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Nabe August 2, 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 “Nabe” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-nabe

Nabe is a very simple dish that is translated, simply as, pot.  A better translation of nabe is Japanese hot pot.  If you ever had Chinese or Korean style hot pot, you will understand the basics of this dish.  If you ever had shabu shabu, you will know this dish.  Nabe is a broad definition for meat and vegetables boiled in a pot.  It is one of the simplest dishes you could make, yet there are hundreds of different flavours to enjoy.  The simplest and most basic version is just a plain water nabe.  Making this can be very simple, but at the same time, like many types of Japanese food, it can also be very complex.  The dish starts off by placing the vegetables in the proper section.  Usually, harder vegetables go on the bottom.  Then, they add the thinner vegetables, noodles, mushrooms, tofu, and meat.  If you go to a restaurant, they tend to put everything together and bring the pot out on a burner.  Once it is boiling, you can dig in and eat.  Usually, there are various sauces to dip the food into.  Usually, you will get a ponzu.  This is a tart dipping sauce that goes well with vegetables.  They also provide a sesame dipping sauce which tends to go well with meat.  Unlike Chinese hot pot, where they mix a lot of sauces, including hot sauce, Japanese nabe avoids using too much sauce.

While the basic nabe is just meat and vegetables in water, you can have a variety of soups available to you as well.  The most typical is the Chanko Nabe.  This is a hearty soup that was originally created for sumo wrestlers.  Since it was made for sumo wrestlers, you must be a little careful as it was designed for people to gain weight.  Today, you can also make your own with pre-made soup packs.  Other popular flavours include miso, kimchi, and sesame.  Generally, when you eat these styles of nabe, you don’t use any dipping sauces.  It will generally taste good on its own.  After you have finished the meat and vegetables, it’s common to add udon, soba, or ramen into the pot to make use of the soup.  This is delicious as the meat and vegetable juice creates a wonderful broth for noodles.  The only down side is that people generally get stuffed from the meat and vegetables alone and usually there isn’t any room left for noodles at the end.  The only exception is the clear cellophane noodles.  They use a variety of styles that vary in thickness and length.  These noodles are generally eaten along with the meat and vegetables.  In the end, you can’t really go wrong with whatever soup you order.  If you make it at home, don’t worry too much about what type of meat and vegetables to add to the soup.  It doesn’t matter too much, but if you want to enjoy the soup along with the food, it’s best to pair the food with the soup based on the packaging.  Beef tends to go well with kimchi soup, and pork is better with a Chanko Nabe.  Don’t be afraid to mix things up if you want to.

Nabe itself is used to describe boiling food in a pot.  Shabu shabu and sukiyaki are variations of nabe, but not always considered nabe itself.  It can be similar to thinking about omelettes and eggs.  When we say eggs, do we think of omelettes as the first food to be made with eggs?  Probably not, but they are part of the same dish.  Shabu shabu is closer to Chinese hot pot than nabe.  The name shabu shabu is now synonymous with the sound of moving thinly cut meat or vegetables around in boiling water.  Traditionally, you grab a piece of meat or vegetable and place it into the put with your chopsticks.  Then, you wave it around so that it boils evenly.  Once the meat is brown, still slightly red, you can take it out and put it into the dipping sauces.  The dipping sauces are the same as a plain nabe with just water.  The major difference between this and plain nabe is that the meat will come out softer and almost fluffy due to the cooking method.  It will also taste lighter, yet hearty.  If you prefer sweet food, sukiyaki is a better dish.  This is similar to nabe in the fact that you just boil meat and vegetables in a soup.  The difference here is that the soup is much sweeter and darker.  They tend to use a shallow heavy pot rather than a deep pot to allow an even cooking temperature.  This dish tends to be heartier, in my opinion, even though it is sweeter.  The shocking part for most westerners is the dipping sauce.  One raw egg is used to dip the meat or vegetables just before eating.  In Japanese cuisine, it’s common to use raw egg for various dishes and for dipping.  The use of the egg helps to mute the sweetness and add a unique texture to the food itself.  If you don’t like raw eggs, you don’t have to use it.  It’s still delicious to eat sukiyaki without a raw egg, but for myself, I prefer it with a raw egg.

When looking for a restaurant in Tokyo, there are many places you can visit for nabe.  One recommendation for tourists would be to visit Amataro.  This is a large chain restaurant that serves both shabu shabu and yaki niku.  Yaki niku is Japan’s take on Korean BBQ.  This shop tends to be very busy and slow to bring orders, but due to their large size, they tend to have good English menus.  The quality is okay, but when you eat   so much, you won’t worry too much about the quality.  The second is Nabezo.  This is a middle class nabe restaurant.  They serve all types and they will be somewhat friendly to foreigners.  They do have English menus, but there won’t be many pictures on the English side.  It will always be best to go with someone who can at least read or speak some Japanese as this will help you find the best foods to eat.  Generally, both restaurants offer all you can eat, and all you can drink sets.  You can eat and drink as much as you want for up to an hour and a half.  It may not be the cheapest meal you will get, but if you can eat and drink, it’s well worth it.  Heading there in the summertime will be easier than winter as nabe tends to be a winter dish.  Do your best and hopefully you can enjoy great nabe.

Nabe Videos:

Shabu Shabu:




Nabe Information:

Nabe (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabemono

Shabu Shabu (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabu_shabu

Sukiyaki (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukiyaki

Chanko Nabe (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chankonabe

Amataro (Nabe restaurant):  http://www.amataro.jp/

Nabezou (Another Nabe Restaurant):  http://www.wondertable.com/app/tenpo/tenpo?code=Nabezou

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

Foo Moo by Hot Pepper (Note that not all shops are dedicated to Nabe):  http://www.hotpepper.jp/CSP/psh020/doFree?SA=SA11&GR=G004&SK=4&FSF=1&FWT=なべ

Gournavi:  http://sp.gnavi.co.jp/search/theme/z-AREA110/t-SPG110200/p-1/s-new/c-1/



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:

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


Mt. Daisen August 3, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Mt. Daisen” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-sd

Mt. Daisen is a large mountain standing 1729m tall.  It is located in western Tottori close to the city of Yonago.  To put it into perspective, it is north of Okayama and Okayama is located between Hiroshima and Osaka.  The mountain is the highest in the entire region and often related to Mt. Fuji itself.  It can be an elusive mountain to see as the clouds themselves can roll in.   This is especially true in the rainy season.

Accessing the mountain is relatively easy.  You can easily drive in from neighbouring Tottori, Yonago, Matsue, and Izumo.  Access from the south is not very easy as you would have to pass a large mountain range to get there.  When I visited Mt. Daisen, I approached from Tottori and exited towards Yonago.  The easiest method is to drive along the coast and access the mountain on the Yonago side.  If you decide to drive around the mountain, there is a road, Oyama Loop Road that is open in the summer that wraps around the mountain.  While you won’t directly drive around the top, you will be close to the top and the elevation changes will vary greatly.  Note that the road is very small with room for only 1-2 cars at the most.  There are no lines and the overgrowth is abundant.  It does make for a nice drive and you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and the quiet stops.

Along the north side of Oyama Loop Road, you will pass through Obukijishinsui Park.  This is barely a park and more of a nature reserve.  A stop here is nice and there are various hiking trails that can only be accessed by car.  I would highly recommend renting a small car due to the conditions of the road.  Thankfully, the road itself was well maintained and the stop at the park was beautiful.  There are various points along the road in this park for you to stop, stretch, and see what’s around.  Unfortunately, things don’t change too much.  You will mainly see trees and bushes, and the view of the city or sea is almost non existent.  If you have time to spare, this is a very nice place to stop and see almost no one.  It’s wonderful for a picnic as well.

The main attraction of Mt. Daisen is Daisen-ji and Ogamiyama Shrine.  These are linked temples and shrines.  In the summer, there is a free parking lot that is a short 10 minute walk from the temple.  The temple itself is not spectacular, but worth a visit either way.  It’s more interesting to head up the mountain to Ogamiyama Shrine.  There is an old stone path leading from the back of Daisen-ji going to Ogamiyama Shrine.  In fact, if you decide to skip Daisen-ji, you can just walk straight up to Ogamiyama Shrine.  The shrine is a nice getaway, but the walk to the shrine is more unique.  When we were hiking up the trail, the clouds started to roll in providing an eerie feel to the trail.  At times, we were the only ones on the trail making it feel as if there were ghosts in the area.  I’m sure it is less interesting if it’s a nice sunny day.  If you venture off into one of the small hiking trails that run parallel to the main stone walkway, you will be taken to the river.  There is a nice small river with rock banks that provide an interesting place to rest.  There are several Inuksuk there, including my own.  I don’t know if they were made by locals, tourists, or other Canadians.  Unfortunately, the rocks aren’t good enough to make a human figure.

After a visit to the shrine and temple, you can head back into the small village.  There are only a handful of shops that are there, but there is a huge Mont-bell shop as well.  Mt. Daisen is popular for hikers and I’m sure you could complete the hike in a day or two.  Due to the time constraints, we didn’t bother to hike to the top, and also due to the weather, we didn’t think the view would be nice.  The village has a few gift shops and eateries for local food and traditional tourist food.  It appeared that Daisen soba was popular, and the tourist gifts centred on milk products and pear products.  We were still in Tottori, so pear products were very popular.  Milk produced at the base of Mt. Daisen is very popular.  You can find the milk in Tottori city itself, but it’s difficult to find outside of Tottori.  I was happy to find a small glass of milk and it tasted delicious.  It wasn’t the same as Japanese milk, but more westernized.  It was a nice refreshing treat after a tough drive and hike.  They also have a “kimo-kawaii panda” called Muki Panda which is a panda in a panda suit.  It’s tough to describe but it’s ugly and cute at the same time.  There is one shop that sells these goods and it’s somewhat popular for hikers.

Mt. Daisen can be tackled in less than a day.  The drive up the mountain may not be all that spectacular for most people, and the temple and shrine are standard fare.  I do recommend it if you are visiting the area as it’s a beautiful place to visit.  Very few people know of this mountain and the hiking must be wonderful.  I didn’t get a chance to try it, but I’m sure it would be a lot of fun.

Mt. Daisen Information:

Daisen (Possibly the official site, in Japanese): http://www.daisen.gr.jp/
Daisen (Resort Network, Japanese): http://www.daisen.net/
Daisen (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisen_%28mountain%29
Daisen-ji (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisen-ji
Ogami Jinja (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Cgamiyama_Jinja


Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric) April 27, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Eccentric)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nb

Akihabara is an area that is being transformed from a small centre with hundreds of small or tiny shops into a place that has tall buildings with large corporations controlling the area.  While it is true that things are changing, you can still see some of the craziness and the strangeness of this area if you know where to look.

For those wanting to see anime, anime figures, manga, and toys, heading to the northern area, near Suehirocho Station is your best bet.  There are several shops in the area that sell these goods.  There are also several located throughout the Akihabara area.  The most famous style of shop is the “glass” shop.  This shop can range in size.  It can be as small as a single room, to one occupying an entire building.  When you enter the shop, you will be met with various glass boxes.  Inside each box, there are various figures on display.  You can buy anything that is located within theses boxes, unless they are for display only.  The key is to find out which box the stuff you want is in, and ask one of the staff to help you.  The interesting part of this is that while you might think of this as a stand alone shop, it isn’t.  Each glass box is usually a different shop.  Many people will rent out one of the boxes to either display their goods, or to sell their goods.  It can range from internet companies needing a physical location for some of their items, to regular people wanting to make a few bucks with the stuff they have collected over the years.  It is a very different concept to the traditional shop that is common in almost every other area of the world.

Another thing to look for in Akihabara is the vending machines.  Due to the nature of the area, vending machines are very prevalent.  In every corner, on every street, you will be able to find a vending machine.  While this is also true of most areas of Tokyo, it is special in Akihabara.  They specialize in unique vending machines.  The standard machines that sell drinks of all types are, of course, common, but they also have machines that sell food.  You can buy hot noodles in a can.  These can be very popular, and it even comes with its own plastic fork.  You could also purchase Oden, which is various vegetables in a broth.  I would liken it to a stew, but it’s very different in taste.  Oden is typically found in convenience stores, but there are restaurants that specialize in it as well.  Meat is not typically found, aside from sausages.  While less common, spaghetti can be found, and it is very possible to find anime drinks.  These tend to be your average drink, but with an anime character on the cover.  Do be aware that prices can be jacked up, depending on where you are and what you buy.

Maids are an Akihabara specialty.  When you exit the station on the east side, and all along Chuo-dori, you are more than likely to run into several maids, especially on the weekend.  If you venture to the east side of Chuo-dori, you will find a lot of different maids looking to take you to their shop.  This is a relatively recent trend that has changed since I first visited.  When I first came, maid cafes were starting to become very popular.  You would see various Japanese women, sometimes European as well, dressed in a French style maid outfit.  They would almost cry to get you into their café.  It was all part of their act.  Today, you can find the strangest fetishes regarding maids.  The typical maid café charges a sitting fee on top of a mandatory drink.  One drink is usually good for about 1 hour.  This may change depending on the café.  You are then treated to a dose of acting from all of the maids in the café.  They tend to talk to you as if you are their master, at all times.  They act very cutesy and they play games with you.  Sometimes, there is a stage where they will play games with the entire café.  If you want to have a picture with one of the maids, or play a private game at your table, you will have to pay extra.  You can even buy one of the maid outfits if you really wanted to.  The man target for this is the men, not the women.  Today, they have added a plethora of different theme cafes.  This can range from a maid café where men dress as maids, but it’s relatively the same thing.  You can also see cafes where the girls are dressed more like a school girl, or even a moody school girl that will treat you like dirt, but cry and apologize when you leave.  I have seen various maid style cafes on TV, but I have never personally been to one.  I have seen their prices and can’t imagine entering one based on the prices.  If you really want to check it out, go ahead, but be sure you know how much it costs.  It could be as much as 4000 Yen for just one hour.  The safest place to visit a maid café might be on top of Don Quijote.

When I first came to Japan, Akihabara was only half as busy, but twice as strange.  In the last few years, the Mayor of Taito-ku, the name of the district Akihabara lies in, decided to clamp down on the strange people.  Several new buildings have popped up to act as an IT hub for Tokyo, and the police have done everything in their power to stop any performance that is done on the street.  While there is a good reason for this, they have decided that Akihabara’s original character of craziness has to go, and that it’s better to be a boring town like every other district of Tokyo.  On the weekends, you might be able to see a couple of “crazy” performers.  They tend to be men, and they tend to dress up as female anime characters.  Nowadays, they probably just walk around.  If they stop, the police will probably talk to them.  If they play loud music, the police will move them along.  If they dance to the music, the police will arrest them.  While this may seem strange and a little heavy handed, there is a main reason to this.  In the last couple years, some girls began to dress as maids, or other characters with a very short skirt; stand on a railing, and let people take pictures of them.  In essence, they let dirty men take photos up their skirts.  Thankfully, this has pretty much stopped, but the days when a tourist could walk along Chuo-dori, see someone dancing, take pictures, and say Tokyo is strange is long gone.  If you came to Akihabara looking for cheap electronics and hundreds of little shops, you will be disappointed.  If you came looking for a cool subculture, you will find something, but probably not exactly what you were looking for.  Either way, I still recommend visiting Akihabara.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Civilized and Akihabara – Redux.

Akihabara Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html
Official Site (English): http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/index.htm
Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/ja/index.htm
Free Akihabara Tours:  http://akihabara-tour.com/en/
Akihabara Map:  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/map.htm
Commercial Site:  http://www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.html


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