Sushi, Tempura, Ramen, Yakisoba … You probably know these dishes. But what about Ishikari-nabe, Hiyajiru, Funazushi, Fukagawa-meshi? Unless you decide to live in Japan for the rest of your life (and even then it may not happen), you’re never going to experience, or even hear of every dish the Japanese have invented. After all, this is the land that (according to my Japanese father) encourages the consumption of 30 different types of food a day, so they have built up quite a culinary repertoire.
The best way to experience Japanese cuisine is to go to Japan. Forget Paris and New York. Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants then the two gastronomic powerhouses combined. And if ‘haute cuisine’ isn’t your thing, there are curry houses, soba and udon stalls and tempura joints ready to feed your appetite for 800 yen (around ten bucks) or less. The myth that Japan is an expensive place to visit doesn’t hold much water when it comes to eating.
Japan’s largest sushi chain restaurants have started a price war that is making dining out on the nation’s most famous delicacy more reasonable than ever before.
With the economic downturn continuing to bite and fewer people opting to eat out, operators of "kaiten-zushi" restaurants – where small plates of sushi roll past diners’ tables on conveyer belts that are constantly replenished by the chefs – are looking to appeal to a new consumer base by cutting prices.
The three largest restaurant chains in Japan – Kappa Sushi, Akindo Sushiro and Kura Sushi – have reduced the cost of most platters to Y100 (€0.90) in a bid to attract families to replace the high-spending businessmen of the past.
You can’t beat Japan for variety and quality of native cuisine. Here are some of my favorite types of restaurants, followed by a few recommended Tokyo spots.
A little more than an hour off my plane from the U.S., I was starving and had some time to kill, as my ride was going to be late to Shinagawa station. It is a very busy, somewhat bewildering train station. I’m a noodle fanatic, so I naturally homed in on a noodle shop.
For a minute or so, I studied the action: People lined up at little machines, dropped some coins in, got a ticket and entered. I followed suit, punching a button next to a picture of a bowl of udon and a small bowl of rice with some yellowish stuff on it.
Yakult Honsha, a Japanese maker of yoghurt-like drinks, plans to start output in the United States by 2012 to meet growing demand, the head of the company’s overseas business said on Thursday.
“We are planning to expand our business in the United States, starting sales of our products on the East Coast, in the north and in other areas in the near future,” Kawabata said.
Yakult’s U.S. business has been limited mainly to the West Coast. Currently it imports products to the United States from plants in Mexico, but Kawabata said it plans to build a U.S. factory that will likely begin production in 2012. He said the location is undecided.
Yakult’s products are currently sold by all major U.S. retail chains, including Wal-Mart and Safeway, Kawabata said.
The firm, one-fifth owned by French food group Danone, was one of the earliest Japanese food companies to go abroad, starting with Taiwan in the 1960s.
Outside of Japan, it sells about 20 million bottles of its sweet-tasting lactic acid drink every day, with Mexico and Brazil among the largest of its more than 30 overseas markets.
The company is aiming to cover 45 countries in the future, he said.
In Japan and some other markets it relies on direct sales by thousands of “Yakult Ladies”, who sell the drinks door-to-door and in office buildings.
Here are a couple of videos to help explain all those wonderful candies or wagashi that you see when at the department stores or at other confectionery shops around Japan. Wagashi truly is an art and is generally made from natural ingredients. Wagashi is typically served as part of a Japanese tea ceremony, and is also a very seasonal gift. In fact, serving a proper seasonal wagashi shows one’s educational background.
During the Edo period, the production of sugarcane in Okinawa became highly productive, and low quality brown sugar as well as heavily processed white sugar became widely available. A type of sugar, wasanbon was perfected in this period and is still used exclusively to make wagashi. In those early times, wagashi was a popular gift between samurai.
And wagashi doesn’t have to always be so serious as it does art:
There is a commercial I would like to see, or even an image flashed in the middle of prime time news these days.
The image I would like to see is this:
and then this:
And then a slogan, like this:
A Renkon (lotus root) a day keeps the Doctor away.
In this time of news about swine flu and ozone layer depletion, what can we do to lesson images of masks and injection needles and increase images of natural remedies from the earth that will help us tap into our energy and find ways to boost our immunities?
Drive away in this, the commercial might say, with some wheels painted on the lotus.
We are lucky to live in Japan, where you can buy renkon in most any produce section of a supermarket. Did you know that the flower above is the same plant as the root pictured here?
The lotus root is easy to cut and to cook. You simply slice it, and peel off the outer skin and can cook it in a simple broth of soy sauce, mirin, and dashi (soup stock; powdered instant is ok, just sprinkle in a teaspoon). The taste might surprise you. It’s crunchy and filling.
I want to make you hungry for renkon.*
*and other root vegetables too!
An informative link to lotus root can be found here:
Green Tea Coca-Cola is out just in time to start that new carbonated diet plan. It contains tea antioxidants called catechins, leaves a slight green tea aftertaste and is mainly targeted at health-conscious women in their 20s and 30s. So, I guess it’s not just for when you have company over to the house.
“Diet Coke with extra aspartame is what comes to mind. Although green tea extract is listed in the ingredients, my tastebuds strained themselves to the limit of their powers to detect some a hint of tea flavor, and failed. To be fair, it’s not bad tasting, but even though it supposedly has catechin in it (like anyone is really going to switch from tea to Coke to get their antioxidants), Green Tea Coke seems to be pretty green tea-less.”
Rival Pepsi Cola is countering with another exotic cola – Japanese basil-flavored “Pepsi Shiso,” which hits stores in late June. Can’t wait.
Well don’t judge it from the title. Luckily this isn’t a cookbook, it’s a cooking show. There’s a lovely woman who does most of the cooking with the Dog, the not so silent star of the show. He’s a poodle and he narrates the show in perfectly dubbed English!
Has your kitchen been empty since moving to Japan? Have you exhausted the flavors of instant ramen available at your local konbinni? Have you ever been to the grocery store here in Japan and just left with the frozen staples of things like pizza and chicken nuggets? Have you bought it and had no idea what it was while hoping that it wouldn’t make you gag when you heated it up? Tired of eating cold sushi? Or worse have your favorite frozen foods been on the tainted list and you’ve not even known! And all this for the sake to try something different? Ever wish dogs could talk and give you directions? Well, those days can now be over.
Find out how to make those delicious Japanese savories you’ve discovered while eating out. Learn the ingredients and what to buy the next time you are at the store, so you can go home and start mixing it up yourself. Brighten up your kitchen, roll up your sleeves, and get cooking with the Dog!