Spring. Renewal, rebirth, awakening. The seasonal equivalent of a sunrise. It follows—the seasonal equivalent of the East.

From there, it’s not a stretch to suggest that springtime is for Asian fare. Think about it: we’re done eating stew. We want lighter, vibrant foods. Eagerly we wait for the local radishes and asparagus spears to catch up with the times. While we wait, we’re relegated to food that’s been flown in from the Antipodes. Here’s an idea: instead of preempting the local spring offering, we can embrace this vernal break from being good locavores to explore Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean. It’s a way to fill our bodies with nutrients and sensations we haven’t been getting. It’s a way to cut out dairy, wheat, meat, or all of the above—without deprivation. It’s a way to diet without dieting, travel without traveling. It’s a fascinating, sensual, complicated shortcut to restoring balance, and isn’t restoring balance really what springtime is all about?

Balance appears absolute: just enough without spilling over into too much; necessity and sufficiency; speed and endurance; lightness and strength. Achieving balance, however, is a subtle, relative quest. What is needed, after all, depends on what is missing. And excess? Excess must go.

At our house, when we want to restore balance, we make Japanese.

The lunch tray at the train depot in Sapporo, Japan, was the Goldilocks of lunches, balanced in every regard—neither too small nor too big, slow yet fast and as indulgent as it was austere. It consisted of three small chicken meatballs, takuan pickled radish, miso soup, and onigiri rice balls wrapped in nori. One was filled with cooked salmon flakes, the other with a pickled ume apricot.