Hanami Memories with Yo Matsuzaki Words by Susan Able, Photos by Hannah Hudson
Zenten’s Chef Yo Matsuzaki shared a traditional bento box that is typical of hanami in Japan. When we asked for his own memories of hanami in Japan, he laughed. Why? According to Yo, it’s one of the best times of the year to drink alcohol outside—whether it is with your grandmother or your friends—and the only time of the year it is allowed. So at least when the cherry trees blossom, officials look the other way and almost every hanami gathering has saki or Japanese beer in abundance.
Chef Yo grew up on the island of Shikoku, in southern Japan, and whether it is Shikoku or Tokyo, every season had its unique Japanese festivals: Summer had beer gardens, the fall had harvest street fairs and the most important holiday, New Year’s (Shogatsu) takes place January 1 to January 3, when families spend time together.
But the ephemeral, unpredictable hanami season was a family affair that was looked forward to with anticipation all year. His grandmother and mother prepared rice cakes, rolled sushi and grilled meats—and, of course, packed saki. While people still prepare their own bento, in Japanese cities, big department stores sell elaborate wooden boxes full of treats to for urban hanami. Picnickers go out early to reserve spots by laying down a blanket or tatami mat with their name on it.
Chef Yo’s bento box is traditional—a lacquered compartmentalized box filled with typical Japanese snacks: fishcake, sahimaki, yakitori, tapaki, unagi, shrimp and rice cakes. While he is looking forward to hanami, he is also enjoying bringing Osakan tradition and well-known obsession with food to Zenten through offering Osaka-style kuidaore (literally meaning “to eat oneself bankrupt”). Kuidaore is a relaxed style of dining offered nightly where Chef Yo and the team offer course after course of Zentan classics and new creations until you say “uncle.” $65 per person. zentenrestaurant.com