A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Maki Sushi in Chiba

We’re so excited that winter will end soon and our third location on our Food Lover’s Tour of Japan is the perfect place to enjoy the upcoming beauty of spring… Chiba!

Chiba Prefecture is located in the southeast part of Kanto Region of Japan, a large, fertile plain that is unique in a country predominantly defined by mountains.  Some part of it is also situated on the Boso-hanto Peninsula, with Tokyo Bay on the west and the Pacific Ocean on the east. This peninsula is sheltered and temperate, even during the cold months of winter, and has been densely populated for centuries due to its climate, fertile farmland, rich fishing zones and famous floriculture.

Chiba’s signature dish is futomaki sushi… and as we learn more about this beautiful area of Japan, you’ll understand why this dish is such a great characterization of this region.

On the west coast of the prefecture, situated alongside Tokyo Bay and within commuting distance of Tokyo, you’ll find Chiba City. Chiba City is the governmental and business hub of the prefecture, home to one of Asia’s biggest convention centers, the Makuhari Messe, and to the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team. Many businesses and shops are in the city, and for leisure activities, locals and visitors both appreciate the cute port area called Chiba Port Park, where they can enjoy the beach, viewing tower, boat rides and cycling.

Not far from Chiba City, to the northeast, is Narita. Many of us know Narita as gateway to Japan, since this city is the location of Narita International Airport. But Narita is also a great spot to experience traditional Japanese culture. The famous Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple attracts over 13 million visitors a year and has been a time-honored place of worship since 940 AD. During the spring, one of the largest drum festivals is held in Narita. 200 drummers participate and the thunder of their drumming can be heard throughout the city! Early summer is time for the Narita Gion Matsuri, where the Shinto object of worship from the temple is paraded around the city along with floats.

Tulips bloom in Chiba

History also abounds in the neighboring cities of Sawara and Sakura City. In these cities, visitors come to experience the atmosphere of Edo period through well-preserved architecture, shops, homes, samurai residences and classic streets. The National Museum of Japanese History, Chiba Prefectural Boso-no-Mura Museum and the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences are well-worth the visit.

The beaches in this prefecture are stunning. Kujukuri Beach, along the Pacific Ocean, is 41 miles long with a long straight coastline without reefs. It extends from Cape Gyobu in Iioka Town to Cape Daito in Misaki Town and is a pristine area for swimming, surfing, water sports and sport fishing. At the north end of the beach is Cape Inubo-saki, a raised marine abrasion where dramatic cliffs, rough waves and blasts of wind contrast strongly with the more serene beach towards the south. There is a lighthouse at the cape, where if you go up to the observation deck to view the panorama of the Pacific Ocean, you’ll be able to see the curvature of the Earth and if you’re lucky, dolphins! Not far from the cape, the Byobu-ga-ura Cliffs rise 131-164 feet high, and are fondly called the Dover of the Orient, due to their sparkling white façade.

Because of Chiba Prefecture’s temperate climate, flowers grow abundantly throughout the peninsula. The natural landscape and rich flora inspires Chiba’s signature dish: futomaki sushi. Chiba Prefecture’s futomaki sushi are artfully crafted, thick sushi rolls, made with colorful vegetables, rice decorated with food dyes, eggs and seafood. The traditional rolling techniques, learned in from a young age, and designs unique to each family, result in patterns that show through the cross-cuts made in the rolls when they’re sliced. Flowers in the shape of ume blossoms and roses are common motifs, but the variety of designs is as endless as the number of families rolling the sushi.

Futomaki sushi is thicker than basic maki sushi, or sushi roll. While futomaki sushi is traditionally made for special occasions, people enjoy simpler maki sushi throughout the year. Just like futomaki suhi, maki sushi can be made with fresh, colorful fillings, such as tamago (sweetened omelet), carrots, gourd, mitsuba, shiitake mushrooms, pickled ginger, shiso leaves, cucumber, eel, shrimp and tuna. Whether or not the rolling technique results in a patterned design, the ingredients are balanced so that no one flavor overpowers the other.

Making Chiba Prefecture’s futomaki sushi is an art practiced over years, so preparing simpler maki sushi is a great way to get started. Try out our recipe for a basic maki sushi and as always, let us know about your travels to Chiba and your adventures in rolling sushi!

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.

 

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

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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!

Essentials of Japanese Cooking: Wagashi

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Throughout the year, we’ve focused on the essentials of Japanese cooking, from basic pantry items to the principles of washoku, Japan’s culinary tradition. From the basic ingredients of sa shi su se so (sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce and miso) to the more complex creation of dashi and umami tastes, we’ve explored how to prepare appetizers, soups, pickles and main dishes. This month, our post focuses on wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweets.

Wagashi, which literally means “Japanese sweet snack”, are bite-sized confections. They are traditionally made with simple, plant-based ingredients. The simplicity of the ingredients, however, is deceptive, as wagashi are created based on washoku principles of the Five Tastes and the Five Senses and take into account the seasonality of the natural world.

dorayaki

Dorayaki, or sweet pancakes filled with red bean paste

Wagashi is said to have originated in Japan during the time Japanese emissaries returned to the country from visiting China in the 8th century.  The first truly Japanese form of wagashi was a mochi and azuki bean dumpling sweetened with the juice of various vines. As this delicacy became more popular and spread to cities influenced by the aristocracy along the west coast of Japan, such as Matsue and Kanazawa, wagashi creation and design flourished. In the 12th century, wagashi became part of formal tea ceremonies and was paired with bitter matcha tea. When sugar was introduced to Japan in the 16th century, wagashi became easier and less expensive to produce, making it available to the general population.

The variety of wagashi is vast, and it is classified using a few criteria: formal vs. every day, production method, moisture content and shape.

hinamatsuriwagashi

Girl’s day wagashi

Formal wagashi are served at tea ceremonies or special events and are sculpted to represent a seasonal motif for the particular event, such as cherry blossoms in the spring to celebrate Girl’s Day. Every day wagashi are found at street vendors and shops and come in the form of dumplings or cakes or specialized shapes, with various fillings and toppings, usually made in the morning to be eaten that day.

Some of the formal wagashi are crafted based on the seasons. Their base flavors include the five tastes–sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy–with a particular taste emphasized according to what is seasonally available. For example, in the spring, when people gravitate towards sour flavors, wagashi are flavored with oranges. Each piece is also crafted to appeal to the five senses, from the seasonal motifs of each shape, to the fragrance of the ingredients, to the taste, to the texture to the sounds of nature that are evoked when eating a piece.

mizuyoukan

Mizuyoukan, or soft sweet bean jelly

Making wagashi is considered a craft, and wagashi makers can be awarded the title of “Contemporary Master Craftsman”. Wagashi craftsmen take pride in creating confections that balance seasonal flavors and motifs, from traditional cherry blossoms to modern Santa Clauses, appealing to the tastes of all generations. Going to a wagashi shop will make you anticipate the season or special event or festival to come!

Modern wagashi are made with eggs, milk and chocolate, and also come in beautiful shapes and colors.

One type of wagashi commonly found in the United States is called daifuku, which can be made at home. Pair it with Matcha Tea and you have your own homemade snack break!

We’d love to hear about your wagashi experiences, so be sure to leave us a photo and a note in the comments below!

Essentials of Japanese Cooking: Kaiseki Ryori & Shojin Ryori

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Refined, delicate, purposeful, seasonal, healthy, flexible… all of these words describe the essence of Japanese cuisine, or washoku. As part of our exploration of the essentials of Japanese cooking, we’ve learned about the ingredients and foundational foods at the core of this cuisine. This month, we explore the principles of the washoku tradition that guide kaiseki ryori and shojin ryori.

Washoku is often translated to mean harmony (“wa”) and food (“shoku”). According to Elizabeth Andoh, one of Japan’s premier chefs, in her book Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen, “washoku, or the “harmony of food” is a way of thinking about how we eat and how [food] can nourish us. The term describes both a culinary philosophy and the simple, nutritionally balanced food prepared in that spirit.”

This philosophy is best illustrated by an ichiju sansai meal, which consists of a bowl of rice, a bowl of soup and three side dishes, typically comprised of a piece of grilled fish or meat or tofu, pickles and simmered vegetables. An ichiju sansai meal is the typical meal served at lunch and dinner in Japanese households and is loosely translated to mean “well-balanced meal”. Both kaiseki ryori, Japanese haute cuisine, and shojin ryori, Japanese temple food, rely on this framework.

ichijusansai

An example of ichiju sansai

Kaiseki ryori (as seen in the title image) offers a richer, more elaborate but no less balanced version of an ichiju sansai meal. Kaiseki meals were originally prepared as part of formal Japanese tea ceremonies, and were later served to nobles as a sign of wealth and class. A kaiseki meal consists of four courses or “sets” offered in a prescribed sequence. The starters set includes an aperitif course (skokuzen-shu) in which a small cup of sake or wine is served, followed by an appetizer course, consisting of decoratively prepared bite-sized appetizers served on a long dish called a hassun. The starters are followed by the main set, which consists of a soup course (suimono), a sashimi course (otsukuri), a simmered dish (nimono), a grilled dish (yakimono), a deep fried dish (agemono), a steamed dish (mushimono) and a pickled dish (sunomono). The third set, called a shokuji set, includes a bowl of white rice, miso soup, and pickles (tsukemono). Finally, the meal is concluded with a small dessert of fruit, confections, sorbet or ice cream.

Though there are many dishes in a kaiseki meal, each dish is served in small proportions, slowly and with great attention to detail, and with the utmost in hospitality. Even seating, tables, flowers, quiet and privacy are considered in the preparation of a kaiseki meal! Today, kaiseki meals are served in Michelin-starred and fancy Japanese-style restaurants and high-end ryokan, or Japanese-style inns.

shoujinryori

Shojin ryori

Devotional or temple cooking, known as shojin ryori, hones the concept of “harmony of food” into a set of offerings that are based on Buddhism’s inherent respect for living a life that eschews doing harm. This type of cuisine became popular in the early 11th century when Buddhist monks used this way of “earnest commitment” to procure, prepare, serve and eat their meals. At its most fundamental nature, shojin ryori is vegan, consisting of no animal products, uses gentle seasonings and reduces waste as much as possible. A typical meal consists of a few vegetables such that all parts are used, the leaf, the root, the skins, prepared using simple techniques like blanching, simmering and braising, along with rice, soup, pickles, beans, legumes and tofu. Each item is prepared simply, without strong tastes such as garlic, chilies or wasabi. The entire meal is prepared with quiet thoughtfulness and eaten with reverence. Restaurants that serve shojin ryori meals offer more creative versions of this honest, simple food and are becoming more popular as people are gravitating towards a plant-based diet.

Both kaiseki ryori and shojin ryori style meals make a conscious effort to use seasonal ingredients, taking care to respect when foods are most fresh and full of their inherent flavor. These two styles of cuisine are also deeply concerned with how food is presented, including how ingredients are cut, arranged, plated and served.

The utter refinement of washoku in these cooking styles shows you the wonderful variety of Japanese cuisine. Which ones have you tried? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!