Let This Breakfast Change Your Life

Credit…Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Megan Hedgpeth.

The chef Shota Nakajima goes to bed early and wakes up early. He walks his dog for an hour and a half every day. He doesn’t drink anymore, thriving on a diet of rice with grilled fish and pickles for most of his meals, especially breakfast. Getting to this place in life, a state of peace and equilibrium, was one of the hardest parts of transitioning from his 20s to his 30s, Nakajima says, but he is happier than he has ever been — as he describes it, “You know, just chilling, cranking.”

Talking to him felt like connecting with a happier, more complete version of myself in the not-too-distant future, a light at the end of what has felt, for me, like a long and tumultuous tunnel. Nakajima had figured it out, learned the lessons that come with time and experience. He had finished his Saturn return.

Recipe: Miso Roasted Salmon

An astrological concept, a Saturn return is considered a time of great upheaval — “growing older, burning out at work, increasingly higher bills, a couple of monumental life milestones,” as the astrologer Aliza Kelly has put it. According to NASA, it takes Saturn about 29.4 years to orbit the sun — or for it to return to the same spot in the sky as when you were born, signaling the end of a period of change (if you believe in astrology). As someone who is nearing the end of his return, I’ve never felt more upheaved by the colossal changes I’ve experienced from my late 20s to my early 30s, including but not limited to: new job, new apartment, new boyfriend. New life! One thing I’ve started to do that gets me a little closer to settling into this new beginning — my 30s — is eating Japanese breakfast.

The eclectic spread, called ichiju-sansai (“one soup, three dishes”), is beyond just a savory meal that soothes both soul and stomach lining first thing in the morning. These restorative breakfasts, centered on a single bowl of rice, are meant to be balanced, a careful mix of carb, protein and vegetable: say, with a perfectly steamed pot of medium-grain rice, a sliver of melting fish run through with miso, a fistful of blanched spinach draped in ground sesame seeds, a quivering onsen egg oozing yolk and, when I have the forethought, a teacup of homemade miso soup. An array of pickles pulled from the refrigerator — cucumbers, plums, radishes and whatever is in my house kimchi jar at the time — completes the meal.

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