japanese

book image: Everyday Japanese Cooking

I don't know how this escaped me until now, but there are actually two cookbooks available in English by one of the best teachers of traditional washoku or Japanese cooking, Tokiko Suzuki. Japanese Homestyle Cooking, published in 2000, is the more recent one, and The Essentials of Japanese Cooking is the other, published in 1995.

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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.

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Keep reading Almond Poodle →

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.)

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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.

Keep reading Japanese Dry Curry →

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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