japanese

Almond Poodle

Japanese people have a long standing tradition of adapting words from other languages when a Japanese word or term doesn’t exist for something. The language most often borrowed from is English, but other languages are freely raided too. Often, the original meaning of the word changes quite a bit (see this post on my personal blog about the use of one such word, “mansion”) which can be confusing for the non-Japanese speaker. continue reading...

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Tips for shopping for Japanese books and magazines

Since there seems to be interest in Japanese cookbook reviews, I will be posting some here periodically!

The question is, where is the best place to shop for Japanese books, magazines, DVDs and such? If you have a Japanese bookstore near you, that’s the best place. One tip for buying magazines: the most recent issue of any magazine has been airmailed to the store, so the price you’ll be charged is for the cost of the magazine plus that airmail cost. However, if there are any issues left after a month, the stores may sell them for a discount. (Kinokuniya in New York and San Francisco both do this.) Since most food magazines are not that timely, this works out well.

If you don’t have a Japanese bookstore near you, the two biggest and most user-friendly online bookstores for Japanese language material are Yes Asia and Amazon Japan. I’ve bought stuff from both, and in terms of customer service and so on both are pretty good. continue reading...

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Very easy Pao de Queijo, Brazilian cheese bread via Japan

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This may not be well known outside of the two respective countries, but there are pretty strong historical and cultural ties between Japan and Brazil. There was a wave of emigration from Japan to Brazil in the early part of the 20th century and later on around the ’50s and ’60s. And in the last 30 years, many Brazilians of Japanese descent (people of Japanese descent born in another country are called nikkei-jin) have in turn emigrated to Japan to fill labor shortages. Perhaps because of this, a few years ago one of the staples of the Brazilian diet, pao de queijo, little cheese breads, became very popular. While their popularity may have descended a bit from their peaks (Japan tends to be periodically swept up by big food or fashion trends, which after a time get dropped without warning when people move onto the next thing, but that’s another story), they are still made by bakers throughout Japan.

I think that pao de queijo appeals so much to the Japanese palate because they are small, round and cute, and have a distinctive gooey-sticky-glutinous kind of texture inside. This texture is called mochi mochi, after mochi, the very gooey-glutinous rice cakes. continue reading...

Troubleshooting homemade tofu

Recently reader Joanna emailed asking why her home made tofu was, while creamy, not turning into an actual block of tofu. This happens to me sometimes too. The non-coagulated creamy tofu (which looks rather like fresh ricotta) can still be used in ganmodoki and other recipes that call for mashed up tofu, so it doesn’t have to go to waste. Still, it is disappointing when, after all the trouble you’ve gone to to make tofu, your carefully formed block disintegrates instead of holding firm. continue reading...

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Ganmodoki or Hiryouzu: Japanese tofu fritters

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Ganmodoki or hiryouzu are small deep-fried fritters made of tofu and various ingredients. They are either eaten as-is or cooked in a broth. They are used as a meat substitute in sho-jin ryouri, vegan buddhist cuisine. (They are supposed to taste like deer meat, though they don’t at all.)

Ganmodoki is sold pre-made in supermarkets, in the refrigerated section, and is usually eaten in an oden, a sort of stew of various fishcakes and such. But store bought ganmodoki, which has the texture of a sponge, is nothing like freshly made ganmodoki. Once you have tried a freshly made, piping hot ganmodoki, it’s just about impossible to think about saving them for later.

I have tried baking these or pan-frying them instead of deep frying, but the texture just isn’t the same. It just demands that crispy-crunchy delicate crust given by the oil. If it’s any consolation, they don’t really absorb much oil.

Yamaimo

One ingredient that gets omitted in a lot of English-language ganmodoki recipes is yamaimo, often called Japanese Yam. It is a root vegetable that is tremendously viscous in texture, sort of like the inside of an okra. It gives a sort of bouncy yet light texture to whatever it’s added to. You can find fresh yamaimo in the produce section of Japanese grocery stores, cut into sections and wrapped in plastic. It’s quite expensive but you usually only need a little bit of it, and keeps quite well in the refrigerator well as long as you re-wrap it in plastic to prevent the ends from oxidizing. The cut ends were traditionally dipped in some fine sawdust for storage. You may also be able to find yamaimo powder (Note to European readers - Japan Centre in the UK carries this). Regular grated potato can be used as a substitute if you can’t find yamaimo - it gives a different texture but still adds that sort of bouncy quality. It has to be grated to a fine pulp, not into shreds.

The other ingredients

All the additions to ganmodoki are there to add texture, umami, or both. You can vary it quite a bit by adding things that capture your imagination. You can even turn it into a more Western-flavored item by adding things like green peas, finely chopped and cooked mushrooms, and so on, and eating them with a bit of Worcestershire sauce or even ketchup. However, to my mind the traditional Japanese flavor is the best. continue reading...

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Soy sauce based dipping sauces used in Japanese dishes

A lot of Japanese dishes are quite subtly flavored to start with, and are eaten dipped in a simple soy sauce based dipping sauce. You’re probably familiar already with the wasabi + soy sauce combination used for most kinds of sashimi and sushi, but there are a few others. Which sauce goes with which dish really seems to depend as much on tradition as anything, though certain combinations just fit better than others. The ratio of flavoring to soy sauce is a matter of personal taste in most cases.

Whenever using a dipping sauce, try not to dunk whatever you are eating into it. The common sushi eating mistake made is to dunk the rice side into soy sauce - this not only makes the rice grains go all over the place, often down your front, but absorbs way too much soy sauce. Turn the sushi over and dip the fish just a bit instead. (I tend to think that this rice-dunking is why a lot of the finer sushi restaurants nowadays serve their sushi pre-seasoned, needing no dipping.)

Here are the most commonly used dipping sauce combinations: continue reading...

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Ganmodoki

Ganmodoki

Bittersweet Valentine memories, mostly sweet

Happy Valentine’s Day! February the 14th may mean flowers, a romantic dinner, or promises you don’t intend to keep for other people, but to me it will always the Day Of Chocolate.

Valentine’s Day is a very odd and overly commercialized day in Japan, where the giving and receiving of chocolate doesn’t have that much to do with romance. Females are made to feel obligated to hand out chocolates to people they don’t care about, such as teachers and bosses, while males anxiously wait to see if they get ‘enough’ chocolates to satisfy their egos. There are whole lines of inexpensive chocolate products suitable for giving, called giri choco (obligation chocolate). Unlike in the Western world, it’s not a day for men to give something to their female love interests. (March 14th, called “White Day”, has been sort of artificially designated as the males-give-back-to-females day.) continue reading...

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Japanese Dry Curry

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While the standard curry dish in Japan is a kind of curry stew served on plain rice, dry curry, which is a sort of fried rice with curry flavor, is almost as popular. And unlike the stew-type of Curry Rice it’s very fast and easy to put together.

What makes it Japanese really is the use of japonica (medium-grain) rice. Dry curry made with Japanese rice makes a great obento lunch, tasty at room temperature or warmed up in the microwave. The stick-together moist quality of the rice keeps it edible where a dryer stay-apart rice like basmati might taste too dry. Dry curry also has the mixture of sweet and savory, which appears quite a lot in Japanese food, especially the kind that comes from the Kanto (Tokyo-area) region where my family is from. continue reading...

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Dry curry

Dry curry

The formula for making Japanese curry powder

As I wrote in the Beef Curry recipe, I don’t make my own curry powder. Lomo asked in the comments about the “secret” 15 to 20 spices that make up curry powder. After poking around a bit on Japanese web sites, I came up with this page that describes what goes into S & B curry powders, the most popular brand by far in Japan. It’s an official S & B page, so should be accurate, though as you can see the percentage given have a pretty wide range. I guess it’s because the actual formulas are ‘secret’. In any case it gives a starting point for any experimentation I think.

I’ve also included a recipe for making garam masala. Note that I make no claims whatsoever that these are authentic mixes for Indian or other curries, but I’m talking here about Japanese curry.

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Japanese beef curry (Curry Rice)

Beef curry (Japanese style)

Japanese curry belongs to the group of typically Japanese foods that have origins in European cuisine, called yohshoku. Curry is tremendously popular in Japan - it's on the menu at just about every 'family' restaurant and department store restaurants, and there are curry-only restaurants as well as ones that specialize in high class yohshoku in general.

Japanese curry, called curry rice (or kareh raisu) since it's always served with rice, is not much like the curries from India, Thai or other places with better known curries around the world. The best way to describe it is probably to say it's like a English style stew with curry. (It's not at all like the curries you get in modern Britain, which are firmly in the Indian or Pakistani curry families.)

beefcurry_closeup1.sidebar.jpgIf you've ever been to a Japanese grocery store, you've probably seen the blocks or bags of curry base taking up an inordinate amount of shelf space. Competition amongst curry base makers in Japan is fierce. The bases are pretty convenient to use, but these days I use them less and less, since I discovered that making curry properly from scratch is not that much more effort than making curry with a readymade curry base. Commercial curry bases contain things like sugar or corn syrup as ingredients, plus some of them use mystery fats (always check the ingredient lists). I add sweetness just via the vegetables, especially a huge mound of slowly sautéed onions.

Either way, to get the most flavorful curry takes a long time. This is definitely a slow-cook meal.

This recipe for beef curry can be adapted to other kinds of meat, or to vegetarian options too. I've included instructions for using a store bought curry base as well as making your own curry roux base. continue reading...

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Curry - stewing in the pot

Curry - stewing in the pot
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Curry roux 2

Curry roux 2
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Curry roux 1

Curry roux 1
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Japanese beef curry, closeup

Japanese beef curry, closeup

More about onigiri: keeping them fresh and more

In a comment to my Onigiri Revisited post, Jennifer said:

I’ve made fresh onigiri a number of times and would love to be able to make it the night before and take into work with me the next day. How do I do that? (or am I out of luck?) The rice gets all hard and I’ve tried sprinkling water on it in the microwave, but then it falls apart. Suggestions? Do I need a special type of rice? How do I store it after it is made?

Onigiri really are better if made the morning of the day you’re going to eat them. I remember my mom waking up very early in the morning to make onigiri when we had a school outing (which usually meant an obento lunch with onigiri).

That being said, you can make them the night before, but you need to take some measures. There are a few things you can do to have moist (but not wet) rice balls. continue reading...

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The Great Natto Diet turns into the Great Natto Scandal

Following up on the Great Natto Diet story: continue reading...

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The Great Natto Diet Rush: The sticky road to weight loss (maybe) (OJFTMHYLW extra)

I was not going to talk about natto as part of my Odd Japanese food that may help you lose weight(OJFTMHYLW) series this week. But coincidentally, natto as a diet aid has been in the news big time in Japan, with claims that a 'magical' substance in this sticky food helps people to effortlessly lose weight. continue reading...

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Dried vegetables: Kiriboshi daikon, hoshi shiitake, and more (OJFTMHYLW no. 3)

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At some time in the past. all our ancestors must have relied on drying as a means of preserving food, especially vegetables. Unfortunately most of these have disappeared from our tables in the West except for grains and legumes. (See note at the end of this article for some exceptions.) continue reading...

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Seaweed: Hijiki, wakame, kombu, nori, kanten

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Next up in the OJFTMHYLW list is seaweed. But..why not call it sea vegetables? Weed sounds so unappetizing, so unwanted. Yet, seaweed is a terrific food. continue reading...

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Where I shop for Japanese/Asian ingredients in Zurich

I have always meant to post about this but haven't gotten around to it. This is not an in-depth report with pictures and everything, but just a quick post, since Julie asked :) If you don't live in the Zürich area go ahead and skip to other posts... continue reading...

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A week of (odd) Japanese food that (may) help you lose weight

Dieting is just as popular in Japan as it is in other countries, despite the low obesity rates and things there. Fad diets are very prevalent, as are a lot of dubious diet supplements (sapurimento). But if you look at traditional Japanese food, there are a lot of items that are naturally low in calories, carbs and glycemic indeces, high in fiber, and in some cases even have a lot of beneficial nutrients. These items are being looked at anew as weight loss aids in Japan, which is a great thing I think. continue reading...

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Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a pot

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As part of my weight loss efforts, not to mention generally trying to 'eat better', flirting with 'makurobi' (the Japanese word for macrobiotic, and also meaning a 'hipper' version of macrobiotic cooking) and such, I've been cooking more brown rice as opposed to polished white rice. Fortunately my rice cooker has a gen-mai (brown rice) cooking setting.

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Looking at rice

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(I've updated this very popular post with some info about germ rice (haiga-mai) and sprouted brown rice (hatsuga genmai). In case you missed it the first time around, here it is again in your RSS reader and on the front page.)

Rice is a big part of my food life. While I do like other kinds of carbohydrates, especially good bread and pasta, rice is definitely my favorite. I usually have on hand several different kinds of rice, each with a different use. Here are the ones I have in the pantry right now that I use in everyday cooking. continue reading...

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links for 2007-01-11

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Memories of New Year's feasts in Japan

I love Christmas celebrations, and Thanksgiving when I'm in the U.S., but the holiday that has the most memories for me is New Years. This is the biggest holiday celebrated in Japan. continue reading...

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The original Bunmeido Kasutera commercial

Via a comment from Ned (Thanks, Ned!) , here is the video of the original Bunmeido Kasutera commercial from the 1960s that I mentioned in my kasutera article:

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Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

Since I posted my article about essential and not-so essential Japanese ingredients, a number of people have asked about the equipment I use for preparing Japanese food. It's taken me a while to get to it, but here it is finally. (You can consider this as a kind of gift guide for anyone who's into Japanese cooking too..'tis the season and all that after all!) continue reading...

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Miso soup wrapup, and choosing and caring for lacquered soup bowls

misosoupbowls.jpg The top black bowl is resin; the bottom two are real lacquered bowls. continue reading...

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A week of miso soup, day 4: Hokkaido-style corn, chicken and cabbage soup with miso

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Today's miso soup may not look like miso soup, but it does have miso in it. It shows how to use miso as a background flavoring, instead of the predominant one. Since it has milk and a little butter in it, I've called it Hokkaido style after the northenmost main island in the archipelago that makes up Japan. continue reading...

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A week of miso soup, day 1: Zucchini miso soup

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Continuing my series on Japanese home cooking, this week I would like to introduce different kinds of miso soup. Miso soup (misoshiru) is one of the key parts of a Japanese meal. Another kind of soup that is served often is a clear soup called osumashi, but the miso soup base is more adaptable to all kinds of variations. continue reading...

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Kasutera (castella), a Japanese sponge cake, and oyatsu, 3-o'clock snack time

In my previous post about Japanese food, I talked about what makes up a typical Japanese meal, which applies to breakfast, lunch and dinner. There's a fourth meal that is very much a part of Japanese food life - oyatsu. Oyatsu is snack time, and it's usually eaten at 3 in the afternoon. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: the anatomy of a Japanese meal

In this episode of my continuing series exploring Japanese food basics, I'd like to explain the breakdown of a typical Japanese home meal, which differs quite a bit from a Western meal.

In Western culture, a meal consists of a light first course or two, followed by a main course, then smaller following courses. The most basic format is soup or appetizer, main course, then a dessert. The main course itself is centered around the protein part, whether it's meat, fish or something vegetarian, and the vegetables are starch are the side dishes. continue reading...

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Back to Japanese Basics: The essential staples of a Japanese pantry

If there is one request I get about this site via email or in comments, it's for more Japanese recipes. I have covered many of the basics here already, but it's worthwhile to go over some things again. So, for the next few weeks I'm going to focus many of the posts here back on Things Japanese. Where better to start than with the ingredients? continue reading...

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A problematic report on the 'dangers' of soy

There was a report in yesterday's Guardian about the supposed dangers of soy products. I am rather dubious about the claims, simply because some of the 'facts' stated about the use of soy beans in Asian cuisine, or Japanese cuisine in particular, are just plain wrong. The implication made in the article is that all soy products are fermented for a long time in Japanese cuisines, but this is simply not true. Only miso and soy sauce and like products - which are only consumed in very small quantities, since they are quite salty - fit that description. continue reading...

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New York food shopping fun: Japanese groceries

[Update:] See this more up-to-date and comprehensive listing of Japanese groceries and other related stores in the New York area.

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Hiyashi chuuka: Japanese Chinese-style cold noodles

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Summer in most parts of Japan is hot and very humid, so cold foods are very popular. There are a lot of cold noodle dishes, such as chilled soba noodles and thin wheat noodes (hiyamugi or so-men). I love them all, but I think my favorite is hiyashi chuuka, which is Chinese-style cold noodles as interpreted by the Japanese. continue reading...

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Chicken karaage, the urawaza challenge!

There's a popular program on Nippon Television in Japan called Ito-ke no shokutaku (The Ito Family's Dining Table). It's a how-to / household hints type of show, which tests out viewer-submitted tips and tricks, which they call urawaza. continue reading...

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Going to New York for...sushi!

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I found out this week that I will have to go to New York in a week for about 10 days for work reasons. As much as I love New York I am sort of dreading the hot weather. But on the brighter side of course, New York is nirvana for a foodie and I plan to enjoy that side of the city as much as time and budget allow. continue reading...

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links for 2006-06-30

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  • Wow why haven't I found this place before? Gorgeous, sleek kitchen equipment online store.
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Konnyaku Day

I am about to leave for a short trip to the Bourgogne (Burgundy) region of France, though via the magic of delayed postings you should see a couple of new articles while I am gone. In the meantime though, you may want to take a look at konnyaku day, hosted by Jason of Pursuing My Passions. continue reading...

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