Today Christmas has completely blended into Japanese culture. The triumph of commercialism is complete; there absolutely no religious aspect of the holiday except among Japan’s very small minority of Christians. Now new culture is invading here again from the West – mainly from America. It is Halloween.
Archive for October, 2010
It is not just yuzu; the very best are called Misho yuzu. There is a popular description in Japan which tells how long it takes typically for some trees to bear fruit after planting their seeds. “Momo, Kuri San’nen; Kaki Hachinen. Yuzu no Oobaka Juhachinen.; translated: “It takes three years for peach and chestnut trees to bear fruit from seeds, and persimmon tree, eight years. When it comes to slow-growing yuzu , it is eighteen years”. It takes amazing patience for yuzu farmers to harvest their first crop.
To reduce the time many farmers today take a shortcut by grafting a baby yuzu plant to other cisrus tree. However, yuzu harvested from grafted trees have a kind of diluted, poor flavor and aroma. Misho yuzu is the real yuzu from a tree laden with fruit after eighteen or so year of waiting. Farmers, who are lucky enough to have inherited trees from their previous generations (this is in the most common case), possess tremendous pride in their fruit. The good news is that even one hundred years old trees continue to produce gorgeous fruit. If you are planning to plant yuzu seeds, please have a long term plan in mind ….think of your succeeding generations. And according to one Misho yuzu farmer tree bears flowers and fruit only every other year, requiring even more patience from the farmer. This one year hibernation period may be responsible for the tree’s longevity. At this time of the year (it is mid October, but still quite warm here in Japan) the yuzu fruit is still dark green color. By the middle of November the fruits turn to gorgeous golden yellow. Its highly aromatic flavor is released from the rind and juice, and is used as a garnish and flavoring in many preparations that are the highlight winter dishes.
One more note: Yuzu branches are covered with thorny needles like a rose stem. You can see it from this photo – a growing branch with long needles. Farmers who harvest fruits must do so with utmost caution to avoid being stung.
We stopped at a local bread store for a cup of coffee on one morning in Kyoto. Harold was enchanted with unusual looking extensively displayed varieties of “pan” (the name reminds us that bread was introduced by Portuguese in the 16th century) or, as we call them, breads in the display case. In the case we saw so many varieties of breads. These included curry pan (a deep-fried bun stuffed with Japanese curry),
piroshki (a Russian deep-fried bun stuffed with meat), a hot dog baked around sausages, small-size pizza, varieties of Danish pastries, melon bread (the name comes from the shape and color of the bun; a very fluffy bread), azuki bean paste stuffed bread, an animal-face bun, a very normal-looking French baguette and a seasonal Halloween pan. Among all of these was one very unique all-in-one stuffed pan. It was a cupcake-shaped pastry with hole inside filled with bacon and egg salad. Harold was especially curious about this pan, so we purchased it for a taste and further investigation. Here are the photos of the bread and our dissection.
What we found inside after cutting the pan into two was bacon (not very thoroughly cooked by American standards, but in the way favored by the Japanese) and an egg preparation consisting of hardboiled chopped egg salad mixed with spinach). What a wonderful breakfast idea – a complete bacon, egg and bread meal in a single bun.
Soba is always my preferred choice for a light and satisfying lunch. Which soba restaurant I choose in the physically huge city of Tokyo depends on where I will be at lunch time. Today’s lunch was at Nanaki in Ebisu (3 minutes walk from JR Ebisu station) because I was visiting my mom. My mom, who lives in the neighborhood, took me there some years ago. Since then Nanaki has been one of my favorites.
The inside of the restaurant has an antique look or in a straightforward way, no charm; well used very basic, no fringes dark colored tables and chairs darkened by age in an already dark room; no air-conditioning during hot and humid summer. Nanaki restaurant specializes soba from Togakushi in Nagano-Prefecture (the Winter Olympics was held in this area several years ago). Their noodles are known as thick, rough textured and with very good soba flavor. I ordered Kamo-nanban zaru soba – cold soba placed on a bamboo tray served with hot broth with sliced duck breast and Japanese naganegi long green onion in it. The very hot liquid in which soba is cooked (sobayu) is served in a red lacuquerware pot with long beak. It is a wonderful way to finish a soba meal with sobayu. This is how I do it: Pour some sobayu into a tea cup (ask the server) and flavor it with little remaining soba broth. In this way you do not finish all the remaining soba broth because the broth is very high in salt content becasue of its shoyu base. If you drink all of the broth you are consuming too much salt in one meal.
Soba is also seasonal like other produce or rice. The buckwheat berry is harvested during mid-September. Soba flour made from this harvest (now it is the time to enjoy it!) produces the most savory, wonderful tasting noodles. If you happen to be in Japan, enjoy the special treat! Hiroko, Tokyo
Today after meetings I stopped and shopped forsome healthy, easy-to-prepare food items at the famous Ginza Mitsukoshi Department Store food court. I wanted to buy some nourishing tretats for my mom who just returned to her home after one month hospitalization. On my way out of the store to the subway entrance I passed a butcher which had an unusual display case of beef (the photo below).
Out of curiosity I stopped and stared at each of the large blocks of beef in the case, then noticed the brand name of the products and their prices. The brand name is Kodai-gyu , the direct translation of which is ancient beef. I have never before heard of such a product. Catching my confused facial expression a young sales woman, and then, the president of the company, Mr. Kojima, who happened to be working behind the sales counter on that day approached and explained to me the story of this very special beef.
In ancient Japan cows were not raised for consumption, but were important work animals on the farm. So, farmers raised these valuable and very useful animals with care, much love and natural feed. Mr. Kojima believes that the best tasting beef comes from cows raised in this traditional manner. So, this is how farmers raise cows for Mr. Kojima. After the calf is born, it is kept with mother for half a year. During this period the calf is mostly fed with mother’s milk, her love and some rice straw and grasses. Mr. Kojima emphasized that mother’s milk contribute to two important factors – It reduces the chances of calf’s sickness and provides great satisfaction and much less stress to the calf – both contribute to producing cows that are both mentally and physically healthy. This is the secret of delicious beef, Mr. Kojima said. After half a year, calf is fed with natural feed – rice straw, field grasses along with some mixed grains.
Another secret of this Kodai-gyu, is that it is aged. According to Mr. Kojima dressed beef is cleaned and aged whole for four weeks in a cold walk-in; then cut into blocks and further aged in a temperature and humidity controlled, air-circulating glass case. I was amazed to see the aged beef surrounded by snow white fat. Aging did not turn it to yellow. Komima-san sliced a thin piece from a large block, lightly salted and quickly cooked it in a skillet for me to taste. The above photo shows the raw slice and the other, the cooked one. When I slowly bit into the piping hot slice, sweetness and noticeable good “flavor” exploded in my mouth. I have never tasted such a clean, flavorful meat. Mr. Kojima has a dream to introduce this delicious beef raised in a humane environment and aged with care to a world-wide audience. Visit www.kojima-shoten.com.
I have produced sushi video episodes for About.com. The producer Heidi Dehncke was a wonderful person to work with.
Please check out the below links to learn how to cut avocado and carrot for sushi; how to make nigirizushi; how to make inside out crab roll; how to make sashimi! Also visit About.com for additional episodes.
Thank you! Hiroko
Here are some of the photos from our delicious yakitori dinner at Hinai-ya last night. One skewer of yakitori costs about $4.50 per skewer. So, It is not a cheap meal. However, the quality is superb and you get what you pay for it. The Hinai-ya restaurants are among many other restaurants which closely stands next each other in the narrow Ginza Corridor street (people call it “restaurant street”).
If you like an inexpensive yakitori treat, there is a new-comer, casual and lively Yakitori bar restaurant where you stand and eat (similar to tapas bar in Spain). Most of the yakitori at this bar is priced at $1 per skewer. How can they do it so cheap? The restaurant uses pre-prepared, frozen chicken (chicken was cut into pieces and placed on Yakitori skewers) comes from Thailand or other Asian country. It is NOT special Hinai chicken which is delivered refrigerated to Hinai-ya restaurant just after slaughter, and processed – de-boned, cut into pieces and properly put on skewers – under Hinai-ya’s experienced chef’s supervision. Well, saying that $1 per skewer Yakitori is not so bad. After stressed office work hours, there needs to be inexpensive places for ordinary Japanese business people where they can meet up, loosen up their pent up stress and enjoy after work hours with glasses of beer, sake or shochu with decent good food.
Sotry continues…..from Tokyo.
I have checked into my favorite hotel, the Daiichi Hotel Annex, in Tokyo. The Daiichi Hotel Annex is an inexpensive creation of the more ornate main hotel, the Daiichi Hotel, which stands next to this building. The merit is that for a low price – about $200 per night, you can take advantage of all of the facilites of a four star hotel costing $400+ per night. The average double occupancy room at this hotel is 250 square foot; very clean, neat and modern. The best thing about this hotel is the location. It is a three minutes walk (more…)