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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Yakitori

Yakitori(焼き鳥), which is literally grilled bird, is Japanese chicken barbecue on skewers. Over the last few weekends, I’ve been subsisting on a diet of Yakitori and Ramune. Festival stalls often sell Yakitori and other Kushiyaki (串焼き, skewered food). Every time I think of Yakitori, though, I remember this one time when I went to a very greasy, seriously low-class, but extremely popular Yakitori place in the city next to where I lived.

I was invited to celebrate the promotion to black belt of one of my dojo sempais. The shihan, our sensei, insisted that we go to this place that was really famous in the area for its Yakitori. I had never been to a place like it before, nor have I been to one since then. It was in a run-down building, between an antique-looking store and some non-descript dwelling of some sort. The place was covered in smoke and the diners looked a bit scary. I wasn’t the least bit scared, however, since there were 5 black belters in our group, and the people there all seemed to know sensei. The servers didn’t look all that hygienic, but the smell from the grill was amazing…

Sensei and the other people in our group started calling out orders, something something yaki and yaki something… and then came the food… there were all kinds of chicken parts on skewers, some familiar-looking, but others slimy- and shiny-looking, I had no idea what they were, but sensei made me eat everything. I’m not exactly sure what went into my tummy that day, but I do remember they were the tastiest Yakitori I’ve ever had.

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One thing I love about Cherry Blossom Viewing is Hanami Bento. Sure it’s just regular bento stuff decorated with sakura-shaped carrots and pink and green dumplings called dango, but it’s really nice to look at. While I have been to a couple of the big parties where karaoke and nama beer are involved, I sometimes prefer to just head off with a few people who share my interest in photographing the blossoms. About the only time we sit down under the sakura trees is when we have Hanami Bento.

I’m excited about that right now as the Cherry Blossom Season is almost upon us. According to Japan Probe, it could be as early as this weekend. Neil Duckett and Evan Pike of Japan Photo Guide have also put up Cherry Blossom Viewing Forecast Maps.

See Japan Guide’s List of Popular Hanami Spots.

Some tips for enjoying the cherry tree blossoms (Taken form Metropolis Magazine)

  • Repeat the word “kirei” every 10 seconds
  • Remember that volunteering to reserve a spot for your company is a good way to get out of half a day of work
  • Impress your friends by learning an enka song
  • Lose all your friends by singing an enka song
  • Always be the first one to leave so that you don’t have to help clean up
  • Bring a cup with a lid to discourage errant blossoms from ending up in your beer
  • Don’t forget to bring an inconspicuos video camera to catch any memorable behavior by your boss

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On March 3rd, most families with daughters will be celebrating Hina Matsuri, which is also known as Momo-no-sekku or Girls’ Day in English. Hina Matsuri is my favorite Japanese holiday, or maybe Tanabata is, but I like them both a lot. Hina Matsuri is unlike many foreign holidays. Families celebrate the day by putting Hina Dolls on display. (Learn more about the dolls and their arrangement here. You can also learn how to fold an origami Hina empress and emperor.)

And really cute and sweet-tasting food is served. Most Girls’ Day fare are pink and pastel colored, and food presentation is especially important. Each of the food served has some kind of special meaning. Like for example, the Hamaguri Soup. It has a clam in it, and after you drink the soup, you need to fold up the clam to ensure a good marriage in the future.

As an honorary daughter of most of my Japanese friends, I always take part in the festivities. I always have Sakura Mochi and I always get these really cool Girls’ Day presents. I really enjoy this festival because everything is pink, lots of beautiful things are on display and I get to celebrate femininity with the rest of the Japanese female population. Incidentally, many Japanese girls complain that Children’s Day, which is the celebration for boys, is a holiday while Girls’ Day is not. They make a valid argument but then, there aren’t a lot of good food and pretty things on May 5th, so I don’t mind.

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Sukiyaki

When I started studying Japanese when I was back home, my textbook had an activity involving Sukiyaki. We had to put the recipe instructions in order, then narrate to the class how we made the Sukiyaki. Our teacher at that time told us that all Japanese people knew how to make Sukiyaki and that the order was extremely important. The flavor changes dramatically when something is done before another, or something like that.

Years later, fast forward to the present time, I couldn’t believe how correct my Japanese teacher was. I did the activity with a bunch of friends as a sort of game, and they really knew their stuff. Funny thing was, they came up with totally different recipes, notable to mention was that people from the Kansai region had a different sauce style from the Kanto people. I can’t decide which one I prefer, though, as both are really quite good.

I read a story a long time ago about how Japanese people only started eating meat a hundred years ago or so, and their main protein source was tofu. So I was wondering when and where Sukiyaki originated. After asking a few people and getting a few vague answers, someone told me it was possible fish was used. I checked a few sources online, but wasn’t able to find what kind of fish was used, though I found a recipe using salmon with the beef.

Sukiyaki is a really good dish to serve when you’re having friends over. You can set up your nabe (鍋, a cooking pot) on your table, put out your ingredients and have your guests cook their own food. If you have a small group, there are actually small nabe, too.

Here’s a really good recipe for Sukiyaki (courtesy of a very good friend of mine):

 

Ingredients for Sukiyaki: (good for 2-3 people)

600g paper-thin slices of beef, 30g beef suet (beef fat), 5 stalks leeks, 200g shirataki (noodle-like jelly made from a Japanese yam), 1 block yaki-dofu (broiled or grilled tofu), 1 bunch shungiku (Chrysanthemum leaves), 1 pack Japanese mushrooms, 1/4 of a Chinese cabbage, 100 g soy sauce, 100 g mirin (sweet Japanese cooking sake), 3 tbsp brown sugar, a raw egg per person, whisked lightly in a dipping bowl (for serving)

 

Procedure:

  • Cut the leeks diagonally into thin slices.
  • Clean and break off the stems of the mushrooms.
  • Cut the yaki-dofu into little blocks.
  • Wash the shungiku, discard the hard stalks.
  • Boil the shirataki for about a minute. Drain then soak in cold water. Squeeze out excess water, then cut in half.
  • Cut the Chinese cabbage into bite-size squares.
  • Arrange the meat and other ingredients in a large serving platter.
  • Mix soy sauce, mirin and brown sugar in a sauce pan. Boil. Turn off the heat then set aside.
  • Heat the sukiyaki skillet on the stove. Add the beef suet and melt it over a low flame.
  • Pour the broth on the skillet. Put the ingredients into the pan little by little, starting with the leeks, vegetables, tofu, shirataki then the beef. Don’t overcook the beef.
  • To serve, each person should have a dipping bowl of egg and another bowl of warm rice. If you are worried about having raw egg, you can nuke the whisked egg in the microwave for about 5-7 seconds. You can also skip the raw egg if you’re not sure about its freshness.

    Enjoy!

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    Two of my Japanese friends just came back from a three-month stay in Australia. The moment they got back, they had natto and tofu. They lived in a small town out of Sydney, and thus were a little deprived of things Japanese. One thing they found really weird they said was the weird tofu in the supermarkets. I was asking them, what do you mean weird? The wife explained that the tofu had a use-by-date of almost two weeks. They said, tofu can only last 2 to 3 days.

    It was about the preservatives. It seems anything containing preservatives here is some kind of poison. I’ve had really long discussions about the use of food coloring (yes, the reason why all their cakes are white is because they refuse to use food coloring). I always say, it’s not like you’re going to drink the bottle! It’s just a few drops…

    With all their issues with use-by dates: a confectionery store using expired milk and now McDonalds with their expired salads; you’d think long-lasting tofu would have been a little more welcome…

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    When Japan closed itself to the world, they also sort of banned locals from wandering around the country. Most Japanese were made to carry some sort of identification papers with them at all times. If they weren’t able to present these to samurai guards, they’d be in real trouble. There was even a restriction on using wheels, meaning people had to carry things on their backs. It had something to do with hindering progress to keep a hold on the citizens. Anyway, if there were no wheels and no one could travel, how did things get around?

    The simple answer is a not a lot of things got around. Most things remained where they were, with people sustaining themselves on what they had around them. When I first heard about this, I started asking some friends about food, did everyone eat sashimi then? How about the mountainous areas?

    Apparently, each area has its own sashimi, based on the seafood that could be found locally. Places like Nagano and Gunma, which are a bit far from the sea, had konyaku sashimi. Konyaku was sliced to look like sashimi. I’ve also heard of sushi made from other local products like potatoes or yams. And there are the different wrappers, probably because nori couldn’t make it to other places. In Nara, they wrap some sushi in kakinoha (persimmon leaves), and in some other places they wrap them in bamboo leaves.

    What kind of specialty does your region offer?

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    While a lot of Japanese people have chosen to grow Western-style gardens – those with flowers and shrubs – the majority still do keep Japanese gardens. Out front they have their lanterns and green conical-shaped bushes, and at back, they have their vegetable gardens.

    A friend of mine said that in the olden days, Japanese households took care of their own needs within their own fences. They were self-sufficient that way. What they didn’t have, they traded for. They did not travel far to get what they needed, usually just bartering with neighbors and relatives. And they were always sure their food was safe and fresh, he said. His family used to bring me potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries and an assortment of Japanese herbs like shiso (in Kanji 紫蘇, which is a perilla). They use to invite me over to dinner so I could share in their meals made from vegetables that were all proudly home-grown. They said eating them was healthier and was a lot safer than store-bought vegetables.

    So I understood instantly when I saw this article from Mainichi Daily News. Even before the question came up, I had an answer.

    Incidentally, the same friend told me that one Autumn, his mother was getting ready to harvest their persimmon but then she woke up the next morning to find all the fruits gone. She was plenty angry but I guess it was しようがない (*read as shiyouganai, meaning a Japanese shrug of the shoulders, something can’t be helped).

    The Original MDN Mainichi Article:

      Woman steals vegetables from garden because they’re fresher than store goods

      ISAHAYA, Nagasaki — A 76-year-old woman questioned on suspicion of stealing vegetables from a local resident’s garden has told police that they were fresher than what were sold in stores.

      The woman, whose name has been withheld, is accused of stealing a cucumber. She has reportedly admitted having stolen other vegetables.

      “They were fresher and tasted better than what were sold in stores,” she was quoted as saying. Police reportedly seized a cucumber from her home, which matched one stolen from the home of a 58-year-old woman in Isahaya.

      Since she has reportedly paid the victim 1,000 yen for everything she took, police did not form a case against her.

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