There is so much to say about my recent trip to Tokyo with my 8-month old daughter that it’s difficult to know where to start or what to talk about. I have family in Tokyo so I had made the trip from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita quite a few times in the past, however this was my first attempt with a baby. I won’t bore you with the details of the airport transfers and flights because I want to talk about food. Weaning is a frustrating process at the best of times and unfortunately I was 3 months into puree and finger food hell when I made the trip to Tokyo.
At the time of booking our accommodation May was only 6 weeks old and my husband and I were in the midst of a sleep-deprived milk haze. We didn’t really consider the practicalities of feeding an 8-month old on the plane or in a hotel on the other side of the world, but as the countdown began, and I had experienced the hassle and hard work involved in preparing baby food, I started to freak out. I’m sorry to say that it was actually keeping me up at night, wondering how I was going to avoid feeding my precious baby girl food from a jar. I like to think of myself as being a relatively relaxed parent but when it comes to food I admit that I’m a total monster. Although I’ve wept into my apron when food has been thrown on the floor, I do enjoy cooking and for me the rewards are worth the effort. But I digress…
As I said, I was feeling irrationally anxious about the food situation on the 12-hour flight and food preparation in the hotel. For the flight I carried a small cool bag with as many ice blocks as I could squeeze in, and enough food for 3 meals in various states. I heated the first meal at home and kept this in a thermos, the evening meal I carried on frozen so that it could thaw on the flight and be ready to eat a few hours in without going off. Breakfast was a just-add-water mixture of readybrek and formula milk powder. This worked pretty well and May ate without too much of a fuss.
The hotel was sadly a different matter. A friend suggested that I buy a Beaba Baby Cook – a compact steamer and blender that I could squeeze into my suitcase and avoid the need to try to make the hotel concierge understand the word for puree in international sign language. At £80 this was an expensive solution but I was desperate and it has genuinely been very useful since we returned home. What I failed to remember was that Japan runs on a much lower voltage than the UK meaning that the usual 15-minute cooking time was more like 2 hours, and there wasn’t enough power to turn the motor for the blender blade at all. Total disaster. And for the purposes of our trip, a complete waste of money!
We were left with two options: give in to jars of baby food, or throw out the weaning manual and let our daughter try to eat whatever we were eating. In my grandmother’s local supermarket the range of pre-prepared baby food was very limited and looked suspiciously like old dishwater; needless to say our daughter was unimpressed with the offering. I was a little wary of giving May food containing so much salty soy sauce but millions of Japanese children have grown up on the stuff and seem not to have suffered as a result! Breakfasts in the hotel consisted of more Ready Brek and mashed up fruit which we could pick up the mini market beneath the hotel. Japanese cafes and restaurants tend not to offer children’s menus but because Japanese flavours are relatively mild most of the food available was palatable for a baby. May seemed genuinely to enjoy sharing the food we were eating and being a part of our grown-up meals, as well as showing us that she was perfectly capable of chomping on strips of meat, and feeding herself.
Evening meals in the hotel were unfortunately a rather more depressing affair – our baby monitor did not reach any of the bars and restaurants in the hotel meaning we were forced to eat early takeaway dinners while sitting on the hotel room floor. Thankfully in Tokyo takeaway doesn’t have to mean soggy pizza or greasy sweet and sour pork. Because our hotel was located near the business district, there were several cafes selling sushi or hot bento boxes with delicious meals like teriyaki chicken with rice and vegetables. May was particularly enthusiastic about salmon and rice, but if we had made a bad choice we always had an emergency bread/porridge supply.
There were a couple of moments during the trip when I felt quite guilty for feeding my daughter an emergency meal of nothing but a white bread roll and a banana. There were also moments when I worried that what I was feeding her was not appropriate for a baby of her age or that she would reject her more balanced meals when we returned home. Of course I was being completely ridiculous! Mealtimes returned to normal back in the UK, with the added knowledge that my little girl loved biting pieces of fish and meat, and had a much more adventurous palate than I would have ever expected at her age. Although the trip was utterly exhausting and things didn’t work out quite how I had hoped for my Beaba Baby Cook and me, it was a catalyst for ditching the puree and reaching the ultimate goal of eating the same meals together as a family. Hoorah!
Anna and Tom are the proud parents of May. They live in London, England.