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Inspirations from Everyday Life.

Japanese Bento – An Inspired History!

In case you can’t tell, we love bento! We’re continuing our Japanese Bento series this month by delving into the history of bento, with a few famous combinations that are sure to inspire you!

Bento are wildly popular in Japan and have recently been enjoying a large following in the United States. Bento are packed lunch boxes—filled with a balanced, nutritious and colorful meal—that can be taken to school, work and outdoor leisure activities. Bento are thought to have originated in Kyoto sometime between the 6th and 8th century as simple packed meals that travelers would take with them on their journeys. Early forms of bento were composed of cooked rice that was dried, making it easy to transport and to reconstitute with water when ready to be eaten. Later, onigiri took the place of the dried rice and became a part of the bento and over time, more items and ingredients were added.

Bento soon became a convenient part of daily Japanese life following its inception. Mothers would send simple bento boxes to school with their children for their midday meal. Often these simple meals would include rice with soy sauce-soaked nori seaweed (noriben) or plain white rice with umeboshi, or salted plum, in the center (hinomaru bento). And workers would take bento from home to work for their lunches.

An example of shidashi bento

In the early 1600s at the beginning of the Edo Period, bento culture become more sophisticated and ubiquitous. In Kyoto, restaurateurs created shidashi bento which they delivered to diners during lunch, parties and funerals. These bento were created following the principles of washoku. According to these principles, bento were made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, including rice, a main dish of fish, meat or eggs, and numerous side dishes of vegetables, seaweeds and mushrooms, such that the nutritional balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fiber provided a complete meal. Often these dishes were seasoned with salt, mirin and sugar to preserve the foods, and herbs, ginger, wasabi, and bamboo leaves were added to the boxes to further help to prevent the food from spoiling. The composition of the boxes included the Five Tastes, namely salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, and the Five Colors, including red, white, green, yellow and black. Finally, bento were crafted with an artful eye for arranging the food in an appetizing and decorative three-dimensional presentation.

Simple bento were served in bamboo or cedar boxes. Lavish, highly decorated and specialized bento boxes also became popular during the Edo period and were used for more elaborate honzen ryori, or full course, meals. These bento were originally created for leisure activities, like cherry blossom viewing picnics and going to Noh and Kabuki performances at the theater. A special type of bento, called makunouchi bento, or “between acts bento”, was served during intermission at the theater. These bento were hugely popular, as they provided a complete meal of rice with many side dishes including fish, tofu, vegetables and pickles, and enhanced the theater-going experience. Makunouchi bento is still a popular type of bento in Japan, and many consider it the progenitor of modern bento. Modern bento based on the makunouchi style usually contain white rice, formed into barrel-shapes and sprinkled with black sesame seeds, dried seaweed or tsukudani, a type of small fish boiled in sweetened soy sauce. The rice is accompanied by a variety of side dishes, often based on the “Three Sacred Imperial Treasures” combination which includes broiled fish, a Japanese-style omelet and kamaboko, or fish sausage. These items are accompanied by pickled, simmered or seasoned vegetables, fried foods such as tempura, and other seasonal items.

Shokado bento (photo by 663highland)

Kaiseki ryori, or haute cuisine based on the formal Japanese tea ceremony, also influenced bento culture. Many high-end Japanese restaurants now serve a bento that includes the courses that would be served in a traditional kaiseki meal, including an appetizer, sushi, soup, simmered vegetables, grilled meats and fish, and rice. These meals are often served in beautiful dishes or bowls. At some kaiseki restaurants, one can enjoy shokado bento, a version of a kaiseki-style bento originally developed by Teiichi Yuki in 1937. Mr. Yuki is said to have visited the Shokado Tea House in Kyoto Prefecture, where he saw the calligraphy box of Shokado Shojo, who was a famous priest, artist and tea master during the early Edo period. Mr. Yuki was so inspired by Shokado Shojo’s art and the beauty of his tool box that he developed a similar black lacquered box partitioned into four squares to use for shokado bento. Shokado bento were easy to serve during large events, and became popular variations of tea ceremony meals. Since its origin, shokado bento has become more graceful and refined over the years.

Whether eaten for convenience or to honor the rich Japanese washoku heritage, when all is said and done, bento is fun to eat! Some may take time to make, but we’ve come up with an idea for Shokado Bento Zojirushi Style that will get your creative juices flowing and leave your heart and belly satisfied!

We hope you enjoy your bento and let us know about your favorite recipes below!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Mizutaki in Fukuoka

Did you make yudofu last month? Wasn’t it perfect for a cold January?

This month, we’re excited to feature Fukuoka, Japan’s sixth largest city, and home to mizutaki.

As foodies and travelers, we love the cuisines, cultures and special areas of Japan. This month, as part of our new series, A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan, we explore the city of Fukuoka, its history, culture, natural surroundings and famous mizutaki.

City of Fukuoka, as it’s known today, was the result of the merging of two historic towns, Fukuoka and Hakata. Fukuoka was the feudal castle area of the Kuroda family, on the west bank of the Nakagawa River, and Hakata was the ancient center for international trade with Korea and China situated on the east bank. The city of Hakata eventually got destroyed because of a battle in 1569, and in the early 17th century Fukuoka began to emerge to Hakata resulting in the merged city of Fukuoka which was officially inaugurated in 1889.

The Fukuoka city scape above blossoming cherry trees

Today, Fukuoka prefecture is a major metropolis and cultural center, often known as the gateway to Kyushu, where one can see the historic sights of Nagasaki, experience the volcanic activity at the Aso Caldera, enjoy Japan’s best surfing along the Nichinan Coast, relax at onsen hot springs, and learn ceramic arts from Saga’s three legendary pottery centers. Fukuoka sits in the northwestern part of Kyushu and faces three straits—the Sea of Suo to the northeast, the Sea of Genkai to the northwest and the Sea of Ariake to the southwest–that border Continental Asia.

The spirit of the two original towns that make up Fukuoka still influence the character of the city today. Fukuoka City, which is often known locally by its ancient name of Hakata, is the main urban area of Fukuoka Prefecture. Within the prefecture are smaller cities and scenic areas that are worth a visit, including Dazaifu, the location of the Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine, where students seek blessings for academic achievement. The shrine is also famous for the countless varieties of red and white plum trees and irises. Kitakyushu, another city in Fukuoka, is a unique blend of medieval and modern industry. The Senbutsu limestone cave is a scenic spot in Kitakyusyu and is full of stalagmites and stone pillars. Many interesting museums can be found in Kitakyushu. Western Fukuoka prefecture is lush with azaleas and many old temples and shrines, including some that are dedicated to water deities and to the goddesses of fertility and easy childbirth. The southern part of the prefecture is an idyllic place to relax in the hot springs and onsen spas.

The Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine

While a visit to the prefecture is sure to provide varied experiences, Fukuoka City itself is teeming with things to do. The city center, or Hakata District, is home to the business area of Fukuoka, as well as to the Kushida-jinja Shrine, which hosts one of the main summer festivals held in the city. The riverfronts in the city are always bustling, especially in the Nakasu / Tenjin areas. Approximately 3,500 restaurants and food stalls can be found in Nakasu and Tenjin thrives with fashionable shops and department stores. You can even catch a baseball game at Fukuoka Dome along the main waterfront area! And if you’re looking for time in nature, the Kashii / Shikanoshima Island areas along the coast offer history, views, water and serenity.

Fukuoka’s incredibly diverse international influences show up in its food, just as much as its culture. Mizutaki originated in Fukuoka, and means “water stew”. It’s a deceptively simple dish that was inspired by European consommé and chicken dishes from China. To make mizutaki, chicken, which is consumed more in Fukuoka than any other place in Japan, is boiled along with vegetables in a kelp-based broth, without any other seasonings. Once the chicken and cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, mushrooms and green onions are cooked, each person then take the ingredients in individual bowls and eat with tangy ponzu sauce. Rice can be added to the leftover broth, cooked and eaten as a savory soup or porridge. Two dishes in one!

Try out our recipe for Mizutaki, which you can easily make in our Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-RAC50) and let us know how you like it!

And don’t forget to share your Fukuoka stories with us below.

 

Product Inspirations – Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-PBC10)

Are you ready for Valentine’s Day?

Planning on making a gorgeous dinner with some ooey, gooey chocolate for a fantastic finish?

Short on time and needing some inspiration?

We’ve got you covered!

Our product of the month–the Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet—is the perfect tool for earning you major accolades (and hopefully many kisses).

The Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-PBC10) is the smaller of the two models in its eponymous line. The cooking pan has a 10 ½ inch flat-bottomed cooking surface which makes it simple to prepare eggs, pancakes and crepes in the skillet. The sides of the cooking pan are 2 ¼ inches high, which is ideal for sautéing, stewing, braising and steaming. And the temperature control plug lets you adjust the cooking temperature from 176 F, which keeps food warm, to 430°F. These three great features, coupled with the titanium and ceramic enhanced nonstick coating of the cooking pan, make this the perfect appliance for your Valentine’s Day meal!

Pepper Beef Chow Fun

Dinner should of course start before dessert, even on Valentine’s Day, and we think you and your loved one will enjoy the flavors of Pepper Beef Chow Fun, easily prepared in our Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet. This recipe calls for flank steak, marinated in a whiskey-infused sauce, which is sautéed with red and green bell peppers and fresh jalapenos for just a bit of spice! The beef and vegetables are then combined with ribbons of chow fun noodles that have been sautéed until they’re golden and delicious. Paired with your favorite drink, and this quick-to-make, colorful and decadent dinner will surely please your palette.

Chocolate fondue with yummy dippables

A quick rinse of the cooking pan, and you’re ready for dessert. Chocolate must be on the menu, and what easier way to serve it than as fondue! Our Chocolate Fondue recipe is easy to prepare… simply combine whipping cream, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla and almond or hazelnut liqueur in the skillet and heat on medium until the mixture is smooth and creamy. The best parts of this dessert are the dippables! Arrange bite-sized pieces of juicy fresh fruit, buttery pound cake and brownies, crunchy biscotti and pretzels and soft marshmallows on a platter with skewers. The power cord allows you to keep the fondue warm on a counter or tabletop and the stay-cool handles make it easy to move. All you have to do now is dip and enjoy!

At the end of your meal, you’ll have fewer dishes to clean up and a lot more fun cooking tableside with your date.

Disassembles for easy cleaning

The Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-PBC10) can be purchased on Amazon.com or at your local specialty Asian market. As you can see from the great reviews we get, the size, cooking surface, glass lid, detachable power cord and versatility of this appliance are exceptional. And best of all, you can even use the cooking pan on a conventional gas stovetop.

We hope you and your sweetheart enjoy using it as much as we do! Contact us with any questions about the Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-PBC10) and be sure to share your favorite recipes with us! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Japanese Bentos – Onigiri Fillings

Did you try making your own onigiri last month? Which one was your favorite recipe… the Rice Sprinkles Onigiri or Yaki-Onigiri or the all-time Classic Onigiri?

This month, we’re making more delicious onigiri for our bento boxes, ones stuffed with tasty fillings!

As you know, onigiri, or omusubi, are highly portable convenience foods that are popular bento items. The classic types of onigiri are made with plain, high-quality cooked white rice, coated in salt and shaped into balls, cylinders, triangles or molded into cute shapes like kittens and flowers. Sometimes they are wrapped in dried nori seaweed and other times they are sprinkled with sesame seeds, ground shiso leaf or furikake.

Because onigiri can be filled with ingredients that would help preserve the rice, typically sour or salty foods, they became popular convenience foods before modern refrigeration. Nowadays, all kinds of tasty ingredients are used to stuff onigiri!

Umeboshi

Common fillings are easy to find in Japan and can be found in Japanese or specialty Asian food markets abroad. Umeboshi, or salty pickled Japanese plum, has a strongly sour taste, travels well at room temperature and said to have antibacterial properties.

Shiozake, or salted salmon, is another quintessentially classic filling for onigiri, added flaked and salted to the rice.

Okaka, or bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce, is both salty and sweet, providing a lovely complement for the rice.

Tarako, or salty cod roe that’s cooked and cut into small pieces, makes a deliciously salty addition to the rice

Finally, kombu no tsukudani, or kombu seaweed that has been simmered in a soy sauce based liquid until tender and caramelized, is shredded into small strips then rolled into the center of the onigiri ball.

Mentaiko, or salted pollock roe, onigiri

Other popular flavorings include negitoro, or finely minced raw tuna mixed with minced green onions, shrimp tempura, pickled takana or Japanese mustard leaves, negi miso, or a mixture of miso paste and Japanese leeks, matsutake mushrooms, daikon radish leaves and even karaage fried chicken, Spam® and yakiniku, or grilled beef.

For our bentos this month, we’re going to make filled onigiri. Just like unstuffed onigiri, start with japonica or uruchimai variety rice. When cooked properly, this type of rice clings together without getting mushy. Once the rice has cooled to the point where it can be handled, moisten hands with water and rub a pinch of salt into hands. Scoop about ½ cup of rice into hands, pressing it into a disc-like shape that conforms to the curve of your palm. Place the filling on the rice and mold the rice around the filling into the desired shape, and wrap with nori, if desired. If you are a beginner, you can place a plastic wrap in a small bowl and place the rice and filling on top. Then gather the plastic wrap around the rice and make your desired shape.

We love Shiozake Onigiri, made with home-cooked salmon, and Spam® musubi, which is a variation of omusubi created in Hawaii!

We love onigiri for our bentos and hope that you’ll share your favorites with us, too. Don’t forget to post your photos in the comments!

A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Kyoto’s Famous Yudofu

yudofu

We’re food lovers at heart here at Zojirushi. Our love of Japanese food comes from our love of Japan, a country that has a rich food culture and many beautiful places to visit. We’re excited to start our new series this month, “A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan,” where each month we’ll feature a different region of Japan and introduce its famous foods, history, culture and unique spots to visit. We’ve curated regional recipes you can cook with our products and hope you try them out at home!

We begin by featuring the ancient city of Kyoto and its iconic dish, yudofu.

Kyoto was founded in the 6th century because of its favorable geography. Central to the prefecture is the Tanba Mountain Range, with the low-lying basins full of fertile land. The city is located in the Kansai Region of Japan, located on the island of Honshu. As Kyoto grew, it became the seat of Japanese imperial power, around the 8th century. Kyoto flourished as a center of politics, culture, art, religion, economy and haute cuisine until the 18th century, when the capital of Japan was transferred to Edo, or present-day Tokyo. Kyoto was heavily influenced by the Japanese aristocracy, Buddhist clergy and military leaders of various shogunates.

Their influences can be still seen in the modern city of over a million and a half people. The main business district is still near Kyoto Gosho, or the old Imperial Palace. The Gion District, home to apprentice geisha called “maiko” and the unique lattice architecture Kyoto is famous for, bustles as a tourist and shopping center. In the eastern Higashiyama District, tea ceremonies, noh performances, artistic activities like ikebana and traditional Japanese garden culture thrive. The Fushimi District is famous for its sake brew houses, because of the high-quality mountain spring water sourced from the Momoyama Hills. Shrines abound in Kyoto, from the famous Fushimi-inari-taisha Shrine to the hidden temples where cherry blossoms flourish. You might even see a samurai movie being filmed! And along with the shrines are three of the most famous matsuri, or festivals, in Japan–the Aoi Matsuri in early summer, the Gion Matsuri in mid-summer and the Jidai Matsuri in autumn. Kyoto glows with light and sound, music and food during these festivals!

In the heart of the Japanese winter, the residents of Kyoto enjoy yudofu, a meal made by boiling fresh tofu and green onions in a kombu broth, table-side in classic nabe or hot pot style. Yudofu was originally eaten by Buddhist priests who were not allowed to eat meat or fish, and tofu was a precious source of protein for them. The warmth of the broth, the sweetness of the tofu and the savoriness of the green onions are perfect for keeping the cold at bay.

Warm yudofu is eaten with a variety of sauces. Dashi, or broth, infused soy sauce and ponzu sauce are popular accompaniments, and it is often sprinkled with scallions, mitsuba, a fresh Japanese herb or shichimi togarashi, a powdered seasoning made with seven chili peppers. Fresh tofu is best for making yudofu, but store-bought regular tofu can also be used, as long as its texture is between silken and firm.

The humble yudofu is seasonal, made with local ingredients and fresh water, exemplifying the warmth and culture of this famous city. We love making yudofu in our Gourmet d’Expert® Electric Skillet (EP-RAC50), and hope you will, too.

Share your Kyoto stories with us, and let us know how your yudofu turns out!