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Tofu July 26, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tofu” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-tofu

Tofu can easily be considered one of Japan’s national foods.  While tofu isn’t originally from Japan, it has grown by leaps and bounds to become something unique.  Many people will look at tofu and think that it’s nothing special.  In China, tofu is something that is added to various sauces to make it more flavourful.  In Japan, the tofu has been created with such care and attention that it often doesn’t require a lot to make it taste good.  Many people who think tofu is nothing more than healthy filler tend to enjoy tofu a lot more when they visit Japan.  You cannot easily get the same quality of tofu in any other part of the world.  While in the simplest terms, tofu is nothing more than a cheese made from soy milk.  In reality, it is much more, and yet, completely different.  There is no one way to describe tofu, and there is no one way to see it.  It can come in various shapes and forms.  Depending on the type of tofu, it can either be soft or hard, deep fried, or steamed.  It’s up to your imagination to decide how to prepare or eat it.

In Japan, fresh tofu is by far the best.  A plain type of tofu is generally very soft.  It is so soft that it will melt in your mouth as you eat it.  You often need a spoon, or very good chopstick skills to eat it nicely.  Otherwise, you will end up shovelling it in pieces into your mouth.  Either way, it’s very delicious.  Tofu is often made in specific regions to utilize specific sources of water that can add new characteristics to the tofu.  The natural water contains various combinations of minerals which create subtle changes in the tofu’s taste and texture.  For most people, this won’t matter.  It’s difficult to taste the very subtle differences between different types of tofu unless you are a professional or grew up eating tofu every day.  One of the most common ways to see soft tofu in Japan is to have it served on a bamboo plate with a side of katsuoboshi (bonito flakes), green onion, grated ginger, and soy sauce.  It’s a very simple and lovely combination that enhances the natural flavours of the tofu.  You can find this sort of tofu in many restaurants.  It’s common in izakaya and many teishoku restaurants will serve this as part of their set meals.  It is also often eaten for breakfast as a quick and healthy meal.  If you feel adventurous enough to make it yourself, in Japan, it’s very easy.  Department stores often have the best tofu, grocery stores have a decent selection, and convenience stores have the basics.  Even the basics can taste better than tofu sold in America, which tends to be more Chinese.  Soft tofu also has small variations where they add black sesame, or other subtle things to change the characteristics of the tofu.  Sometimes you can get a spicy variety, but this will inevitably overpower the taste of the tofu.

One traditional way to eat tofu is to make Yuba Tofu.  It’s similar to bean curd in Chinese cuisine, yet extremely different.  Generally, Yuba is the coagulated tofu skin that forms as you heat and cool soy milk.  There isn’t much taste to this, and it’s mainly used in traditional Japanese cooking.  It’s easy to find in Kyoto and Nikko if you visit these places.  If you visit Kyoto, they traditionally serve it cooled on a plate.  It’s not for everyone as even many Japanese people don’t enjoy it as much as regular soft tofu.  If you are lucky enough to visit during the winter months, a visit to Nikko can provide a nice experience.  Some shops offer you the chance to eat fresh yuba.  Usually, yuba is made fresh everyday for restaurants, but in Nikko, some shops allow you to eat yuba from the “pot”.  Yuba is usually made inside a square wooden “pot”.  You are essentially given a long toothpick from which you are expected to skim the top of the simmering soy milk, pick up the yuba, and eat it.  I’m sure this will taste much better than eating it in Kyoto, but unfortunately, I haven’t had much experience with yuba.  I have eaten it in its cold form in Nikko, and it wasn’t as good as regular soft tofu.

Fried tofu is another method of enjoy tofu. Aburage, fried tofu, is a very common topping on Japanese soba.  It has a slight soy taste to it, and makes a good combination with soba or udon.  There is no need to add any meat or tempura as the abuage itself is more than enough.  Aburage itself is linked with foxes with legend stating that the god, whose image is a fox, loves to eat aburage.  How this started is unknown to me, but many of the dishes that use abuage have references to the fox.  Inarizushi is one such dish.  This is taking the fried tofu and wrapping it around a ball of rice making it into a piece of sushi.  It’s a delicious combination that is nearly limitless.  The basic style is to put plain rice inside the aburage, but you can easily add more to the rice.  Common rice mixtures include sesame seeds, burdock, and or mushrooms.  I would highly recommend trying inarizushi as it’s cheap and delicious.  It also makes for a quick, healthy, and cheap snack.

These are some of the more basic ways to eat tofu in Japan.  Of course, there are more ways that are inherent in Japanese cooking.  You will find various types of tofu within miso soup, nabe, and other soup dishes.  You can see it in Japanese-Chinese cooking.  It’s hard to go a day in Japan without eating tofu or at least seeing it on the menu.  Even if you don’t like tofu, I would still recommend trying it at least once while you are in Japan.  It’s just too good to pass up.

Tofu Videos:

Yuba Tofu:
http://www.youtube.com/v/enm-4Of9h8c&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0x2b405b&color2=0x6b8ab6

Tofu Information:

Tofu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tofu
Aburage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aburaage
Yuba: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuba_%28food%29

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Takoyaki & Yatai July 19, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Takoyaki & Yatai” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-rV

Takoyaki is a recent addition to Japanese cuisine that is extremely popular in the Osaka region.  The literal translation would be fried octopus, but I prefer to call it octopus balls. 😀  While there is no relation to the testicles of an octopus, it is by far the best way to imagine what takoyaki is.  The basic premise of takoyaki is to be something of a distant cousin of okonomiyaki.  You take a similar batter as that used in okonomiyaki, add a few extra bits and pieces, and put a relatively large chunk of octopus in the middle. Shape it into a ball and voila, takoyaki is born!

This sounds much easier than what real takoyaki is.  When visiting some Asian markets in the world, I have heard that takoyaki is served with fine cut octopus pieces.  This is one of the worst mistakes people can make.  The goal of takoyaki is to have a nice crispy golden ball with a big piece of octopus inside.  The crispy ball gives a nice crunch as you bite into the takoyaki, and the octopus inside provides a good contrast to the gooey dough inside.  If the takoyaki is overcooked, the dough inside will be too tough, if it’s undercooked, it will be too runny.  It’s almost an art to create good takoyaki.  The basic way to serve takoyaki is to brush okonomiyaki sauce on top of all the balls, dust it with aonori (a type of finely ground green onion) and bonito flakes, and top with mayonnaise.  You can easily add grated daikon, mustard, or even cheese to the toppings.  Do beware that when you get fresh takoyaki, the balls may be cool on the outside, but inside, the doughy batter is still molten hot.  It’s rare that I don’t burn my entire mouth when eating takoyaki.  If you are extremely sensitive to eating hot foods, you can cut open a hole and cool it down before eating.

Watching people make takoyaki is special. It’s not easy to do at all.  Takoyaki is made using a half sphere pan, and two metal “needles” are used to turn the balls, and eventually create the ball.  It is very important that you don’t pierce the actual ball, and you have to know when to turn it.  If you turn it too early, it won’t form the shape of a ball, and it won’t be as crispy either.  It’s ultimately up to you, or the chef to decide the texture of the ball itself.  If you go to a restaurant or shop to eat takoyaki, almost all of them will have their own display where you can watch the experts making takoyaki.  It’s fun to watch and well worth the wait.  There are a few variations of takoyaki itself.  Instead of octopus, you can add ham and cheese, but this is a very rare case and usually done at homes where people don’t enjoy seafood or octopus.  Most of the variety comes from the crispiness of the ball itself and from the various toppings that are available.  It’s best to try to basic version before trying the other versions.

hOne of the best ways to eat takoyaki is to go to a festival.  There are various yatai shops in these areas.  A yatai shop is basically an outdoor food stall.  Typically, they have nothing more than a griddle where they make various foods.  The most common foods to eat are: okonomiyaki, yakisoba, takoyaki, yakitori, chocolate dipped bananas, and castella.  While the food is the main attraction, watching the cooks make all of the food is a lot of fun, and hearing them scream out inviting people to buy some food is an experience that has to be seen in person.  There are various other foods available at all festivals, but these foods are almost always available.  When entering a festival, the food can be overwhelming.  It’s difficult to know what to eat and what not to eat.  I usually skip the yakitori as it’s easier to buy it at an izakaya.  Desert is almost always skipped as I never have enough room left after eating everything.  Okonomiyaki is very popular, and so is takoyaki.  Yakisoba is delicious, but I prefer to skip it as I can buy it everywhere.   Ultimately, it’s your choice as to what you want to eat.

There are several foods at festivals that are common during certain seasons.  In the winter months, you can get amazake.  It’s a slightly fermented rice alcohol that tastes similar to yogurt.  It’s is served warm and it’s a wonderful way to warm up, but beware of the old man who is preparing it.  He might end up drinking half of the pot before you can get any for yourself.  😀  When spring time comes around, you will tend to see more doughy sweets.  Castella is more popular in the spring months and it often comes in various shapes, such as Doraemon and Hello Kitty.  The shapes themselves are fun to eat, but the taste can be a little bland.  Summer brings out the shaved ice treats.  In Japan, most yatai shops serve basic shaved ice with various flavours such as honeydew (melon).  If you go to a restaurant, they will add a green tea sauce and sweet red beans on top.  It’s a completely different take on shaved ice.  Autumn is the start of the oden season, but oden is also served all winter and in early spring during the cherry blossom season.  Oden is basically various vegetables and meats that are stewed together to create a broth.  It’s delicious, but do beware of the mustard that it’s served with.  It’s very spicy.  It’s similar to horse radish or wasabi.  If you want to try some of the more unique offerings, try out one of these as you may not see it the next time you visit.

Takoyaki is a great snack when you are shopping in Japan.  It’s a very common food these days and you’d probably regret not trying it if you didn’t.  Yatai is less of a food than an experience.  You can do both of these at the same time.  I’d recommend doing both and trying both at the same time if you can.  If there are no festivals when you visit, you can easily just buy takoyaki on its own and feel as if you were in a festival.

Takoyaki Videos:

Typical Takoyaki Shop:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G6KT-JGIwA

Gindaco:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLR59sOqy2s

Forming the balls:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk-WHC-uEBA&feature=related

Takoyaki & Yatai Information:

Takoyaki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takoyaki
Gindako: http://www.hotland.co.jp/english/wthas-tako.html
Yatai: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yatai_%28retail%29
Amazake: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazake
Castella: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castella
Kakigori: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakig%C5%8Dri
Oden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oden

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Sushi July 12, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sushi” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-sushi

When people talk about Japanese food, they almost always talk about sushi.  Sushi is the most recognized food from Japan, but it isn’t the most popular food.  It is traditionally eaten only on special occasions.  To think that people in Japan would eat it every day, or even every week is a very strange concept to Japanese people.  They might eat it when people visit, or to celebrate a special occasion.  That’s not to say that you can’t find sushi and sashimi everywhere.  They key to making sushi isn’t within the fish itself.  The rice is the most important ingredient, in my opinion.  When you visit North American sushi restaurants, you can find a few good ones with good rice, but the majority have terrible rice.  It either has a strong taste of vinegar, or there is no taste at all.  It can be too wet, or too dry.  In the worst case, they use the wrong type of rice!  Sushi must be made with the proper Japanese rice.  Without it, the sushi won’t hold together, or it will be too wet.  Then, you have to mix the proper ingredients to make it taste better.  Once that is done, you can start to make sushi.  Getting this done right is extremely difficult, and even for the typical Japanese person, it’s nearly impossible to get right all the time.  It can be so difficult, that it’s definitely more common to see Japanese people head to the shops to get their sushi.

The second major misconception about sushi is that there are rolls.  If you visit a typical sushi restaurant, you will rarely see any rolls of any type.  The typical kappa (cucumber) and possibly negitoro (ground up tuna) rolls are possible, but not very common.  The key, when eating sushi, is to look more for the varieties of fish.  Tuna itself has three cuts that provide a very different and distinct flavour.  There is Hon-maguro, Chu-toro, and O-toro.  O-toro is the fattiest part of the tuna, where hon-maguro is the meatiest.  Which you prefer will depend on your own personal tastes.  I prefer Hon-maguro, but O-toro is the most expensive as it has the texture of butter.  You will be able to see various specials where the fish may or may not be cooked, and you can also see meat on sushi.  Unfortunately, if you cannot speak Japanese, or if you can’t read Japanese, you will have a tough time finding the specials.  If you visit one of the major restaurants, they may have English menus, but if they don’t, just point and ask, or just order something and hope it tastes good.  It’s the only way to see if you’ll like it or not.

When going out to eat sushi, you can eat in three major styles.  There is the typical restaurant that sells sushi.  These can usually be found on the top floors of the department stores.  They tend to be a little expensive, but they do have all you can eat.  The quality is pretty good and it will be fairly tourist friendly.  There are small shops located around many other cities, but these shops can be a little intimidating to enter.  The second most popular way to eat, and the best for tourists, is the kaiten sushi.  This is the conveyor belt sushi.  Basically, the sushi chefs will make a bunch of sushi, put it on the belt, and you can pick and choose to your delight until you are full.  Do note that if you do visit one of these shops, you will more than likely miss out on a lot if you don’t order from the chefs themselves.  It’s very simple to ask for something, but since there are no menus in English, it can be very difficult.  You can always point to something and ask for it that way.  Do beware that the quality of the sushi at these shops can vary wildly.  One shop can be delicious, while another isn’t.  If they advertise for 105 Yen per dish, it’s probably not very good.  If they have various trays that are colour coded to the price, then you will get decent to good sushi.  The final way to get sushi is to go to a standing sushi bar.  These shops are not foreigner friendly as they people who usually visit these shops are businessmen and business women looking for a quick light meal before they go home.  It’s almost always order from the menu, which is rarely in English, if at all.  It’s isn’t comfortable either as there are no seats.

Finally, you can have a sushi donburi.  This is a type of cross between sushi and non-sushi.  Basically, you will get your raw fish on a bowl of rice.  I personally find this to be another dish that should be tried.  You can either get a simple donburi, or you can get one that is very complex.  The simplest ones have nothing but one type of fish, but the better ones have three to 8 types of seafood on rice.  Typical toppings include tuna, ground tuna, squid, and fish eggs.  While this can change depending on the shop, it is still a delicious meal and recommended to anyone and everyone.  This is also very cheap.  A typical donburi will start around 500 Yen and increase up to 2000 Yen.  Do be aware that the quality will depend on which shop you go to, and where it is located.  The best place for this type of sushi is to head to the stalls outside Tsukiji.  They tend to be the best overall, and they aren’t very intimidating.  Just point to what you want and you’ll get a great meal.

Kaiten Sushi Video:

http://www.youtube.com/v/S5zdO8Grw10&hl=en_US&fs=1&

Sushi Information:

Sushi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sushi
Sushi FAQ (There is a lot of good information on all things Sushi).  Probably the only place to visit:  http://www.sushifaq.com/

Sushi Restaurants [Note that all sites are in Japanese]:

Foo Moo by Hot Pepper:  http://www.hotpepper.jp/CSP/psh020/doFree?SA=SA11&GR=G004&SK=4&FSF=1&FWT=寿司
Gournavi:  http://sp.gnavi.co.jp/search/theme/z-AREA110/t-SPG110100/p-1/s-new/c-1/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Okonomiyaki & Monjayaki July 5, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Okonomiyaki & Monjayaki” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-r1

Okonomiyaki is a food that started in Kansai, the region around Osaka.  Translated, “to ones liking”, it’s a dish that cannot be explained easily.  The first time I ever had this dish it was explained to me as a Japanese pancake.  While this is true for some people, it’s not how I would explain it.  For me, I chose the second most popular way, Japanese pizza.  The dish itself has a base of cabbage and batter.  From there, things get very complicated.  You can add sliced meat, typically bacon or you can add soba noodles, egg, or pretty much anything you want.  There are hundreds of different ways you can prepare it, and various regional styles.

The first thing to notice is the atmosphere of the restaurants themselves.  The typical restaurant can look very dirty, and it tends to be a little intimidating as many of the staff won’t speak any English.  You will often sit at a table with a large black teppan in the middle.  This is where you will cook the okonomiyaki.  There are higher class shops where you will be served in a teppanyaki style.  Instead of a teppan in the middle of your table, you might sit at a counter where a chef will stand.  Separating you and the chef will be a large teppan where the chef will cook up all of your food.  The final style is almost exactly like a restaurant.  All you have to do is sit, order, and possibly watch the chef make your okonomiyaki which is cooked in an open kitchen.

If you choose to enter a shop where there is a teppan at your table, you can usually get someone to make the okonomiyaki for you, but it can be more fun to do it yourself.  Generally, the kansai version is the only one that people make at their table.  You will get a small bowl with batter at the bottom, and various vegetables, meat, and seafood on top.  To make this, all you have to do is mix it up very well, add oil to the teppan, and pour it on into a pancake shape.  Once the okonomiyaki is brown on one side, flip it over and add the various toppings.  The brown sauce is first, followed by dried green onions, and finally, bonito flakes.  Typically, you eat the okonomiyaki on the table, straight from the teppan.  You don’t really need to use a plate, but if you are like me, you need to because eating from the teppan is too hot!

The second most popular style of okonomiyaki is the Hiroshimayaki.  It’s a Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.  This version of okonomiyaki is very different.  Rather than mixing everything together, they tend to put things in layers.  You will usually add a fried egg and noodles, but this isn’t always the case.  This style of okonomiyaki is more popular in festivals where you can fold it in half and it looks a lot better when on display.  It does take a lot more time to cook, but for myself, I enjoy this more than the traditional Kansai version.

There is also a Kanto, Tokyo area, version of okonomiyaki, but they don’t say okonomiyaki.  They call it monjayaki, or monja for short.  This is very different from okonomiyaki; it is similar to a cousin.  The food itself is not like a pancake, but rather closer to slop.  Unlike okonomiyaki, you generally only get this with a teppan, as you must eat it directly from the teppan.  When served, you have to start a little differently.  You start off taking all of the vegetables and meat and placing it into a ring shape.  As it cooks, it will form a small barrier.  You should also add a little liquid to help “seal” the bottom.  Once it’s mostly cooked, you add the rest of the liquid to the centre of the ring and cook it for a few more minutes.  Once it has reduced a little, you can mix everything and you’ll have a sloppy mess.  You will have your own personal spatula to eat with.  You can either scoop a bunch up into a plate, or eat like a Japanese person “should”.  There is a technique that must be seen to understand, but basically, you bake it onto your spatula and pick it up in one scoop.  It’s kind of like eating the burnt bits, or the browned bits, of any baked dish.  It’s actually very nice, but it isn’t good as a meal, more of a snack to accompany a drinking party.

If you have a choice, do try to eat okonomiyaki.  Monja is good if you are living in Japan, but not necessary.  Feel free to ask about some places if you’d like a recommendation, or just look for it yourself.  It’s good to have an adventure.

Okonomiyaki Videos:

Kansai style Okonomiyaki:

http://www.youtube.com/v/NzxSPNIQn14&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01

Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki:

http://www.youtube.com/v/VNDOLrl6OKM&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01

Monjayaki:

http://www.youtube.com/v/nUOBFRRo0kU&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01

Okonomiyaki Information:

Guide to make Okonomiyaki:  http://www.sakuratei.co.jp/en/okonomi-yaki.html
Okonomiyaki (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/r/e100.html
[Japan Guide has a step by step instruction manual with pictures on how to make Okonomiyaki, Kansai style]
Okonomiyaki (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki
Guide to make Monjayaki:  http://www.sakuratei.co.jp/en/monja-yaki.html
Monjayaki (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monjayaki

Okonomiyaki Restaurants: [Note that all sites are in Japanese]

Foo Moo by Hot Pepper (Japanese):  http://www.hotpepper.jp/A_11100/smd0_svcSA11_grcG016_grf1.html
Gournavi (Japanese):  http://sp.gnavi.co.jp/search/theme/z-AREA110/t-SPG110218/p-1/s-new/c-1/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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