Shooting any television series is exhausting, and this one was especially so. We would shoot for about a week for each episode, every day and with very few breaks. Add in the hours of travel required to cross an entire country overland, and all up we had been travelling for the best part of three whole months.
No matter how great the adventure, that’s a long time to be away from your family, your own bed, and the comforts of home. Our director, Scott, began to fantasise of his wife’s home-cooked roast beef and a rough red. Our assistant, Mai, had, weeks earlier, already begun talking to her dog on the phone as if it were a person. But for me, arriving in Okinawa was a little like coming home.
I have a strange familiarity with Okinawa that is difficult to explain. It’s not just a place that I love to visit; it’s a place where I feel genuinely at home and, odd as it may seem, it’s felt that way to me since the first time I ever visited. Quite honestly, it’s the food.
The food in Okinawa is a very odd mix of Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Western cuisine, and as someone born in Malaysia to a Chinese father and a Western mother, who then lived for a long time in Japan, the food of Okinawa almost mirrors my own history.
The name of Okinawa’s most famous dish, goya champuru, comes from the Javanese word meaning "mix", a product of trade with Java thousands of years earlier. There’s also rafute, influenced by Chinese simmered pork belly, and taco rice from post-war Western influence. Even on my first visit to Okinawa more than a decade ago, when I had never had these dishes before, they were familiar to me because their history was like mine, and that history was borne out in the taste.
One of the most incredible things about food is its ability to tell a story. Food is about people, places and history, and it tells those stories better than any book, classroom or documentary.
Throughout Destination Flavour Japan, I ate some amazing dishes, visited some fascinating places and I met some extraordinary people. Since the series has been broadcast, a lot of you have told me the series isn’t like an ordinary food show, and it isn’t like an ordinary travel show. When you say that, I smile, because I know we’ve achieved what we set out to.
At its heart, Destination Flavour is a series about people. For all those months travelling on a noisy bus from one end of the country to the other, we tried to show the story of the people of Japan, as told through its food. It was one of the greatest journeys of my life. Thanks for coming along.