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Holy Matsutake!

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It’s matsutake season! Let’s see just how much you pay for one of the most expensive foodstuffs on earth. continue reading...

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What inspires you to cook?

What inspires you to cook? continue reading...

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Japanese food and beverages for diabetics and low-carb eaters

Since I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I’ve been doing a lot of research into what is recommended for diabetics in Japan to eat. There are several issues to keep in mind when eating or making Japanese style dishes, so I thought I’d share these here. Whether you’re planning to travel to Japan or are just a fan of Japanese cooking and restaurants, I hope you’ll find this useful. continue reading...

Wacky diets everywhere

About some weird ‘diet’ pills labeled Japanese, even though they aren’t from Japan at all, plus some REAL Japanese diets that are popular now. continue reading...

はじめまして、伊藤牧子です。

(This is my Japanese About page. For the more complete English About page go here.)

初めまして。イトウマキコと申します。中年女です。日本生まれ、元帰国子女、アメリカ、イギリス、スイスを経て、現在は南フランスのプロバンス地方の片田舎とスイスに二股かけて住んでいます。海外生活が日本に住んでいた年数よりも長い、いわゆる変な日本人です。 continue reading...

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Stuck in a French hospital

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About how I ended up in a French hospital, and how it’s been. Some angst and pretty dodgy looking food pics follow. continue reading...

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Radio Exercise (Radio Taiso) and the Japanese summer

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Using a form of exercise that’s a Japanese cultural institution, to get my circulation going while I’m stuck in a French hospital. continue reading...

The Panasonic Lumix GF-1, and pondering the photography needs of a food blogger

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(Hi everyone. As Guruman posted, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery 2 weeks ago, and I’m still in hospital unfortunately. So there won’t be any new recipes from me for the time being. However, I still have lots of topics from my Japan trip to talk about. Here’s an article I was working on before I had to go to the doctor, and I was able to finish it up today finally. I’ll try to be back to full throttle real soon!)

Back in March, I got a new camera in Tokyo; the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1. I think this one just might be the ideal camera for many food bloggers who are looking to upgrade their point-and-shoots, or for a lighter alternative to a DSLR. Here’s a review of the micro four-thirds format itself and this camera in particular. It’s not a very technical review - there are plenty of those online elsewhere. Instead it’s focused on the photography needs of a typical food blogger. continue reading...

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French natto!

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As I slowly settle in to my new life here in France, I’m finding out about quite a lot of interesting local suppliers of the things that I want to eat, wear, sit on, or otherwise use. But I never thought that I’d find this: French natto, as in natto made right here in my region of France! continue reading...

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The start of my new adventures...in Provence, France

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In February 2009, I left the house I’d been living in off and on for years, and embarked on a quest for a new place to live. Last week the quest finally ended, and we’re now settling into a new house, which is actually a pretty old house, a new country and a new area for us - Provence, France. continue reading...

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Grumpy Monday: I just don't get macarons

Macarons from Ladurée

Is there any there there? continue reading...

Postcards from Kyoto - Surfaces, Keibunsha and conclusion

Tsubaki (camellia) 'fountain' at Honen-in, Kyoto

The final post in my Postcards from Kyoto series, with some reflections on what Kyoto stands for, plus more shopping and food. continue reading...

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Looking at tofu

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(Periodically I like to dust off an article from the vast Just Hungry archives, give it a little facelift, and present it on the front page again. I wrote this guide to tofu back in September 2008. I think it will answer most, if not all, your questions about Japanese-style tofu and related products. Enjoy!

There are several tofu recipes both here in Just Hungry as well as on Just Bento, and I’ve even shown you how to make your own tofu from scratch. However, up until now I have never really tried to explain the differences between types of tofu, when to use them and how to store them. Well now is the time to fix that. continue reading...

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Postcards from Kyoto - Misuyabari and Hakotou, for lovers of sewing and handcrafts

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This edition of the Postcards from Kyoto has no food in it…but if you’re a fan of handcrafts and sewing and the like, read on… continue reading...

Postcards from Kyoto - Nishiki Market, Masugata Arcade and the traditional sho-tengai

This is the third in my Postcards from Kyoto series.

The traditional center of life in a Japanese town is the sho-tengai (商店街), a street or collection of streets where all the local shops congregate. Often it is wholly or partially covered and made into a indoor shopping mall or arcade.

The most famous sho-tengai in Kyoto, and arguably in Japan, is Nishiki Ichiba (or Nishiki Shijo - the word for market, 市場, can be read either way) or Nishiki Market (錦市場), which proudly calls itself Kyoto’s Kitchen. Although it’s called a market, it is a sho-tengai really rather than a market in the European sense; it’s a narrow, covered street lined with small stores.

Nishiki Market, Kyoto continue reading...

Sakura, Sakura: My ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at Sankei-en, Yokohama

Cherry tree blossoms (sakura) at Sankei-en, Yokohama

I will get back to my Kyoto Postcards, but I wanted to talk a little about cherry blossoms first, before April ends.

I have written about the ohanami, or cherry blossom viewing, culture in Japan previously. As I wrote back then, one of the things I miss about not living in Japan is the cherry blossoms in the spring. For this trip back home, I wanted to be sure not to miss the cherry blossoms. continue reading...

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Postcards from Kyoto - Tofu from bean to plate: Kamo Tofu Kinki and Sosoan Restaurant

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When you go to Kyoto, you must have at least one tofu meal. It’s just the way it is. Fresh tofu in Japan is far better than it is anywhere else, and the tofu in Kyoto is generally held to be the best in the country. This is generally attributed to the skill, refined court and/or temple-influenced culture and the quality of the local water. Whatever the reason, to most Japanese people Kyoto means tofu, and vice versa. A visit to a fine Kyoto tofu restaurant is very likely to convert even the most die-hard carnivore into a tofu fan.

During my week in Kyoto, I was able to pursue one family business’s vision of what tofu should be from beginning to end. Kamo Tofu Kinki, a company that’s been in business since 1834, makes tofu and related products in two tiny workshops located in the Gion Kiya-cho area of Kyoto. Later on, I visited Sosoan, the tofu restaurant owned and operated by Kinki for a multi-course tofu feast. continue reading...

Postcards from Kyoto - Sweet destinations: Kagizen Yoshifusa and Inoda Coffee

Kuzukiri at Kagizen

Kyoto, the former imperial capital, is the top tourist destination in Japan for many good reasons. A lot has been written about this city already, and it’s impossible to describe in a few sentences - so I’m not going to try to. Instead, I’ll share some of my favorite destinations in a series of pictures and short descriptions — as postcards if you will. Here’s my first postcard from Kyoto.

Kyoto is a city that hits the sweet spot for me in more ways than one. It is dripping with history, has fantastic shops, great art and craft galleries, and so many places to have a wonderful meal. It also has a lot of literal sweet spots. Perhaps because of its history as the seat of the imperial court, where ladies influenced much of the culture, there are many amami dokoro, or places to enjoy a bite of something sweet, both traditional and modern. continue reading...

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A visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo

Approaching the Ghibli Museum

Back in early February, my sister Mayumi and I went to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, a suburb of Tokyo. Here’s a brief report, with practical details as to how to get there and so on. I know that many Just Hungry readers are Ghibli fans, so I hope you find it useful. continue reading...

A tour through a fabulous Japanese department store food hall - Yokohama Takashimaya

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One must-do in Japan for anyone interested even remotely interested in food is a visit to a depachika(see footnotes), or department store basement food hall. One of the more impressive food halls that I have seen is in the Yokohama branch of the Takashimaya department store. I recently had a chance to tour of the Yokohama Takashimaya food halls.

Warning: Lots of mouth-watering pictures to follow! continue reading...

Cool stuff from Japan: Beautiful traditional candies

Sugar candies from Kyoto

Jewel-like candies are a long time tradition in Japan, and reflects the country’s love of small, beautiful and cute things. continue reading...

Cool stuff from Japan: Plastic food models used for nutrition education

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Those famous realistic plastic food models aren’t just used for restaurant displays in Japan. They are used for dietary and nutritional education in hospitals as well. continue reading...

Cool stuff from Japan: Mammoth Meat?! Snack

If there’s one thing I don’t like about Japan, it’s that everywhere you go, there are constant reminders to do this, don’t do this, go here, go there, and so on. When you’re going up or down an escalator, a high pitched polite (usually female) voice tells you to watch your step, hold your kid’s hand, stay within the lines, don’t put pointy things like umbrellas between the steps, and whatever you do, don’t get your long hair caught somewhere (!). On a bus, not only does that high-pitched female voice (probably not the same voice, but they sound alike) tell you what the next stop and the next next stop are, but the bus driver usually repeats that information right after it’s been announced. The female voice also tells you to not stand up until the bus comes to a full halt, don’t smoke at the bus stop, give up your seat to the elderly…blah, blah blah, every 3 minutes. And as for the trains… it’s enough to drive one batty. You just have to tune it out, if you can. I’m sort of trained to listen to and obey public transportation announcements (since they actually mean something in Switzerland) so I’m having a hard time.

Which somehow brings us to today’s Cool (or in this case, wacky) item: Mammoth meat snack!

Mammoth meat snack! continue reading...

Cool stuff from Japan: Soy milk that's an instant tofu 'kit'

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During my stay in Japan, I thought I’d feature some cool stuff (or things that you all may find cool) that I’ve seen. Here is a bottle of soy milk or tounyuu (豆乳) that I got at a shop in the local Tokyuu line train station (or in other words, it’s not like a special brand or anything). continue reading...

Book review: The Mish-Mash Dictionary of Marmite

Long time readers of this blog may know that I have an obsessive interest in certain foods. Near the top of the list of these is Marmite, the viscous, salty, dark brown yeast spread from Britain. Heck, I even have a category for it. Here’s my review of a fun book of Marmite facts. continue reading...

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Another New York roundup: From Bagels to Madison Park

Russ & Daughters, Lower East Side, New York

I still consider myself to be a New Yorker (technically I am) and go back there at least once or more a year. So I don’t write about my trips there all the time. This time I did have more than a few notable food encounters, so here is a not-so-short roundup. continue reading...

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Menu For Hope VI: Just Hungry Offers a Taste of Japan Plus

menuforhopevi.jpgOnce again, Just Hungry is proud to offer a great raffle item for the annual Menu For Hope fund raising event, which will benefit the United Nations World Food Programme.

This year it’s personal: A hand-selected (by me, of course) box of Japanese goodies directly from Japan, plus…a signed copy of my upcoming book! continue reading...

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Fugu (puffer fish): Would you or wouldn't you?

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(Note: Your responses to the question posed below may be translated for a Japanese blog! Read on…)

Even though I’m Japanese, I do think that we eat an awful lot of food that could be considered to be odd. One of them is the infamous fugu, or puffer fish. Fugu’s main claim to fame, besides its extraordinary appearance (it puffs itself up to make itself look a lot bigger to predators), is that its skin and organs are highly poisonous. Nevertheless, it’s considered to be a great delicacy in Japan. It’s now fugu season in fact, so many people are tucking in to fugu sashi (fugu sashimi), fugu nabe (fugu hotpot), and so on. continue reading...

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Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at different types of miso

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[From the archives. This miso primer was published here last September (2008). I’ve added some notes about miso-based blends, especially sumiso or miso with vinegar.]

This is a post that has been a long time coming. I kept on holding it off until I had a good variety of miso on hand to show photos of. I can’t say I have a comprehensive selection to show you, but I hope you will find this article useful anyway.

Miso (味噌、みそ), as you probably know already, is a naturally fermented paste made by combining cooked soy beans, salt, and often some other ingredient such as white or brown rice, barley, and so on. The texture can range from smooth to chunky, and the color from a light yellow-brown to reddish brown to dark chocolate brown, and the flavor ranges from mildly salty and sweet to strong and very salty. It is packed with umami and protein, not to mention all sorts of nutrients.

Miso-like fermented bean products and pastes exist all over Asia, but here I will mainly limit myself to the most commonly used Japanese misos. continue reading...

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Julie and Julia: An overly long and very late review

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Last night I finally got to see Julie and Julia. Here is my very long and otaku-ish take on it. continue reading...

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Book review and giveaway: Izakaya, the Japanese Pub Cookbook

izakaya.pngWhen a Japanese person dreams of quitting his or her rat-race job and opening a restaurant, the type of restaurant they usually envision is either a kissaten or kafe (a café-restaurant) or an izakaya. An Izakaya (居酒屋)is a small traditional pub that serves food, rather like a Spanish tapas bar. Many are quite tiny, with just the counter and maybe a few tables. The best ones are run with a lot of passion and love, and have fiercely loyal customers.

Izakaya, the Japanese Pub Cookbook conveys the atmosphere and love of food and good sake that are hallmarks of good izakaya perfectly. Written by Mark Robinson, an Australian journalist who fell in love with izakaya establishments in Tokyo, with gorgeous photography in both color and black and white by Masashi Kuma, it is part cookbook and part ode to the cult of the izakaya. You don’t just get recipes here, even though it’s called a cookbook. There are profiles of izakaya masters, useful advice on izakaya etiquette, notes on sake types, anecdotes and a lot more. I think it can reside as happily on a bedside table as in the kitchen - a quality I look for when I buy cookbooks. continue reading...

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Real beef

Some real meat this time. continue reading...

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Poverty, rice, and Air Yakiniku

A bit about Air Yakiniku, an odd slice of Japan. continue reading...

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The sweet, cultured taste of Calpis

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As your sometime guide to Japanese culinary culture, I would be remiss if I let another summer pass by without talking about Calpis.

Calpis is a sweetened fermented milk beverage. The label says:

“CALPIS” is a cultured milk drink, a refreshing gift from nature.

People tend to either love or hate Calpis. continue reading...

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Traditional Japanese strategies for combatting natsubate, or the dog days of summer

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A cat of our acquaintance’s natsubate strategy: All-day naps in the shade.

August is particularly bad in the Tokyo area where I’m from, as it is in most parts of Japan except for the northern parts of Hokkaido. It gets really hot, and the high humidity makes everything and everyone moist, sticky and generally nasty. There’s a bit of relief in the form of a brief evening thunderstorm (夕立 ゆうだち yuudachi) most days, but the respite is temporary. Getting a decent night’s sleep without air conditioning is pretty much impossible.

The term to describe the stage of lethargy and fatigue brought on by this hot, humid weather is 夏バテ (なつばて natsubabe; literally ‘summer fatigue’). Japanese people have devised various ways of combatting it. Some are food related, and some aren’t, but here are some of my favorites. continue reading...

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Postcards from Southwestern France: Gazpacho or cold soup, Cassoulet, Albi, Moissac, Conques

Conques, France

We left Provence this week for a little trip to the Midi-Pyrénées in the southwestern part of France. We’ve been trying to save money by cooking at home most of the time since we started our nomadic existence in France (see previously; not that that’s much of a hardship, since the produce and other foodstuffs in Provence are spectacular). But this week we’ve been staying in an apartment in a 17th century townhouse right around the corner from the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in the heart of Albi, the capital of the Tarn Department. Since there are tons of great little restaurants here, we’ve been indulging ourselves a bit. continue reading...

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Borough Market, London: A Very Literary Food Paradise

Borough Market, London

When I found out that I’d be in London this week for a couple of days, my thoughts immediately turned to what food-related things I could fit into my schedule. Tea and scones, check. Curry, check. A visit to Japan Centre, check. But at the top of my list was a proper roam around Borough Market.

Long time readers of Just Hungry may know that I absolutely love markets, and go to them whenever and wherever I can. One big reason I’ve decided to move to the south of France is because of the wonderful markets here. So, how does London’s oldest market compare to some of my favorites? While Borough Market is not the biggest market, nor does it have the widest selection, or even the best selection, of foodstuffs, it’s a very special place. In my opinion, it’s simply the most intellectually pleasing market there is. continue reading...

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Book review: The Enlightened Kitchen, shōjin ryōri (shoujin ryouri) for the home

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A review of The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan by Mari Fujii, a beautifully presented, easy introduction to the world of shojin ryori (or shoujin ryouri 精進料理), the highly refined vegan cuisine developed by Buddhist monks in Japan. One copy of this great book is up for grabs! continue reading...

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Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian stores as sources for Japanese food

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This is a continuation of my series on Japanese food shopping, and frugal eating, in Europe. Previously I visited Paris and Düsseldorf’s Japantown.

Lyon, the third largest city in France and arguably the second most important one after Paris, does not have a large Japanese expat or immigrant population. However, there are some Japanese corporations that have factories or offices in the area, not to mention a large university population. So in terms of the availability of Japanese groceries in France, it ranks second to Paris, although it trails behind by a large margin.

It also gives me a chance to talk a bit about where exactly you can find Japanese ingredients, regardless of the town you’re in. continue reading...

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A Frugal Eats blitz through Düsseldorf's Japantown

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I’ve long been intrigued by the famed Japantown or Japan Quarter area of Düsseldorf, Germany, but haven’t had a chance to go there. It’s about a 5 hour drive from Zürich, and there was no work-related excuse to go there - until last week that is. So, following up on my mostly Japanese frugal eats blitz through Paris, here is my 2-day all-Japanese blitz through Düsseldorf. continue reading...

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Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food and sake in the heart of Paris

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From the outside, Workshop Issé looks like just another unassuming little Japanese grocery and gift store. There are quite a few stores of this nature scattered about Europe these days. But inside this little boutique in the heart of the Japanese quarter in Paris, you can experience something quite special: A crash course on top quality artisanal Japanese food and drink. continue reading...

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A Frugal Eats (mostly Japanese) blitz through Paris

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Pursuing cheap Japanese (and other) eats in Paris. continue reading...

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Savings Techniques for Women Who Can't Save

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This article about my favorite Japanese personal finance book is part of Frugal Food Month. While it’s not directly about food, I hope it’s of interest to Just Hungry readers anyway! continue reading...

The Kakeibo and Japanese household budgeting tools

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A few kakeibos, and Japanese womens’ magazines with budgeting-oriented articles. Look for these words: 家計 (household finances), 貯める (save money), 家計簿 (household finance ledger).

To kick off Frugal Food month, here is an article from the archives about Japanese household budgeting tools, which was supposed to be the start of a series - but then All Hell Broke Loose around Chez Maki, and the series sort of got forgotten. Well, the series will be revived this month, so in case you missed this one, here it is!

(Original intro: So why is there a money management article on a food site? Well, I think that the subject of our money is on a lot of people’s minds these days, and food spending is a major part of that. An it’s about Japan, and I know a lot of you read this site because it brings you bits of interest about my homeland. So, I hope you’ll enjoy this little derail.)

Many people worldwide are concerned these days about the economy. While it’s difficult for us as individuals to influence factors like what our financial institutions do, we can control where our money goes. While this topic is not directly about food, I thought it might be interesting to see how Japanese people handle household budgeting.

Why look at what Japanese people do? For one thing, Japan went through a severe economic correction (aka the “bubble economy”) in the late ’80s, largely in part due to overvalued real estate and resulting defaults on loans, which lasted well into the ’90s and even fundamentally changed the way Japanese society works. While the current Japanese stock market, yen, and banks are on a wild and bumpy ride just like the rest of the world, individuals (except for those who invested in stocks, currencies and such) on a whole seem to be a tiny bit less worried than people in North America or Europe. This may be because saving rates in Japan are amongst the highest in the developed world, estimated to be around 25% of income (though that has fallen from previous savings rates of 30 to 35%; in contrast, the saving rates in the U.S. average around negative 0.5%), or simply because household budgeting skills have been talked about for quite a long time. continue reading...

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Kitchens out of the past

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House-hunting, and encountering old, vintage kitchens. Fun! continue reading...

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Japan: A Survival Guide For Vegans

At the moment I’m sitting in a cottage in France (recovering from a cold, but that’s another story), a land notorious for not being so vegan friendly except in the larger cities. The native cuisine is generally not vegan - even vegetable dishes often use things like dairy products or animal fats or stock in the cooking process, which can make things difficult. But if you are a vegan you probably know about this, and come prepared accordingly. (I think it’s a lot easier for lacto-ovo vegetarians in France; you could live on the delicious bread and cheese.)

If you are going to Japan, you might think that being vegan would be a lot easier. Japanese cuisine has a reputation for using lots of vegetables, seaweed and other vegan-friendly products. There is even a particular kind of cuisine in Japan called sho-jin ryouri (精進料理), a mostly vegan temple cuisine, with a long and highly regarded tradition.

But as a reader who emailed me recently found out, being a vegan in Japan is just as hard as it is in Europe. continue reading...

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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. continue reading...

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Left-handed eating taboos

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

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Your guide to better chopstick etiquette (mostly Japanese)

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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. continue reading...

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MasterChef 2009, the best and worst of food TV in 2008, and upcoming

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My favorite food TV show MasterChef is back for another round of competitive cooking fun! The hosts are John Torode and Gregg Wallace again, or Pasty and Toad as they are affectionately (or not) known in MasterChef fan circles. (I can’t remember who is Pasty and who is Toad though.) See my thoughts on the 2008 MasterChef finals and you’ll see why I love this show. I hope that 2009 will reveal equally exciting talents. continue reading...

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