japanese

Nabe (hot pot) basics in the Japan Times

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This month’s Japan Times column is about the basics of nabe, or hot pots that are usually cooked at the table, with everyone taking what they like from the pot as it cooks. continue reading...

What Japanese kids like to eat, now and then

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Japanese kids like western style food a lot it. continue reading...

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Kanten vs. agar plus tokoroten in the Japan Times, plus a sweet version

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About the difference between kanten and agar, plus cool, slippery glassy noodles. continue reading...

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All about mirin in The Japan Times

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Did you know that mirin used to a a high class, expensive beverage rather than a cooking ingredient? continue reading...

Bamboo shoot (takenoko) article in the Japan Times

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A new article in the Japan Times about bamboo shoots, a quintessential springtime vegetable. continue reading...

Washoku, Japanese citrus and yuzu-cha (yuzu 'tea')

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Catching up on various things, plus a not-really-a-recipe for yuzu tea or yuzu-cha. continue reading...

Pepper-Lemon Chicken Karaage: Wheat, gluten and soy-free

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This is a gluten and soy-free version of a classic recipe, that's just as tasty as the original. continue reading...

Washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

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Japanese cuisine is now a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. continue reading...

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Artisanal rice and "ancient" heirloom rice in The Japan Times

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About a trend in Japan towards growing delicious artisanal rice - article in The Japan Times. continue reading...

Dried veggies and more (kanbutsu) in The Japan Times

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This month's Japanese Kitchen column in the Japan Times is about "kanbutsu", traditional dried food products. continue reading...

The Mystery of Japanese "Sauce"

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About that ingredient in Japanese recipes that’s just called “sauce”. continue reading...

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The guilt trip on the way to Japanese shokupan (it's just sliced bread...)

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The moral of the story is probably - don’t go shopping on Amazon at 2 in the morning. continue reading...

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Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

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While it is possible to substitute other types of rice for Japanese rice (see: Looking at rice) sometimes a Japanese dish just isn’t right unless you use Japanese-type or japonica rice.

Whenever I write about Japanese rice, I always get asked about the best brands to get, whether rice grown in Japan is worth the extra cost, and so on. Here’s what I recommend, depending on where you live. continue reading...

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What's so healthy about Japanese food?

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A lot of people who come to this site or JustBento are here because they think Japanese cooking is very healthy. By and large it is, but, like any cuisine it’s not 100% healthy by any means. I’ve been thinking about what parts of Japanese cuisine are indeed healthy, and what aren’t, following up on my previous posts about sushi here and here. Here’s what I have come up with. continue reading...

Goya Chanpuru or Champuru - Okinawan Stir Fry With Bitter Gourd

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About bitter gourd or bitter melon, called nigauri in Japanese and goya or go-ya- in Okinawan. Plus, a recipe for the most homey of Okinawan dishes, goya chanpuru or champuru. continue reading...

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Fresh shiso leaf tea

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Fresh shiso leaf tea for hot summer days. continue reading...

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Is sushi "healthy"?

Food model: Sushi (about 500 calories)

More about sushi. continue reading...

Japanese-style cucumber salad with a very versatile sesame dressing

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The weather has finally gotten warm around these parts after a very cold spring, and we're eating more summertime food now. This is one of our favorite salad-type dishes. The sesame dressing is very versatile, and you can use it for any manner of things, but here I've just used it with cucumber.

Tip: the longer you let it rest before serving, the saltier the cucumber will get, so if you want to serve it as a salad you'd want to combine the cucumber with the dressing just before serving. On the other hand, if you let it marinate in the refrigerator the cucumber becomes assertive enough to eat with plain rice as part of a Japanese meal. continue reading...

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Mugicha (barley tea) is the flavor of summer in Japan

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From the archives: We apparently had the coldest spring on record in this area. It’s finally getting warm again, and today I started my first batch of mugicha this year. Here is a slightly updated article about mugicha, or toasted barley tea, my favorite non-alcoholic summer drink. This was originally published on May 10, 2007, and updated on June 10, 2008. I’ve added another update at the end.

When we were growing up, my mother frowned upon most sugary drinks for us kids. So things like sodas were generally not stocked in the house - an ice-filled cup of Coke was a great treat whenever we went out to eat. Things like Calpis, or when we lived in the U.S. Kool-Aid, were strictly rationed. The cool drink we always had in the refrigerator was mugicha, or barley tea. Even when we lived in White Plains, New York, there were always a couple of jugs of mugicha in the large American refrigerator.

Mugicha is traditionally made by briefly simmering roasted barley grains. It has a toasty taste, with slight bitter undertones, but much less so than tea made from tea leaves. To me, it’s much more refreshing to drink than plain water.

My anti-sugar mother always made sugarless mugicha, but my younger self craved the sweetened mugicha that most of my friends’ mothers seemed to make. I always begged my mother to make sweet mugicha, but she always refused. Some day, when I am the one making mugicha, I’ll put all the sugar I want in it, I used to think. So, when I reached my teen years, and my mother was back working full time, I used to pour rivers of sugar into the mugicha. My little sisters loved it. I’m not sure if it made them more hyper than usual, though I have vague memories of my younger sister sitting on my head when she got bored.

Now that I am nominally an adult, I much prefer unsweetened mugicha. I’m growing more like my mother as I get older, a rather scary thought. continue reading...

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Food packaging labeling for allergy-causing substances in Japan

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Last year I uploaded a series of printable cards for communicating dietary restrictions in Japan. This is a follow-up of sorts to this, with some information about food package labelling and allergy-causing products.

There are seven substances that must, by law, be indicated as being present on packaged foods that contain them in Japan. I’ve listed them below in this order: English: kanji: hiragana or katakana: roma-ji. continue reading...

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Shiraae or shiraae (白和え): A classic all-purpose tofu paste

Shiraae (白和え)

There are several Japanese recipes that I take so much for granted that I'm sure I've uploaded to this site already...but I haven't. Shira-ae or shiraae, a classic tofu paste that was born from the Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine called shojin ryouri, is one such recipe.

It's often described as a 'dressing', but that doesn't adequately describe its thick, rich texture. It's usually mixed with various shredded vegetables, but there's nothing stopping you from mixing it with poached and shredded chicken, or ham, or toasted pine nuts, or anything you like. The rich taste comes from ground sesame seeds and a touch of miso. The key to the texture is to drain the tofu very well. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 6: Putting It All Together

Components of a typical Japanese meal

Welcome to the last lesson in Japanese 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. I hope you’ve enjoyed the course and learned a few things along the way.

In this last lesson we’ll take a look back at what we’ve learned, and also see how to put it all together to great an authentic traditional Japanese meal at home. continue reading...

How to grow shiso (perilla)

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I posted a photo of my sprouted shiso seeds on Instagram this morning, which led to several people asking how to grow it. Although I’ve written about growing shiso a couple of times before, I have never described the procedure. So, here it is! continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Fish bone crackers (hone-senbei) with shoestring potatoes

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There's no need to throw away the bits of fish that you cut off when you filet them and so forth. Fish bones and heads can be kept for making soup. Or, if the bones are tender enough they can be made into delicious fish-bone crackers.

At the sushi restaurant in New York I worked at many years ago, the chefs used to serve these as extra treats to favored customers. One of those was a lovely little girl, who used to come regularly with her father. She just loved those fish bone crackers. So, one year the chefs made a big batch of them and gave her a takeout box full for her birthday. She was so happy I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head.

I've paired these with shoestring potatoes, which taste surprisingly sweet next to the umami-rich fish bones. The type of potato is important - choose a nice firm waxy type, not a floury type like Idaho baking potatoes. Alternatively you can use sweet potatoes. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Iwashi no Tsumire-jiru (イワシのつみれ汁) - Sardine balls in clear soup

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Now that you know how to gut, bone and clean sardines, one of the nicest ways to eat the sardines is to turn them into little fish balls which can be floated in a hot pot, pan-fried, and so on - or most classically, served in a clear soup. The ginger and onion takes away any kind of 'fishy' taste. You can even serve this in cold soup for a refreshing change. (Warning: Not many fish guts below but there is a lot of raw fish!) continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 1: Salmon Teriyaki

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We are starting Lesson 5, Fish, with an easy bit of salmon cooking. continue reading...

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How to take care of your rice cooker (video)

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A handy video from a top rice cooker maker shows how to take care of your rice cooker. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 4, Part 2: Prepping Vegetables For Sunomono

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In Part 2 of the sunomono lesson we’ll take a look at some way of prepping the vegetables. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 3 extra: Nimono without dashi

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Not all nimono dishes need to be made with dashi. If one of the ingredients has plenty of umami on its own, you can make a dashi or broth from it without having to add any more. One such ingredient is squid (ika) or calamari. If you live in an area with a sizeable Italian, Greek or other Mediterranean immigrant population, as well as us Asians, chances are you can get a hold of good quality squid. If you can, get a nice one and try this quick and simple nimono. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 3: Nimono (simmered dish) basics

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This is Lesson 3 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. This lesson is about making nimono (煮物) or stewed dishes, while we make a simple stewed or simmered winter vegetable dish. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2 Bonus: Sushi Rice (Shari) plus Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Chirashizushi

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Once you know how to cook perfect Japanese style rice, sushi rice is a snap. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 1: How to make dashi stock, the foundation of Japanese cooking

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Welcome to the first lesson of Japanese Cooking 101! Throughout this course I hope to teach you about the foundations of traditional Japanese cooking or washoku, as well as how to cook some Japanese dishes. We’ll start with that most critical of Japanese cooking components, properly made dashi. continue reading...

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Answering Questions: Sake/mirin redux, bulk buying Japanese rice, and storing Japanese ingredients

Sake and other beverages

Answering Questions is a very sporadic series where I attempt to answer some of the backlog of questions I receive via email, via Facebook, or in comments to unrelated posts, the answers for which may be of interest to a broader audience. I’ve taken out any personal details and so on in the questions. Today I am answering some questions about Japanese ingredients, especially as they relate to the upcoming Japanese Cooking 101 course. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101: List of required ingredients and equipment

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As promised, here is the list of ingredients and equipment you will need for the Japanese Cooking 101 course. continue reading...

Announcing Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku

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Announcing a new, free, online course that will teach you the fundamentals of Japanese cooking, conducted right here on JustHungry. Your teacher? Me! continue reading...

Recipe for Dorayaki, Doraemon's favorite snack

Doraemon's favorite snack

When I wrote about dorayaki, the sweet pancake-sandwich that is cat-robot Doraemon’s favorite snack for the Japan Times back in October, I promised to post a recipe for making the little pancakes. Well finally here it is! continue reading...

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Kamaboko, the Star of Year-End and New Year's Feasting

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About kamaboko, the humble, rubbery fish cake that is ubiquitous at this time of year, but is also eaten year-round. continue reading...

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Shusse-uo (fish that get promoted) plus yellowtail teriyaki

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Fish that get on in life, plus a super-simple recipe for teriyaki fish made in the oven. continue reading...

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Answering Questions: Aged white miso, plus Japanese for beginners

I get asked a lot of questions by email, Twitter and on Facebook (as well as on Quora, although I am taking an extended break from that at the moment). Sometimes the answers may be of interest to a broader audience, like two I received recently. I’ve taken out any personal details and so on in the questions. This week’s questions are about miso and learning Japanese. continue reading...

Basics: Japanese soy sauce - all you need to know (and then some)

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I’m still working on getting my sites organized in the background, not to mention my kitchen operational. In the meantime, please enjoy this updated and revised look at Japanese soy sauce. An exhaustive look at Japanese soy sauce. Originally published in December 2011. continue reading...

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Takoyaki, the great street snack that's fun to make at home

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[Note: I am reposting this article from the archives because of this paragraph. Several people have said in the comments that a Danish Æbleskiver or ebleskiver pan would be a good substitute for a takoyaki pan. You also see this mentioned on other sites. I finally got a chance to hold a real ebleskiver pan in my hands, and the bad news is that I am not sure it really would make a good substitute. The pan makes round cakes shaped similarly to takoyaki, for sure, but they are maybe 5 to 6 times the size of a takoyaki. So what you’d end up with are huge dumplings, which would need to be cooked a lot longer than takoyaki do. One of the main features of a takoyaki is the contrast between the slightly crispy outside which gradually softens under the sauce, and the just-cooked, piping hot creamy interior. I really don’t think you can get that with a huge er, ball. But if you have tried it for yourself, please let me know.

Another note: The video I mention below that was so great has been withdrawn due to copyright violation from YouTube. I’ll replace it with more complete instructions as soon as I can, but in the meantime you can still make takoyaki from the recipe.

This was originally published in July 2007.] continue reading...

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All about dashi in The Japan Times

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Back to basics. continue reading...

Umeboshi (pickled 'plum') article in The Japan Times

Different kinds of umeboshi

This month’s Japan Times article is about umeboshi, the sour-salty pickled fruit (usually called a pickled plum, though it’s actually more related to an apricot) that’s practically a national symbol.

I’ve written quite a lot about umeboshi on these pages before of course, including how to make your own if you can get a hold of the fresh ume fruit, following my mother’s instructions. continue reading...

Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus raw proteins elsewhere

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This month’s Japan Times article is about all the raw-protein foods that are eaten in Japan, and consuming them safely, plus how to make a great plate of sashimi. More on both topics below. continue reading...

Shio-kōji (salt kōji) article in The Japan Times

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It may look just like rice porridge, but this flavor packed, allergen-free flavoring ingredient is much more than that. I think it deserves a worldwide audience. continue reading...

Setsubun and beans article in the Japan Times and food superstitions

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This month’s Japan Times article is about the traditions and superstitions surrounding Setsubun, which is coming up on February 3rd. continue reading...

Mochi and New Year's article in the Japan Times, plus a very rich buttery mochi dish

Mochi with brown butter, green onions and nori

All about mochi and New Year’s in the Japan Times, plus a ruinous-to-your-waistline buttery mochi recipe. continue reading...

Monday photos: Coffee break in Japan

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In Japan, coffee is just as ingrained in everyday life as tea. continue reading...

A recipe for katsudon, plus tonkatsu and pork in The Japan Times

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A recipe for katsudon (a fried pork cutlet on rice topped with scrambled egg), and the history of pork in Japan. continue reading...

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Spring rolls (harumaki), Japanese style

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These crispy spring rolls or harumaki are authentically Japanese-Chinese (chuuka) style. continue reading...

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Monday photos: Sanma (pacific saury) is the quintessential fall fish

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The favorite fish of the fall season in Japan. continue reading...

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Nanban sauce glazed onions

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A simple thing, delicious, and eyecatching recipe starring the humble yellow onion. continue reading...

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A full review of Supermarket Woman by Juzo Itami

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Looking in-depth at an old favorite. continue reading...

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Ancient mushroom models, plus a recipe for oven-steamed mushrooms

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How ancient Japanese people in the north foraged for mushrooms, plus a super-simple mushroom recipe. continue reading...

Many-flavored Japanese Kit Kats: not really

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The famous flavored Kit Kats sold in Japan are not quite what you'd call delicious treats. continue reading...

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Homemade Umeboshi (Japanese salty pickled plums) - now with troubleshooting notes

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Update: I’ve revised this, possibly the most popular umeboshi recipe in English online, to include some key troubleshooting notes. Originally published June 18, 2009. My mom has been making a batch of umeboshi every year since, and I’ve also added some more notes from her.

My mother came for a visit this week, bringing along a pot of her homemade umeboshi. I asked her to tell me how she makes them; not only did she write it down for me, she even had pictures she’d taken of her attempts in the past couple of years! So, here is my mom’s version of how to make homemade umeboshi. I’ve freely translated her Japanese explanation to English.

My mother [my grandmother - maki] used to make umeboshi every year. When I lived in New York, I was too busy working to do much cooking, let alone umeboshi! But now that I am retired, I’m trying to remember how to do things the old way. Homemade umeboshi is so much more delicious than store bought, so they are worth the effort. continue reading...

Takenoko Miso Potage: Creamy Bamboo Shoot Soup With Miso

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A very simple creamy soup, made with a quintessentially Japanese spring vegetable, bamboo shoot or takenoko. continue reading...

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Spring vegetables article in the Japan Times

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A new article in the Japan Times about spring mountain vegetables, plus a bit more about vegetables. continue reading...

Chicken Karaage: Japanese Fried Chicken

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One of the all-time favorites on this site, revised and updated. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

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Three versions of a versatile Japanese sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce or dressing. It's called Nanban or "wild southern savage" sauce. continue reading...

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Hinamatsuri (Girl's Festival) article in the Japan Times, plus my aunt's antique hina dolls

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A new article and recipe for Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Festival) in the Japan Times. continue reading...

How to cook perfect rice - in a frying pan

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Here’s how to cook rice quickly and easily using a regular old non-stick frying pan. It’s so easy and foolproof you won’t believe it! continue reading...

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One of these doesn't belong...? (Weekend contest!)

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It’s been another rather hectic week around here. So I’d like to loosen up a bit by closing the week out with a fun giveaway, just for the heck of it. I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate from our friends over at J-list/JBox, where you can find all kinds of cool, cute, and wacky stuff from Japan. continue reading...

Rafute and Rafute Rillettes: Fun with Okinawan pork belly

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For the last month or so, I’ve been obsessing about rafute, simmered Okinawan pork belly. continue reading...

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Not-so-sweet Tsubu-an: Japanese Azuki Bean Paste (revised and updated)

Sweet azuki beans

(Update posted January 2011:) I've updated this recipe for classic tsubu-an or "chunky" style sweet azuki bean paste, originally posted back in June 2006, once again. In March 2010 I added instructions for making it with a pressure cooker - the way I've been making tsubu-an for the last couple of years. Since this was originally posted, I've received a number of comments from people who had trouble with their beans getting soft enough. After some experimentation, I've found that if the beans are fresh you can just add the sugar while cooking without much trouble, but if the beans are a bit old - which is the case more often than not unfortunately - you may run into problems. So, in this latest edit, I've revised the instructions so that people having problems with the (possibly old) beans getting soft enough, will have more success.

A lot of Japanese sweets are based on beans that are cooked with a ton of sugar to a paste-like consistency. Red azuki (adzuki) beans are the most popular kind of beans to use in sweets, and sweet azuki bean paste is called an (餡) or azuki-an (小豆あん).

I've updated this recipe for classic tsubu-an or "chunky" style sweet azuki bean paste, originally posted back in 2006, with instructions for making it with a pressure cooker. continue reading...

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Sakekasu (sake lees) article and recipe in The Japan Times, plus amazake recipe

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My latest Japan Times article and recipe are about sakekasu, the lees left over after sake is pressed. Plus: a bonus recipe for amazake, aka “Japanese eggnog”. continue reading...

Everything in osechi ryouri (Japanese New Year's feast food) has a meaning. (And a confession..)

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Take a look at some homemade osechi ryouri, or traditional New Year’s Day feast food. continue reading...

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Homemade mochi (pounded rice) the modern way

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How to make fresh mochi, or pounded rice, at home, with ease, and without a mochi making machine. continue reading...

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Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan Times, plus a bit about my niece and nephew

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A new article in The Japan Times about toshikoshi soba. Plus, a little about my favorite food-eating model, Lena-chan, and her brother Lyoh. continue reading...

Taimeiken, Nihonbashi, Tokyo - home of Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette)

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I finally made it to Taimeiken, an old time yoshoku restaurant in Nihonbashi, to indulge in the original Tampopo Omuraisu (rice omelette). Yes, that Tampopo. continue reading...

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Winter fish article in the Japan Times and an evening meal at my mom's

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A new article in The Japan Times about winter fish, and how fish fits into a typical Japanese meal. continue reading...

Basics: How to sasagaki cut burdock root (gobo)

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Step-by-step instructions for making very thin shavings or doing the sasagaki cut on fibrous root vegetables like the burdock root or gobo. continue reading...

A visit to Obana, a traditional Edo-mae unagi-ya (old Tokyo style eel restaurant)

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A little slice of old Tokyo in an out-of-the-way area of Tokyo, Obana is an unagi-ya (eel restaurant) that even someone who’s not an unagi fan can love. continue reading...

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Double satoimo (taro root) with miso, sesame and honey

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This is a traditional satoimo or taro root recipe, where some of the root is used in the nutty sweet-savory sauce. It’s a very ‘fall’ dish. continue reading...

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A visit to the Shin Yokohama Raumen (Ramen) Museum

Scenes from the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum (新横浜ラーメン博物館)

A museum that pays homage to a single type of dish? Why not - this is Japan after all. continue reading...

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Shinmai (new harvest rice) and onigiri article in the Japan Times

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I have a new article in today’s edition of The Japan Times, available online here, or in the print edition. continue reading...

Tororo Soba (Slimy soba noodles with grated nagaimo)

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Here’s a rather unusual (to Western tastes anyway) way to enjoy cold soba noodles - with slimy grated nagaimo root. continue reading...

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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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Squid and vegetable ohitashi, plus some Japanese home meals

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A simple side dish or salad to serve as part of a Japanese meal, or on its own. Plus, take a look at a couple of real Japanese home meals! continue reading...

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Perfect fried rice in a frying pan - even on an electric range or hotplate

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So you love fried rice, but don’t have a wok, or even a gas range? Here’s how to make great fried rice with a frying pan, even if it’s on an electric hotplate. (Note: this is not a low carb dish.) continue reading...

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Konnyaku with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers (Konnyaku aglio olie e peperoncino)

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Konnyaku is a wonderful food for anyone on any kind of diet - provided, of course, that you like it. I do like it - it has a very unique chewy-bouncy texture. I have described konnyaku and its noodle-shaped cousin, sharataki, before, but briefly, konnyaku is a grey to white colored, gelatinous mass which basically consists of water and fiber. It has almost no calories. Right out of the package, konnyaku and shirataki have an odd smell, but if you treat it properly (directions given below) you can get rid of that and just have the flavorless yet curiously interesting mass of goo that is going to fill up your belly in a very useful way.

This is something very easy to make in a jiffy. It’s basically taking a classic Italian spaghetti recipe and applying it to konnyaku. You could make this with shirataki too, in which case it will actually look like noodles, but I rather prefer the chewier texture of konnyaku. The only thing to watch for if you are on a diet is the amount of olive oil and optional cheese you use. continue reading...

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Eggplant article and eggplant-beef-miso recipe in The Japan Times

A new article and recipe by yours truly is now available on The Japan Times web site, as well as in its print edition if you’re in Japan. The subject this time is eggplants (aubergines). It also includes a recipe of course! The recipe combines delicious fall eggplants with a miso-meat sauce or sorts.

Incidentally, although the original recipe calls for thinly sliced beef, it works well with ground beef too. This is a shot of a version I made using ground beef.

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This dish is great hot or cold, so make some for dinner and save a little for your bento the next day. Really yum!

Negimiso or Misonegi - Japanese onion-miso sauce or paste

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This is one of those really useful and versatile sauces or pastes (the consistency just depends on how long you cook it down to evaporate the moisture) that is so easy to make that it’s really barely a recipe. It’s a basic standby in Japanese kitchens. continue reading...

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Low-key iridofu or scrambled tofu with vegetables - a low-carb foil for a Japanese (or other) meal

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A low-carb, low-key tofu dish that serves as a background element to a meal, serving the role that rice usually plays. 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...

Tomatoes, at what temperature? Plus a super-easy tomato recipe

Heirloom tomatoes for lunch

Ahh, tomatoes. What temperature is right for them? continue reading...

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Combatting Summer Fatigue article in The Japan Times

Chicken and shrimp soba salad with sesame sauce

There’s a new recipe from me, on another site - take a look! And a bit about the, uh, photo shoot… continue reading...

Tamago dofu: Cold savory egg custard

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(From the archives - something cool and easy, perfect for the summer. Originally published in July 2008.)

Previously, I explained how some dishes that are not tofu are called -tofu, because of the shape, texture or both. This is the case with tamago dofu, a smooth savory egg custard that’s served cold.

You can make it in a square mold, to make it look tofu-like. But I prefer to keep it a lot simpler by cooking the tamago dofu in the serving container it will be served in. This can be anything as long as it’s heat-proof. Here I have used some sturdy glass cups made of pressed glass, but I’ve also used little pudding molds, tiny glass bowls made for holding ingredients while you’re cooking, and even coffee cups.

There are very few ingredients in a tamago dofu: dashi or soup stock, eggs, and a few flavorings. Because of this, each component should be of top quality, because you’ll taste each one quite clearly. Traditionally the soup component is dashi, but I don’t really like the fish flavor of dashi when it’s cold. So I prefer to make a simple vegetable stock instead.

Tamago dofu should be served ice cold. It’s a great appetizer for a summer meal, or an interesting and soothing snack. I have been guilty of making 4 cups and ‘hiding’ them so I can eat them all by myself. 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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Gyoza Quesadilla

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A quickie, deconstructed version of gyoza dumplings. continue reading...

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Instant ramen and cup noodles are very, very bad for you

Ramen!

(Edit note, May 2010. I have revived this piece from the deep archives. I wrote this originally written back in 2007, and since then the popularity of instant ramen has continued to grow.

To reiterate: Although it’s often marketed as a quick and easy meal, instant ramen is junk food It should be regarded on the same level, nutritionally speaking, as a bag of potato chips. I’m not saying you should totally avoid instant ramen, or for that matter potato chips. I indulge in both myself. However, making cheap instant ramen an everyday staple, as some college kids and low-income families do, is about the equivalent nutritionally speaking of serving corn chips as your staple carb with meals. (Hmm, I guess there are people who do that…)

Incidentally, I’ve gotten a fair number of angry emails and comments to this post over the years, as though I’m attacking a fundamental right of people or something. I find this very interesting.) 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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My mother's glazed sardines (Iwashi no kanroni)

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One thing I’m really enjoying here in Japan is cooking simple things at home with my mother. To me, quintessential Japanese home cooking is a dish like this. Sardines, which happen to be quite inexpensive (and sustainable too), are slowly cooked until they are well flavored, meltingly soft, and glossy with a typically Japanese sweet-salty sauce. (The ‘kanroni’ (甘露煮) in the name refers to the method of simmering something in this sweet-salty sauce.) It uses just a few basic ingredients, so please give it a try if you can get a hold of very fresh sardines or similar oily fish. (The fish do have to be very fresh for this to be really good and not-fishy.)

I had a bit of a job working out this recipe, which comes from my mother, since she really doesn’t measure anything when she makes this! After some trial and error, I think these ingredient amounts work well. continue reading...

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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: 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...

Nanakusagayu: Seven greens rice porridge to rest the feast-weary belly

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The more I study old Japanese customs, the more I am impressed by the logical thinking behind many of them, even when examined with modern eyes. One of these the custom of partaking of a bowl of nanakusagayu on the seventh day of the New Year, which supposedly started in the Heian Period (around the 12th century), in the refined court of Kyoto. Nanakusa means seven greens, and kayu (or to use the honorific term, okayu (お粥)), is rice porridge. The Imperial Court, now in Tokyo, still has a nanakusagayu ceremony on the morning of January 7th. continue reading...

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Kenchinjiru, Japanese Zen Buddhist vegetable soup

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It’s been a cold and snowy winter so far around these parts, which usually means soups and stews for dinner. This classic Japanese soup is hearty yet low in calories, full of fiber, and just all around good for you. It helps to counteract all the cookies and sweets you might be indulging in at this time of year.

The name kenchinjiru (けんちん汁)derives from the Zen Buddhist temple where it was first made (or so it’s claimed), Kencho-ji (建長寺)in Kamakura. (Kamakura (鎌倉) was, for a brief while, the capital of Japan in the 12th and 13th centuries. Nowadays it’s a major historical tourist attraction, and a fairly easy day trip from central Tokyo.) Since kenchinjiru is a shojin ryouri or temple cuisine dish, the basic version given here is vegan. It’s still very filling because of all the high fiber vegetables used. You could make a very satisfying vegan meal just from this soup and some brown rice. 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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Leaf shaped black sesame cookies with matcha tea icing

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[From the archives. These sesame cookies with matcha icing look and taste quite dramatic. In leaf shapes they are rather spring-like, but try simple rounds or squares for year-round appeal. Originally published in April 2007.]

Flavor wise black sesame seeds aren’t that different, if at all, from white or brown sesame seeds. But there is something about their dramatic black-to-grey color that is quite exciting. At the moment I’m quite enamored with black sesame seeds, and have been using them instead of the regular brown ones in everything from sauces to salads.

These leaf shaped cookies contain toasted and ground black sesame seeds, dark brown muscovado sugar, and whole wheat flour, and are decorated with matcha (powdered tea) royal icing. The sweetness is quite restrained, both in the cookie and in the icing. You are first hit by the tea-flavored, very slightly bitter icing, followed by the nutty darkness of the cookie. It’s an intriguing combination. They are a wonderful accompaniment to tea, black or green, hot or iced. If the ultimate cookie to you means something very sweet and gooey you may not like these. They are quite adult cookies.

I had to shoot the pictures in a hurry, because they were disappearing faster than almost any other cookie I’ve made recently.

Since I don’t have a leaf shaped cookie cutter, I just made a simple paper template and cut the leaves out with a knife. You can cut them out into any shape you’d like of course, though given the coloring leaves seem appropriate. Quite spring-like, in fact. continue reading...

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Black bean vegan mini-burgers

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From the archives. This is terrific freshy made and hot, but is even better cold, so it’s great for bentos. Originally published in November 2007.

Over the past couple of years as I’ve pursued largely vegetarian eating, I’ve gradually accumulated a small arsenal of small, round bean patties or balls, which are great as snacks, for bento boxes, and just for dinner, in my regular rotation. This one was inspired by one of the first beany-round thing I made, the samosa-like lentil snacks from The Hungry Tiger, and a Japanese vegan cooking book called Saisai Gohan (Vegetable Meals) by Yumiko Kano. (Yumiko Kano is currently my favorite cookbook author in any language, and I’ll talk more about her down the line.) I’ve adjusted a few things to make them gluten-free.

These have the earthy, deep flavor of the black beans that is enhanced by the spices and the sauce, and they are delicious hot or at room temperature. Even diehard carnivores like them. They’re really perfect for bento lunches, and I’ve used it in the all-vegan Bento no. 5 on Just Bento. I also used them as a pita-sandwich filling in Bento no. 6.

I have described two methods of cooking these: in the oven, which is good for making them in quantity, and in a frying pan, which is perfect for making a few at a time. 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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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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Nasu no miso dengaku: Japanese slow-roasted eggplant with dengaku sauce

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It’s still summertime, but I can feel the cooler days of fall coming, especially in the evenings when the temperature is dropping just a bit more than it did a few weeks ago. This is one of the best times of the year for food lovers, especially if you love vegetables.

Eggplants (aubergines) are in high season now and will be around for at least another month or so. While you can get them year-round, they are at their best of course in their natural season.

This is a classic Japanese way of serving eggplant, and it’s really easy. All you do is to slowly roast the eggplant until tender, either in the oven or on the stovetop in a frying pan, then serve with a glossy, salty-sweet dengaku (田楽)sauce. I could eat this every day, with a bowl of plain rice and some cold mugicha to wash it down. continue reading...

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Mackerel braised in miso sauce (Saba no miso ni)

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Here’s another classic Japanese recipe from my mother. I have to admit that I’m not very good with fish, with the exception of simple grilling or panfrying and so on, but my mom has all kinds of great fish recipes up her sleeve.

Last week we spent a rather chilly week in Brittany (Bretagne), where the highlight was definitely the abundance of cheap, really fresh fish available to us. One fish in particular that was really good and inexpensive was maquereau, or Atlantic mackerel, which we know as saba (鯖 さば)in Japanese. In Japan, mackerel is usually treated one of three ways: grilled over an open flame (amiyaki), treated with salt and vinegar (shimesaba) and turned into an old fashioned kind of sushi (sabazushi), or gently braised in a sauce with the classic Japanese combination of salty-sweet flavors. This mackerel is cooked in a ginger scented miso sauce, then allowed to cool down in the liquid overnight, which allows the flavors to penetrate the firm flesh of the fish. You barely notice the oiliness at all, and the sauce is plate-lickingly tasty. I like to eat it chilled, right out of the refrigerator, with plain rice and a simple salad on the side. It makes for a refreshing yet rich dish for a summer meal. continue reading...

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The earlobe in Japanese cooking

earlobe.jpgDuring a bout of procrastination, I came across this post on Serious Eats about making udon from an translated-to-English Japanese cookbook classic, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji. You know this is a classic, since the original forward for it was written by M.F.K. Fisher! Anyway, the author of the Serious Eats post gets quite excited about the instructions in the recipe (which apparently calls for egg yolks…more about this later) saying to knead the dough until it’s the texture of an earlobe.

Actually, the earlobe (mimitabu 耳たぶ) is used quite commonly in Japanese cooking. What? you say? Well…here’s how. continue reading...

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Vegetable Tempura

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I’ve never really been good at making tempura, the quintessential Japanese deep fried dish. My mother’s tempura has always been terrific - crispy, light, and not greasy at all. So, taking advantage of her extended vacation here this year, I drilled her properly on how she makes tempura.

Her method does not rely on special tempura flour (cheap in Japan but expensive or hard to get a hold of elsewhere), or other recently touted additions like vodka or other high-alcohol liquor, so anyone should be able to do it. Just follow the key points listed below. continue reading...

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Basics: Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce

I’ve updated this very popular article a little bit and pushed it up from the archives, since it is the season for cold noodles now. I’ll also have a followup recipe soon for the perfect accompaniment to zaru soba. Originally published in May 2007.

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Most of Japan gets very hot and humid in the summer. To combat the heat, a number of dishes meant to be eaten cold have been developed. One of the main cold summer dishes is cold noodles.

Soba noodles, made of soba (buckwheat), are available all year round but are really popular when the heat turns unbearable. As with other cold noodles, they are prepared in a way that may seem strange if you’re used to pasta and other Western-style noodles. Unlike pasta, most Japanese noodles, including soba, are rinsed rather vigorously in cold running water. This not only cools them down but gets rid of excess starch, which adversely affects the flavor of the noodles. Many recipes written in English omit this critical rinsing step: you don’t just plunge it in cold water, as many directions incorrectly state, but you actively wash the noodles. Once you’ve done this once, you will definitely notice the difference. I’ve given detailed instructions for this procedure below.

Dipped into a properly made sauce or soba tsuyu, with plenty of spicy condiments or yakumi, there’s nothing more refreshing to eat on a hot summer evening. continue reading...

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Homemade Umeshu (plum wine) and Ume Hachimitsu Sour (ume honey-vinegar drink)

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Since so many people liked my mom’s umeboshi recipe, here are two more recipes using ume plums from her. She doesn’t have photos for these, so I’ve taken a picture of her notes, with a little illustration she did of how to layer the ume and sugar for the umeshu (plum wine). continue reading...

Konnyaku and shirataki FAQ: The almost zero-calorie, weird wobbly food from Japan

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From the archives. For some reason I've been getting several email questions about konnyaku recently, so here is my definitive (I hope) guide to preparing konnyaku and konnyaku noodles, or shirataki. Originally published in January 2007.

The quintessential Japanese foods that (may) help you lose weight, are konnyaku and shirataki. Both are made from the same substance, the corm of the konnyaku or konjac plant. Shirataki is also known as konnyaku noodles, to further confuse things, but I prefer the original name which means "white waterfall". It's basically konnyaku shaped like long thin noodles. 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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Sweet onion and soba salad with fat-free umeboshi dressing

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We still haven’t found a house to buy (though we may getting close), and due to the way things work in France, we are probably going to be nomads for at least 4 more months even if we put in an offer for a place tomorrow. I’ve gotten more used to cooking in tiny holiday home kitchens, but I’m still not up to anything too complicated - or in other words anything that requires the use of more than 2 burners at a time.

Fortunately it’s now summer, which means lighter, less complicated meals anyway. This salad, which can be a meal on its own, a starter or a light side dish, features sweet salad onions (spring is the season for them, at least around these parts), sliced paper-thin and refreshed in ice cold water. The tart dressing features umeboshi (pickled plums) and uses no oil, so this is an almost fat-free, fairly low calorie dish, that’s vegan to boot. 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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Survey: What Japanese ingredients can you get where you live?

(The survey is now closed. Thank you for everyone who took the time to comment/answer!)

In connection with a project I’m working on at the moment, I’d like to take a short 5-question survey of Just Bento and Just Hungry readers.

I assume you are here because you have at least some interest in Japanese food and cooking. My questions are as follows. 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...

A followup report on being vegan in Japan

Asha, the reader who sent me the question that inspired me to write Japan: A Survival Guide for Vegans has sent in a great follow-up comment. I’ve posted it here so you won’t miss it. She found it a lot easier to follow her vegan regime in Tokyo than in Nagasaki, where she has been living. That makes sense I thin: any major metropolitan area these days is likely to have many people who are vegan or at least interested in a vegan way of eating, while the same might not hold true for more regional towns (Nagasaki has a long history of being a very international city, but is much smaller than Tokyo of course.)

What follows are Asha’s words. continue reading...

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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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Inarizushi (sushi in a bean bag) Redux: Cooking your own inarizushi skins

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Four years ago I posted a very basic recipe for inarizushi, homely sushi that is stuffed into a fried tofu skin or aburaage. It’s been one of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry ever since. That only gave instructions for stuffing pre-made (canned or vacuum packed) skins, so I thought I’d update it with instructions for making your own inarizushi skins from scratch. These instructions will be particularly useful to vegetarians and vegans, since most if not all premade skins are cooked in a fish-based traditional dashi stock. And, for all of you who have had problems making Eggs in Treasure Bags with those small, thin canned skins: You’ll find that making the eggs from your own, sturdy skins is so much easier. 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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Shell-shaped sushi (Hamaguri-zushi) for Girls' Festival

From the archives, originally posted March 2, 2007. These delicately colored sushi are a great way to use usuyaki tamago. I know I’ve been re-posting things from the archives a lot lately, but I hope you’ll forgive me - I’m moving tomorrow! In any case, I hope you’ll give these delicate sushi a try, especially if you have daughters or granddaughters.

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The 3rd of March is Momo no sekku or Peach Day in Japan. Peach blossoms usually start blooming around this time, signifying the coming of spring. It’s also the day for hina matsuri, the Doll Festival or Girls’ Festival. Households with daughters display hina ningyou-, traditional dolls that represent a princess’s wedding procession. This is because the ultimate happiness expected for a girl was for her to make a fruitful and comfortable marriage. Nowadays girls may be expected to do other things besides become happy wives, but on this day at least traditions still hold strong.

In Japan there is a long standing stereotype that girls and women like very sweet things, while manly men like less sweet and bitter things. So, for Hina Matsuri the guests are served sweet things like amazake (a very thick non-alcoholic hot drink made from the lees of sake, rather like eggnog in color and cloying sweetness), hishimochi (tri-colored mochi cake) and okoshi (colored sweetened puffed rice). Although there were three girls in our house, none of us liked amazake at all. However, my mother often made some kind of sushi for Hina Matsuri, which we really loved.

Here are two kinds of very pretty, girlie sushi in feminine pink, yellow and white with a touch of green. These colors fit the theme of Hina Matsuri perfectly: the traditional hishimochi is colored white, pink (or light red) and green. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: How to make Japanese-style plain rice and sushi rice

Update: I've updated this post substantially in these two articles, 10 years later: How to cook great Japanese style rice, and How to make sushi rice (shari). Please take a look there - you'll probably find them a lot clearer. I've learned a lot myself in 10 years! ^_^

This is the first how-to and recipe that I posted on Just Hungry. Properly cooked rice is the foundation of a traditional Japanese meal, and you absolutely cannot skimp on the steps detailed here if you are aiming for anything approaching authenticity. I've edited the text to make some things clearer. Back to basics! Originally published in November 2003.

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Rice is the staple of Japanese food, and making it just right can be rather difficult if you don't know how. If you think you will be preparing rice regularly, an electric rice cooker will make your life so much easier. You can cook non-Japanese style rice in it too, though I tend to make those in a regular pan. continue reading...

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Moffles

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How to make moffles or mochi waffles, a relatively new but very popular snack in Japan, in a regular waffle maker. continue reading...

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Ehoumaki (ehou maki): Lucky long sushi roll for Setsubun no hi

ehouzushi-eating.jpgThis year, setsubun no hi (節分の日) falls on the 3rd of February (some years it’s on the 4th). It marks the start of the spring season or risshun (立春) in Japan according to the old lunar calendar. It’s not an official national holiday, but it is celebrated in ways all meant to drive away bad luck and bring in new, good luck. Most of the traditional rituals revolve around beans, because beans are considered to be very lucky. But there is another way of celebrating setsubun no hi, and that’s with a big, long, uncut sushi roll called ehou-maki.

I grew up in and around the Kanto region, which is the area around Tokyo, so I didn’t know about ehou-maki ((恵方巻き)growing up, because it’s a Kansai region (the area around Osaka and Kyoto) custom for setsubun no hi. Nowadays though the ehou-maki tradition has become popular nationwide. They are sold everywhere, especially at convenience stores, who take this as an opportunity to get people to celebrate, buy and eat in that awkward gap in between New Year’s feasting and Valentine’s Day chocolate gorging.

[Edit: ehou is pronounced eh-hoe by the way, not ee-h aw.]

So, what makes an ehou-maki different from a regular sushi roll? There are basically three rules:

  • It must contain seven ingredients, because seven is a lucky number.
  • It must not be cut, because it might cut (off) your luck.
  • You have to eat it while facing the lucky direction, which changes every year! This year’s lucky directly is hinoe (丙 (ひのえ)), which is a little bit to the south of south-south-east on a regular compass. If you can read kanji, this page has a good chart.
  • Finally, you must eat the whole roll in total silence.

A seven-ingredient sushi roll is basically a futomaki, or fat sushi roll, and that is what the directions are for. I’ve suggested several filling variations.

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Last year, the Superbowl fell right on Setsubun no hi, so there’s a New York-Boston filling combo below. This year, I guess the Cardinals were out of luck, ehou-maki wise. (What would have been a good Pittsburgh-themed sushi roll filling?)

You can of course order a regular futomaki from your favorite sushi takeout, and ask them to put in seven ingredients and to not cut it. Then on Sunday, face the right away, and solemnly eat your roll in total silence. continue reading...

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How to cook lotus root (renkon)

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Lotus root (renkon in Japanese) is actually the rhizome of the lotus plant. It’s a popular vegetable throughout southern and eastern Asia, but it’s still not that well known in the west. Lotus root is full of fiber and various vitamins and other nutrients. In Asia it’s believed to have various medicinal qualities, but in macro-nutrient terms it’s best to think of it as a starchy vegetable, like potato. Visually of course, it’s very appealing with all those little holes. Here I’ll explain how it’s prepared and eaten in Japan. 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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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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Classic Sukiyaki, The Quintessential Japanese Beef Hot Pot

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

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

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

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

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Tori Nabe: Japanese Chicken and Vegetable Tabletop Hot Pot

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

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

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Ozouni or ozohni or ozoni: Mochi soup for the New Year

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Happy New Year! I wanted to post this a little earlier, but better late than never I hope!

During the New Year holiday period, traditionally rice is not cooked, to give a rest to the cook. Instead, dried mochi cakes were used as the carbohydrate. Ozouni (お雑煮 おぞうに), which literally means ‘mixed stew’, is a soup with mochi cakes in it. There is no one set recipe, and there are lots of regional variations. This one is a simple Kanto (Tokyo area) style ozouni, the way my mother makes it. It’s very simple, not to mention economical - just clear soup, greens, chicken and mochi. Garnish is optional. continue reading...

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Mochitsuki in your neighborhood?

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Mochitsuki photo by Ivva continue reading...

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Toshikoshi Soba or Year-End Soba: A bowl of hot soba noodles to end the year

img: a hot and steamy bowl of soba noodles to end the year

Revised and updated: This recipe for Toshikoshi Soba, or Year-End Soba, traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year's Eve, is one of the earliest recipes posted on Just Hungry. I've expanded the directions so that you can use various methods for making the soup. Originally posted December 30, 2003. continue reading...

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The Japanese Food and Cooking Lexicon

This handbook leads to articles about Japanese food and cooking terminology. I think that it may be even more necessary now that Japanese food has become popular outside of Japan.

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Drunken Tangy Chicken Wings with Carrots (an everyday favorite)

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This is another everyday go-to dish around here. Chicken wings are not nearly as cheap as I remember them being during my frugal student days, due to the popularity of things like Buffalo wings. They’re still a pretty good deal though. While we love crispy oven-fried wings and such, these deeply flavored braised wings are a great leave-to-cook favorite, especially when the weather gets cold.

This is a dish that is very easy to throw together. continue reading...

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Daigaku Imo - Japanese University Sweet Potatoes

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In the fall, many universities throughout Japan have big festivals called 大学祭 daigaku-sai, meaning university festival, or 文化祭 bunnkasai, Culture Festival. They are basically street fairs held on campus, with lots of food and fun stalls, concerts, even ghost houses and amusement rides. Many of the big ones also hold concerts in which top Japanese singers and bands appear. Daigaku Imo, which means University Potato, are candies sweet potatoes, a sweet and slightly savory snack that is often served at university festivals in Tokyo.

The snack itself probably originated as a cheap, calorie-rich, affordable snack sold to cash-poor students around universities in Tokyo around the turn of the 20th century. The idea for deep frying and then sugar coating potatoes most likely came from similar snacks in Chinese cuisine.

Daigaku imo is simple to make, yet a bit tricky. You ideally want to coat the sweet potato slices completely with a hard caramel sugar coating, but too often the sugar gets crystallized. It doesn’t taste bad when it does, but it looks far better with a shiny, smooth coating. I’ve found the best way to accomplish this is to make a fresh batch of the sugar coating for each batch of potatoes cooked. This is not diet food by any means, but regardless, to me they are one of the main treats of fall. continue reading...

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Sustainable sushi guides and the National Sushi Party

Today, three ocean conservation groups in the United States - the Blue Ocean Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium - will each be releasing sushi fish selection guides. They all seem to be printed guides that you have to order (small quibbles: Why not a downloadable PDF so people can start using it immediately? Also, why 3 separate guides?) but if you are a sushi afficionado and are concerned about the sustainability of safety of the fish used as sushi neta, you may want to give one of them a look. See the press release here. continue reading...

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Konnyaku no Tosani and Konnyaku Kinpira

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I have talked about konnyaku before, the almost zero calorie, rubbery-jellylike food that makes me really wonder at the ingenuity of people of the past. Why would they think that an almost flavorless, almost nutrient free substance would be edible?

Well, konnyaku is not about its innate flavor - it’s all about texture. And since it realy has so little calories, it’s a great addition to meals for the dieter, giving a feeling of fullness.

I tend to make konnyaku dishes when I want to really watch the calories, but still have a hearty appetite. continue reading...

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Oh noes, dashi is trendy now

In the past few years, the popularity of Japanese food has exploded, with sushi leading the way. You might think that as the owner of a blog that is mainly dedicated to Japanese cooking, I’d be ecstatic about that.

I am happy, sure. It’s gratifying to gradually see the cuisine of my birthplace being recognized as something special. But on the other hand, I’m more than a bit skeptical. I wonder if, in a few years, hipster ‘foodies’ are going to turn their noses up at Japanese cuisine. “That was so naughties” they might be saying sometime in 2015, as they tuck into the latest craze for - I don’t know what. continue reading...

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Slimy slimy goodness all together in a bowl

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You want slime? I’ll give you slime multiplied! continue reading...

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The Japanese 100 list finally complete, and other things

The 100 Japanese foods list is done. Plus, you know, Swiss breast milk. continue reading...

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Botamochi for spring, Ohagi for fall: Sweet Japanese rice and bean cakes

[From the archives: Today (September 23rd) is the first day of the fall o-higan (お彼岸), when ohagi or botamochi are offered to ones ancestors, as well as oneself! My mother and my grandmother always made these at home around this time of year - I love their not-too-sweet stickiness. O-higan ends on the 26th, so if you like wagashi, why not give these a try? Originally published March 2007.]

botamochi1.sidebar.jpgThe seven days centered around the bi-annual days of the vernal equinox is a Buddhist festival period known as higan (or o-higan for the honorific term) in Japan. The fall (autumn) higan is aki no higan, and the spring higan is haru no higan. Since the day of the spring equinox is March 21, we’re about to enter the haru no ohigan period.

During haru no higan, a sweet confection called botamochi is eaten. The mochi part means sticky, pounded rice, and the bota part comes from botan, or the tree peony. Botamochi is supposed to ressemble a tree peony flower.

During the autumn equinox (aki no higan or simply (o)higan)) period, a very similar confection called ohagi is eaten. This is supposed to look like a hagi or bush clover flower (Latin: Lespedeza thunbergii). Botamochi and o-hagi look the same to me, even though a hagi flower looks nothing like a tree peony flower, but the good old ancestors were probably a lot more imaginative than I am.

Botamochi and o-hagi are made of sticky rice and sweet tsubuan, ‘chunky-style’ sweet azuki bean paste. They are a bit fiddly to make but not difficult, especially if you use one of my favorite cooking helpers, plastic cling film. Since these are best eaten freshly made, it’s well worth the effort to make them at home if you like bean-based Japanese sweets. You can adjust the amount of sugar in the tsubuan to your taste. Here I have made three variations: coated with black sesame seeds; coated with kinako (toasted soy bean powder); and the most traditional form with the rice cake wrapped in a layer of the tsubuan. continue reading...

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100 Japanese foods to try

Ever since I completed The Omnivore’s Hundred, I’ve been thinking about this: What 100 Japanese foods would I recommend people try at least once? I’ve been mulling over the list for days now, and I’m more or less satisfied with what I’ve come up with below.

I tried to keep away from foods that are only available in certain regions, or even certain restaurants or homes (e.g. my aunt’s homemade udon) and stuck to foods that are widely available in Japan. I’ve also tried to include foods from all categories and all price ranges, from wildly expensive matsutake mushrooms to el-cheapo snacks. I also did not limit the list to ‘genuine Japanese’ foods (純和風), but include Western-style yohshoku dishes and a sprinkling of chuuka (imported Chinese) foods that are so ingrained in Japanese food culture that most people barely think of them as Chinese any more. And of course, I have eaten all of the foods listed at least once - in most cases many, many times. I like them all!

The list is not numbered in order of preference. It’s just how I happened to list them.

[Update:]

I’ve now added descriptions and links to recipes if they are on the site, as well as the food names in Japanese - now with all 100 descriptions completed! I’ve made it so the descriptions are hidden initially, so you can have fun guessing what they are or trying to remember. Just click on the ? mark after each item! And I will keep adding descriptions gradually.

And no, nigiri-zushi and the most common types of sushi are not on the list, because I am assuming that if you are reading this, you’ve already had sushi. (Though… are you sure you’ve had great sushi at a top notch sushi-ya? See Judging a good sushi restaurant.)

I did not intention this to be a meme, but rather as a list of quintessentially Japanese foods that you might want to try. If you would like to post the list to your blog and play along though, please do so! Actually it would be even more fun if you make your own 10, 50, or whatever list of favorite foods if you dare. (It takes a whole lot more time and thought that you might think.) continue reading...

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Japanese country style stewed eggplant or aubergine (nasu no inakani)

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It’s hard to take an appetizing picture of this eggplant (aubergine) dish. But I promise you that it’s absolutely delicious. Plus, it’s so simple to make, requiring just 6 ingredients and water.

I found it in an old Japanese cooking magazine, which had an even worse photo of the dish than the one here. I was a bit sceptical but had bought a too-big batch of eggplant at the market, and wanted a way to use some of them up. I am so glad I tried the recipe, because it’s now one of my favorite ways to have eggplant. And it’s vegan too.

There’s a saying in Japanese, akinasu yome ni kuwasuna (秋なす 嫁に食わすな). It means “Don’t let your daughter in law eat fall eggplants”. People debate what the intent of this saying is; does it mean that fall eggplant are too delicious to feed to the daughter in law, who was traditionally the lowliest member of the family? Or perhaps it’s a thought of kindness, since eggplant is supposed to be a ‘cooling’ vegetable, which is not good for a pregnant or fertile young woman. Either way, there’s no doubt that eggplant is particularily delicious in late summer to early fall, when they usually produce a second crop after a first one early on. continue reading...

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Yatsuhashi, Cinnamon sweets from Kyoto

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Just about anyone who takes a trip to the historical city of Kyoto goes home bearing a box of yatsuhashi (八つ橋), a small delicate sweet that is flavored with nikki or cinnamon. While I am not from Kyoto, I get a fit of nostalgia for yatsuhashi on occasion. Fortunately they aren’t that hard to make at home. Added bonuses: they are more or less fat free, gluten-free, and vegan!

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About Japanese ingredients and substitutions

[Updated to add Substitution section.]

I haven’t exactly counted it up, but of the thousands of comments left on Just Hungry, not to mention Just Bento, probably at least a quarter are questions about ingredients or ingredient substitutions. So I thought I might put down what my criteria are for what kind of ingredients I choose to feature in the recipes on either site, especially when it comes to Japanese recipes. [Update added on August 15th, 2008]: I’ve also added some suggested, and acceptable, substitutions. continue reading...

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New potatoes with sweet-spicy miso

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Here is another great way to enjoy new potatoes. It’s almost as simple to make as new potatoes with soy sauce and butter, though it uses a few more ingredients. Boiled whole new potatoes are panfried in a little sesame oil, then coated in a sticky sweet-salty-spicy miso sauce. The strong flavors of the miso sauce really go well with the blandness of the potatoes. continue reading...

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Corn on the cob with butter and soy sauce

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I have to admit that I’ve been quite taken aback by how popular the new potatoes with butter and soy sauce recipe has been. Butter and soy sauce are so familiar to me as a tasty combination that I hadn’t quite realized that it would be new and exciting to a lot of people.

Anyway, here’s another extremely simple yet delicious way of using this magic combination on another summer vegetable - sweet corn. Here in Europe, eating corn on the cob is a relatively new custom imported from the U.S. - corn around here is either dried and ground up (as polenta and so on), or used as animal feed. So it’s not always possible to buy great, very fresh sweet corn. This treatment can perk up even an ordinary supermarket-bought corn on the cob, and will really shine with corn that you’ve just picked from your own garden. continue reading...

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Quick tip: Making the most of wasabi powder

Please forgive the lack of photos - in the middle of packing, I’ve somehow misplaced my camera. I’m sure it will come out soon, but in the meantime here is a handy tip for bring out the best flavor in wasabi powder. continue reading...

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Steamed eggplants (aubergines) with spicy peanut sauce

[From the archives: This eggplant/aubergine dish is really nice served cold, though it can be served warm too. It doesn’t heat up the kitchen since it’s made in the microwave (yes, the microwave, and it works great!) so it’s great to make on a steamy hot summer evening, with in-season eggplant. Originally published July 2007.]

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Here is another summer dish. I love eggplants (aubergines), but cooking them without using a lot of oil can be a bit tricky. I read about this method of steam-cooking eggplants in the microwave in a Japanese magazine some time ago, and ever since it’s one of my favorite ways of preparing these rather spongy vegetables - they’re done in just 5 minutes without heating up the kitchen, which is hard to beat on a hot summer’s day. The whole dish takes less than 10 minutes to prepare.

Here they are served cold with a spicy peanut sauce, which makes it a very nice vegetarian/vegan main dish. Serve with rice or cold noodles. continue reading...

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Chilled wintermelon and shrimp soup

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These days, the house generally looks like a warzone because of the packing, and I am not in the mood for involved cooking. So I’m making very simple bentos, and mostly one-dish/one-pot type of things for dinner. A great one-pot meal is soup of course, but it is also summer, when we aren’t always in the mood for a steaming hot bowlful.

The answer is chilled soup that can be made ahead and just taken out at dinnertime. This one is really easy to make too, which is a big plus. Winter melon has a inherently cooling quality according to old (Chinese) medicine, so this is really nice to have on a warm evening. continue reading...

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In Shojo Beat Magazine

I was interviewed recently for Shojo Beat Magazine, an English magazine published in the U.S. dedicated to shojo manga (manga for girls), and the results of whatever I said are in the most recent issue. Unfortunately the articles isn’t online, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but the whole issue is dedicated to Japanese food and manga - sounds like fun!

Update: Here is the link to the article (an excerpt I think). (Thanks heatherbug!) continue reading...

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Full Japanese Breakfast, slightly scaled down

Recently, a reader asked in the comments about what I have for breakfast. It is definitely not as elaborate as this one.

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New potatoes with butter and soy sauce (Shinjaga shouyu bataa)

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A very easy way to treat yourself to tiny new potatoes. continue reading...

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Cold noodle time!

I am sort of the road this week, so it’s hard to cook much. When I get settled back at home, the first thing I want to make is cold noodles. What I’m craving most right now:

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That is hiyashi chuuka, or Chinese style cold noodles. It’s a meal in one, as refreshing as a salad. I love the salty-tangy sauce. continue reading...

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Meiji Chelsea, the Japanese candy with the '70s vibe

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Since watching the ’70s edition of The Supersizers last week, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick. I was lucky (or unlucky, depending on the perspective) enough to have spend my ’70s childhood in three countries due to my father’s job—England, the U.S. and Japan. I have fond memories of food, especially sweet snacks and candy, from all three places, my tastes have changed so much as and adult that I can’t stand many of them anymore. The one sweet from that era that I still love is Meiji Chelsea butterscotch candy. continue reading...

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Strawberries, tsubuan, ice cream

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There are some food combinations that you think just shouldn’t belong together, but do so well. Strawberries with sweet beans? Surely not, you think, until you taste an ichigo daifuku - a strawberry wrapped in some azuki an and thin gyuuhi, a dough made of rice. I’ve had ichigo daifuku on my mind lately but have been too lazy to make the dumplings. This is a very easy alternative. Arguably it’s even better. continue reading...

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Rice defines me as a Japanese person

2 or 3 times a year, my mother sends me a big care package from Japan. She sends it by seamail, which takes forever, but that’s because she always includes a bag of rice. continue reading...

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Kuzumochi, a cool sweet summer dessert

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I wrote about the use of kuzu powder in the goma dofu (sesame tofu) recipe. This time it’s a very traditional, simple sweet dish using kuzu.

Kuzumochi are sticky ‘mochi’ cakes made with just kuzu powder, sugar and water. The texture is somewhere in between gelatin and mochi made from rice flour - wobbly but not too sticky. It’s traditionally served chilled, so it makes an interesting, gluten free (and vegan) summer dessert. continue reading...

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The role of alcohol, onion and ginger in Japanese meat dishes

One of the most frequently asked questions here is about substituting or leaving out sake or mirin from a dish (most recently to the chicken karaage recipe). This reminds me of how certain ways of thinking exist in Japanese and East Asian cooking, that may not necessarily exist in Western cooking. One of those is the perception of the flavor of meat. continue reading...

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Goma dofu: Sesame tofu that's not tofu

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There are some dishes in Japan that look and have a texture like tofu, but are not tofu in the traditional sense; that is, they’re not made from coagulated soy milk. One of these not-tofu tofus is goma dofu (ごま豆腐)or sesame tofu. Goma dofu is made from three simple ingredients: ground sesame paste, water, and kuzu or kudzu powder. continue reading...

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How to cook bamboo shoots (takenoko)

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There are two Japanese vegetables that I can’t get fresh here that I miss very much. One is burdock root or gobo; the other is bamboo shoot or takenoko (竹の子 or 筍). Bamboo shoots are very much a spring-only vegetable, much like asparagus, so around this time of year I always get a craving for the crunch and subtle flavor. continue reading...

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Different types of Japanese tsukemono pickles, and how some may not be worth the hassle to make yourself

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Periodically, someone asks about Japanese pickles - those crunchy, salty, sweet-sour, even spicy bits of goodness that accompany a traditional meal, especially breakfast. There are a big variety of Japanese pickles, and sooner or later you might consider making them.

Some time ago I did a week-long series on making instant, or overnight pickles. These pickles can be made very quickly, usually with ingredients that are easy to get a hold of. If you want to try your hand at Japanese style pickles, I recommend starting there. There are also a couple of cookbooks in English dedicated to quick and easy pickles, both of which are quite good: Quick and Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes by Ikuko Hisamatsu, and Easy Japanese Pickling in Five Minutes to One Day: 101 Full-Color Recipes for Authentic Tsukemono by Seiko Ogawa.

However, the type of pickles that you are likely to be served in a high class traditional inn in Japan, or even the type you can buy in vacuum sealed packs at a supermarket, are a bit more complicated to make, especially outside of Japan. Here are some examples. continue reading...

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How to cook taro root or satoimo

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How to prepare that hairy looking beast, the taro root or satoimo. continue reading...

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Wagashi are not some sort of magic Japanese diet food

Someone alerted me to this entry on the Health.com blog which quotes me. (Health.com is a Time Inc. property.) I just wanted to set some things straight, because a couple of the statements there are just not right. continue reading...

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Cooking whole dried soybeans

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Until fairly recently I had a blind spot when it came to the humble soybean. I regularly consume soy products like soy milk, tofu and okara, not to mention fermented soybean products like natto and tempeh. And green soybeans or edamame are always a great snack.

But for some reason, I didn’t really get into eating the whole dried (and cooked) soybean. It’s not that they are that much harder to cook than other dried beans either.

In any case, I’ve rectified that situation and now I cook up a batch of soybeans quite regularly and store them in the freezer. Plain boiled soybeans are amazingly delicious, and just packed with nutrition. The cooking liquid is so rich that it can be used as a very nutritious stock or dashi for making soups and such.

There are a couple of points to watch out for when cooking whole soybeans, which are noted below in copious detail. continue reading...

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A vegan version of nikujaga (Japanese meat and potatoes), plus how to remake Japanese recipes to make them vegan

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Nikujaga, stewed potatoes with meat, is a staple of Japanese home cooking. It’s filling and comforting, and appears quite frequently for dinner at our house. Recently though I’ve been making this vegan version more frequently, which is just as tasty as the meaty version. Thick fried tofu (atsuage) is the protein replacement, but it’s not just there for it’s nutritional benefits - I love the texture in a lot of dishes.

The recipe, plus some ideas on how to reform Japanese non-vegan recipes to make them vegan, after the jump. continue reading...

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Spaghetti Napolitan

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Continuing my yohshoku mini-marathon, here’s the infamous Japan-ized pasta dish called Napolitan or Naporitan. (Japanese doesn’t have an L or R sound, which is why Japanese people often mix them up when speaking Western languages.) As far as I know, there’s nothing remotely Neapolitan about Napolitan, except for the use of spaghetti. It is made with a creamy ketchup-based sauce, and has the salty-sweet flavors that Japanese people love. continue reading...

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Menchikatsu (or Menchi katsu)

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While I make Japanese style hamburgers all the time, I rarely make menchikatsu, its breaded and deep-fried cousin. I guess it’s the breading and deep frying that deters me - it’s a messy process, and I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. So I made these ones for the blog! Fortunately they were consumed very eagerly. continue reading...

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Hambaagu: Japanese hamburger steak

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As promised, here is my recipe for making Japanese style hamburgers or hamburger steaks, one of the quintessential yohshoku or Japanese Western-style dishes. They are called hanbaagu (though they are sometimes called hambaagaa, but that variation usually refers to the kind that comes sandwiched inside a bun) in Japan, and are very popular for lunch or dinner, and are eaten as a side dish to rice (okazu) in Japanese homes. In fancier restaurants that specialize in yohshoku, they might be eaten with a knife and fork, but at home they’re eaten with chopsticks. Whenever Japanese food magazines have a poll about popular okazu, hamburgers are always in the top three, especially amongst kids.

They don’t have much in common with the American style of hamburger, except for the fact that they both start off with ground meat. A Japanese hamburger has more in common with meatloaf, and a rather similar texture. They are similar to the old TV dinner standby, Salisbury steak, but I think a lot better. continue reading...

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Yohshoku in the New York Times (but it's not Hambagoo!!!!!)

The New York Times has an article today about yohshoku, Japanese-style western food. Long time readers of Just Hungry will know that I’ve been slowly introducing you all to yohshoku for some years now. continue reading...

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Time-tested vegan proteins

More and more these days I’m getting requests for vegan and vegetarian recipes. While I’m not a vegetarian as I’ve stated here before, I like to eat a daily menu that’s light on meat, and am always interested in vegan and vegetarian protein options.

There are several what I’d call factory-manufactured vegan protein products out there, from TVP to quorn. I’m sure they are safe and wholesome to eat, but I’m more interested in traditional, or time-tested, vegan/vegetarian protein alternatives.

This is the list I’ve come up with so far. They are Japanese-centric, since that’s what I’m most familiar with. Do you have any others to add? continue reading...

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Fu, the mother of seitan

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Vegetarians are probably familiar with seitan as a meat substitute. Seitan is wheat gluten that has been kneaded in such a way that the gluten threads align themselves to resemble meat. It was invented by advocates of the macrobiotic food movement in Japan, specifically as a meat substitute, in the 1960s. (Fairly accurate (from what I’ve read elsewhere) Wikipedia entry.)

But way before there was a macrobiotic movement, let alone seitan, people in Japan were already eating a wheat protein product called fu (麩). Like seitan, fu is made from the gluten that is extracted from wheat flour. Sometimes the gluten is mixed with other ingredients. There are two kinds of fu: raw (namafu 生麩), which is basically fresh fu; and grilled and dried (yakifu or yakibu 焼き麩). Here I’d like to focus on the dried kind which is much easier to get a hold of for people outside of Japan. It’s also a great pantry item, since it keeps for a long time. continue reading...

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Mitarashi dango, rice dough dumplings with sweet-salty sauce

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Even if I am Japanese, I don’t like all Japanese food. And I must confess that I don’t like a lot of traditional Japanese sweets that are based on sweetened beans. For the most part they are way too sweet for me, and if I make them for myself I’m always adjusting the sweetness level, as with my ohagi or botamochi.

Mitarashi dango, however, are my absolute favorite traditional sweet. They are not really that sweet really - that shiny caramel colored sauce (which is called mitarashi sauce) is sweet and savory at the same time. It goes perfectly with the bland, slightly chewy dango or dumplings. (Dango is the name for unfilled solid dumplings.)

You may see the dango just plained boiled more often than not. But grilling the dango makes them so much better, in my opinion. continue reading...

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Zakkokumai: Rice with seeds and grains and bits

[Update:] There seems to be some confusion about how zakkokumai is cooked and looks like, so I’ve added some more photos and such.

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Rice is such an integral part of a Japanese meal, that the word for ‘meal’ (gohan, ご飯) also means rice. White rice is the norm, both for taste and for various cultural reasons. But as you probably know, white rice (hakumai, 白米) is rice that has been stripped of most of its nutrients, leaving just the starch.

Brown rice (genmai) is the obvious healthier alternative. But brown rice can take some time to cook, what with the soaking and so on that’s needed, and some people simply don’t like the taste or texture.

In recent years, something called zakkoku-mai (雑穀米)has become increasingly popular in Japan. Zakkoku just means “mixed grains”, and mai is rice. Another name for essentially the same thing is kokumotsu gohan (穀物ご飯). continue reading...

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Japanese Valentine's Day chocolate giving customs in miniature

re-ment-girichoco.jpgAs I wrote about last year, Valentine’s Day in Japan is fraught with social stress. Somehow, the chocolate manufacturers have managed to convince the whole society that a girl or woman can’t just give chocolates to the ones they love. (And it’s only the women who give chocolates in Japan on the 14th, not men, unlike other countries.) She must also give giri choco, or ‘obligation chocolates’, to people she ‘owes’; bosses, teachers, and fathers-in-law.

Now you can see this kind of social giving in miniature! Re-ment, the maker of amazingly detailed diecast miniatures which I’ve also written about before, has this set of two types of chocolates: Honmei or giri?! (Your real target, or obligation?!) The caption says this: continue reading...

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Okonomiyaki, Osaka style

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Okonomiyaki is getting slowly more popular outside of Japan. It’s often described as a Japanese pizza, but it’s more like a savory pancake.

Okonomiyaki was invented, they say, in Osaka, which is a city famous for cheap and good eats. Okonomiyaki is a snack more than a full meal, though it is pretty filling. It’s a quintessential yatai or streetside food stand food, though nowadays you’re more likely to eat it indoors than sitting at an outside stall. It’s a very communal type of food, especially if you cook it on a tabletop griddle.

This is a fairly authentic recipe I think, or as authentic as a Tokyo born-and-bred girl can get. continue reading...

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The Japanese restaurant authentifiers start moving

Early last year, a movement to set up an authentification program for Japanese restaurant was proposed, to mixed reactions. Now it seems the people behind it are getting going: the inspectors are already in Bangkok, Shanghai and Taipei, and this year they’ll be invading, er researching London, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and Paris. continue reading...

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Cod marinated in miso and kochujang

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I have not featured many fish recipes here on Just Hungry. This is because at the moment I live in a landlocked country, where sea fish must be shipped in, and is expensive to boot. When I do buy some fish, I savor it as a treat. (I may be preparing myself for something that all fish eating people might have to endure soon, given the problems of overfishing.)

This is a classic miso marinade with a spicy twist. Instead of using just miso, I’ve added a little bit of kochujang, spicy Korean bean paste. I’ve used cod for this, but you could use any firm, flaky white fish instead - or even an oily fish such as salmon or swordfish. The pieces of fish should have a certain thickness, so thin fish like flounder won’t do. continue reading...

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Japanese grocery stores in Germany

General notes on Germany: The biggest Japanese expat community is in the Düsseldorf area. continue reading...

Japanese grocery stores in France

Japanese grocery stores and Asian stores that carry Japanese products in France. continue reading...

Uh..uh...beetle larvae shaped chocolates

Chocolate. It’s such a lovely, malleable substance. It can be shaped into anything really. Anything.

But, one wonders what kind of twisted mind came up with this idea…chocolate truffles shaped like kabutomushi (rhinocerous beetle) larvae!

Avert your eyes if you are squeamish. You may not want to read this while you’re eating.

(If you’re getting here from the front page, pause and breathe in deeply before clicking that ‘continue reading’. continue reading...

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Japanese grocery stores in the UK and Ireland

Listings for the UK and Ireland. continue reading...

Japanese grocery stores in the New York - New Jersey - Connecticut area

This page lists stores in New York, North New Jersey and Connecticut - the NYC Tristate area, plus upstate New York. South NJ area stores are listed on the main page.

(some formatting problems remain - please ignore)

Family Market 29-15 Broadway, Astoria Tel: 718-956-7925 10:00am〜1:00am (7 Days)

生鮮食品、一般食料品、雑貨、レンタルビデオ

JAS Mart 35 St. Marks Pl. (bet. 2nd & 3rd Aves.) Tel: 212-420-6370 11:00am〜11:00pm (Sun - Thu) continue reading...

Japanese grocery stores in California

General notes on California: Due to the large Asian-American population and sizeable expat communities, Japanese grocery stores are quite plentiful, especially in the Los Angeles area, but throughout the state generally, and there are even more Asian groceries.

I’ve tried to organize the listings by general area, but if I put a town in the totally wrong location let me know! continue reading...

Mailorder merchants that ship Japanese goods worldwide

Merchants that ship worldwide, plus shipping services. continue reading...

Food related shopping places in Japan you should visit

Please limit your suggestions to stores and places that are food-related: edibles, supplies, equipment, etc. continue reading...

Japanese grocery stores in other places

Middle East, Africa, and other places.

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Japanese grocery stores in Asia (other than Japan)

I need to update this section soon! In the meantime, take a look through the addresses listed in the comments.

Japanese grocery stores in Australia, New Zealand, Pacific

(placeholder for the moment) Japanese grocery stores (or stores that stock Japanese food products) in Australia and New Zealand. If your favorite stores aren’t listed, let us know the details in the comments! continue reading...

Japanese grocery stores in Europe

So far we have listings for Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. continue reading...

Japanese grocery stores in Central/South America/Caribbean

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Japanese grocery stores in Canada

Listings in the great nation of Canada. continue reading...

Japanese grocery stores in the United States and territories

Japanese grocery stores and stores selling food-related items in the United States. Note that California and the New York-New Jersey - Connecticut areas have their own pages. continue reading...

Help me to assemble a comprehensive Japanese grocery store list!

I should have done this a long time ago, but hey, better late than ever. I’m going to try to assemble a list of Japanese grocery stores worldwide, that people can refer to. Obviously I cannot do this without your help! I can list info for places I’ve lived, and there have been some great comment posts in the past here that have included such info, but I’ll try to put it all in one place.

So, please head on over to to this constantly updated page and add any information you have about in the comments!

I’ve added the categories Food related shopping places you shouldn’t miss in Japan and Places that ship Japanese food-related things worldwide.

[Update:] Of course this turned out to be a way bigger job than I thought :) But I’ll try to add as much as possible over the weekend. I’ve found that there are quite a lot of Japanese pages that list stores and so on, for expats obviously. I’m collecting those and adding them, together with your suggestions in the comments. continue reading...

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Japanese grocery store list

This is an attempt to put together a set of lists of Japanese grocery stores around the world. Ambitious but with the help of Just Hungry readers, we hope to put together a definitive list. This is definitely a work in progress - please bookmark it and check back often. Note that Korean and Chinese groceries are also listed sometimes, since they often carry a lot of Japanese ingredients. continue reading...

Bacon wrapped tofu

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Bacon. Tofu. Two proteins on the opposite ends of the food social scale. One is revered, serenaded, hailed as the food of the Gods. The other is reviled, sneered at, as being bland, boring, even disgusting.

When I saw this conflict depicted as bendable figurines (via Serious Eats) I had to do something to end this conflict.

The only reason why tofu is put down is because of its mishandling by well meaning but unskilled cooks who focused only on its healthy benefits. There are plenty of Westerners who hate tofu, but you’d be hard put to find many Asians who do. That is becase in eastern Asian cuisines, tofu is infused with other flavors, as it should be.

So, back to the bacon and tofu. This is actually not an uncommon dish in Japanese households. It’s called either just bacon tofu (or tofu bacon) or even bacon tofu steak. The salty bacon-ness of the bacon infuses the bland tofu, and the two marry together to become a tasty morsel that’s good hot or cold. It’s salty-crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. (Yes, it’s good for bento, and it will feature in one shortly.) continue reading...

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Vegan miso tahini walnut carrots on Just Bento

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I know that a lot more people read Just Hungry than read Just Bento (and I know a lot read both - thank you!) Most recipes are posted here, but when there is a recipe that works especially well in a bento lunch, I post it on the bento site.

These miso-tahini-walnut topped baked carrots are great for bento, but are really even nicer warm out of the oven. And I think the world needs more tasty vegan protein recipes. So in case you don’t read Just Bento, but you are vegetarian/vegan (and this is dairy free and all that, could be made gluten-free quite easily by choosing the right miso…only nut allergy people wouldn’t benefit) head on over to Just Bento and check it out. Another one that is very bento-suitable that you might like is shio kombu or kombu no tsukudani, kombu seaweed cooked in soy sauce…I know several people have asked me for a recipe…well, there it is, right there!

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Brown rice and green tea porridge (genmai chagayu)

genmai-chagayu.jpgA traditional custom in Japan is to eat nanakusa gayu, or seven greens rice porridge, after the New Year’s feasting period, to rest the stomach and bring the body back into balance. At any time of the year, kayu or okayu are eaten when the body is weakened by sickness, fatigue or overeating.

Chagayu or tea rice porridge is a speciality of the ancient city of Nara and the surrounding area. (Nara was briefly the capital of Japan in the 7th century, and is one of the most historical cities in the country). Chagayu is usually made with white rice, but I used brown rice (genmai) instead, plus a small amount of firm green puy lentils from France. The lentils are not traditional, but I like the contrasting texture.

This has been my breakfast for about a week now. It’s not in the same category as eggs and bacon or a stack of pancakes, but I find my body needs something like this sometimes to bring it back into balance. It’s filling and warming, yet feels very cleansing to the body. A cup of this has less than 100 calories, and is high in fiber. continue reading...

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Japanese pan-roasted and marinated duck breast (Kamo ro-su)

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I had to make this beautifully easy duck breast dish three times over within a span of two weeks. The first two attempts disppeared before I could take a photo. continue reading...

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Oden, a Japanese stew or hotpot

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Happy New Year! If you live in Japan, you are probably still in holiday mode. Elsewhere though, chances are you’re back to your normal routine. That’s where I am now - back to work!

I often get requests for various popular Japanese recipes. I keep on thinking I’ve written up so many of them already, until someone asks for one and I think “why didn’t I put that up already?”. One such recipe is for oden, a very popular Japanese stew dish that is especially suited to winter. Traditionaly it’s made in a donabe or pottery pot, but it’s not a requirement to use one. It’s simmered slowly, so is perfect for a crockpot or my favorite for stewing anything, a Le Creuset-type of cast iron enamelled pot.

[adsense:468x60:1:4] continue reading...

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Plastic fantastic New Years feasts

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A look at preorder New Year’s feasts in Japan. continue reading...

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Answering some rice cooker questions

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A few readers have emailed me recently about rice cookers by coincidence. So I thought I would put my answers here for everyone’s benefit. continue reading...

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Christmas in Japan, Switzerland, elsewhere

Confiserie Sprüngli Zürich Christmas Chocolates

A reader emailed me asking, how people celebrate Christmas in Japan.

My answer to that is … “Not very well.” But I get to pick and choose. continue reading...

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Hayashi raisu (rice): Japanese beef stew

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Hayashi raisu or hayashi rice is a Japanese version of a rich beef stew. It’s a classic yohshoku (Japanese-adapted Western food) dish. continue reading...

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Reader question: Canadian mailorder sources for Japanese food?

I’m still not officially back :) but a reader from Canada had a question in the comments here, which I cannot answer. So, I ask any Canadian residents out there. Do you know of any Canadian sources (or places that will ship food items to Canada) for Japanese food, specifically umeboshi?

I am going to try to compile a worldwide Japanese shopping source list soon, since this type of question does come up all the time.

(For umeboshi specifically, if you can’t find it locally at an Asian or Japanese grocery, I’d also try health stores since umeboshi is a highly revered food amongst the macrobiotic set.)

OK, let me shuffle back to the inert/letting the antibiotics do their job state now….

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Japanese-style vegan mushroom rice: Kinoko no takikomi gohan revisited

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The very first full recipe I posted on Just Hungry almost 4 years ago was Mushroom Rice (kinoko no takikomi gohan), and it still gets a lot of visits and comments, even though there’s no photo to whet the reader’s appetite or anything.

The original recipe called for traditional dashi stock made from bonito (fish) flakes, and suggested adding chicken and other things.

This version is a lot simpler to assemble and it’s all vegan, but it’s just as tasty. And it comes with a photo! (My early photos on the site are pretty awful. I like to think I’ve learned a little since then.) I am using this in an upcoming bento, but it’s good for regular dinner too, so it’s posted here. It’s actually the best when it’s freshly made - the aroma of the mushrooms fills the kitchen, quite irresistible if you love mushrooms as I do. It is a very autumn (fall) kind of dish.

I think that this dish reflects my changing tastes and eating habits too, not to mention how I approach writing for Just Hungry, too. 4 years ago, I wasn’t that worried about health issues or anything of that nature in regards to food. Now, I am rather proud that I have a tasty dish that is sugar-free, gluten-free (if you use a gluten-free soy sauce), and vegan! I feel a bit trendy. continue reading...

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Buta no kakuni: Japanese Braised Pork Belly

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Today is my mother’s birthday. In her honor, here is one of the few meat dishes that she still allows in her diet: braised pork belly, or buta no kakuni. It’s amazing that she will still eat this, because basically pork belly is bacon without the smoke or salt cure. And in buta no kakuni the bacon, I mean belly, comes in big chunks of layers of meat and unctuous pork fat.

Pork belly recipes exist in other cuisines, especially around northern Europe, but I can’t really stand most of them, even if people in Germany and Britain rave about roasted pork belly with crackling. (The crackling part is ok, but the meat part…I don’t know.) I like fat in moderation as much as anyone, but that amount of gelatinous pork fat is rather hard to bear. That is unless it’s been slowly braised in a salty-sweet liquid for hours and hours, until both the fat and the meat melt in your mouth.

Very similar recipes exist in Chinese (from Peking-style especially) cuisine, and a great Okinawa speciality is rafute. This is a bit like rafute but has a bit more spice and things in it, so it’s closer to the Peking style I think. Either way it’s a great treat once in a great while. It’s definitely a cold weather dish. continue reading...

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Wafuu Pasuta (wafuu pasta): Japanese style pasta

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The word wafuu may sound like someone trying to say yahoo and not quite succeeding, but it actually means “Japanese-style” in Japanese.

Italian style pasta has been popular in Japan since the post war period. In the beginning it was served with Italian, or at least Western European, style sauces, but some time in the ’70s or so people started to experiment with Japanese flavors. Essentially, things that are usually eaten with white rice were mixed into or put on top of spaghetti and other pastas. These are known as wafuu pasuta or wafuu supagetti (say these out loud and you’ll know what they are), and became popular on the menus of Japanese cafés (kissaten) and the like.

There is at least one restaurant in the U.S. that I know of that has a couple of wafuu pasuta dishes on their menu - Basta Pasta (warning: icky Flash-only site!), in New York. They don’t really go far enough in my opinion though. If you love Japanese flavors you’ll probably love wafuu pasuta too.

Most wafuu pasuta recipes are very quick and easy to make, so they are great for quick dinners. Incidentally, to achieve a more Japanese texture cook the pasta about a minute or so longer than you might otherwise, so it’s a bit past al dente. Japanese people generally prefer softer pasta.

Following are three of my favorite quick and easy wafuu pasuta dishes. 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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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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Hoku hoku is fall (and some Japanese words for food)

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My general ‘simple is better’ attitude to food has continued into the fall. At the moment I’m not cooking much per se, but I am enjoying the foods that are so good at this time of the year. A lot of these foods share a similar quality, for which I can’t think of an appropriate word in English to describe. There’s a perfect word in Japanese though - hoku hoku. Hoku hoku is the word that is used for a starchy, dense, sweet flavor and texture. Think of roasted sweet chestnuts, winter squash, and sweet potatoes. Baked white potatoes can be hoku hoku too.

My favorite hoku hoku food is sweet potato - though I do mean the kind we get in Japan (called satsuma-imo), not the kind that’s most commonly seen in the U.S. (and here in Europe too). The U.S. kind of sweet potato has an orange skin and bright orange-yellow flesh, but the Japanese kind that I grew up with has a pale cream-white flesh and pink-purple skin. It’s less fibrous and sweeter than the orange-flesh kind, which I feel needs added sweeteners most of the time (which is why it’s so great in sweet potato pie and the like). continue reading...

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Sweet and spicy roasted kabocha squash

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I hesitated to put this recipe up, because it’s not the prettiest thing in the world. But it’s so tasty, dead easy to make, and of this season - so, here it is. As a bonus it’s full of fibre and is relatively low-calorie, low-sugar etc for people who want a bit of something sweet without going on a massive guilt trip.

Most recipes out there for using winter squash seem to involve pureeing them, but I rather like them when they are in chunks or slices. This roasted squash has a sweet, spicy and salty glaze of sorts on them, which brings out the dense sweetness of the fruit. Cut into fairly thin slices like this, it makes interesting finger food. You can vary the sugar and spice to your taste, though too much of either may overwhelm it.

You do need to use kabocha-type squash for this ideally, though butternut should work too. You will need a dense, starchy and sweet squash. Don’t use regular pumpkin, which is too watery and lacks sweetness. (Rouge d’etampes pumpkin may work, but I’ve found their sweetness to vary quite a bit.) 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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Pondering macrobiotics

In the last few years, there seems to have been a resurgence in the interest in macrobiotics in Japan. At least it does seem so judging from the magazine articles and cookbooks devoted to the subject.

If you’re unfamiliar with macrobiotics, it’s a form of almost-veganism (macrobiotics does allow for some fish) with quite idiosyncratic theories. It originated in Japan, was exported to the West, and gained popularity in some circles, especially the ones devoted to alternative lifestyles (like hippies and such). There’s a tendency in Japan to get overly impressed by anything (or anyone) in Japanese culture that gets popular in other countries, which I think accounts for at least part of the renewed popularity of macrobiotics - or makurobi as it’s abbreviated to - there. The macrobiotic diet has a lot of similarities to the traditional, or pre-WWII, diet, but isn’t quite the same. It’s also not the same as sho-jin cooking - elegant vegan cuisine that was originated by Zen Buddhist monks.

I’ve been generally trying to increase my repertoire of vegetable and grain based dishes this year (though I’m not a vegetarian), so I’ve done quite a lot of research into makurobi these past few months. There are plenty of very appetizing looking cookbooks coming out regularly, and I’ve collected quite a stack of them.

Yet it’s quite unlikely that I’ll be turning into a full-fledged macrobiotic convert any time soon. The main reason is that I can’t fully buy into one of the central philosophies of the religion - I mean, theory - that of yin and yang foods. Basically the theory is that all foods have yin (dark or cold) and yang (light or warm) energies, and we are better off eating close to the center of the yin and yang scale. Foods that are at the center are generally things like whole grains, beans and other pulses, root vegetables (but not potatoes), and so on. Since macrobiotics did originate in Japan, brown rice is the king of grains. continue reading...

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Preserving shiso, basil, lemon verbena, and other herbs

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Around here it’s already cool enough to declare that summer is over and fall is here. (Actually we had a very cold, wet summer anyway, but nevertheless.) So the summer vegetable plants in my garden are dying off, and I’m in the process of salvaging the remaining tomatoes and eggplants, picking the last zucchini, and eyeing the winter squash to see when they will be ready.

Tender herbs like basil are on their last legs, so I’m picking and preserving those flavors of summer so that they can brighten the dark winter months. Last year I took the lazy option and froze everything, packing the picked leaves in plastic bags and throwing them in our big locker-type freezer. Freezing is okay if you’re too busy to do anything else with your herbs, but not really the optimal way all the time to keep tender herbs in the long run. So this year I’m thinking things through a bit more and considering how I want to use each herb, and preserving them accordingly. Each method is quite easy and really doesn’t take that much time. continue reading...

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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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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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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Making your own sushi? Proceed with caution.

While I’ve posted recipes for several different kinds of sushi on this site, I have never published a recipe for making nigiri zushi, the kind of sushi most people think of is the sushi, in spite of several requests to do so. There are a couple reasons for this, which you may want to consider before embarking on your own nigiri sushi making experiments. One reason, as I’ve written about before, is that it’s quite difficult to get the nigiri part (the forming of the rice ball and placing of the neta or topping) right. Of course you can practice this, or use a sushi former, or even - if you get fanatical about it - a sushi robot. But the more serious reason is that raw fish is something to be very, very wary of at all times. continue reading...

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Vegetarian / Vegan dashi (Japanese stock)

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As I’ve stated many times here over the years, the basis of most Japanese savory foods is a good dashi, or stock. Dashi is not just used for soups, it’s used for stewing, in sauces, batters, and many, many other things.

The regular way to make dashi was one of my first entries on Just Hungry. It uses kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi). Some people use niboshi, small dried fish, in addition to or instead of bonito flakes.

Katsuobushi and niboshi are both fish-based, so not vegetarian. So how do you make a good vegetarian, even vegan, dashi? continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: Kaeshi, soba and udon noodle soup or sauce base

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When the weather gets warmer, we eat a lot of cold Japanese noodles: soba (buckwheat noodles), hiyamugi (thin wheat noodles), so-men (even thinner wheat noodles), Sanuki udon (thick wheat noodles- Sanuki is the name of a region famous for udon) and harusame (bean or ‘glass’ noodles). For most cold noodle dishes a salty sweet soy sauce based soup or dipping sauce called mentsuyu is used. You can buy pre-made mentsuyu concentrate, but to me most of them taste too sweet or are overwhelmed by a too-strong MSG or similar artificial tasting umami flavor. Making mentsuyu at home from scratch is not so difficult, and the difference in taste is quite worth the little extra effort.

The base of mentsuyu is a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin called kaeshi (or hon-gaeshi: hon means “real” or “authentic”). It can also be used as a flavoring base for many other things. You just need good quality dark soy sauce, white sugar, and good quality mirin. It keeps for months in the refrigerator, or even in the freezer (where it will stay liquid) so I like to make as big a batch as I can afford to price-wise and fridge-space-wise.

This is similar to the Japanese essence mix, but doesn’t include the kombu seaweed or bonito. If you are a vegetarian you can use kaeshi safe in the knowledge that it’s totally vegan, and combine it with a vegetarian stock. Kaeshi also lasts a lot longer since the basic ingredients are indefinite keepers.

I’ll be talking about cold noodles and such in upcoming posts, so if you’d like to follow along, you may want to make some kaeshi to be ready.

This is a very traditional basic recipe. continue reading...

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Poached and marinated pork (Nibuta)

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With summer just around the corner, I like to think of food that can be made well ahead and tastes great served cold, or at least cool, to keep me out of a hot kitchen. The vegetable part of this is usually taken care of with seasonal vegetable salads and the like. If the protein part means meat, I like to have pre-cooked pieces tucked away in the freezer.

One of my favorite cold meats is poached and marinated pork, or nibuta. (Ni means to cook in liquid, and buta is pig.) It’s very easy to make, stores beautifully in the refrigerator for about a week or much longer in the freezer, and of course, tastes great - savory, slightly sweet, and very juicy. It can be sliced very thinly or julienned for one-dish meal salads or in sandwiches, or chopped up and added to stir-fries, wraps, and so on. It’s a great addition to a bento box. It can be cubed or coarsely ground and used instead of char siu (roast pork) in steamed buns or bao. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

There’s one unusual ‘secret ingredient’ in the poaching liquid, umeboshi or pickled plum. You can omit this if you like, but adding just one umeboshi seems to de-fat the meat a bit more than just poaching, plus making it taste a bit cleaner and fresher in an interesting way. continue reading...

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Okonomiyaki ingredients sale (UK/Europe only)

Update: Want to make okonomiyaki from scratch? Try this detailed recipe! continue reading...

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Corn cream soup with intentional lumps

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What’s the soup of your childhood? The one that your mother made for you when you had a cold, needed cheering up, or just as a treat? For me, there’s no question: it’s corn cream soup.

Corn cream soup (and yes, it’s called like that, not ‘cream of corn soup’ or ‘creamed corn soup’) belongs to the yohshoku category of Japanese home cooking. It’s an old fashioned, milk based potage, with creamed corn in it. It smells milky, and tastes sweet and savory. It’s loved by Japanese kids.

Now, while my mother was a pretty good cook generally, she did have trouble getting some things right. Her curry for instance was always rather watery. And her corn cream soup, instead of being silky smooth, always had little lumps of undissolved roux. I loved those little lumps though - they tasted like tiny dumplings. Later on when I started to make my own corn cream soup I followed recipes, so my corn cream came out smooth and lumpless. That was fine, but I missed the lumps from my childhood memories. So, I incorporated them back.

Everyone uses canned corn to make a corn cream soup. You can be fancy and use fresh, but that lifts this humble soup into the realm of gourmet special-occasion big deal cooking, which is not what my memories are about at all. I have adjusted the usual way of making this soup by using whole corn rather than creamed, since whole corn cans have more actual corn in them and I suspect less added sugar, and I like the mixture of crushed/creamed and whole corn kernels. Besides, creamed corn cans are unheard of here in Switzerland. continue reading...

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5-a-day lemon honey mustard salad pickles

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To finish out the week of instant tsukemono or pickles, here is a mixed vegetable pickle with the rather non-Japanese flavors of lemon juice and honey. Despite these flavors it does go pretty well with a Japanese meal, though you can drizzle a bit of soy sauce on top to make it more Japanese-y. It can be made in a batch, stored in the refrigerator, and eaten like salad until it’s gone (though you should try to finish it within 3 or so days.) Using lemon as the acid is a nice change from the usual vinegar, as is the honey as the sweetener.

I’ve called it 5-a-day pickles because that’s the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings you’re supposed to eat every day, according to the UK National Health Service, but I often hear people complain that it’s hard to eat that many servings. A good sized serving of these mild, salad-like pickles would do the trick in one go.

I’ve used some winter vegetables since we’re still at the tail end of winter (and it’s been snowing hard here all week), but any vegetables in season can be used. You could use cauliflower florets, chard stalks, turnips, kohlrabi, celeriac, cabbage, etc. In summer I’m thinking of fresh cucumber, still-firm de-seeded tomatoes, green beans, peppers… Always blanch the tougher vegetables for a short time. Putting it in the marinade while still warm helps the vegetables to absorb the flavors better.

I love the idea of a big bowl of this ready and waiting in the refrigerator, so at least the veggie part of dinner is done. continue reading...

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All natural instant pickling (tsukemono) seasoning mix

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If you browse the aisles of a Japanese grocery, you may run across various instant tsukemono mixes. These come either in liquid or dry form. The dry granules in particular are very handy to have around, and they can make sokuseki zuke in a hurry. However, they usually contain MSG, preservatives and such.

Scouring around the Japanese parts of the interweb, I came across several pages that had recipes for a homemade instant tsukemono mixes, such as this one. They all used MSG or dashi stock granules though, and I wanted to come up with a mixture that was made up 100% of natural ingredients.

After some tinkering around and almost ruining the motor of my food processor, here’s the mixture I came up with. To up the umami quotient it has a full 100 grams of finely chopped konbu seaweed in it. It also has some interesting very Japanese ingredients in it such as dried yuzu peel and yukari, dried powdered red shiso leaves. continue reading...

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Celery with chili pepper pickles (Serori no pirikara zuke)

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Celery isn’t a very Japanese vegetable, but with the addition of the right flavors it can be turned into a refreshingly crunchy pickle that goes well with white rice, which is the base criteria for determining whether a pickle fits a Japanese meal or not. Besides, I always seem to have some celery in my fridge (who doesn’t?), and this is a good excuse to use some up.

This is a nice salad-like pickle, that’s best eaten with some of the pickling liquid spooned like dressing over the top. There’s a nice bite and a color zing from the thin slivers of red chili pepper. (Pirikara means spicy-hot.) There’s a little sake and mirin in the dressing, which gives it a twist.

Since celery is more fibrous than cucumber, it needs to marinade for a bit longer. Give it at least 3 hours, or overnight. It doesn’t keep too well at room temperature, so reserve this for eating at home. It assembles as quickly as the other quick pickles in this series. continue reading...

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Onigiri in the movies: Kamome Diner (Seagull Diner) and Supermarket Woman

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Whenever I am feeling blue, one of the foods that I crave is onigiri. You could just chalk that up to the fact that it’s mostly rice = carbs and I’m just craving a carb fix. But it really goes beyond that. It’s tied to memories of my aunts making row upon row of perfectly shaped onigiri for a family gathering, and the salty tinge on my lips from the giant onigiri my mother made for me for a school outing.

Two of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry are the ones about onigiri. It’s great to see so many people from around the world enjoying this quintessential Japanese comfort food.

There are two very interesting Japanese movies where onigiri play a starring role, in quite different ways; Kamome Diner (Kamome Shokudoh) and Supermarket Woman (Suupaa no Onna). Although neither seems to be available on DVD in English speaking countries yet, I thought I’d talk about them a bit. continue reading...

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Dashi stock granules, Ajinomoto, MSG and health considerations

Seamaiden, who has a lovely gluten-free blog called Book of Yum, asked in the comments here whether Ajinomoto is gluten-free. Since I know that a lot of people become interested in rice-centric Asian cuisines, including Japanese, because of the wide variety of wheat-free dishes, I thought I’d post some of my findings here about Ajinomoto and dashi stock granules rather than bury them in the comments.

Monosodium glutamate or MSG is a concentrated and manufactured form of umami. It is a flavor enhancer with a lot of controversy. I won’t get into that at the moment, since reactions to MSG really vary widely depending on the individual. The reality is that MSG is present in many manufactured food products. continue reading...

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Sweet and sour cucumber and wakame pickles (kyuuri to wakame no amasuzuke)

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This Japanese sokusekizuke method of letting vegetables marinate in a vinegar-based marinade is similar to Western pickling methods, but there’s no canning and sterilation and things involved since these are meant to be eaten within a couple of days like all quick pickles. The vinegar marinade is simply meant to enhance the flavors of the vegetables rather than preserve it for long keeping.

These cucumber pickles are sweet, sour and a bit salty all at the same time. The flavor is quite mild and fresh, so I can eat these several days in a row and not get tired of them. The wakame seaweed can be left out if you prefer, but makes a nice contrast to the cucumber while adding its own umami to the marinade.

The pickles can be eaten anytime from a couple of hours after putting them in the marinade to about 3 days later or so, if you keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. continue reading...

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Quick and spicy Chinese cabbage tsukemono or pickle (Hakusai no sokusekizuke)

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This has to be one of the easiest and tastiest ways of preparing Chinese or napa cabbage (hakusai) that I know of. All you taste is the fresh essence of the cabbage, with the heat of the red pepper and the slight twist of the orange zest.

Did I say easy? Wash and chop up the leaves, mix together the flavoring ingredients, dump all in a plastic bag, shake then massage. That’s it. It’s ready to eat right away, though the flavors to meld a bit better if you can manage to keep it in the fridge for at least an hour before eating.

I’ve used ingredients that anyone should have, even if you aren’t stocked up on typical Japanese ingredients. Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes up or down to your taste. continue reading...

Introduction to quick Japanese tsukemono (pickles)

In Japan, tsukemono or pickles are used as hashi-yasume, literally “chopstick resters”, side dishes that have a totally different texture and flavor. So for instance if you had some grilled meat with a sweet-savory sauce as the main course, you might have some simple, crunchy pickled cucumber slices to go with it.

This week I’ll be posting some quick Japanese vegetable pickle recipes. Japanese pickles can be very loosely divided into three kinds: the kind that take some time to ‘ripen’, but then last indefinitely, rather like Western style pickles; the kind that is ready in a few days, but which require a pickling bed that takes time to make and to maintain; and finally, the quick and easy kind that can be made and eaten within a day. The last two kinds do not keep well - just like fresh vegetables, they must be eaten within a short time.

Quick pickles, called sokusekizuke (instant pickles) or ichiya-zuke (overnight pickles) depending on how long they take to come to full flavor, are very easy to make as their names suggest. They are a great way to prepare vegetables without having to add any additional fat, though a few recipes do call for some oil. continue reading...

Coming up next week: a week of sokuseki zuke (quick Japanese pickles)

I am going to take the weekend off from the computer because I have a Mountain Of Things to Do away from it. Next week, I’ll have a series of posts about quick Japanese pickles, or sokuseki zuke. Sokuseki zuke pickles are the busy cook’s alternative to ‘real’ pickles like nukazuke (rice brain pickles), of the kind that require nursing a pickling bed, long resting periods, and such complicated procedures. The word sokuseki means instant, and these pickles are usually ready to eat in a short period, anywhere from overnight to about an hour. continue reading...

A dozen Japanese herbs and vegetables to grow

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I am finally getting around to sowing some seeds for the vegetable garden. I really should have sown some things earlier, but I figure it’s not too late yet.

If you are planning a vegetable garden, or even a few pots on your windowsill, and want to introduce some Japanese flavors, here’s a list of some herbs and vegetables to consider growing, in order of importance and ease of growing in a temperate climate. (That’s one with real winters…at least, before global warming.) The ones marked with an *asterisk can be grown in pots. A couple of my favorite seed sources are listed at the bottom. continue reading...

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Asparagus with black sesame sauce (asparagasu no gomayogoshi)

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We’re starting to see asparagus at reasonable prices again in the stores, which I’m really happy about. The ones available now come from California and Mexico, so they aren’t very food-miles-correct, but I still can’t resist buying a bunch or two. In a few weeks we’ll start seeing asparagus from a a bit closer places like Spain and France, not to mention fat white asparagus from Germany.

This is aspagarus with a ground sesame sauce, which would be called aemono (as explained in the broccoli ae recipe) if made with white sesame seeds, but since this version is made with black sesame seeds it’s called gomayogoshi, or “dirtied with sesame”. I don’t think it looks dirty - I really like the contrast of the bright green asparagus with the black sesame sauce. You can, of course, use regular white (brown) sesame seeds instead, in which case it would be called asparagasu no goma ae. The sweet nutty sauce compliments the asparagus quite well.

I’ve included step by step instructions for grinding sesame seeds in a suribachi. You can grind up the sesame seeds in a plain mortar and pestle instead. You may be able to buy pre-ground sesame (surigoma), though that isn’t nearly as fragrant as freshly ground sesame.

It makes a great side dish, as well as being great for your bento box. continue reading...

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Suribachi, Japanese grinding bowl or mortar

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When I wrote about essential Japanese cooking equipment a while back, I forgot to mention one item that I use quite often, a suribachi. A suribachi is a sturdy ceramic bowl that’s used with a grinding stick called a surikogi like a mortar and pestle. While I’m a big fan of handy electric equipment like food processors for many tasks, sometimes the results you get by doing things by hand are well worth the elbow grease needed. continue reading...

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Broccoli with wasabi sauce (wasabi-ae)

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All hail the mighty broccoli. While it’s always available in the produce section, it’s one of the few fresh vegetables that haven’t been shipped halfway around the world to reach people who live in many parts of the northern hemisphere during the colder months. In the spring we even get very locally grown broccoli and its relatives like romanesco.

Broccoli can be rather boring if it’s just served steamed, boiled or, god forbid , raw. (I’m sorry, I don’t really get raw broccoli. Raw cauliflower yes, but not raw broccoli.) A way to perk up broccoli without relying on those yummy yet caloric additions like mayonnaise, cheese sauce or garlic-and-olive-oil, is to make aemono or ohitashi with them. Ohitashi is basically vegetables that have been steamed or blanched/boiled served with a sauce that contains soy sauce, often but not always a little dashi stock, and sometimes a bit of sake or mirin and sugar. Aemono uses a similar sauce, with added ingredients like ground up sesame seeds. In this recipe, the sauce contains wasabi, so it’s aemono.

As long as you have all the ingredients on hand it’s very quick to make, and very tasty. The sinus-clearing qualities of the wasabi are softened by the other ingredients in the sauce, while still giving the broccoli a nice, bright flavor.

It makes a great side dish as part of a Japanese meal, or even a salad. It’s also a very nice bento item (you may want to contain the sauce in a paper cup or its own container). continue reading...

Chef Morimoto disses the "authentic" Japanse certification plan

On the New York Tiimes Diners Journal blog, which is no longer just written by Frank Bruni, Julia Moskin writes about a Japanese food symposium held at the Japan Society. She reports that “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto called the Japanese government’s plans to certify “authentic” Japanese restaurants “nonsense”. Now, fans of the original (and best) Japanese version of Iron Chef may remember Chef Morimoto’s ongoing “battles” with chefs who cooked “authentic Japanese”; while a lot of it seemed like fake drama for the cameras, perhaps there was some truth in it after all. He did make some pretty outrageous, not to mention downright odd, things under the guise of “nouvelle Japanese” on occasion, which seemed to get some more “authentic” Japanese chefs rather upset. If we assume that the standards of ‘authenticity’ might be dictated by such chefs, people like Chef Morimoto, not to mention Nobu Matsuhisa, may not pass muster. Not to say they don’t produce good, even great, food. (Though I must admit I’m not a big Nobu fan. To be fair I’ve only been there once, years ago, and had a ‘server problem’ which clouded things. And I’ve never been to a Morimoto restaurant.)

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Tiny kaiten sushi-ya

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I normally stay away from kaiten-zushi (kaiten sushi) or conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, since the quality can be iffy. But I could really go for this adorable miniature kaiten-zushi miniature set! (I’m not sure why the itamae-san (sushi chef) has Angelina Jolie lips though….) It’s a new themed set from Re-Ment (US site) (Japanese site), a Japanese company that makes amazingly detailed die-cast miniatures called Puchi Petites, mostly of food and related items like cooking equipment, but of other things too. The miniatures started out as omake, or free gifts that came with the purchase of candy, but the miniatures have become so popular that the candy, while it’s still included, is now a mere afterthought. continue reading...

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Authentically Japanese?

Recently there was an article in the Washington Post about some attempts by the Japanese government to set up some kind of authenticity certification for Japanese cuisine served abroad. continue reading...

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Basics: Tamagoyaki or Atsuyaki Tamago, Japanese sweet omelette

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Tamagoyaki is such a integral part of Japanese food that I am rather kicking myself for not having posted a recipe for it before here. The name tamagoyaki means “fried egg”, and the alternate name, atsuyaki tamago, means “thick fried egg”. (Some books or restaurants erroneously called it just tamago, which just means “egg”.) A slightly sweet, moist square-shaped egg concoction, tamagoyaki is a bento box staple, as well as being a popular sushi neta (topping). It’s also great as a side dish for any meal.

You don’t really need a special tamagoyaki pan for making this. A regular small non-stick frying pan will do. The one advantage of having a small tamagoyaki pan like this one is that the size is good for making small, thick tamagoyaki without using extra eggs. Conversely, a big square tamagoyaki/atsuyaki tamago pan is used for making those thick tamagoyaki served at better sushi restaurants. (Cheap sushi places use manufactured tamagoyaki, which is an abomination.) However, I’m assuming most people are likely to own a small frying pan, so that’s what I’ve used for the photos here. The one I have is an ordinary (pretty cheap) Tefal model that I got at a sale somewhere.

Once you get the hang of making the multilayers of egg, it’s very easy to do. A 2-egg tamagoyaki takes less than 5 minutes to cook, and a 4-egg one just a bit more. 4 eggs is the maximum that’s practical to cook in a 20cm / 8 inch standard frying pan.

I prefer my tamagoyaki to not be too sweet so there isn’t much sugar in this - I’ve seen recipes that add up to 3 tablespoons for 4 eggs. You can add more or less to your taste. continue reading...

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Yakitate!! Japan

yakitatejapanbig.sidebar.jpgYakitate!! Japan is a popular manga series. So popular in fact that it’s one of the few manga that’s available (legitimately) in English. There was also an anime series, which so far is only (legally) available in Japan. It sort of belongs to a genre of manga called Gourmet (gurume) Manga, manga whose main theme is food-related. The Wikipedia Japan page for Gourmet Manga lists more than 100 titles in this genre, though as far as I know only Yakitate!! is available in English at the moment. (I’ll be talking about other gourmet manga eventually.)

The Yakitate part of the title means “freshly baked”. The Japan part is a pun of sorts: pan is the Japanese word for bread (the word was imported from Portuguese most likely), and the goal of the main character is to find the ultimate JaPan, or Japanese bread. The title sequence of the anime says that “There’s furansu pan (French bread), igirisu pan (English bread), doitsu pan (German bread) but no bread to represent Japan”. The story unfolds in the form of several big Iron Chef style baking competitions, where the main character Kazuma Azuma and others vie with each other for fame and glory. A running gag is that the bread creations are so delicious that they make the eaters, especially main judge Kuroyanagi, have extreme reactions like dying and going to heaven, or (from another judge) sprouting a live peacock out of his head. continue reading...

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Smoked salmon temari zushi: Ball-shaped sushi

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Following up on the previous recipe for shell shaped sushi, here is another kind of sushi that’s great for parties. Temari are small cloth balls made from leftover scraps of kimono fabric, and temari zushi are meant to look like these colorful toys.

You can make temari zushi with any number of things, such as thinly sliced sashimi grade fish, boiled and butterflied shrimp, thinly sliced and cooked or uncooked vegetables, and even thin slices of cheese. You will likely never see temari zushi at a sushi restaurant - this is homey home-style sushi.

For these, I’ve used thinly cut slices of pale pink smoked salmon, with tiny amount of cream cheese inside, rather in the same vein as a New York Roll - quite non-traditional but it’s a great combination. The key is to make the temari zushi on the small side since they are quite rich. continue reading...

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Japanese Curry Bread (Kare-pan)

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There’s a whole category of breads in Japan called okazu pan. Okazu are the savory dishes that you eat with your bowl of rice at a typical meal, and okazu pan are little breads with savory fillings.

Since curry flavored anything is a hit in Japan, curry bread or kare- pan is one of the most popular okazu pan varieties. It’s a bun made of slightly sweet dough, filled with a spoonful of curry, breaded and deep fried. I am not sure how curry bread originated, but I am guessing it was inspired by Russian piroshki (piroshiki is also a popular okazu pan, though in the Japanese version it often contains very non-Russian fillings like harusame, thin bean noodles). Curry bread is sold at bakeries and convenience stores throughout Japan.

Making curry bread is a bit tricky since it’s deep-fried. It’s easy to make an oily, soggy lump if you fry it too long or at too low a temperature, but if you don’t fry it long enough the center part where the dough meets the filling may be raw. My solution for this is to fry it until it’s puffed and crisped, then to finish it in the oven. The other trick is to roll out the dough as thinly as you can manage without making it so thin that the curry is going to burst through.

You also have to be careful about the consistency of the curry filling. It’s most convenient to start out with some leftover curry, but it has to be reduced down to a very thick, paste-like consistency, otherwise it will run over the dough and make the dough hard to seal. If the dough is not sealed properly, the bun will burst in the oil, which ends up to be quite a mess (oil seeps in, filling seeps out).

All in all, I am not sure I would bother to make curry bread at all if I lived near a Japanese bakery, but I do on occasion get a craving for this very down to earth snack. Try it if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. This recipe is adapted from one in an out-of-print Japanese bread book. continue reading...

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Japanese cookbooks in English by a great teacher

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. continue reading...

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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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Japanese Potato Salad

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What to do with Okara (Milking the Soy Bean, Part 3)

This is the concluding article of my 3-part series on Milking The Soy Bean. In Part 1, I described how to make soy milk with no special equipment, and in Part 2 I showed how to make tofu. continue reading...

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Two Classic Japanese Tofu Dishes: Hiyayakko and Agedashi Dofu

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What's the best way to eat really fresh tofu? My favorite every time is hiyayakko (cold tofu), but agedashi-dofu (deep fried tofu with dashi sauce) is a close second. continue reading...

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How to make tofu (Milking the Soy Bean, Part 2)

In Part 1, I showed you how to make your own pure, unadulterated soy milk. Now let's turn this into tofu(豆腐). Tofu is soy milk that has been coagulated with the addition of a harmless chemical. (Incidentally the kanji characters for tofu literally mean fermented beans, but tofu is not fermented in any way - at least as it's made currently.) continue reading...

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Making Soy Milk (Milking the Soy Bean, Part 1)

Sometimes I wonder if cooking is an art or science. I guess it's a bit of both. Some types of cooking though are almost pure science. Bread baking for example, especially when dealing with natural leavening or sourdough breads. Making a pie crust or a delicate cake is rather scientific too. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: Osekihan (Sekihan), Festive Japanese Red Rice and Beans

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I haven't posted a basic Japanese recipe here in quite a while, so it's about time I did again! The main basic here is the method for cooking sweet rice. continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 19: Vegetarian Okonomiyaki

For a more authentic okonomiyaki, try this detailed recipe.

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Day 19! The ingredients are: continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 13: Grilled Sardine on Avocado and Endive with Momojioroshi

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It's now week 4! The ingredients for the first day of the 4th round preliminaries were: continue reading...

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IMBB 22: Kitsune Udon with fresh udon noodles

Kitsune_udon

I haven't participated in Is My Blog Burning, the original food blogging event initiated by Alberto, for quite a while. However, I couldn't pass up on this month's theme, hosted by Cooking With Amy: noodles. I love noodles in all shapes and from all corners of the world. continue reading...

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New rice and pickled plum

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My mother recently sent me a huge bag of shinmai from Japan. Shinmai is literally new rice, rice that was harvested this season. It really tastes wonderful; there is very little nuka (rice powder) around it, and when it's cooked, each grain seems to glisten. continue reading...

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Judging a good sushi restaurant

A reminder to those of you lucky enough to live in a town with good sushi: This is tuna season! Tuna that is caught in colder waters now has a lot of fat on it, so if you like the fattier cuts such as chu-toro and o-toro, then this is the time for you.

While we are at it, here is how I judge a good sushi restaurant, wherever it is. continue reading...

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Answering some Japanese food questions

I have sadly neglected this site, and also the email and comments received. All I can say is bad on me. Anyway, I have received several emails about Japanese food, and I'd like to answer them here in the hopes that it can help more then one person at a time.

Q. How do I make tonkatsu sauce? continue reading...

Inarizushi: sushi in a bean bag

Inarizushi

Note: This article has been substantially improved and updated here, but I'm leaving this original as-is for the simpler approach using canned skins.

[Another update: Lower-calorie inarizushi filled with a mixture of rice and hijiki seaweed continue reading...

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Gyoza dumplings

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Japanese basics: the essence of Japanese flavor, in a bottle

I’ve got an amazing bottle in my refrigerator now. It’s filled with a mixture that forms the base for just about any sort of Japanese food. It takes all the drudgery out of making a clear soup, or a Japanese style stew, or the dipping sauce for noodles. I can’t live without it anymore. continue reading...

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Mushipan: steamed bread/cake

steamed cake

For Japanese kids, oyatsu is a big part of the day. It means snack time, and is usually in mid-afternoon. It's sort of like afternoon tea or elevenses in England. My mother usually was working when we were growing up so she didn't have much time to make us homemade oyatsu, but when she did one of the things she'd make was mushipan. continue reading...

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More about Yohshoku

Previously, I wrote about yohshoku, or Japanese-style western cuisine. Prompted by a question from Elise, I've done a bit more research on this. (Much of this is gathered from a book in the Just Look Just Cook cookbook series from Yomiuri Shimbun Co., called "Yoshoku in Japan". (Note that it can be spelled Yohshoku or Yoshoku.)) continue reading...

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Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

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There is a category of cooking in almost every cuisine, "mother's cooking". It means something that's simple, homely, filling, and invokes strong feelings of nostaliga. In Japanese this is called ofukuro no aji (mother's flavor). Nikujaga, or stewed potatoes with meat, is one of the mainstays of Japanese-style mother's cooking. continue reading...

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Natto

natto on rice

Japanese people like to consume soy beans in many forms. The most well known soy bean product outside of the country is tofu, and edamame (green soy beans) is gaining in popularity too. There is one Japanese soy bean product that probably will never become very popular in other countries though, and that's natto. continue reading...

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Temple Food II: Zohsui (Japanese rice soup)

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Continuing on the theme of temple food - simple, easy to digest food that is gentle on the stomach and the soul - here is zohsui, or ojiya. Where I grew up, we called it ojiya, which is considered a more vulgar term. Whatever you call it, it's essentially a soup made of rice, various aromatic vegetables, egg, and sometimes some seafood or chicken. It's closely related to Chinese congee. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: teriyaki

The term "teriyaki" is used a lot these days. Usually it indicates that a sweet-savory soy-sauce based sauce called teriyaki sauce has been used. However, teriyaki is actually the word for a cooking method - and it's very easy to do. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: about soy sauce

Soy sauce is a basic ingredient in Japanese as well as many other Asian cuisines.

In Japan, there are basically four types of soy sauce: regular dark, light or usukuchi, reduced sodium or genen, and tamari, which are the rather syrupy dregs of soy sauce at the bottom of the barrel. The first two are the ones most commonly used for cooking. Reduced sodium is of course used by people with high blood pressure concerns. Tamari is never used for cooking - it's usually used as a dipping sauce, for sashimi and such. continue reading...

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Ochazuke, rice with tea

ochazuke
ochazuke is rice, tea and a lot of very Japanese stuff.

Ochazuke combines two quintessentially Japanese ingredients, plain white rice and green tea. Ochazuke is commonly served at the very end of an elaborate Japanese full course meal. It's also favored as a midnight snack, a hangover cure, or just when you want something hot and filling. It's commonly made with leftover rice, though ideally the rice should be heated up if it's cold. continue reading...

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Tonkatsu, Japanese deep fried pork cutlet

tonkatsu, Japanese deep fried pork cutlet
tonkatsu, breaded deep fried pork cutlets

Tonkatsu is a typical Japanglish word - ton is pig or pork, and katsu derives from the word cutlet. Tonkatsu is one of the western-style Japanese dishes that can be classified as yohshoku. However, tonkatsu is so popular in Japan that there are even restaurants that only serve tonkatsu and similar items such as kushikatsu (bite-sized fried bits of pork and other things on a skewer).

One of the key ingredients for tonkatsu, or any breaded deep-fried item in Japanese cooking, is panko. In recent years panko has been adopted by the trendy world of cuisine, but it's not anything special - it's just dried bread crumbs. The thing that makes panko unique is that the flakes are bigger and crunchier than the kind sold by non-Japanese food manufacturers.

You can buy panko ready-made at Japanese food stores, or make your own. To make your own, take off the crusts of day-old good white bread. Flake the white part of the bread by hand, not the food processor, which would turn the bread into powder. Spread out the bread crumbs on baking sheets and dry in the oven at a very low temperature until the crumbs are thoroughly try - not colored, just crunchy. You can store this in tightly sealed plastic bags or containers for quite a long time. continue reading...

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Yohshoku or yoshoku (or youshoku): Japanese-style Western cuisine

So far I have been writing about Japanese foods that are quite traditional. The flavors are based on the SaShiSuSeSo of sugar, salt, rice vinegar, soy sauce and miso, plus the all-important dashi soup stock. In Japan, this kind of food is called washoku, or quite literally “Japanese food”. continue reading...

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Sushi dane: Tuna

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I wrote this article originally for the Sushisay New York web site. I've edited it a bit for this version.

Tane or dane is the stuff that goes on top of, or inside, sushi rice to make sushi. Sushi dane is very seasonal. Right now, tuna, probably the most popular sushi dane of all, is at its best. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: SaShiSuSeSo

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Top row: Sa (satoh=sugar), Shi (shio=salt); Middle row: Su (su=vinegar), Se (shoyu=soy sauce); Bottom row: So (miso=fermented soy bean paste)

Besides dashi stock, the basic flavors of traditional Japanese cuisine are sugar, salt, soy vinegar, soy sauce and miso. While not many sauces uses all of these ingredients, many use at least 3. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: thin omelette (usuyaki tamago)

(This is a revised and expanded version of a recipe that I posted when Just Hungry was brand new.)

Japanese people love eating eggs in many ways. One of the most popular uses for the egg is to make a very thin omelette called usuyaki tamago (literally, thinly cooked egg). Usuyaki tamago is used julienned as a garnish, or as a wrapper for sushi rice and other things.

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Handrolled sushi

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ramen, ramen

shio ramen
Two German guys are trying to eat their way through all sorts of "Asian style" noodles, and they are blogging their taste reviews (German site). I've tried some of the ones they've blogged so far though...and they are pretty bad. continue reading...

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Onigiri (rice balls)

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[Update:] Be sure to check out my easier, neater way to make onigiri!

Onigiri are rice balls, usually with a tasty filling. They are very portable, and therefore are very popular for carry-along lunches. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that if you're Japanese, you just love the taste of rice. It's genetic. [Edit: another word for onigiri is omusubi. I guess it just depends on what word you grew up with. In our house it was always onigiri.]

Onigiri can stand on their own, or be part of a bento or boxed lunch. (For some reason it's never just called "nigiri", though bento is also called obento, which is the honorific term.) Onigiri are also a great make-ahead snack for a crowd, since with the appropriate fillings they keep rather well. I remember my aunt making 12-cups of rice worth of onigiri at a time for the large family gatherings at New Year's or Obon (August festival to pay respect to our ancestors). Her hands would be bright red from the heat of the rice. She favored salted salmon (shio zake) as the filling usually - very salty salmon in fact.

Onigiri is also one of my top comfort foods. It reminds me of the ones my mother used to make for me for school outings (ensoku) as well as countless school lunches. When we stayed at my grandmother's and my cousines and I would take trips to the Chichibu mountain area, my aunt would make huge rice balls to assuage our appetites. There's a comforting feeling of continuity with history too, because Japanese travelers have sustained themselves on those salty rice balls for hundreds of years.

Like obento boxed lunches, onigiri can be elaborate creations, but the simple versions the are best in my opinion. We often bring some onigiri with us on long train trips: it's a lot better than buying the overpriced sandwich buns from the vending carts. Yes, sometimes people look at us curiously as we bite into those soccer-ball colored balls. We don't care one bit.

While I was working on writing up this entry, I came across this post by Mimi Ito . Japanese people have a lot of emotional attachment to obento, and to onigiri too. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: dashi stock

One of the regular features I’ll be putting here are some basics of Japanese cooking…since that’s what I am (Japanese). Believe me, it’s not as hard as you might think it is. continue reading...

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Mushroom rice

Fall is the season for wild mushrooms. We can get mushrooms all year round now of course, but the wild variety are at their best when the fungi can draw lots of nice nutrients from the rotting leaves and wood that is lying around.

Fungi are a strange thing. They feast on decay. All plant material draw energy to grow from their decayed ancestors, but fungi are the only things that draw all of their energy from this source. And, the more they can suck up, the more flavorful they seem to be.

Truffles for instance, are so greedy that they don't even raise their heads out of the earth, until their are sniffed out by pigs or dogs. (Allegedly, virgins can also detect truffles.) I was quite sceptical about the reputation enjoyed by the truffle, until the day I actually had one, a real one, not just truffle oil or the microscopic specks of truffle that are allegedly in some canned patés. This was a real truffle, sliced into bold chunks and baked inside a dish modestly called a galette de pommes (potato cake) on the menu of the Beurehiesel in Stransbourg. (The Buerehiesel is a 3-star Michelin establishment, and our favorite restaurant right now. It will be mentioned many times in this blog I'm sure.) The wonderful fragrance of the truffle permeated the potato cake and made it something out of this world.

While we can't afford truffles on a regular basis, we can enjoy wild mushrooms. One of our favorite ways of enjoying a delightfully smelly bag of mixed fungi is simply cooked in our trusty rice cooker with a basic dashi stock. It can be assembled in no time, and then you just wait for your kitchen to be filled with the fragrance of the 'shrooms. It's low-fat too. continue reading...

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