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Swiss food shopping news: OEM Dolfin chocolate spotted at Coop

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Coop seems to have OEM’ed the famous Dolfin spicy Masala chocolate bar! All evidence points to this…. continue reading...

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The refrigerator knows

We had a major spillage accident in our refrigerator today, which required removal of all shelves and drawers. So I took the opportunity to give everything a wipe and wash and re-organize.

The end result was rather enlightening. continue reading...

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Site news: Cross-site search

A little site news: I’ve added a new search function to the site that will search both Just Hungry and Just Bento for your convenience. It’s using Google Custom Search, which is a very easy way of setting up multi-site searches. (The results do show ads on occasion, but there’s not much you can do about that in Googleland.) continue reading...

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A special welcome to CalorieLab visitors, about having my pork belly and eating it too

My post about losing 30 pounds using bento lunches as a tool is featured as a guest article on CalorieLab, a great weight loss related news site.

For people who’ve clicked through here from there, welcome! If you take the time to look around, you might wonder why this woman is saying she’s on a weight loss plan (notice the avoidance of the word ‘diet’) while writing about things like braised pork belly and spaghetti Bolognese. Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles about my plans and thoughts for losing weight, but the one that stuck to me the most these many months later is the one about reconciling my food obsession with trying to lose weight. continue reading...

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Just Hungry and Just Bento, now with tasty full RSS feeds

For the longest time (like forever) RSS subscribers to Just Hungry have only gotten the excerpts. There was no deep reason for this…except that I was afraid that my often long-winded posts would annoy you if you wanted to skim, or something. Well, due to approximately 3.5 people mentioning they’d prefer full feeds…from now on all Just Hungry and Just Bento feeds will have the full shebang, so you’ll never have to visit the site again*! Banzai!

Not subscribed yet? Then here they are: the Just Hungry newsfeed and Just Bento newsfeed. (What is a newsfeed?)

*Though I hope you do, I like visitors. I’ll even put out the Chex mix.

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Onigiri galore, and shooting them

In case you don’t follow Just Bento, but read Just Hungry for the Japanese stuff, be sure to check out my onigiri magnum opus. In case you are wondering, yes I made all those onigiri and shot them over the weekend. It took 8 cups of rice! Some are stored in the freezer, but regrettably, many were consumed on the spot by the photographer and me.

Shooting white rice against a white background, especially on a cloudy day, is not easy. But the other weekend project we managed to finish finally really came in handy - the shoestring ‘studio’ box. continue reading...

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Saturday thoughts: Donna Hay, Just Bento, food blogging events

The sister site to Just Hungry got discovered by several sites overnight (while I was not at the computer, as always happens in such cases) and the traffic went up about 100 x, mainly thanks to it being on the del.icio.us popular page for a while. I haven’t even ‘officially’ launched it in my mind, since I am occasionally breaking it by fiddling with the engine (Drupal, for the technically inclined) in the background, but it’s very gratifying to know that people are interested in the subject. I think it must be timely. continue reading...

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Daiso is coming to Europe!

Great news for fans of things Japanese who live in Europe, the UK in particular: Daiso, the 100 yen store chain, is opening a branch in London on November 17th. They are teaming up with Japan Centre, one of my favorite sources for Japanese food and other things. (Disclaimer: Japan Centre advertises on this site, but I’m also a happy customer.) It will be at 213 Piccadilly.

If you’re not familiar with the awesomeness of 100 yen shops, you owe yourself a visit if you go to London. I am hoping that they will carry plenty of cute goods for the fans of cute. I think I need to go to London soon! I’m rather curious as to how they’ll price things at the London store…will everything be a pound? We’ll see.

Daiso also has several stores in North America.
An excerpt from the press release follows after the jump. continue reading...

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just beta

I am almost ready to give birth to a project that’s been incubating for ages. It’s still rather sparse (or, as they say in Web 2.0 speak, ‘beta’). If you take a look let me know what you think….

[Update:] Thank you for all of the positive comments! (If you have any criticism that’s welcome too.) As you can probably see already, the site will be quite tutorial-heavy, especially since there are already a growing number of bento blogs. As I’ve written in Bento Basics, the focus of most of the bentos (I’m sure there will be some exceptions) I’ll be writing about are 1) brown-rice based with a large portion of vegetables, 2) made in 20 minutes or under (with some prep work) and 2) 600 calories or under (a bit more for bigger guys). They won’t be that cute - at least inside the bento box. I don’t have a lot of patience for cute-fiddling in the morning. You can of course add cuteness with the bento box itself or the wrapper for the bento box.

The site is still ‘beta’ because I’m still ironing out some background kinks, but you can already subscribe to it and things.

Incidentally, I started to make a concerted effort to make bento earlier this year, as part of an overall ‘eat healthier, dammit’ thing. It’s been a really positive experience health-wise and taste-wise, and as one side effect I’ve lost about 30 lbs (15 kg or so) since the beginning of the year. Does that give you an incentive to start making bento too? :) continue reading...

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Briefly: For Japanese food lovers in Switzerland

The French-language blog sooshi has pictures of Uchitomi, a Japanese grocery with stores in Genève and Lausanne. The selection looks very nice!

I have also spotted real yuzu recently at the Bürkliplatz market in Zürich. In the summer I have seen live shiso plants there, both red and green too, Japanese-style sweet potatoes at Barkat, and satoimo (taro roots) at the Indian grocery store next the Hooter’s at Helvetiaplatz. It’s really great to see more ‘exotic’ Japanese and Asian produce more easily available here. When I first came to visit Switzerland back in the mid-’90s, you had to buy fresh ginger in the exotic food department at Globus! How times have changed. .

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The stressful act of supermarket shopping

Yesterday, the Soil Association in Britain, a highly inflluential charitable organization, announced that in a year, they will only certify food that is air shipped into the country as organic if it also met fair trade standards. Since some thought that they should stop certifying any imported fresh food as organic, this looks like a compromise on their part. Even if on the surface organic and fair trade don’t have much to do with each other, in the realm of fuzzy good-feeling consumerism they are certainly related.

I don’t think that enough study has been done yet on just how greener locally produced food is though. As I’ve written about here before, food produced in cold to temperate climates with short growing seasons requires a lot of energy. It’s probably beyond the scope of organizations like the Soil Association at this point in time to try to address complicated issues like that though. Far easier to place restrictions and requirements on far-flung producers with little or no political power.

Buy organic, support fair trade. Avoid trans-fats and simple sugars. Avoid additives and chemicals and extraneous packaging. Hope there are no harmful bacteria. Oh yes, and worry about the rising cost of food too. I used to love going to the supermarket. I still do mostly, but these days that enjoyment is tinged with a lot of stress.

(See also: should the supermarkets pre-edit our choices? Personally, even with all the thinking and decision-making that’s required I’d rather make my own choices.)

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2008 will be the International Year of the Potato

Next year, the United Nations wants us to celebrate the humble potato for an entire year. I’m not certain how the UN makes its decisions about such things (why not the Year of the Tomato or the Year of the Turnip?), but I have no objections against the humble potato, one of my favorite foods. Unless you are an avowed anti-carb person, how could you not love the potato? continue reading...

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Eating local in winter - followup

Forgive me for neglecting Just Hungry a bit this week - I’ve been spending all of my free waking time in Knightsbridge. I did want to follow up on the thoughtful comments left on my post about eating local in winter, in areas without 4-season growing conditions. Perhaps because I’ve been immersed in the 14th century has helped, but I’m increasingly intrigued by the idea of trying to experience how it would have been like to survive the winter in an age when fresh foods were not shipped in from far parts.

So I am going to try it out for at least a week in a few weeks - I think the end of January/beginning of February would be a good time. I don’t think I will go back as far as the Middle Ages, but something prior to the 19th century anyway - prior to fast trading ships as well as the advent of refrigeration. (I’m not sure if I will aim for pre-canning days as well). I’m also a bit undecided as to if I’ll try to emulate how it would have been in Switzerland, or something more generic, as well as what class in society I’d put myself (since rich people would have eaten a lot better then poor people, of course). When I’ve done more research into this I’ll post what I’m going to do.

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I'm rather tired of the cult of the celebrity chef

Celebrity chefs have been around for some time now, but they seem to have exploded all over the place in the last decade, mainly through food related TV shows.

The restaurant food world is becoming similar to the world of fashion. There are the actual restaurants, most of which are too expensive for the majority of the population - people without generous expense accounts or oodles of money - other than for a rare treat. These are the couture studios (as in real couture, not ‘couture’ as it’s used to describe anything that’s not a plain t-shirt these days) of the food world. Then you have all the merchandising, from cookbooks to dodgy cookware to frozen dinners bearing a chef’s name. Those are the perfumes and bags and H & M special-designer label lines of the food world. continue reading...

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A few words about Top Chef 3

As long time readers of Just Hungry may know, I used to recap every single episode of the Bravo TV reality show Top Chef. The first season had me glued to my…er, computer screen. However for various reasons I did not do so for the third season that just concluded. I did watch it though, and have just a few thoughts. continue reading...

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Surviving on sauerkraut and kimchee: Eating local in winter

Fall (or autumn) is really a wonderful time for local produce in temperate climates. The grapes in our garden are crying out to be picked every day, we still have a couple of late zucchini, and the markets are overflowing with winter squash, heirloom apples, pears, and more. In a couple of months though most of that will be gone, and we’ll be very limited in what we can eat that’s grown locally. Unless it comes from greenhouses of course, and, while there may be exceptions commercial greenhouses aren’t usually that energy efficient.

I am a moderate in most things, including eating, so am not a dedicated locavore. If I were though, and I did not live in a four-season growing area like most of California, my winter choices would be severely limited.

If we truly ate like our ancestors, who were limited to locally grown foodstuffs, we’d be eating a lot of preserved foods in the winter months. A lot of those foods have disappeared from modern pantries, but a few do survive: jams, pickles, preserves; dried or salted meats like sausages and hams and corned beef; salt cod. (In Japan there are lots of salt-cured and dried foodstuffs ranging from fish to seaweed to vegetables.) Two of the best examples are both cabbage based: sauerkraut, and kimchee. The lactic-acid fermented cabbage retains quite a lot of its nutrition, and probably kept legions of people from dying of malnutrition.

I’d really like to see those dedicated, evangelical locavores to try living on a diet based on these traditional preserved foods in the winter months, because that would show a true dedication to the cause. No cheating on tropical imported fruits. I’m thinking of trying it out on a short term basis (like a week) myself, just to see if it’s possible.

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Cold remedies

I was hoping that I would avoid my usual bout with a cold/flu around this time of the year with healthier eating and regular exercise and all that, but no such luck. Once again I’m enduring the stuffed head, sore throat, and achy body. My favorite home remedy to combat a cold, besides Ricola tea, is lemon-honey water: the juice of one lemon in a big mug with hot water and a spoonful of honey. My grandmother’s favorite remedy was umeboshi, though I’m not sure why (she believed in umeboshi for a variety of ailments). What are your favorite homemade cold remedies?

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Alessi Mr. Chin kitchen gadgets - or, what were they thinking?

I am a usually a big fan of the Italian design firm Alessi, who make, besides other things, all kinds of cool, funky and expensive kitchen gadgets. However, this Mr. Chin line of kitchen timers and other gadgets made me wonder, what were they thinking.

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Paddington Bear eats Marmite!

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There’s quite a lot of slightly matted plush fur flying in Britain this week over the new Marmite TV ad, which features the lovable Paddington Bear, devotee of marmelade sandwiches, tucking into a Marmite sandwich. It made so much of a furor that it even made the evening news on the BBC yesterday. Paddington Bear creator Michael Bond has been accused of selling out and for supplying the script for the commercial (he has denied both). There have been dozens of news stories and editorials devoted to it (my favorite headline is What Next, Rupert Bear in Burberry?). continue reading...

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More Japanese wieners

Following up on my previous post, here are some more recipes that use wiener sausages on Cookpad: continue reading...

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Why do Japanese people like wieners so much?

I often like to peruse the excellent Japanese cooking site Cookpad. Cookpad is a unique cooking community site. The bulk of it consists of cooking blogs, where people post recipes and pictures. People can post short responses to the recipes called tsukurepo, where they show a photo of their attempt making the recipe. A lot of recipes also note which other recipe on the site inspired the poster to come up with theirs. This is what makes the site unique - you can follow a complete genealogy of a recipe, and keep on discovering new variations on themes. continue reading...

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Hmm, low-fat artisanal local cheese

I finally succumbed to the inevitable and went to the dentist yesterday, to have a back molar that has been twinging with pain for months looked at. And, as to be expected when you hold off that dreaded dentist visit for too long, my options weren’t good: root canal surgery, or get the tooth pulled. I pondered my choices for, oh, about 5 seconds before settling on the tooth extraction option. (I’ve had root canal surgery once before…never, ever again will I go through that agony).

While it was my lesser-pain option, and Herr Dentist was as efficient as can be, I was still in pain as I got back to Zürich. (Herr Dentist is in Winterthur.) But my spirits lifted when I saw that the Wednesday Speciality Market (Spezialitätenmarkt im Hauptbahnhof) was back after a monthlong summer vacation. I headed straight for my favorite cheese vendor, which sells cheeses made by farmers/cheesemakers in the Züri Oberland region - in other words, very local, all artisanally made and so on. continue reading...

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Quechup is not ketchup, or kosher

A little non-food business. I have been getting tons of invites from people I don’t know (and a couple I actually do) for yet another social networking site called Quechup. It seems that sometime during the signup process, this site makes it possible for people to send invites to all the people in the GMail and other online mail service address books. It’s kind of interesting to see who has my address in their address books, but nevertheless…if you want to avoid this annoyance, just avoid Quechup. continue reading...

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Some great UK Food TV shows

At the moment there are so many UK TV food shows that are compelling enough to watch that it’s hard to find time for them all. Thank goodness for DVRs and torrents. Here’s a rundown, in no particular order of preference - all of them are worth watching for different reasons, and most are far better than almost anything that U.S. TV has to offer at the moment. continue reading...

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Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor Day to everyone in the U.S.! Labor Day is sort of the unofficial end of summer, which makes me a little sad, but it’s also the start of the best season for foodies - fall/autumn. Fall is known as the season of the appetite in Japan - as the hot weather recedes and the fruits of the harvest start to come in, the tummy gets hungrier. In Switzerland we have the hunting season to look forward to, not to mention wild mushrooms in the markets. And the old grape vines in our garden are already yielding dark, small, sweet fruits.

I know things have been a little quiet around Just Hungry lately, but it will get busier as I get out of tomato-salad and cold cucumber soup mode…stay tuned!

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Swiss supermarket news: Carrefour sells up to Coop

This news item is probably of no interest to anyone who doesn’t live in Switzerland, but French supermarket giant Carrefour has apparently given up on the Swiss market and sold their stores to Coop (news in German).

Now I am not really surprised. I’ve only been to the Carrefour store near here a few times, but each time I’ve wondered why it was so popular. Okay, they did often have some loss-leader type sales on staple items, a wider variety of cuts of packaged meat, and so on. continue reading...

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I like real food

Periodically I like to step back a bit and take a look at why this site exists, and what it’s about. The current masthead says it’s about Japanese cooking (especially for people who do not live in Japan or a region with easy access to Japanese ingredients), expat food issues in general, and healthy cooking.

But what I’m really about when it comes to food is real food, and that’s what this site is about. I don’t claim to be a purist who never lets an artificial food pass my lips - I do live in the real world. But in general, fake food just does not taste right to me.

I like real fruits and vegetables. I like meat from animals or birds who lived a happy life when they were alive, and eggs that come from contented hens. I like cheese that has been produced in time tested, traditional ways rather than the kind that differs little from the plastic that’s wrapped around them. I prefer fish that swam around freely.

Not just because they are ‘good for me’ or ‘good for the environment’ or ‘better for trade’ or whatever, though these can be - and often are - side benefits. I like real food because it tastes better. I’m selfish that way.

Now I realize that ‘real food’ does not taste better to everyone. Our tastebuds are conditioned by habits and environment, and a lot of people eat tons of fake food all the time. I used to do that too, especially in my teens and 20s . As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve grown away from that. Given a choice between a fresh, ripe peach and peach flavored candy, I’ll take the real peach every time.

Real food takes a commitment in terms of priorities. Time is one thing you have to allocate in many cases. Money is too, unfortunately. To me and to my family, these commitments are worthwhile.

Welcome to Just Hungry, where we prefer real food. continue reading...

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Dashi powder? Use sparingly, if at all

I was recently sent a book about Japanese cooking for review. I wasn’t too impressed by the book for a variety of reasons, but one thing that really bothered me was that it used dashi stock powder for practically every recipe. (What made it worse is that the book’s title proclaimed the recipes therein to be “Healthy”.)

Dashi stock powder is akin to soup stock cubes in Western cooking. Like soup stock cubes, they are a very convenient way to add a concentrated dose of umami to a dish. I do have a box of the stuff in my kitchen which I use on occasion.

But keep in mind that dashi stock powder contains quite a lot of MSG. The good or bad of MSG may be a debatable subject, but when it comes to food additives I always like to be on the cautious side. Besides, with the right ingredients making dashi stock from real ingredients, even a vegan version, doesn’t take that much time - and tastes a whole lot better too. This is different from the time and effort, not to mention the mess, needed to make a good chicken stock, for example. On my list of Japanese pantry essentials, I have put MSG or Ajinomoto as something that’s optional, and I regard dashi powder in the same light.

In Japan, more and more households are turning away from dashi stock powder for health reasons, especially in families with small children. I don’t see any reason for people new to Japanese cooking to start out on the wrong leg by relying on an iffy convenience product. continue reading...

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The World Food Programme's new head

I rarely get political on this blog, because…well this is a blog about food, and I hate all the strife that surrounds political discussions. However, this article about the new head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP link) made me pause - especially since this is the organization for which the Menu For Hope III event raised money.

I’m not saying that the WFP won’t continue to do good work under this new head - but, her background makes me want to pound my head on my desk. Hard.

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Tomato water is trendy

After reading my instructions for tomato water yesterday, a reader in the UK told me that Jamie Oliver had also made tomato water on his new show, Jamie At Home. (We can see BBC and ITV here in Switzerland, but not Channel 4.) Through nefarious means I was able to get hold of a copy of the show - it was dedicated to tomato recipes, which all looked delicious. I guess they didn’t film it this year though, because this hasn’t been a good year for tomato growing at all, with lots of rain and cold temperatures. (Unless they cheated and took their ‘home grown tomatoes’ from a greenhouse…) In any case, Jamie made his tomato water by straining the tomato pulp with cheesecloth, which would work as well as my method of using a sieve and paper towels. He iced his water down by adding ice cubes (I don’t think I’d do that since it would dilute the intense flavor) and sprinkled it with basil, celery and extra virgin olive oil, and spiked it with vodka. I hope you do try making tomato water at least once this tomato season - it’s really something worth doing! Serve it to your friends without telling them what it is and watch their faces! continue reading...

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Maybe some day I will tackle ramen

Periodically I get emails and comments asking me to post a recipe for one thing or another, usually something Japanese. I try to do so (eventually) with most things, though it may take a while between request and actual writeup since I try to make sure that if I do write it up, it will actually work. One of the things I’ve been asked about a lot is ramen, probably because it’s so ubiquitous in Japan, and so tasty. Since it’s usually served as a sort of fast food, and because the instant and cup-noodle varieties are well, so instant, people may assume that it’s not hard to make. continue reading...

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And my last supper would be...

This seems to be the week of appearing on other great food blogs! I was asked, amongst other more illustrious food bloggers, what my last meal would be by Chew On That. Check out the great answers!

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Interview on Culinate

Liz Crain of Culinate interviewed me recently, and the result is now up on their site. I always feel funny reading interviews of me, but nevertheless Liz did a great job. (I didn’t realize I average 15 posts a month… is that too little or too much?) You get to find out about my dad’s infamous restaurant business card collection! Food obsession must be inherited. continue reading...

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Happy August 1st!

A Happy August 1st to everyone in Switzerland! Judging from what was on sale at Migros yesterday you all will be waving Swiss flags and gorging on wurst, wurst, grilled steaks and wurst. Not the worst way to spend a day :) continue reading...

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Reducing shopping bag usage - the Swiss way

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Reading this post on Serious Eats about the different ways in which municipalities in the U.S. are trying to reduce shopping bag usage, I couldn’t help comparing it to the way Switzerland copes with the issue. Here there is no banning of plastic bags or anything aggressive like that. Instead, shoppers are given two choices of disposable containers for their groceries at the checkout counter: free but really flimsy and small plastic bags, which are barely big enough to hold a packet of sandwiches and a drink; or a sturdy paper bag - that costs 30 Rappen each, which is about 25 US cents. I think this is a really smart solution, because having to pay even that small amount for a shopping bag really discourages people from using them. (The supermarket shopping bags are so attractive it seems to Japanese people that they are even sold for more than 10 times what they cost as accessories!)

In Zürich, everyone carries cloth shopping bags, backpacks, and so on to do their shopping as a matter of course, and people with just a little to buy will stuff their purchases wherever they can - I’ve seen elegant women with vegetables peeking out of their expensive handbags, and businessmen putting groceries into their briefcases. That may be the key really: who says that we need to put groceries, most of which are packed in various forms of plastic anyway, into separate, special bags? (Granted, I would have never thought of this when I lived in the U.S.)

They do things similarly in France too, though there they have plastic disposable bags instead of paper ones. French supermarkets also carry canvas bags, which aren’t that widely seen in Switzerland, as well as sturdy plastic bags of Ikea bag quality. continue reading...

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Fear of Sushi

There were not one but two Op-Ed articles in the New York Times yesterday about sushi. Two! It always amazes me how fast sushi has become mainstream in the U.S. in particular and ‘the West’ in general, but I guess this is some sort of proof.

The two articles are Chicken of the Sea by Stephen Shaw (the author of a dining guide to restaurants in Asia) and Sushi for Two by Trevor Corson (author of a book about sushi). While I agree in the spirit of their arguments (Americans or eh, ‘Westerners’ should be more adventurous with their selection of fish at a sushi place, and that some people are overly scared of the raw fish used for sushi), I sort of wonder what planet they are living on. continue reading...

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What do you do when you have a bad restaurant experience?

I may either have a short memory, or have been lucky, but I can count the number of bad experiences I’ve had at restaurants, and still remember, on one hand. Unless the offense has been quite obvious - say, a big green caterpillar in my salad (happened once!), or a hair in my soup - I’ve never felt like lodging a direct complaint. The most I do is to call it a ‘three-time experience’ (an in-house joke) - the first, last and only time I’ll go there.

I do wonder though if complaining would have done anything. I tend to shy away from confrontation, but eating out, especially at a high end restaurant, is a very special, not to mention expensive, occasion. When such an experience is screwed up, as it was for this commenter, it can be very frustrating to say the least.

What do you do when you have a bad restaurant experience? In this case I’m not talking about merely mediocre or bad food, but something really off-putting in some way, such as exceptionally bad service, or something amiss with the food, or anything that really makes you angry. Do you simply go away or complain about it, and if you have complained, has it made any difference? continue reading...

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Svenska LantChips (Ikea chips) - the universal Good Chip

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Following up to the potato chip post: the availability of any kind of packaged food around the world is iffy, with the exception of a handful of really global brands, and even they (e.g. Coke) change their formulas from place to place sometimes. But as Roanne’s comment reminded me, there is one kind of good potato chip that is available all around the world - Svenska Lantchips, aka Ikea chips. If you have an Ikea near you, next time you’re there pick up a bag of these - a trifle on the greasy side, but these are tasty, sturdy chips, the type I really like. When I was at Ikea Spreitenbach a few days ago they had plain salted and unsalted; previously I’ve seen sour cream flavored ones too. Don’t you just love Ikea?

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A potato chip rant

If I had to pick just one snack food (to bring to me on that proverbial desert island) it would be potato chips. I love chips but I’m very picky about them too. The New York Times has a feature on chips in today’s Dining section, in which they list their top 10 chips (in the Multimedia feature). Sadly they don’t mention my favorite brand, Terra Chips.

I love Terra Chips so much that I used to carry home bags of them in an otherwise empty suitcase, every time I went to New York. (I haven’t found Terra Chips outside of the NYC area…though maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough.) But for the last 2 years or so I haven’t had to do this - because, joy of joys, Migros, the no. 1 supermarket chain in Switzerland, licensed the Terra Chip name and the technology. I danced for joy when this happened because the standard chip in Switzerland really, horribly, sucks. The Migros Terra Chips cost twice as much as the awful Zwiefel brand, but are worth every single rappen. continue reading...

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7 non-food things

Some time ago, when there were blog memes galore, I vowed never to do another meme again. Then I got tagged by Mei from mei eats, a really fun food blog from Taipei. So since this gives me a good excuse to link to Mei, here are some non-food facts about your humble author, other than what’s on my about page. continue reading...

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Konbini in the U.S.? Why not?

As anyone who has been to Japan knows, Japanese convenience stores, aka konbini, are nothing like convenience stores elsewhere. Insted of being rather sad places with ersatz food and overpriced groceries, they are like small fun palaces for foodies with loads of interesting goodies, many services, and so on. It’s a very competitive area of retail.

Seven Eleven recently made a splash by making over 12 of its stores (11 in the U.S., one in Canada) to Kwik-E Marts a la The Simpsons. Here’s a list of all the U.S. remade stores; the Canadian one is in Vancouver. Judging from the photos of one of them, the attention to detail is terrific. As a matter of fact, it’s about as much as is lavished on a typical konbini in Japan. Seven Eleven Japan actually owns Seven Eleven U.S. (there was an NHK docudrama a while back that showed how this happened…it was quite dramatic in a payback kind of way, since originally Seven Eleven had rejected the Japanese request for franchise rights.) Anyway, they recently announced that they are planning to spend $2.4 billion in a big U.S. expansion. I can’t help but wonder if they’d make at least some of those new stores konbini-like in terms of selection, attention to detail, and just the ‘fun’ factor. I’m sure that Americans would love it.

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Recent comments

In case you left a comment here in the past few days and wondered where why it wasn’t approved - I suddenly stopped getting comment notifications, which is why I didn’t even know they were there. My apologies as I try to figure out if Drupal, Gmail or another interweb gremlin is at fault.

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For your 4th of July party

If youre in the U.S. or anywhere in the world celebrating the 4th of July tomorrow, I hope you’re having better weather than we’re having here, where it’s cold and rainy! If you’re having a party, here are some useful recipes from the archives: Japanese potato salad, which in my opinion is the best kind of potato salad - rich tasting, not too vinegary. With homemade mayonnaise it’s heaven - though be careful to refrigerate it properly before serving, and to eat the leftovers (if there are any) as soon as possible. For a much lighter salad (no fat added!), Scandinavian cucumber salad goes very well with the rich flavors of grilled meats. It’s sort of like a fresh relish. By saving calories with the salad you can then splurge on the Red, white and blue mess for dessert, which looks quite spectacular and even feels sort of virtuously healthy because of all the fruit. Happy 4th! continue reading...

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Some thoughts on the vegetarian experiment in Provence

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For the last two weeks I was in the Provence, I tried a short term experiment of cooking vegetarian dishes only. Here are some thoughts on that experiment.

As I’ve stated here before, I’m not a vegetarian though proportionately I don’t eat much meat. Therefore, I thought that the experiment should go quite easily. It was easy in some respects, due to the easy availability of an abundance of fresh produce. continue reading...

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I will be watching Top Chef but...

I am gradually catching up on the Daily Grind, which includes some recorded or downloaded TV shows (yay Lee won Joseph! OMG Katie really got her just desserts, the biatch! (only UK readers will know what I’m talking about)). I’ve watched the first two episodes of Top Chef 3 (aka Top Chef: Miami), plus the Season 1 vs. Season 2 smackdown. I enjoyed the smackdown episode a lot - it was fun to see old favorites again. Wasn’t Stephen’s new maturity impressive? Dave hasn’t changed at all! Tiffani looks sort of like a female version of Mario Batali. And god, Ilan was awful. Etc. etc.

It’s fun and all that still, and the season 3 contestants look varied and interesting, but I just can’t bring myself to recap and analyze each episode of this show any more as I did with seasons 1 and 2. (Judging from the email, I guess a few people will be disappointed…sorry!) It’s a bit of work to assemble screen shots and things, and analyzing TV cooking shows isn’t really a focus of this blog after all. And to be honest, Top Chef is nowhere near being the best or most interesting food-related TV show any more. Plus, the constant, in your face product placement that I complained about during last season is even worse now! It’s really hard to bear. (I also got an email from some PR person wanting to ‘work with me’ on ‘promoting Top Chef’, and well, I’m really not interested.)

When I started doing recaps and reviews of each episode back in season 1, I was one of the few doing it - I thought the show had a lot of potential, coming as it did from the producers of Project Runway. Now there are a zillion blogs and forums doing this - Bravo TV’s site alone has about a thousand of them. The best, by far, in my opinion is from Season 1 favorite Lee Anne Wong, who also cooks the winning recipe for each ep in The Wong Way To Cook, still a horrible title but the video itself is nice. So there are plenty of places to get your Top Chef fixes.

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Summer 2007 issue of Alimentum

While I was away, the new Summer 2007 issue of Alimentum arrived in my mailbox. I’ve written about this little quarterly journal previously; it’s dedicated to “The Literature Of Food”, and it’s a pure delight for anyone who is interested in reading and food, especially when they go together. The web site has some samples from the current and past issues - be sure to check them out.

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Back! Apologies, and a mystery

I’m back home from Provence, both in the physical sense and the interweb sense. I actually lost Net access for the past two weeks (we thought we had something more convenient but it turned out we needed to drive 30 minutes one way to get to a WiFi spot, and well…other things sort of took priority). What I need to get into my head is that in this day and age, being offline for so long is not a good thing. It’s sort of like being MIA, for a lot of people that know me. Yes, I confess I didn’t even check my email for two weeks. So…if this affected you in relation to your food related questions and so on, I apologize. Next time I go away I’ll make sure I can at least get online once a day.

I’ll have a lot, lot more to say about my trip later on, but in the meantime, here is a little mystery. Can you identify these? (Click on the image to get a bigger view. RSS readers will have to go to the site to do this.) I’d never seen them in this state before.

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While the food in Provence is glorious - the freshest vegetables and fruit ever, tons of fresh garlic, and delicious cheeses, fragrant herbs - I really, really missed Japanese food. I did bring a (very small) bottle of soy sauce with me, but no rice or any other ingredients. (Curiously I found nori and soy sauce at the local hypermarché, but no Japonica rice, or most other needed ingredients. So I’m not sure what rice the people of Provence make sushi with.)

Last summer, I had to make an emergency stop at a small Japanese-Korean restaurant in Aix-en-Provence to take care of the withdrawal symptoms, but this year I toughed it out for three whole weeks. But anyway, the first thing I did when we got home last night? Make a potful of rice and have a bowlful with an umeboshi. I think the older I get, the more Japanese I’m getting. If my long term plans to Get A Place In Provence work out, I’m definitely going to have to sort out the Japanese food supply situation. continue reading...

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The vegetarian experiment

The comments on the post about whether vegetarian restaurants should only be reviewed by vegetarians have been really interesting - if you haven’t read them yet, please take a look here. This has made me decide to do a small experiment. I’m here in Provence for three weeks, and I’ll be cooking most of our meals (that’s why we like to rent a place with a kitchen whenever we come here, as I wrote about last year). So, I’m going to make all of our meals in-house vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarian to be precise, since not having any of the delicious cheeses here would be too much of a sacrifice and the self-proclaimed ‘bovo-vegetarian’ in house will rebel before we’ve even started. We will be giving up eggs though (a hardship in itself since I love eggs), and meat and fish. (We might have a bouillabaise once at a restaurant.) I’ll also try to stick as much as possible to locally produced food, though I’m not going to be as strict there. (E.g. I will use spices and things like lemons from elsewhere.)

Admittedly, here with all of the glorious locally produced fresh produce it should be a breeze. I doubt it will change my palette much but it will help me concentrate on coming up with different and tasty vegetarian dishes. The better results will be posted here of course!

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From a place in the sun

We drove all day on Saturday and arrived late at night to a place that is quite close to my idea of Paradise.

We’re in Cassis, a small jewel of a town on the Mediterranean coast of France. Quite close to Marseilles, but worlds away in all other ways. Chic yet a lot more laid back than the Cote d’Azur.

(warning: big photos below) continue reading...

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Should vegetarian restaurants only be reviewed by vegetarians?

The Guardian, one of Britain’s finest newspapers, recently installed several blogs to which their staff writers contribute, including a food blog. Last week one of their restaurant reviewers, Jay Rayner, wrote a negative review of a well known London vegetarian restaurant - which upset quite a lot of vegetarian readers. He defended his review, and several commenters bit back. One opinion expressed was that, since the critic is not a vegetarian himself, that he did not have the palate to judge vegetarian food, and that only committed vegetarian or vegans should be reviewing vegetarian restaurants.

That’s an interesting point of view. While I doubt that main stream media outlets instituting such food-specific critics and such, in the wide world of blogs it is theoretically possible - so someone might choose to only trust restaurant reviews from a vegetarian blogger. Is it plausible though? Is an omnivore disqualified from judging what’s good vegetarian food because his or her tastebuds are tainted by a fondness for meat? Should vegetarian food only appeal to non-meat eaters?

As someone who has gradually increased the percentage of vegetable based food in my diet in the last few years, but is not a vegetarian, I’m really curious about this. I do like the taste of meat. but I love the taste of fresh vegetables too. If I gave up meat products totally though, would my palate change that much, so that I enter a magical realm which is reserved only for vegetarians? Will meat become totally inedible? I’m a bit skeptical about this, since so many vegetarians seem to at least occasionally crave a ‘meaty’ taste.

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