About Bert Tanimoto

Oldish father of two youngish kids. Zojirushi enthusiast and professional writer. California resident with roots in Hawaii and Japan. Classic rock, popcorn movies, audio books, spam, sushi and cone filtered coffee. Guilty pleasures include donuts and pop bands like ABBA and Wham!.

Very Japanese Cooking Tools

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Have you ever been to a Japanese supermarket and gone to the kitchenware section? Maybe you were looking for chopsticks or a good knife or a bamboo mat to roll your own sushi? I’ll bet you came across some strange looking paraphernalia that caught your eye, and you wondered, “what the heck is that for?” If you think some American kitchen gadgets are pretty strange, take a look at some of these inventions that were made specifically to do a task needed for Japanese cuisine. If you get serious about going Japanese, you gotta get one of these!

Rice Washer There’s no way you would know that the device above is for washing rice if you saw this tool all by itself. The plastic helix-shaped whisk even unfolds so it can be washed thoroughly from the inside-out. Not only does it save chapped hands, it’ll save your nails too, when faced with this almost daily chore in a typical Japanese household.

gyozapressThe Gyoza Press Homemade potstickers anyone? This clamp crimps the dough to make perfect little potstickers. Just lay the wafer-like dough on the press, fill with filling, and fold over. Beats making a lopsided one by hand, right?

 

 

 

 

 

eggmoldEgg Molds Create animal shaped eggs for your kids’ bento lunches! Boil an egg, place in mold when still hot, then close. Leave in cold water for a few minutes while your egg cools, and out pops a hard boiled egg bunny!

 

 

 

 

 

fishroasterFish Roaster This handheld grill is made to roast fish on your stove top, which many Japanese families do, instead of over a charcoal grill. It does a remarkably nice job–just keep your vent fan on high!

 

 

 

 

 

donabeDonabe This earthenware pot is usually used to cook hot pot dinners on a hot plate at the dining table. These pots can be fairly expensive and very exquisite, especially the authentic Japanese ones handcrafted by artisans. They’re as much a tabletop centerpiece as they are a cooking vessel. Here’s a Chanko-nabe recipe from the Zojirushi site.

 

 

 

omeletOmelet Pan This rectangular pan is used specifically to cook omelets in this shape. They are then rolled and sliced into the egg toppings for sushi.

 

 

 

 

 

takoyakipanTakoyaki Maker No, this does not cook eggs, even though it looks like it. Each cavity in this unique pan makes a ball of batter flavored with chunks of octopus, known as takoyaki, or octopus balls. The doughy snack is a favorite of Osaka.

 

 

 

 

onigiriOnigiri Mold In the old days, homemakers used to be adept at shaping rice balls into triangular shapes without the aid of a mold. My Mom used to make them this way, and the one advantage was that she would dust her hands with salt so she could flavor our onigiri. But you can’t beat modern conveniences, can you?

 

 

 

 

scalerFish Scaler You may never find one of these in an American kitchen, but many home cooks scale and clean their own fish in Japan, where it is often bought whole and fresh at the market.

 

 

 

 

 

okonomiyakiOkonomiyaki Spatulas These odd looking spatulas were created specifically for flipping okonomiyaki, sometimes known as Japanese style pancakes. Usually used in pairs so you can get underneath both sides of the pancake, you deftly flip the whole thing when one side is done cooking. Also used to slice it up into smaller pieces. You can find a Zojirushi recipe for okonomiyaki here.

 

 

 

tsukemonoPickling Press Japanese pickles, known as tsukemono, used to be made in large ceramic pots. The vegetables, whether cucumbers or cabbage or eggplant or other, was placed in a pot with fermenting ingredients and pressed down by the weight of a heavy stone to get the excess liquid out. These modern presses are much easier and don’t require heavy lifting.

 

 

 

sukiyakiSukiyaki Pot Another tabletop favorite at Japanese households, especially when celebrating special occasions, is sukiyaki. This cast iron pot keeps the broth bubbling as it continuously cooks over the hot plate at the dining table. Try Zojirushi’s sukiyaki recipe.

 

 

 

 

bentoBento Accessories You may think, “why do I need plastic grass?” but if you want to make authentic Japanese bento, you need plastic grass to separate the food inside your bento box. It’s used to keep the flavors from mingling and as a decoration. The tiny disposable vials are for soy sauce. Look, little fishies!

 

 

 

 

katsuobushiKatsuobushi Shaver A carpentry tool in the kitchen? No, but close to it. Cooks who take their umami seriously might insist on shaving their own dried bonito, otherwise known as katsuobushi, a prime ingredient of soup stock and source of the savory 5th taste known as umami. Smoked and dried bonito can be bought in chunks, which is then shaved into flakes with this wooden planing tool; or you can simply buy it by the bag at a grocery store. Katsuobushi is an important ingredient in Japanese cooking; see how to make your own soup stock here.

 

 

Guess what? Almost all of these tools can be found at your local Asian supermarkets if you have one, and if you don’t, I’ve seen them online too. Part of what makes cooking fun is getting to use all these gadgets, right?

Photos courtesy of: Kunjiadaren, Kotobuki, Andrew YangMiya Company, Japanese-Kitchen, TasteWithTheEyes, Okutsu, YouFoundKeke, Ikenaga, & Ninben

Pancakes: An American Breakfast

We Americans love pancakes. Me, I don’t necessarily love them but I have to admit they’re one of my guilty pleasures and I like them enough where I crave them once in a while. If you think about it, they’re the perfect breakfast–they’re cake-like enough to be a breakfast pastry, so they go really well with breakfast meats like bacon or sausage. Lots of people like them on the sweet side, with whipped cream, maple syrup, fresh fruits, chocolate chips, whatever. I prefer a balance, so I take a bite of pancake, then a bite of sausage, then a bite of pancake, take a sip of coffee, more pancake, then another bite of sausage, then a bite of…well, you get the idea.

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Pigs in a blanket

Pancakes go by different names depending on how they’re prepared:
Short stack: a small order of pancakes, usually only 3 high
Pigs in a blanket: sausages wrapped in pancakes (totally solves how I eat my pancakes)
Silver dollars: small, mini-pancakes usually served 5 to 10 at a time; named for when there were such things as silver dollar coins

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Dutch Baby

There are regional and cultural off-shoots of pancake-like pastries too:
Johnnycakes: a cornmeal flatbread popular in New England, associated with the state of Rhode Island
Dutch Baby pancakes: an oven baked style that rises high above the edges of the pan–the result is a light puffy crust and an eggy middle; sprinkled with cinnamon and lemon juice
Sourdough pancakes: from the prospecting days when sourdough could be used in place of yeast to make pancakes and bread–a favorite in Alaska

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French crepe

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Okonomiyaki

And there are international versions of pancakes:
Crepes: probably the most famous–wafer thin and folded, filled with anything from strawberries and cream to ham and cheese
Blintzes: from Eastern Europe, blintzes are thicker than crepes and filled with similar ingredients, then folded into rectangles to be refried again
Flapjacks: even though Americans use the name interchangeably with pancakes, in the UK flapjacks are more like pastry bars made with oats, golden syrup and butter–sometimes filled with raisins

Asian countries have their own savory version of pancakes:
Cong Yu Bing: Chinese scallion pancakes made from dough instead of batter, served with a dipping soy sauce/vinegar combination or chili sauce
Okonomiyaki: Often called Japanese pancakes or Japanese pizza, it might be both because of all the different ingredients that go into them; a couple of great recipes can be found here and here on the Zojirushi website
Jeon: Korean style pancakes that are filled with anything from seafood to kimchi, this dish is also served with a dipping sauce; try the seafood recipe here from Zojirushi

I like to play with my pancakes. The ones at the top of this post were made with a squeeze bottle and a couple of pancake molds that you can get anywhere. Just let the design part cook a little bit longer than the rest by drawing it first. Then fill the background in and finish the rest of the pancake. The design part browns darker than the rest so you get a pancake outline. Woot! Pancake art!Image-1

This was pretty easy to do–if you have an electric griddle like the Zojirushi Gourmet Sizzler it would be better because the temperature would stay constant and you could do it at the table with the kids. My daughter helped me with these. Here are some more by people far more talented than me:

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And here’s a few links to some pancake recipes on the Zojirushi site: Blueberry Whole Wheat & Gluten Free. And a Spring Crepe one too. ENJOY!

Photos courtesy of The Original Pancake House, Cafe Fujiyama, Chocolat & Caetera, Bryce Butcher of GoodCook

Shave Ice Summer

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Growing up in Hawaii, I was raised on “shave ice” since small kid time. And do me a favor, don’t call it “shaved ice” to a local kama’aina–you’ll show your malihini (newbie) colors. I am, of course, partial to Hawaiian style shave ice, but I’m aware that there are other kinds these days. Long gone are the days when the only good shave ice was on the Islands and everyone else had to settle for sno-cones.

A style that is very popular now is a “snow ice” type of hybrid between ice and ice cream, originally from Taiwan. Whereas shave ice is ice that’s drizzled with fruit flavored syrups, snow ice has been infused with milky flavor prior to freezing. It is then shaved off into sheets of ice–the effect is a creamy, ice dessert that melts in your mouth. Truly the only kind of shaved ice that competes with shave ice in my humble opinion. I tend to like my snow ice simple, with a minimum of toppings–maybe the little mochi bits or raspberries or kiwi. But if you like yours with more imagination, you can get a mountain of ingredients that will make yours look like a gaudy psychedelic iceberg. Above pic is taro flavored snow ice with strawberries, blueberries and mochi bits.

In Japan, their traditional version of this dessert is known as kakigori, which literally means shaved ice. Theirs is a coarser, more crystalline consistency topped with syrup, often ujikintokistrawberry or green tea flavored.  Sweet condensed milk is also added sometimes, and one of my favorites is super charged with matcha ice cream, azuki (red beans) and mochi–the classic Ujikintoki. Hawaiian shave ice fans might find the ice texture too coarse for their taste, but I think it has a character all its own.

If you’re in Japan, you can find the coffee shops that serve kakigori by looking out for the universal sign for “ice”, a banner that they display outside their storefronts.
kakigori
I recently had a Korean version that was an ice parfait in a cup–mango juice, pineapple, korean icevanilla yogurt, coconut flakes, granola and honey. That’s the one on the left; the other one has condensed milk, yogurt, coconut flakes, granola and honey. These were both surprisingly good. They’re obviously going for the texture with all those crunchy ingredients, and hoping to blend it with the cold, sweet ice. It works!

Nothing though, beats my childhood Hawaiian shave ice. Let’s face it, for the shave ice purist, there’s nothing like the Rainbow one with the classic flat wooden spoon sticking out of it. Whenever I get a chance to go back, I make sure to make a stop at the world famous Matsumoto Shave Ice. They’ve been there for as long as I can remember, and on any given day you’ll see a busload of tourists stopped outside the store. If you go to visit on your way to the North Shore, be sure to follow the instructions on how to order your shave ice; it’ll make the line go faster!

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The Real Thing

Thanks to timeout.jp for Ujikintoki, sneakers-actus.fr for Kakigori, and ahappyhowto.blogspot for Shave Ice. Other photography by Shelley Opunui, visit her Instagram here: ironchefmom

Fake Food!?

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Food replicas are a part of the dining out experience in Japan. Almost any restaurant will have a glass showcase out in front, with several of their most popular dishes on the menu lined up on display. With the price of the dish clearly marked on tent cards, the food models are an easy 3-D menu that allows diners to make up their minds before they even step inside.showcase

I love these things–invented in Japan and unique to their culture. When they’re well-made, it’s very difficult to tell them apart from the real food. In fact, I can tell you from personal experience of the time I got queasy from staring at a tempting plate of lasagna at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo.

Let me explain. We had gone out to see a movie and decided to have dinner afterward. Big mistake. The movie was Alien–remember the “chest bursting” scene? It was a pretty intense film with highly stylized and realistic action parts where the alien creature causes a lot of mayhem and human destruction, if you know what I mean. The restaurant was a popular high end place near the theater; and the food on display looked really good until we kept staring at all that tomato sauce and melted cheese and ground beef and…well, we lost our appetite for Italian food and ended up having sandwiches at a coffee shop. LOL! True story!
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Food replicas have been around in Japan for over 90 years, when a department store restaurant first started making the fake food to lure customers inside. When Americans and Europeans traveled to Japan to help with rebuilding efforts after WWII, no one could read Japanese menus, so the replicas clearly helped the foreigners decide what they might want to eat. At first the models were made of paraffin wax, but the colors would fade over time, so plastic vinyl chloride is used today–a material that is virtually permanent.
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The material may be high tech, but the process is still handmade. Molds of real food are used, and when that’s not possible the molds are hand sculpted. Painting and airbrushing is what lends the food its realism and detail, as well as the multiple parts that need to be assembled together to make a  single sushi roll. Sometimes actual food prep techniques are mimicked to get the realism required, like chopping plastic vegetables with a chefs knife, or deep frying plastic shrimp in hot oil.

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One of these is REAL! Which one??

Today there are a few large food replica companies in Japan, but for the most part many of them are mom and pop artisans who have raised the level of craftsmanship to an art form. Techniques and trade secrets are closely guarded in an industry that generates billions of yen per year. If a single restaurant ordered replicas to be made for most of its menu, it may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars–the replica is always custom made to be exactly like the restaurant’s dish.

Replicas courtesy of Bentoss, Trends in Japan (web-Japan.org), Japan Online. Photos by Bert Tanimoto and Shelley Opunui.

Name That Sandwich!

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The sandwich above is famously called the Number 19 at a famous deli here in Los Angeles called Langer’s®. It’s a very simple sandwich–pastrami, swiss cheese and cole slaw on rye bread with Russian dressing. I can assure you that it tastes every bit as amazingly good as it looks.

As a professional writer though, I was wondering why they couldn’t think of a better name for it. Don’t get me wrong, this sandwich has become so famous that it’s their signature, and now everybody knows “the famous #19″. But when Langer’s® first opened, didn’t they want to name their sandwiches? I happen to think adding personality to food is what gives a menu or a restaurant its character.

If it were me, I’d give my sandwiches names. Some restaurants do this, but few do it well. I say that you and I can do better, and no easy tricks like naming yours after a celebrity, like “The Will Ferrel” or “The Beyonce Burger”, OK? The trick is to get creative with the ingredients, or project what it tastes like into your name. I’ll get us started with these classic sandwiches. I’ve given each a name and a menu description to make them sound spectacular.

French Dip by cupcakediariesblog

French Dip by cupcakediariesblog

French Dip Sandwich or Beef Dip in a Broth Bath–say that 3 times fast as you plunge our tender rib eye into a warm au jus. Crusty French bread and rare roast beef, soaked in its natural juices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egg Salad by blogchef

Egg Salad by blogchef

Egg Salad Sandwich or Eggstreme Makeover–the classic egg salad as you like it, but we’ve spiced it up a little with curry–finished with cilantro, scallions and cucumber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ham&Cheese by pixgood

Ham&Cheese by pixgood

Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwich or Hammy Cheesy Sammy–our premium ham, thinly sliced and nestled between slices of genuine American cheese. The bread is toasted to a perfect brown on our griddle with the right amount of butter on each side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuna by diminishinglucy

Tuna by diminishinglucy

Tuna Salad Sandwich or Singa Tuna Fish–our flaky fresh tuna lightly tossed with crunchy chopped celery, a balance of onion and finely diced dill. Homemade mayo on the side so you can build to your taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meatball by themedinners.blogspot

Meatball by themedinners.blogspot

Meatball Sub or Polpetta Delizioso–tangy rich marinara sauce smothered on our signature Italian meatballs, served up open-faced on our artisan white bread. This sandwich classic is topped with grated cheddar cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so on and so on. See how a little bit of creative writing can make anything sound like a heavenly gastronomical masterpiece? You can do it too–create a sandwich and use your imagination to name it. One of my favorites is a popular breakfast sandwich at Denny’s® called “Moons Over My Hammy®”. It’s a “classic ham and scrambled egg sandwich with Swiss and American cheeses on grilled sourdough”. This one is so good, Denny’s® trademarked the name!

Many sandwiches do have names that have stood the test of time. No need to change anything at all, but it does prove that when a nickname is good, it sticks and identifies it forever. Everyone knows what a Reuben is, or a BLT, or a Hero, PB&J, or Club.

So how about Langer’s® number 19? The Prince of Pastrami? Deli Delight? Right Between the Ryes? Maybe we should leave that one alone–it seems to be doing fine on its own without our help.

Additional photography by Shelley Opunui

YAKITORI, The Japanese Ka-bob

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I have recently renewed my love for Yakitori. Not that I wasn’t always a fan of these skewered delicacies, but I just hadn’t had any outstanding ones–until my recent trip to New York, where I found the most amazing yakitori this side of the Pacific Ocean. The word yakitori literally means “grilled chicken”, but also refers to this style of dish–bite sized morsels of chicken and vegetables skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over an open flame. There are many variations of yakitori, usually cooked to order and served a few skewers at a time.

Typical Yakitori menu:
Negima: classic yakitori, made with alternating pieces of chicken thigh and short spears of scallion, brushed with a teriyaki style sauce as it grills.
Tsukune: meatballs make of minced chicken, vegetables and spices, usually skewered 3 to a stick.
Kawa: only the skin of the chicken, grilled to be crispy on the outside–not as fatty as you might think, if done right.
Tebasaki: chicken wings, splayed and skewered with bone in, usually 2 to a stick and eaten with a dusting of salt.
Reba: chicken liver, loved for their firm texture as you bite into it, as well as the taste.
Nankotsu: mostly cartilage taken from the breast bone, again prized for its crunchy texture.
Sunagimo: chicken gizzards, popular for its grainy taste and healthy benefits.
Sasami: chicken breast; soft and tender, this part is less fatty and regarded for its high quality–often served with wasabi.

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You can see how almost every part of the chicken is used, and there are more organs that I haven’t listed here. I’m a fan of yakitori, but not a fanatic enough to eat weirdness. Any yakitori restaurant will also serve a variety of non-chicken skewers like pork, vegetables like shiitake mushrooms and asparagus, and their own creations like bacon wrapped whatever on skewers–you can’t go wrong with bacon!

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Binchotan charcoal

There’s some background that you might appreciate about yakitori. Any decent yakitori restaurant will use a particular type of charcoal called Binchotan, an extremely hard, slow burning white charcoal that doesn’t release smoke or any unpleasant odors like common black charcoal, making it a favorite of discriminating chefs. Its hardness even makes it ring with a metallic sound when struck. Binchotan originated from Japan and dates back to the Edo Period of the 1600’s.

The types of seasoning or sauce used to flavor each kind of yakitori also varies with the type of meat or chicken part or vegetable being used. You are usually given a choice of condiment at the table, including the house sauce, ground red chili pepper called shichimi, or plain salt. Other seasonings like miso paste or ponzu or wasabi are usually applied before it reaches your table.

One restaurant I went to many years ago in Tokyo always had a reservation list at least 2 weeks in advance. And it was because there were only about 12 seats in front of the counter, where a very picky chef prepared and grilled every skewer by himself, one by one in front of every customer. He would then place a pinch of the specific condiment that he wanted you to use next to it on the dish. This was his way of urging everyone to eat his yakitori exactly the way he thought it best, because he wanted you to have it taste the way he intended, not overly seasoned or altered. I don’t think anyone objected.

If you’ve never had yakitori, I would suggest you try it–Zojirushi has a recipe for a miso based chicken one that you can easily make at home with a roaster. Find the recipe here.

Yakitori images courtesy of Shelley Opunui and Restaurant Totto, NYC.
Binchotan courtesy bigelowchemists.com

Good Luck With Your Food

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With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, I got to thinking about all the good luck superstitions that everyone follows around the world. Surprisingly, a lot of them involve food and start with the new year, when all of us have the highest hopes. The Irish have never been known for their cuisine, but no one argues about the “luck of the Irish”. One smart cereal company came up with a classic breakfast that kids still love today, after all. St. Patrick’s Day just seems like a fun day to be green and we all hope that some of that luck rubs off on us.

On the other hand, we just had the beginning of Chinese New Year too, and they have oodles of lucky foods, including their noodles. It symbolizes long life in many Asian countries, so the longer the noodles the better–you must keep them in one piece until you get it all in your mouth though, for the full effect.

Pomelo, with grapefruit and lemon

Pomelo, grapefruit and lemon

Certain citrus fruits are also lucky in Chinese culture, simply because the Chinese language phonetically makes them sound lucky. The word for oranges sounds similar to the word for gold, for example; and the word for tangerine sounds like the word for luck. And the grand Pomelo, the largest fruit in the citrus family, is also a symbol of good luck because the Cantonese word for pomelo sounds like the words for prosperity and status. These fruits are often displayed and eaten during the Lunar New Year for their ability to draw money into the household.

Ehomaki

Ehomaki

In Japan, during Setsubun, which falls on February3rd, a popular sushi roll called ehomaki is eaten to celebrate the arrival of spring and for good luck. The ehomaki is a whole roll, filled with 7 ingredients representing the 7 gods of good fortune. The roll is literally eaten uncut, so as to not “cut off” the good luck. You simply chomp on the roll like a big nori wrapped burrito.

In Spain, they have a ritual on New Year’s Eve where everyone will eat 12 grapes in a row, one for each stroke of the clock at midnight, to “capture” 12 happy months for the year. Some even believe that the sweetness or sour taste of each grape will foreshadow the fortunes of each corresponding month–if the fifth grape is sour, then you’d better be careful during the month of May.

Black eyed peas

Black eyed peas

Here in the States, southerners like to eat black eyed peas, whose eyes bring a sense of looking into the future to bring good luck. There’s also collard greens (the color of money and prosperity) and cornbread (the color of gold).

Here’s my favorite: in Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands they eat donuts for good luck. Circular shapes are symbols of good luck because they also resemble coins and prosperity. I say you can’t go wrong with donuts–ever!

 

photos: ehomaki by matome naver, peas by texascooppower, pomelo by shelley opunui

Where am I?
Knowledge is power. Silence is golden.

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Winter is Ramen Time

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The more I think about the ramen culture, the more I think there’s more to it than meets the eye. On the one hand, ramen has become so trendy in America that it’s gone mainstream. Ramen restaurants seem to be springing up everywhere–from your neighborhood strip mall to urban boroughs. Yes, your styrofoam cup of noodles from your college days has grown up to become a deep, complex broth of sophisticated flavors. And the noodles? Al dente and hand made, of course.

The amazing dish in the photo above is from my recent trip to New York–IPPUDO restaurant in Manhattan, which specializes in the Hakata style tonkotsu, the broth made from boiling pork bones for as much as 15 hours. As you might expect, the salty soup is rich, deep and hearty enough to be a complete meal. Here you see it with toppings of sweetish BBQ pulled pork and takana, a Japanese mustard green.
$22 for a bowl of this ramen, thank you–and I waited outside for 45 minutes to get in.

But there’s a dark side to ramen, especially in our country where we’re quick to criticize and raise the alarm on the dangers of unhealthy and yucky instant ramen. Too much sodium, too much processing, too much MSG. Wait a minute–instant anything is fast hotwaterfood, and not meant to be eaten 3 times a day anyway! A recent 2-year long study conducted by the Journal of Nutrition found that South Korean women had a greater increase of heart disease, diabetes and even stroke, as a result of eating two or more servings of instant ramen a week.

The study caused an outrage in South Korea, where national pride was at stake for a food as popular as kimchee. Easily the highest per capita consumers of instant ramen, or ramyeon as it is known there, in the world, the study triggered some deep emotions of stubborn resistance, some mild guilt and a lot of indignation. It didn’t seem like the South Koreans were about to give up their beloved instant noodles anytime soon. And to be fair, the study couldn’t prove that other factors in the test subjects’ diets didn’t also influence the outcome. The Koreans pooh-poohed the study, saying it came from the land of cheeseburgers.

Other critics point to how instant noodles have become a dangerous go-to solution for feeding the hungry in the impoverished parts of the world. The dried food stores well, ships chineseboyeasily, and it is above all cheap. Advocates of healthier, “real food” warn us of the dangers of super-processed food, and how the answer to world hunger lies in agriculture. But this is easier said than done; many people have no choice when faced with eating to survive.

Instant ramen can be eaten healthier with the addition of vegetables and other ingredients, and maybe less of the soup base which contains all the sodium. So if you can’t beat the trend, why not try to make it just a little better for you? Especially the packaged kind, which is so tweakable to suit anyone’s taste and food culture, no wonder it’s conquered the planet.

It’s funny to me how a food that is helping to feed the world can be the bad guy too. Bet Momofuku Ando never thought his invention would cause such a stir (Google him if you’re interested).

I’ll never give up my ramen, instant or otherwise.

Chinese boy on train, photo courtesy of The Noodle Narratives, University of California Press

Where Am I?
Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know! I was there for 5 hours…

whereJan2015

 

I’ll Shoyu!

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OK, old joke, I know…sorry, but I always get a kick out of puns that cross international language barriers. Shoyu is the Japanese word for soy sauce, the most awesome condiment in the history of Asian cuisine. And since I could totally sustain myself on Japanese cooking exclusively, I just love shoyu.

I pretty much drizzle it on anything if I’m having a dish with white rice–but I do not dump it on the rice! First of all, that would be way too much sodium for me, but it’s just the purist in me that wants to eat white rice the way it was meant to be eaten–as an accompaniment to your entreé, not as a side dish. I still wince when I see people do this, but hey, I get it–rice has no flavor on its own. But the flavor comes from the foods you eat with the rice. Here’s a hint if you travel to Japan: refrain from doing it because it’s just bad form–let’s keep the white rice white, people!

Having said that, I am guilty of overusing shoyu and probably season my food when it

Hiyayakko--cold tofu

Hiyayakko–cold tofu

doesn’t really need it. But my argument is that good quality shoyu enhances the flavor of grilled fish, pan-fried steak, boiled vegetables, even fried eggs. And it absolutely belongs on cold tofu and boiled spinach.

So where does soy sauce come from, and who discovered it? All soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, but there are many variations, ranging from the thicker, inky black sauces to the more transparent, reddish ones. Taste, color and texture is controlled by intricate differences in the brewing and fermentation process, and by the aging process as well, much like the way fine wine is made. I won’t get into too much technical detail here, but when purchasing soy sauce, just avoid the ones made by chemical processes. The best ones are naturally brewed.

Ohitashi--boiled spinach

Ohitashi–boiled spinach

The Chinese, of course, discovered soy sauce more than 2500 years ago, which makes it one of man’s oldest condiments. But the Japanese didn’t start their version until about 500 AD., when a Zen priest is said to have brought it back from China and started modifying its ingredients and brewing technique. The Kikkoman® company first introduced their soy sauce to America back in the 1800s, and they have been producing shoyu locally from Walworth, Wisconsin since 1972.

Soy sauce is widely used today by both professional chefs and home cooks. I’ve heard of shoyu being the secret ingredient in curry dishes and tomato based beef stews, so it’s obviously not being used just to bring the salt flavor out. Much of it has to do with the inherent umami in soy sauce, too. The Kikkoman® company even recommends sprinkling it on ice cream because it “draws out the flavor and gives it a delicious caramel-like aroma.” Whaaa? I haven’t tried this one yet–I think I’ll keep my Haagen-Dazs® the way it is.

Credits: Hiyayakko by pixelatedcrumb, Ohitashi by otakufood

Where Am I?
Can you guess where I took my Zojirushi bottle? Let me know! I go here almost every other week…

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Flu Season Comfort

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Ever wonder what everybody else eats when they’re down with a cold? Having been brought up on okayu, or rice porridge, whenever I came down with the flu as a kid, I started wondering what other cultures do when the sniffles take over. Of course, the great American cure is chicken soup–apparently it’s even good for the soul; and there have been scientific studies done on its actual physical benefits too, like the steam from hot soup being good for congestion, or the inhibitive effects on inflammation which is the cause of sore throats.

matzo

matzo ball soup

Most comfort foods during times of illness are easy to digest and kind of on the bland side because, let’s face it, we don’t have much of an appetite when we’re sick anyway. Hot broth like chicken soup does make us feel better, doesn’t it? It’s also the recommended food in Germany too, and the Jewish variation is Matzo ball soup, often called the “Jewish Penicillin”.

bianco

bianco

In Italy it is of course pasta, but it is strictly dieta in bianco, meaning a white diet. Nothing more than boiled pasta with a little bit of butter or olive oil and parmigiano, the water used to boil the pasta can be a beef broth, but it has to clear, strained, and fat-free. Other cheeses are too strong, so parmesan is used as the only flavoring, and small pasta is used so it can be chewed easily.

Australians love their Vegemite on toast when they’re sick, even though it hasn’t beenvege described in flattering terms by others. President Obama once said “It’s horrible” and called it a “quasi-vegetable by-product paste that you smear on your toast for breakfast.” Vegemite is actually leftover brewer’s yeast extract mixed with vegetable and spice additives. It’s been described as salty, slightly bitter and malty, but it is rich in umami, similar to beef bouillon.

khichri

khichri

In India, a simple porridge of beans, vegetables and rice called khichri (pronounced kich-ah-ree) is their comfort food–used to nourish babies, the elderly and the sick. To many Indians it even has spiritual meaning as a detoxing and cleansing health food. Many versions use spices like curry powder or tumeric, and the white rice (basmati) and lentils are usually cooked to a porridge texture when introduced to babies as their first “adult” food.

congee

congee

And speaking of rice porridge, the Chinese version of okayu, known as congee, and the Korean jook, are both also popular foods for the sick because it is easily digested. Compared to okayu their rice gruel is more soupy. There are similar dishes in other Asian countries as well, under different names of course. In Burma it is hsan byok, in India it is kanji, and in Indonesia it is known as bubur. If you would like to try Japanese okayu, you really don’t have to wait until you’re sick. You don’t even need a rice cooker if you have a thermal food jar like the one in this recipe from Zojirushi. Many rice cookers also have porridge settings, but be sure to read the instructions carefully before cooking this special type of rice dish.

Depending on where you grew up in the world, I’m sure there were comfort foods that you still remember to this day, and I’ll bet if you have kids, you’ve passed it on to them. Being sick wasn’t all that bad, now was it? What did you have when you were sick?

Credits: Matzo Ball Soup by sassygirlz, Bianco Pasta by rinaz, Khichri by inner-gourmet, Congee by shavedicesundays

 

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