January 2009

I know that quite a lot of people who follow Just Bento and/or Just Hungry are interested in Japanese culture in general. So, this is a very-infrequent plug for my Japanese language mini-lesson blog and Twitter account. The Twitter account is separate from my main chatty Twitter (@bentotips, where I actually rarely tweet any bento tips...); it's at @mainichinihongo. There is also a companion blog, Hungry For Words, which has longer lessons on occasion. The lessons are not very structured or anything - I just talk about words or phrases that pop into my mind.

So, if you are studying Japanese, or just interested in nihongo, take a look! It's all part of my mission to spread Japanese culture over the world, like gomashio on rice ^_^.

(Cross-posted to Just Hungry and Just Bento.)

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Kouya Dofu or Kohya Dofu, Freeze Dried Tofu

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I've talked a little about kohya dofu or kouya dofu (高野豆腐)in the past, but I thought I'd describe it in detail so that I can refer back to it when I use this very versatile Japanese pantry staple in recipes.

Kouya dofu is freeze dried tofu. It's a long lasting pantry staple of most Japanese households.

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Now that I know for sure that President Obama is a lefty, I wonder which hand he uses for chopsticks.

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Did you win prize EU01 of Menu For Hope V? If so, you still haven't gotten in touch! Please do so via here.

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Chopstick manners

The other day I was having lunch at one of the Asian-fusion restaurants in Zürich with a (non-Asian) friend. At one point, he speared a piece of chicken with one chopstick, brought it to his mouth and pried it off with his teeth. I must have a strange expression on my face, because he looked at me and asked me what was wrong.

Of course he did not know that in Japan, what he just did would be considered to be terribly rude, in the same way that someone who didn't grow up in Europe might not know about not putting your elbows on the table. I explained this to him, and he sort of snorted and said "well why don't you write a guide to chopstick manners on your site then!"

So, here it is: A guide to chopstick etiquette, Japanese style.

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Because I have sooo much to do right now, I've started yet another small project.

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Sukiyaki (すき焼き)is a Japanese word that is widely known outside of Japan, but very few people have actually had the real thing unless they've been invited to a Japanese person's home for dinner - or gone to a traditional inn or ryoutei (high end traditional Japanese restaurant) where it is cooked for you at the table. This is because, like tori nabe, this is really another nabe that is cooked at the table, at home, rather than eaten at a restaurant. You may encounter 'sukiyaki' on some restaurant menus, but if it's been cooked in advance in the kitchen, it really isn't sukiyaki. (I'm not sure why there are dedicated shabu-shabu restaurants but no sukiyaki restaurants, but I think it's because sukiyaki is so strongly associated with home cooking.)

Unlike tori nabe, sukiyaki is not inexpensive, since you need top grade steak-quality meat. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store or a butcher that is familiar with the 'sukiyaki' cut, you can buy ready-cut meat there. (In New York, I used to get sukiyaki meat from Schaller and Weber on the Upper East Side). If you can't get sukiyaki meat, get a piece of sirloin with a good amount of marbling and a thick piece of fat attached. Allow for about 100 grams / 3 1/2 ounces of meat per person. You do not need to use wagyuu or Kobe beef - that would be overkill. In Japan, sukiyaki is the quintessential gochisou (御馳走) - feast or treat, because good beef is the most expensive kind of meat. It's what you have for a special occasion, or just after payday.

Sukiyaki can be enjoyed at any time of the year, but any kind of nabe seems to be best suited to the winter, when the family can gather around the dining table helping themselves from a fragant, steaming pan of food.

There are two basic methods of making sukiyaki: Kanto, or Tokyo-area style, and Kansai, or Kyoto/Osaka area style. Since I'm from the Tokyo area I'll show you how to do the Tokyo style, with a recipe for the Kyoto method below.

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Nabe (鍋, pronounced NA-beh) is the Japanese word for a pot or pan. But it also means a one-pot dish where several ingredients are cooked together in a broth. While nabe can be cooked in the regular way on the stovetop, the most popular kind of nabe are cooked at the table on a portable burner. The quintessential image of a Japanese happy family is one that gathered around the dining table eating a nabe. (Nabe cooked at the table is also called yosenabe (寄せ鍋), which just means a nabe where the ingredients are gathered together (寄せる、yoseru). Because a nabe is piping hot, it's a great winter meal, with very little preparation.

A lot of Japanese nabe recipes call for ingredients that are only widely available in Japan, but this is a recipe for a nabe that you can recreate wherever you are. It uses chicken and a lot of vegetables, so it's very healthy and frugal - perfect recession cooking! The only special equipment you need is a tabletop cooker of come kind, that can sustain a boiling heat. See more about tabletop cookers in the Notes at bottom.

I really have no idea anymore how many people follow this site but don't follow Just Bento, and vice versa, but in case that is you, I just wanted to let you know that the brand new forum is now open. I've made sections to discuss non-bento food, or anything else that strikes your fancy too.

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