Showing posts with label Japanese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japanese. Show all posts

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kimo-Kawaii?

Giant Isopod Made out of Sausage

Yep. Believe it or not, Giant Isopod has been quite popular in Japan recently. Undoubtedly, it must be another example of Japanese Kimo-Kawaii (gross-but-cute) fad. Just try an image search with ”stuffed giant isopod”and see how much people love it here. ;)

I was aware of it because some of my Facebook friends have posted about their love of this creature several times in the past couple of years. But it was when I had dinner with some university students the other day that I was told how crazy some people are about seeing these creatures alive -- or even, tasting them! Think about it. Some passionate folks drove for hours to go to China Town in Yokohama just to join an event of cooking and eating Giant Isopod!

When I heard that, I realized how privileged we the Muroto residents were. Here, if we want to see them, all we have to do is visiting this facility called AQUAFARM.
AQUAFARM (closed on Sat.)

It is a Deep Seawater harvesting/distribution facility. Inside of this building, there is a tank where they keep the deep-sea creatures that were sucked into the Deep Seawater intake pipe with the water. Yes, they are alive and swimming in the tank filled with Deep Seawater. And almost always, you can see these visitors from the deep sea that look like big roly-poly bugs. :)
To be precise, these are Bathynomus doederleinii which is a little smaller variety than Giant Isopod Bathynomus giganteus. These smaller ones are about 10 to 15 cm, and not terribly intimidating, I would say.

Anyway, at AQUAFARM, you can come in for free of charge and take a look at several deep-sea creatures in the tank and learn about Deep Seawater through the exhibits.

And, this fad seems to have inspired some creative bento fans to make this gross-but-cute creature out of this kind of sausage!
These red sausages were the only kind available when I was a child. And we were crazy about octopus or crabs made out of them. I remember begging mom to make and put some in my bento box, but she wasn't very interested. (Maybe that's why I love doing something like this so much now... to fulfill the unmet need in my childhood, huh?) This type of sausage lost its popularity once when people started criticizing artificial coloring. But now they use tomato-derived lycopene or other vegetable-derived coloring, so now they're back and loved by those who make elaborate kyaraben.

And the other day, by accident, I found this site showing us how to make Giant Isopod out of the red sausage! Do you think I could resist the temptation?
OF COURSE NOT!

And hence, the two lovely bugs in the first photo. How do you like them? Not bad, huh?

One problem though... It may take some courage to eat my gross-but-cute creations... :(
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Love the Wild Thing! -2- Japanese Knotweed

Young Shoots of Japanese Knotweed

As I wrote in my previous post, in Japan edible wild plants are nature's blessing, especially in a region where flat land is scarce like my hometown. So I grew up seeing young shoots of Itadori (Japanese Knotweed) as tasty food ingredient, but never an invasive plant. I was really surprised to know that Japanese Knotweed is found outside of Japan, too. And I was nearly shocked to find out that it is spreading all over the world as the most hated invader. 

It seems that we are not the only people who eat its young shoots. Let me show you our traditional way of turning them into tasty dishes. Unlike bracken fern shoots, wood ash is not necessary. We put them briefly in boiling water first to make it easier to peel. After peeling them, we blanch them and immediately soak them in (running) water for hours or overnight. That is the preparation procedure.
 

Here's two typical side dishes made with the knotweed shoots.
1. Simmered Itadori (Japanese Knotweed)
To make this dish, we chop the prepared knotweed shoots in a proper length, stir-fry them in a little vegetable oil, then add a little water with seasonings like soy sauce, sugar, mirin (rice wine) and simmer. It is common to add some instant fish stock powder or dried bonito flakes to give it more flavor.

2. Itadori Gohan (Chopped Knotweed Shoots Mixed with Cooked Rice)
Each family makes this dish in a slightly different way. I use pre-treated shoots. I chop them in small pieces, stir-fry them with dried baby fish, season them with soy sauce, sake and rice wine, then mix them into cooked rice with sesame seeds.
But for the dish in this photo above, raw shoots are used. Many people like this version because this way you can taste the fresh sourness of the raw shoots. But the sourness comes from oxalic acid so you are not supposed to eat too much of it at one time. I guess they do remove some of this unwanted acid beforehand by salting the shoots and leaving them for a while or soaking them in water for a while -- but not for too long.


And here's another way to use this edible wild plant that I learned this year, which is...
... making jam with them!!
Looks like this is nothing new in some European countries, right? ;)
Japanese Knotweed Jam

The jam reminded me of rhubarb jam, which is no surprise because they both belong to the same Polygonaceae family

Knotweed Jam Pound Cake

I also learned that the slices of the shoots can make good pizza topping.

See? Consuming the young shoots this way results in preventing this invasive plant from spreading too much, doesn't it? Our food culture is actually a unique, fun and tasty way to fight against the invasive plant and have a symbiotic relationship with nature, I guess. :D
That was a nice thing to find out.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love the Wild Thing! -1- Bracken Fern Shoots

Bracken Fern Shoots

If you come to my hometown, Muroto, you'll instantly notice that there is almost no flat plain here. The land has been rising -- literally getting higher -- because of the movement of tectonic plates. In most places, there are just mountains and the ocean.


Our ancestors could not develop large-scale agriculture here. Instead, they have learned to make the best use of the resources available, which includes edible wild plants.

Now, think about it. You have absolutely no scientific knowledge of plants. And you are starving. You see many young shoots of wild plants around you. They look soft, but you have no idea what they would taste like or if they are poisonous. Would you dare to eat them?

It must have taken some courage for our ancestors to eat shoots of some wild plants, because they often taste bitter and/or contained unhealthy substance. I wonder how they found ways to remove such unwanted substance. They must have gone through a series of trials and errors... especially before they found out that wood ash can be effective in removing unwanted harshness.

In case of these bracken fern shoots, the unwanted substance even includes a carcinogen, ptaquiloside. OMG, but don't panic. That is why a thorough preparation is necessary, and we know that... even though not everyone knows exactly how to do it.

Let me show you a traditional way of preparing bracken fern shoots using wood ash. 

You prepare boiling water and add wood ash to it.  My mom actually cooks the shoots in it for quite a while, but those who like the crispiness turn off the heat before throwing the shoots in, and just let them soak in the hot ash-mixed water overnight.


After that, the shoots are washed and soaked in fresh water for hours. I always soak them for two solid days and keep a little water running to let it overflow all the time.  In my childhood, grandma would soak them in a nearby stream.
Now, it is widely said in Japan that this pre-treatment of heating and soaking in water make the young shoots safe, and unless you keep eating a huge amount of them, you don't need to worry about ptaquiloside. (More scientific explanation says that the treatment changes ptaquiloside into pterosin B which is not carcinogenic. Details are here if you really want to go deep into the scientific stuff. Choose "bracken" on that website.)
Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino with Bracken Fern and Rapeseed Flower Buds

To enjoy bracken shoots as a side dish, we usually simmer them with soy sauce and sugar.
Let me show you the photos of bracken shoots dishes (mostly traditional ones) here.
But many young moms these days creatively use them for Western dishes as well. This photo above is one of my inventions from April, 2013.
I liked the idea a lot.
:)
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Monday, March 31, 2014

Our Get-Together Dishes -1-

OMG! I can't believe that I did this again! I neglected this blog for more than one whole month! Sorry for being lazy... and sorry for setting the date of this post to the last day of March. It's just so sad not to have anything for March 2014 in the archive...

So, what food did I enjoy in March? Many, of course. But let me focus on our get-together dishes for this post.

These photos were taken on Mar. 15th when we had dinner together to welcome an instructor invited from Tokyo. He was here to teach us interpretation. We thought that a nature lover would enjoy local specialties made with edible wild plants and local fish. Hence, these dishes.
Japanese Knotweed Stir-fry and Mola Mola Simmered with Miso (soybean paste)

Not many Japanese know what a mola mola would taste like. It's quite bland and the texture is rather rubbery. But if simmered properly and seasoned with miso (soybean paste) and ginger, it makes a tasty side dish with an interesting texture. :)

 
Yellowtail Sushi

I like to call this fish yellowtail rather than amberjack, but whatever the name is, it is the most loved fish in this area.

 
Japanese Traditional Pilaf with Mushrooms and Batter-fried Coastal Thistle

Seems like we Muroto residents are not the only people in the world who eat thistle. The plant looks like this, if you have never seen one before.
 Yeah, look at all the spines. You think that our mouths bleed every time we eat them? Ouch!
... Don't worry. We only eat the young roots and leaves of the plant. Growing on coastal sandy or gravelly beach, they look like this:
The photo shows how they are being sold at a local farmers' market. But we the locals do not have to buy them... we just go to certain parts of the beach and dig them up. :D

Yep, now it's the season to enjoy the blessing of nature. Here in Muroto, even if you're totally broke, you will not starve in spring... Pick shoots of wild plants in the mountains. Catch fish and pick shellfish and seaweed on the beach. There's plenty of them.

But let me tell you... if you love doing so, and if your neighbors and relatives also love doing so, and if each family always picks these things way more than they can consume at home... do you know what happens?

A tragedy.

I mean it.
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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Fortune Rolls

"Fortune Rolls"to Be Eaten on the Night of Setsubun

I bet most Japanese ate rolled sushi like these yesterday (Feb. 3rd) to celebrate Setsubun? In a nutshell, in the old days, the day of Setsubun was thought to be the official beginning of spring. And the traditional custom was throwing roasted soybeans to chase bad luck away and bring good luck into your home. They say that if you eat the same number of the roasted soybeans as your age, you'll stay healthy throughout the year.
Details here.

That was all about Setsubun, at least in this part of Shikoku Island, until 5 or 6 years ago.
I believe that it was only in certain areas in Japan where this rolled sushi was an important part of the Setsubun ritual.

In the extended version of the ritual, in addition to the soybean-throwing, you need to do the following to wish good luck for the year:
- prepare (or buy) Futomaki zushi (thick rolled sushi) but do not slice it,
- face the "lucky direction of the year" and
- close your eyes and eat the unsliced sushi in silence.

The special rolled sushi is called Eho-maki, which seems to be translated as "fortune roll" these days.  "Eho" is the lucky direction of the year, determined based on ancient Chinese astrology and Chinese zodiac. And according to this site, seven fillings are traditionally rolled in to associate the dish with the "Seven Deities of Happiness."

Some say that this was originally the custom of Kansai region. Thus, for us in Kochi prefecture, this part of the Setsubun celebration is nothing but the product of a marketing strategy. I heard that it was one of the convenience stores that started to spread this custom throughout the country. And now most supermarkets as well as convinis in Japan sell fortune rolls on Feb. 3rd. Yep. Just like Nanakusa-gayu (seven-herb rice porridge) custom and White Day have become popular here...


I'm not saying that it is bad. Perhaps many of famous Japanese traditional customs have spread in this country in similar ways, only at a slower pace in the past. Maybe it's just me that I slightly feel like a slave of conformism once in a while...

But no matter how I feel when I put a package into my shopping basket, I always enjoy the taste of the food when I eat it at home with my family. And I always end up thinking, "Well, maybe it's not totally bad as far as the custom gives something for the whole family to do together and talk about..."

Maybe that's a subvariety-conformist's thinking? ;)

...And see? We did slice the rolls before eating ... :P

I mean, how many families actually follow the traditional steps strictly as they are? Do they really close their eyes?? And eat it in silence?
Do you, REALLY???
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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Be Kind to Your Stomach!

 Nanakusa Gayu (Seven-herb Japanese Rice Porridge)

Today is the day for Nanakusa-gayu (seven-herb rice porridge) in Japan. It is our tradition to eat rice porridge cooked with seven kinds of herbs on January 7th.

They say that the custom originally came from China more than 1000 years ago. According to the websites I read, the 7th day had a special meaning in ancient Chinese belief, and people back then ate seven-herb soup on Jan. 7th to protect themselves from evils.

After the custom was imported into Japan, people replaced the soup with rice porridge. And gradually it became a nice, kind-to-your-stomach meal with vitamins that people eat after their indulgence in New Year's feast and sake. :)  (Oh, don't be too picky about the vitamin content. Must be better than none. :P)

But were the ancient Japanese really able to find the seven-herbs in the field at this time of the year? I doubt it... Even on the Lunar Chinese calendar, January 7th is still in the middle of the winter. So, some mysteries still remain. ;)
Anyway, thanks to the advanced distribution system, now we can buy something like this at the supermarket.

These were what was inside the package.

1. seri (dropwort); 2. nazuna (Shepard's purse); 3. gogyo (cudweed) ; 4. hakobe (chickweed); 5. hotokenoza (henbit); 6. suzuna (turnip); 7. suzushiro (baby daikon)

What? You don't see 1? Don't worry. I don't, either. ;)
Honestly, I couldn't find seri in the package. Was I too nervous or did they forget to pack it? Oh, well. Let's not make a fuss about it. It cannot ruin my health for the whole year. Right?

Now, if you really want to go authentic, you should make the porridge from scratch, means, you should use raw rice. But today I used pre-cooked rice -- leftover from my parents' breakfast, because it's much faster.

 I rinsed and drained the rice, then chopped the herbs. Then I put the rice and water in the clay pot to make porridge.

As stated above, I wasn't making it in an authentic way, so I poured in some store-bought shirodashi (concentrated dashi stock).

After it started boiling, I added the herbs...
... then seasoned it with salt and soy sauce.

The porridge really warmed me up.

So why do we pass down this tradition in the 21st century? If our stomach was sick from pigging out and our body was craving for vitamins after the Osechi feast, we have medicines and supplement pills. Without doubt, they are much more effective than some wild herbs. Then why this porridge-making?

The way I see it is that it is not the porridge itself that we value. The food is the symbol of the efforts that ancient people made. In order to stay healthy and live happily together, they made the best out of what was available at that time. Such way of life is what we're proud to succeed -- well, at least, I am -- and this custom reminds us of its importance every year.

Everyone, let's stay healthy in 2014!! :D 
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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Happy New Year!


Happy New Year!

See the first sunrise of 2014!  That morning, I stayed on the beach for about an hour, trying to shoot impressive shots of the sun rising from the horizon.

... I know. The previous post was written in September. What have I been doing for the past three months? No excuse. It's just that I was a slave of Facebook.
But I promise. This year, I'm going to post more on this blog. Just like I used to do.

Anyway...

As some of the long-term readers of my blog may know, in the morning of January 1st, my family goes through the New Year celebration rituals. I first blogged about the rituals in 2005, and I don't think I can explain it any better now. So if you're interested, find out about it here. (Oh, but now it's only three of us celebrating together: my dad, mom and I.)


OK. I might as well explain this again here:
This container is filled with rice, and on top of it you see sliced mochi (rice cakes), daidai orange (symbolizes the success passed from generation to generation = daidai in Japanese), sprig of bamboo, pine and plum (symbolize blessing of longevity), thinly-cut kobu (kelp: happiness and joy, from a Japanese word, yorokobu = to feel happy), kachiguri (dried chestnuts: victory because Kachi means "winning") and hoshigaki (dried persimmon: long life).

And basically, our Osechi feast is the same every year -- Yes, same food, same jubako (tiered lacquer boxes), and about the same amount. :D
But it IS a blessing that my family can do the same every year, because that means we're not in a serious trouble or anything. You know what I mean?

There WERE minor problems, of course, and I was exhausted to death when everything was ready.
But let's not be pessimistic.
My family members are not totally healthy but not seriously sick.
The main breadwinner is still unemployed but the family is not starving.
And the sun shines on everyone, including me.

So, here's to all my dear friends,

I wish you all the very best of 2014!
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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Yesterday's Lunch

Mini-Kaiseki Lunch? @ Sansuien

Oh, it was so great! I had this great opportunity to enjoy the lunch in this photo at the restaurant of a traditional Japanese-style hotel in Kochi City yesterday. The hotel is a prestigious one with a long history. And what was great was that I DIDN'T HAVE TO PAY. IT WAS A TREAT. YAY! :D . .

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kisu to Nasu no Tempura (Deep-fried Sillago and Eggplant)

This year, I had bad luck with sillago fishing until mid August. Then all of the sudden, about two weeks ago, I got a piece of information from the local anglers in the neighboring town. They said that now you could get a bite on almost every cast and it would last for about a week! Of course, nothing could stop me -- even the fact that an important exam was coming up soon.

The information was correct. I had so much fun for about 1.5 hours very early in the morning, until about 8:00 am. :D

To be perfectly honest, the sillago I caught this time did not taste as good as the ones I had caught earlier this year. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that all I got this time were pregnant ones.
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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Ume Miso Project 2012

Ume Miso Project - Day 11 -
I guess I'm experiencing a positive change now. For the past couple of years, I didn't feel like cooking almost at all. You probably noticed it because I didn't post any photos of my own cooking.
But lately I'm going back to my old habits. See? In addition to the ume juice project, I started this ume miso project as well.
For more information about ume miso, click here.
This is the photo of the preparation phase. I placed unripe green ume plums, sugar and miso alternately in a container.

And this was how it looked on day 11th (before stirring).

I stirred it thoroughly and left it rest again. :)
It should rest more... until these ume plums give out their juice and totally wrinkle up.
I'll keep you updated.
:)
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