Tag Archives: Japan

Blue Seal, the original Okinawan Ice Cream

JapanOur World Cup coverage continues with an unexpected cross-cultural treat from Japan. Okinawa, Japan may not be first place you think of when you think of ice cream, but it turns out the island is crazy about it! Ice cream came to Okinawa with American troops in WWII, but became a trend that lasted much longer. The main purveyor is Blue Seal, originally founded to provide troops with a taste of ice cream from home, but eventually the ice cream became available island-wide, where it has gained quite a following. There are flavors that Americans would be familiar with, as well as Okinawan flavors like sugarcane, bitter melon and purple sweet potato. Blue Seal-branded cafes are found all over Okinawa, and now even in Tokyo, too. Softserve is more popular in Japan, but Blue Seal definitely holds the top spot for American-style ice cream.

Blue Seal Ice Cream

Blue Seal Ice Cream by Jason Poon

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Reclaiming Ramen

JapanWhen the word “ramen” comes up, your first thought may be of the ten-for-a-dollar deals your local supermarket had on instant ramen in college. However, there is a lot more to it than that, and the traditional preparations of this Japanese soup dish are catching on in the US. Food and Wine has a profile of Ivan Orkin (with recipes) about how he and other chefs are reclaiming ramen’s good name. There are ramen shops popping up all over NYC and Chicago, and Serious Eats Chicago ranked suburban Mount Prospect’s Misoya as the top ramen in the area.

Ramen in Kyoto

Ramen in Kyoto by Claire Yuki

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Merry Christmas 2013!

Happy winter wishes from the miniature snow-covered Sphinx in Tobu World Square Theme Park in Japan.

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Mujin Hanbai: Stores without staff

JapanPingmag has a fascinating article about mujin hanbai, or “honor stores,” a type of farmstand in Japan that relies on the honor system. The simplest of these just has a locked cashbox, while others more resemble vending machines. They are popular nationwide, even in Tokyo. I’ve seen a few honor roadside farmstands before (one even boasting “self-serve rocks”), but nothing so elaborate as those found in Japan. Have you ever encountered something like an a honor store?

Mujin Hanbai from Pingmag

Mujin Hanbai from Pingmag

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Tsunami: Sushi with a view in Baton Rouge

Tsunami
100 Lafayette Street
Baton Rouge, LA

JapanIf you’re looking for scenery with your sushi, Tsunami definitely impresses. Located on top of the Shaw Center for the Arts, Tsunami is an upscale sushi restaurant with a bar and a terrace with a panoramic view of Baton Rouge and the Mississippi river. We had a very pleasant dinner at Tsunami with M’s dad and his friend Chuck, who are both experts on Baton Rouge restaurants and nightlife. M’s Dad knew we are always looking for good local restaurants, so he wisely picked Tsunami as an upscale option.

Tsunami

Tsunami’s  dining room and view

Though there are Japanese entrees available including Japanese dishes like Tonkatsu ($15) and Chicken Teriyaki ($16), Tsunami’s focus is sushi. Tsunami serves a variety of innovative rolls, with a few Cajun touches sprinkled in, which we appreciated! For example, check out the Ragin’ Cajun Roll ($8) – only in Louisiana! – with panko fried alligator and avocado. We also ordered the Jazz Roll ($10), which includes snow crab, asparagus, boiled shrimp in a soy paper; and the 412 Roll ($16), with cream cheese, asparagus, tuna, avocado and crunchy shrimp topped with tuna and avocado. There are also Nigiri (for $5 to 8 each) which would appeal more to the sushi purist with varieties like Yellowtail, Tuna and Salmon Roe.

Tsunami Sushi

Tsunami Sushi

While we were waiting for the sushi to arrive we snapped some pictures of the river and the town, and on a more temperate night, it certainly would have been a great place to eat (it was 95 degrees when we dined!). Our sushi arrived, and we were immediately impressed by the presentation (and a little by the prodigious portion size as well). We also ordered a special roll with tempura shrimp that was particularly tasty though the portion was gigantic. The fish was very fresh, and we appreciated the special Cajun touches that you could not get at a sushi restaurant “up north.” To finish off our meal we enjoyed chocolate cake, elegantly served with ice cream and Pocky Sticks in a bento box. Though we enjoyed the food, the view was the true superstar. Tsunami is a perfect place for a date night (we witnessed a few) or for a group of friends. It was a wonderful suggestion!

View of Baton Rouge from Tsunami

View of Baton Rouge from Tsunami terrace

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Japanese recipe site Cookpad, now in English

Japan[Via MetaFilter] I recently learned that the huge Japanese user-contributed recipe site Cookpad, which has over 20 million users and 1.5 million recipes, now has an English version. Cookpad seems similar to Food.com, and you can browse recipes by category or ingredient. Over 1,500 recipes have been translated into English so far, with more planned (the translations are not by a machine, though there are a few errors anyway). There are a ton of cool-looking recipes including Taro Root Croquettes, Somen noodlesUdon with Yuzu and Tofu with dashi sauce. Any fans of Japanese food should definitely explore. Did you find any favorite recipes?

Tonkotsu Ramen Style Somen Noodles via Cookpad

Tonkotsu Ramen Style Somen Noodles via Cookpad

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Baking Bread with the Tangzhong method

JapanOur previous attempts at making bread were not terribly successful, but we’d love to give bread making another try. One of the techniques we recently learned about was the Japanese Tangzhong bead-making method, which involves making a roux (called the Tangzhong) and incorporating it into the dough. Apparently this addition results in a very soft, tender loaf of bread. There are countless different breads you can make with the Tangzhong method, and many recipes we found are for various types of Hokkaido Milk Bread (here’s a cinnamon and chocolate chip version and a Nutella version). We had a favorite milk bread back at our local fruteria in Chicago, and we are mourning the fact that they don’t carry it any more. Maybe some of these Japanese milk breads are worth a try to fill our cravings. You can also try your hand at hot cross buns and 10 grain milk bread made with the Tangzhong method.

Hokkaido Milk Bread

Hokkaido Milk Bread by Divya Kudua

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Amazing Japanese Latte Art

Latte Art

The cast of Charlie Brown in Latte form – NPR.com

JapanWe enjoy latte art, though it usually doesn’t go much beyond a leaf or a heart. However, Japanese barista Kazuki Yamamoto takes latte art to a whole new level – even including some 3D creations.

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Lunar New Year in Liberdade, São Paulo

JapanbrazilToday is Lunar New Year – the welcoming the year of the snake. Fact of the day: Brazil has a substantial East Asian population, including the largest population of Japanese-descended persons outside Japan. São Paulo in particular is a major Japanese-Brazilian (nikkei) center, with Japanese cultural heritage on full display in São Paulo’s Liberdade neighborhood (which means “freedom” in Portuguese). Though originally settled by the Japanese, today the area is also home to many recent Chinese and Korean immigrants. Due to this, Liberdade is a great place to experience Lunar new year!  In 2011, 200,000 people attended new years celebrations in Liberdade alone.

LiberdadeNewYear

Chinese New Year Celebration in Liberdade, 2008 by Bianca Bueno

Liberdade is a very cool place, marked by its distinctive red lamp posts and a red Japanese gate (torii) at the entrance to the main street. We visited Liberdade in 2012, right after new year, but the place was still hopping. The neighborhood is also famous for its weekend street fairs, which are full of food, and bring out Paulistanos from all areas of the city. On any day of the week you can get some of the best yakisoba , bubble tea and gyoza in Liberdade. In many other Brazilian cities, Japanese food is quite expensive, but Paulistanos have the pick of any range of restaurants. There is even a dedicated Sake shop!

LiberdadeSaoPaulo

Streets in Liberdade, Sao Paulo by Márcio Cabral de Moura

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Japan and Taiwan: Honey Toast

Honey Toast from Sheng Kee Bakery in San Francisco by Jeffrey Chiang

I love learning about unique foods from around the world, especially if they are a little quirky. One of the quirkiest foods I have encountered recently is honey toast, a Japanese creation that has caught on in Taiwan, where the topping choices have become even more extravagant.  Honey toast is composed of a small loaf of hollowed out white bread,  the interior of the bread is cubed, toasted and stuffed back inside, and all is covered with a heaping helping of honey. Honey toast toppings may be a simple as ice cream, or may include fruit, syrups, or even something as decadent as macarons. Curious yet? A review of What8ver Cafe in British Columbia has a great description of honey toast. Or if you need a better visual, here is a video of Honey toast at Dazzling Café in Taipei being dissected. Making the honey toast does not seem terribly difficult, but definitely for carb lovers only.

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Finer Things Club: (Re)Discovering Yoku Moku Cookies

I finally put a name to a food memory of buttery cookies I had many years ago – Yoku Moku cookies. I remember eating these cookies a long time ago and being very impressed by both the taste and the presentation, I think my dad brought them home from work, and I still have the distinctive blue tin. However, I didn’t know what they were called until I ran across a picture of the very same tin online (the style seems unchanged over the years). The Japanese company Yoku Moku got its unique name from the northern Swedish city of Jokkmokk, where the founder, Noriichi Fujinawa first tried European butter cookies. That first encounter was the impetus for the creation of Yoku Moku (and the towns’ name was adopted for the company). The most famous Yoku Moku cookies, and the ones I remember were the  Cigares, rolled thin butter cookies with a hint of vanilla flavor. Yoku Moku also makes larger tins with other cookie assortments. Though primarily available in Japan, the cookie tins are available at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Dean & Deluca in the US.

Yoku Moku Cookies

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Sukiyabashi Jiro: The $20-a-Minute Meal

Recently, I posted about the wonderful documentary film about sushi expert Jiro Ono, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Via Kottke.org I found an account of A Life Worth Eating’s recent visit to Jiro’s restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, where the entire meal lasted a mere 19 minutes, with a tab of $380. You can check out the entire stunning meal on Flickr.

A scene from Sukiyabashi Jiro

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Japan: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

We recently watched the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushiabout Jiro Ono, a dedicated Japanese Sushi chef that has earned three Michelin stars for his tiny restaurant  Sukiyabashi Jiro in a Tokyo subway station. Jiro was the first sushi chef to ever receive 3 Michelin stars and it is clear that his life is completely dedicated to perfecting his craft. The movie is beautiful and engrossing, and I guarantee you will have a newfound respect for sushi. Anthony Bourdain has stated that it is his favorite sushi experience, and we agree that the tasting menu looks amazing.

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Domo-kun Cookies

Domo Cookies

Domo Cookies at Diamonds for Dessert

I just came across this post on Diamonds for Dessert on how to make Domo cookies [via Food is My life]. The cute and cuddly Domo is the mascot for the Japanese NHK TV network, and has been incarnated in stickers, posters, stuffed animals, and practically every other form… now even cookies! However, these are not just any cookies, but are a version of Thomas Keller’s famous oreo cookies (TKOs), from Bouchon Bakery. Can’t wait to try these.

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Illustrated Japanese Curry and Katsu Recipe

I am really enjoying the layout and illustrations in this recipe and feature article from the Bold Italic blog about the wonders of Japanese Curry.

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Easy-Bake Oven Redux

Rambling through the internet, I’ve recently found some great kawaii links. One-upping the childhood food mainstay the Easy-Bake Oven, Japanese company Bandai released Toy pot sticker maker. I never had an Easy-Bake oven as a kid – but I think the big kid in me wants one of these pot sticker makers. I guess I’m not the only nostalgic one, there is even an Easy-Bake oven knock-off that fits in a computer port.

p.s. As a bonus link from Japan – who could resist making bread with panda faces baked right in?

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Beard Papa’s Japanese Cream puff empire

JapanBeard Papa’s
2399 Telegraph Avenue (this location closed, various others open throughout the US)
Berkeley, CA

I (M) was in Berkeley for an academic conference, and naturally decided to take advantage of some West Coast eats that we don’t have in the Midwest. One place L and I kept hearing about was Beard Papa’s, a Japanese creampuff outlet with locations all around the Pacific Rim and NYC/New Jersey. With their Berkeley location just opened, I knew I had to stop in for some tasty cream puffs after a long day of lectures.

For starters, the best thing about Beard Papa’s has to be its logo. The white bearded, yellow hatted, pipe-smoking Alaskan fisherman (?) makes little sense as a creampuff symbol, but maybe that’s why he works so well. Whatever the allusion is, it is definitely memorable (maybe his face looks like a creampuff? You be the judge.)

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It was late in the day when I made it inside, and was concerned they wouldn’t have what I wanted – and I was right. The ordering process is pretty simple: pick a pastry type (regular, cookie, or eclair) and pick a filling (Belgian chocolate, vanilla, or coffee). The flavors change from week to week – these are the choices this location had on this particular day. Regardless, the cookie crust (my favorite!) was out, so I settled on regular pastry with chocolate insides.

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My verdict on the worldwide craze that is Beard Papa’s? Just OK. I cannot say I have much to compare it to in terms of creampuffs, but the pastry tasted, well, like a pretty standard pastry crust with pretty good soft ice cream center. Not that there wasn’t enough – the puff was much larger than I expected (a relative deal for $2.49) and more or less exploded with chocolatey goodness when I bit into it. But I definitely was not blown away by the offerings – maybe it was just the growing pains of a new establishment? I would definitely try one again if the opportunity presented itself, but as of right now, I find it hard to legitimate the worldwide obsession around the puffs.

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What is Black Garlic?

blackgarlicI recently came across a new food that, while it looks kind of frightening, is pretty intriguing – black garlic! Black garlic is popular in China, Korea and Japan and is really just aged and fermented whole cloves of garlic. The flavor is more mellow than raw cloves with a bit of a tang. And it’s spreadable. Some Whole Foods stores sell black garlic, but you can get it online, too.

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Japan: Giant Bluefin Tuna at Mitsuwa

I had heard that Mitsuwa Market in Arlington Heights was staging a public sale of some giant bluefin tuna this past weekend. The tuna was flown in fresh, and weighed upwards of 300 pounds. Mike Sula at the Chicago Reader’s Food Chain provides a nice recap of the event, which seemed like quite the experience. On non Tuna-carving days, Mitsuwa market is still worth the trip for an extensive grocery, bakery, bookstore and tasty food court with Sushi and Udon shops.

Mitsuwa Market
100 E. Algonquin Rd.
Arlington Heights, IL

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Japan: Sushi Blu [Closed]

Sushi Blu  [Closed]
1710 Orrington Avenue
Evanston, IL

L and I aren’t that big on sushi, but when a friend offered to take us to Blu, a visually upscale sushi bar in downtown Evanston, we couldn’t turn it down. The restaurant was empty when we entered (usually not a good sign), but were surprised by the avant-garde decorations that seem more at home in a New York or Chicago nightclub than a sushi bar.

With the upscale decor, we were shocked to realize that the $7-13 lunch specials were for an entire lunch plate, not just a single piece of sushi. L avoided the sushi route and ordered chicken bento – grilled teriyaki chicken on a rice bed, plus vegetable tempura and a salad. M decided to try the sushi (going against a number of past eating experiences) and ordered blu maki bento – 3 sushi of shrimp tempura, 3 of spicy tuna, and a small salad.

To start, both meals came with free miso soup that surpassed our expectations of what miso soup should taste like. I in particular am not a big tofu fan, but I found this miso to be flavorful and light, unlike other thicker, over-tofu-ed misos I’ve had in the past.

But our main dishes easily stole the show. The food, on both of our plates, was beautifully presented far beyond what was necessary for a relatively quick and cheap lunch order. In addition, the amount of food we received was well beyond what we anticipated (the 10 sushi I received came out to about a dollar per roll, less than a fifth of sushi prices at similar establishments.) L’s chicken avoided the over-sugared problem of other teriyakis, and balanced nicely with the veggie tempura on the side. My sushi presented something of an eating challenge (I kept the chopsticks) but had a great time experimenting with the flavor combinations of raw tuna, shrimp, ginger, wasabi, and vegetables. The sushi was tasty and filling while managing to remain subtly flavored in all the right ways.

Overall, the food was beautifully presented, filling and tasty, and unbelievably cheap both for the amount of food and especially in comparison with other sushi places, particularly when you consider its Evanston location (not exactly known for the cheap eats) as well as the interior decor. A sushi place we might actually come back to!

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