Good Taste: Matsutake Mushrooms

Autumn is here and it is time for the glorious taste of matsutake mushrooms!


This vibrant mushroom, also called the “pine mushroom”, is traditionally gathered in September in forests where undisturbed red pines grow in Japan, Korea and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a rare and wonderful fungus, whose flavor is so prized it is used as a main ingredient in Japanese dishes.


How about a matsutake pizza?

The matsutake has a meaty stem, with a light brown cap when fully grown. Prized, tender, young matsutake are paler and smaller in size and are found in the duff at the base of red pine trees, forming subtle bumps called ‘mushrumps’. Because the mushrooms are picked wild and usually eaten before the cap spreads open, devoted gatherers wipe them clean with a damp cloth, trim them closely so as to retain the most woody, aromatic flavor possible, and celebrate their bounty by cooking them in the open air, grilled or delicately sautéed. Two fabulous traditional recipes are Matsutake Gohan, a seasoned rice dish made with wild matsutake, shoyu, mirin, sake and mitsuba, as well as Matsutake Dobin Mushi, a soup made with matsutake, gingko nuts, mitsuba, thin slices of chicken, shrimp and dashi broth, all steamed together in a small teapot.

Because of its short harvest season, cooking with matsutake can be expensive. Last autumn, wild-harvested Japanese matsutake sold for approximately $500 per pound. Prices are significantly lower for US-grown matsutake, but these mushrooms are still considered the most expensive in the world, even beating out wild-harvested French truffles. In the US, fresh matsutake can be found at Japanese and other Asian grocery markets and gourmet food stores, or can be ordered online from various specialty retailers. When shopping for matsutake, it’s best to purchase fresh ones, as the mushrooms are by tradition not dried. Canned matsutake have become available, although they remain a poor substitute for the truly delicious newly-harvested ones.

Have you tasted this wonderful delicacy? Tell us about your favorite matsutake experience!

How to…use a Suribachi and Surikogi

suribachikogi01Japanese cooking relies on a few carefully selected implements…a good knife, long chef’s chopsticks, a rice cooker and a mortar and pestle, or the suribachi and surikogi.

The suribachi is a finely-crafted earthenware mortar, in which all kinds of foods, seeds, spices and herbs are ground. Glazed on the outside in either a traditional brown or more modern hues, the medium-to-large sized bowls are carefully designed on the inside with rough ridges, called kushi-no-me, against which the cook will grind food. As with many Japanese arts, these fine ridges are often created to be beautiful as well as functional, and can be found in circular, comma or daisy-wheel patterns. When used with a surikogi, or wooden pestle, the textured interior surface helps to mash food quickly, until it is pulverized to the desired consistency.

The surikogi adds much to food preparation. Traditionally, the surikogi is made from the thicker part of the trunk of a sansho bush (Japanese pepper tree). When the knobby bark is left on the pestle, it helps cooks hold onto the implement more easily, and also imparts a slight and subtle peppery flavor to the food in the mortar.

The suribachi is originally from China and was introduced to Japan sometime in the 11th century. The earliest ones were made from rough stone and used to make medicine, grind flour, and roughly work other food. In modern Japanese kitchens, the suribachi and surikogi are much more refined, and usually purchased as a set.


Japanese cooks will tell you to buy a big suribachi so that seeds don’t come flying out, and a sturdy, thick surikogi, so that it stands up to the demands of crushing and grinding. When using the suribachi, it’s important to place it on a flat surface, on top of a silicone mat or folded towel, for stability. And the best technique for using the surikogi is to hold it with two hands, one at the top of the dowel and one at the bottom, and rotate around the mortar.

For many gourmet cooks, implements like the suribachi and surikogi can be used to make dishes from multiple cuisines…Japanese shiraae dishes, Middle Eastern hummus and muhamara, Indian garam masala, and even Moroccan harissa! No matter what style of food you enjoy, the Japanese suribachi and surikogi are drool-worthy kitchen wonders.

Tell us what you use yours for!

Delicate Customs:  The Art of Bonsai


bonsai03When people first learn about bonsai, they are often surprised that it is considered a form of art, rather than gardening. Bonsai, for many, is an object, a tiny potted tree, one that is cared for just like any other potted plant. But true bonsai is an activity, one that is undertaken for many years, with patience, sensitivity and nurturing.

Bonsai trees are not stunted or pruned into an artificial shape. Just as a painter works on a canvas or a sculptor works with bronze, bonsai artists work with the living structure of a tree, cultivating and coaxing it into its final beautiful form. Bonsai artists respect the dignity of each living organism, working with it over the years to help focus its growth and character.

Depending on the artist’s vision, the trees can grow to be a few feet tall or be shaped into the tiniest miniatures, and be cultivated into balanced, natural, shapes. The most popular varieties of trees and shrubs used in bonsai are pines, whose leaves are evergreen, maples, whose leaves change color in autumn, flowering cherry or plum trees, and fruit-bearing trees, like the quince and persimmon. Regardless of the tree chosen, a beautiful and well-suited container is always considered part of the entire piece.bonsai02

Bonsai cultivation has a large global following. While originally a Japanese art, the World Bonsai Friendship Federation has done much to promote the exchange of ideas, designs and culture across the globe. Every few years, they host a World Bonsai Convention, with the next one to be held in April 2017 in Japan, at the traditional birthplace of bonsai, in Saitama City at the Omiya Bonsai Village.

Bonsai has an interesting history. It was originally a hobby for aristocrats and priests during the 14th century. As bonsai art spread into mainstream Japanese culture, more bonsai01people began creating these small trees, and, in the early 19th century, when Japan opened its doors to the world, many visitors from Western countries began growing bonsai. After World War II, the art of bonsai spread even more, as large-scale exhibits were staged and the trees were given as gifts between nations.

In modern times, creating bonsai doesn’t require a visit to Japan. There are many resources for growing your own tree from seeds, learning how to develop the best environment for the plant with the proper mesh screens, how to reveal the trees’ most beautiful shape through pruning and wiring, and how to enhance its growth through watering, feeding and fertilizing. Bonsai clubs are a great place to start!

Do you have a bonsai that you love? Are you part of its creation, or was it handed down to you, generation to generation?

What’s for Lunch?

lunchjar01Salmon teriyaki with seasonal mixed vegetables over rice. Jambalaya with cornbread and sautéed greens. Chicken vindaloo with mint yogurt sauce and papadums. Japanese dry curry with rice and boiled eggs.

Sounds mouth-watering, doesn’t it?

More and more people have meals like this for lunch. They’re fresh, healthy and balanced. They satisfy the belly and the heart. They make us pause, enjoy lunch (even if it’s just for 10 minutes!) and feel refreshed. A meal like this feels like it was made with care, with attention to flavor, comfort and nourishment.

A meal like this deserves to look as good as it tastes, to be crisp and clean, not mushy or soggy or mashed together. The best way to bring these homemade lunches to work orlunchjar02 slxd school are to take them in a lunch jar, like the Classic Stainless Lunch Jar (SL-XD20) by Zojirushi.  The Classic Stainless Lunch Jar is perfect for transporting gourmet lunches, and has some remarkable features. The outer container is made of durable 18/8 grade stainless steel with superior vacuum insulation, which keeps food hot or cold for up to six hours. The jar also has three generously sized inner containers – one for a side dish, one for a main dish, and one for soup. The main dish container has an insulated lid that prevents room temperature items placed above it from becoming heated or chilled, while the soup and main dish containers are kept hot or cold by the insulated jar! Each inner container is microwaveable and BPA-free. The jar also comes with chopsticks, chopsticks case, and a detachable carrying strap. You can find out more on our product page.

We’ve got great ideas about what to have for lunch.  What are yours?

Very Japanese Cooking Tools


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

Beyond Fish: Roasting Indoors


Ah, summer! What a glorious time to be in and out of the kitchen! Seasonal ingredients are abundant and warm weather has us eating light all season long. We have as much fun hanging out on lazy weekends as we do eating, so why not make it that much better?

We have developed a product that takes all the fun and flavor of a summer roast, and s-EF-VPC40-NLcondenses it down to the size of your countertop; saving you on space, smells and clean up! Our Fish Roaster (EF-VPC40) is the perfect tabletop appliance for creating quick and delicious roasted foods. From omega-3 packed fish to protein-rich chicken, pork, and beef—just throw them in the roaster and you’re ready to go. Don’t forget to add vegetables, too! Delicious roasted vegetables make the perfect summer side dish.

This product comes equipped with a platinum catalytic filter that will eliminate up to 90% of smoke and odor components by chemically decomposing them. There’s no need to flip s-EF-VPC40_Openfood thanks to a powerful 1,300-watt heating element on top and bottom, and the heat reflectors ensure a crisp finish. An extra wide roasting rack can accommodate large fish, meats, and vegetables up to 13-3/4” in width, and a stainless steel roasting rack will direct excess oils and fats away from foods. Simple disassembly means clean-up is a breeze as well!

Come check out our recipe page and discover what you can cook in this wonderful fish roaster.  Make it your own and keep those summer vibes cookin’ all year long!

Goya: The Bitter Melon

Goya, or the bitter melon, is a favorite in Japan this time of year. With its pebbly surface and long green shape, it resembles a prickly cucumber or summer squash more than it does a cantaloupe or honeydew melon. Don’t be fooled by its cute name, either. “Bitter melon” is not a playful title for the latest Jolly Rancher. This unusual fruit really is bitter.

So why is Goya so popular despite of its bitter flavor? Well, it’s because these funny little fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals and healing properties that might just help you fight through the hot and humid summer in Japan. It’s also believed that they may help improve your skin texture and digestion since they are high in Vitamin C and fiber. With that bitter taste, they are almost like a medicine!

bittermelon01Although you can find them pretty much in any supermarkets in Japan during this time of year, you can also grow them in your own back yard! With seeds purchased online, mulched soil and plenty of sunshine, these funny fruits will be abundant in no time.

Scared to try? Don’t be! You can pair this ingredient with savory bold flavors like soy sauce, bonito flakes, and onion. You can also add it to a noodle or fried rice dish for an unusual treat. Be adventurous and let us know how you like this funky ingredient!

Katsuobushi Kezuri

Photo by Sakurai Midori

Photo by Sakurai Midori

Katsuobushi or bonito flakes are a staple of the Japanese cuisine. These salty-smoky, light as a feather, umami packed flakes are often sliced so thin, they dance or wiggle on the surface of the dish. It is also the main ingredient in umami rich dashi stocks, a key ingredient in many Japanese dishes. The inimitable bold and slightly fishy notes of katsuobushi will add depth and complexity to any ingredient.

These days you can find a bag of bonito flakes in just about any Japanese/Asian supermarket for a few bucks. So why shave your own you ask? Well, you know the difference between freshly shaved Parmesan cheese and the kind that comes pre-shaved and lives on the shelf for eons? That’s why!

Katsuobushi on top of udon

Shaved katsuobushi garnishing udon

Shaving your own katsuobushi requires a little bit of finesse, but will yield you a finished product that is so far superior to the pre-shaved ones in the bag that you will never want anything else. All you need is a block of dried katsuo (bonito) and a katsuobushi kezuri, or shaver.

The katsuobushi kezuri is a small box made of wood or steel with a small blade on top. The dried bonito block is shaved over the box and the shavings or flakes are caught inside. It will take practice to shave off a long, thin piece of katsuobushi, but the finished

product will be well worth your time! We found this beautiful video of a master at work here to help inspire you. Enjoy!

Furin: A Japanese Wind Chime

fuurin02In Japan, our wind chimes are quiet, small and made of glass. First introduced to Japan by Chinese monks in ancient times, these chimes were originally used to watch the strength and direction of the wind. Their soft and peaceful sound was quickly given new meanings in Japan. Adopted by Japanese temples to ward off evil and keep people safe, they were hung on all four corners of the temples. It was said that if you hear the furin, no disgrace will occur.

These chimes were originally made of copper, later glass and today, even pottery. Over the centuries we have become more creative with the design of furin, making them in unusual shapes and sizes. You can even find branded furin with popular Japanese characters like Hello Kitty. Their peaceful sound and small size make them a favorite in Japanese homes and apartments, and help people relax during the hot summer months.

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.


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


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


French crepe



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:


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

Staying Hydrated with Our New SM-YAE48 Travel Mug


Whether you’re en route to work or hanging out by the pool, we know it’s important to you to stay hydrated in style.  That’s why we’ve developed the SM-YAE48, a travel mug designed with your lifestyle in mind.  Enjoy up to 16oz. of your favorite hot or cold beverage in a new and improved style that maximizes capacity while minimizing space.

Treat yourself to a comfortable drinking experience with a wide spout mouth and tapered lid cover that won’t block your line of sight when you’re on the go.  With a stain-resistant smyae03SlickSteel® interior, easy-to-fill wide opening, and partially disassemblable lid, this mug is also a breeze to clean.  And, no matter how bumpy the roads you travel, or jumbled your backpack or purse, its leak-proof lid and safety lock guarantee your drink gets wherever you’re going spill-free.

It gets even better!  The SM-YAE48 is available in four stylish colors: Stainless, Dark Cocoa, Cherry Red, and Lime Green! So, what are you waiting for? Fill this mug up with today’s piping hot black coffee or iced fruit tea, and savor your drink at one of your favorite places. We’ve got ya covered!

Your Sushi Party Awaits: Working with Makisu!

 If you do one thing this summer, it should be throwing a sushi party! No, seriously–it’s a great way to get together with friends, get creative, and enjoy some good food while you’re at it. In addition to the usual essential ingredients (fresh fish, wasabi, soy sauce, nori seaweed and lots of sushi rice), you’re going to need a makisu mat.

A makisu is that tan-colored mat made of woven bamboo sticks and cotton thread that you often see at the sushi bar. Sushi chefs use the makisu to shape sushi rolls, and sometimes egg omelets. They aren’t very expensive, and are simple to clean and store. Just be sure to completely scrub off any food bits, and dry completely after washing to avoid bacteria growth.

It may seem easy, but it’s actually a bit tricky to roll sushi using makisu. Have you had those floppy rolls that fall apart when you try to pick up with chop sticks? That’s a bad example right there. A properly rolled sushi should hold its shape when you pick them up. But don’t worry, we can show you how to roll sushi! Check out our maki sushi recipe here to learn how.


Full disclosure: Creating a sushi roll is not as easy as it might look, but that’s part of the fun! Throw yourself into it, and don’t be afraid to make a mess. Sushi parties can get a little messy, but we guarantee it will be well worth it!

Go to your local Japanese market to get all the ingredients you might need. Be adventurous and fill your rolls with your favorite ingredients—how about tuna, sriracha, Japanese mayonnaise, crab, octopus, cucumber and salmon? Don’t forget pickled ginger and sesame seeds for garnish, and plenty of nori (seaweed) or soy paper to wrap! We’ll do what we can to help you get that sushi rice just right, and the rest is up to you and your friends. We promise, it will be a party to remember. Enjoy!

Doyo-no Ushi No Hi, A Day for Eating Eel!

One of our favorite summer holidays is called Doyo-no Ushi No Hi. It falls late in the month of July when the weather is hot and humid, and it is all about eating eel to beat the heat! Sound crazy? It has been a tradition in Japan for hundreds of years.


Japanese summers are hot and humid, and it can become quite exhausting when you are slogging through those sticky humid days! We call this “summer fatigue” natsubate, and in Japan we believe that eating vitamin and mineral rich eel will help us get through the heat. If you ever find yourself in a Japanese supermarket this time of year, you will see eel being sold quite often.

sansho02 (photo by Didier Descouens)

Sansho Pepper plant (photo by Didier Descouens)

One detail to note is that Japanese eel or unagi is always served with a topping of sansho pepper, which is similar to Sichuan pepper, but with a citrus note.
has a number of uses in Japanese cuisine, but the most famous is definitely with eel. This spice has an effervescent cooling sensation when you eat it, as well as a slightly lemony and earthy quality, which complements the rich eel very well. In fact, most store-bought eels come with the sansho prepared in a small packet on the side.

Sansho pepper is a perfect pair with eel, but throughout the year it can be enjoyed with a number of other items such as chicken, tofu, and fish dishes. It is also one of the ingredients for the popular seven spice blend called shichimi togarashi, which goes great with yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers), soups, and noodles. Sansho pepper by itself may be a little bit overwhelming, but you will probably appreciate it in shichimi togarashi. Give it a shot!

Have you ever tried to cook with sansho pepper? We’d love to hear your recipes and uses for this amazing spice!

Shave Ice Summer


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.
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!

shave ice

The Real Thing

Thanks to for Ujikintoki, for Kakigori, and ahappyhowto.blogspot for Shave Ice. Other photography by Shelley Opunui, visit her Instagram here: ironchefmom

Fake Food!?

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!
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.
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.


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 (, Japan Online. Photos by Bert Tanimoto and Shelley Opunui.