruit in your baths. It’s like grandma style as you say. Real conscious consumption. I’d like to know What do you do for self-care with all that you have going on?
To relax I go swimming and take weekly yoga lessons since15 years already. Yoga works for everyone since it detoxes the mind and is grounding to build a stronger core so much needed by women. It helps me support my husband and be there for my son. When I swim I float and close my eyes. It taught me to let go. I learnt how to swim at the age of 21 after a drowning experience.
each time we meet you make me discover a new place. on the top of your head, What places can you recommend in Tokyo?
I like ‘Sakurai-Bacha’ always and Spiral 3rd floor…
I recommend the ‘Roasted Tea Shop’. I like to go there for lunch served with freshly roasted tea. They serve tea leaf to eat with soy sauce also. I like the taste and design of this place.
‘Trench bar’ in Ebisu is one of my favourite cocktail places. The interior is aligned with the drinks in terms of atmosphere. All drinks are high quality and originally mixed by Rogerio. The owner is Brazilian.
‘Maru5 cafe’ in Ebisu for their thick rich and fruity smoothies. All ingredients are organic.
Soon you can come to my new HITOTEMA cafe designed by my husband. I will announce it on my instagram account.