Japanese Street Food: Tachigui Soba!

tachigui02What’s better than slurping hot soba noodles when you’re out in the cold? Slurping them when they’re hot, fresh, cheap and at a tachigui-style restaurant!

Tachigui, which means “eating standing up”, is a popular style of eating in Japan, especially for quick meals while traveling, commuting or going out for the evening. Tachigui-style eating was first introduced in what is now Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868). During that time, restaurant owners catered to laborers and working class people who needed inexpensive yet nutritious, fresh and flavorful food… the perfect setting for serving soba noodles in soup broth. To minimize costs for space and service, tachigui shops offered standing areas for people to just eat and go.

This style of eating spread across Japan and in modern day cities, tachigui-style restaurants can be found in close proximity to rail stations and commuter areas. Soba noodles in hot soup broth are still the most popular dishes served at tachigui restaurants, but hungry people can also find sushi, barbeque and takoyaki at tachigui stalls.

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Customers eat at a tachigui soba shop in a train station (photo by Nesnad)

Dining at tachigui restaurants is an experience. Since many are located at or near train stations, they offer only counter space for diners. Diners purchase meal tickets called shokken for the type of dish they want from vending machines located at the stall. Meals range from the barebones noodles and soup to various toppings such as tempura, kakiage, eggs, fish cake and more. Once a diner purchases a ticket, they hand that to the server, and wait a few minutes for their bowl to be delivered. Tea and condiments are served freely on the counter.

Meals are inexpensive yet incredibly fresh. Soba noodles are parboiled and freshened before being served to patrons. Basic soba soups start at around 250 yen or $2.50 and soups with many toppings won’t cost more than 500-700 yen or $5.00-7.00. Regardless of price, people from all walks of life and economic circumstances eat at tachigui stalls.

Soba noodles are the perfect dish for a cold December going into the New Year and whether you’re eating tachigui-style soba noodles or toshikoshi soba, we hope you stay warm and have a great New Year!

Japanese Street Food: Winter Oden

oden02With the cold months of winter beginning, it’s time for oden.

Oden is a one-pot dish full of vegetables, fish cakes, tofu, eggs and konnyaku, all simmered in seasoned dashi broth. It’s pure comfort food, full of savory ingredients that have soaked up hot seasoned broth, perfect for the cold months of winter.

Oden is enjoyed by everyone in Japan, from children on their way home from school to homeward bound working professionals stopping at street vendors for oden and sake. When made at home, oden includes special ingredients loved by each family member. One of the characteristic ingredient is konnyaku, a jellied yam cake. Those who enjoy oden choose the ingredients to add to their bowl, sometimes adding chikuwa (fish cake), ground fish balls, kinchaku (fried tofu pouches), daikon radish, boiled eggs or vegetables like cabbage and potatoes. Oden is best when garnished with hot Japanese mustard.

Oden is a cross between a nimono, or simmered dish, and nabemono, or hot pot. The name oden is derived from dengaku, which refers to pieces of tofu and konnyaku skewered, basted with miso paste and grilled. Dengaku was typically served during colder months, and around the time of the Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573), the dish was modified to be simmered in seasoned broth.

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A shop advertises oden

Oden is prepared with variations depending on the region in Japan. In Tokyo and its environs, the broth is made from dashi and koikuchi shoyu, or dark soy sauce, and is typically salty in flavor. In the Osaka area, broth is made from dashi and usukuchi shoyu, or light soy sauce, with hints of sweetness. Oden from the Kyoto area has a sharp and sweet taste and in Nagoya, the broth is miso-based.

No matter what style of broth oden is made with, the warmth and savoriness of the ingredients characterize comfort during the coming winter. Oden can be found at street vendors, izakaya restaurants, and even at convenience stores where the clerks will either assemble your oden for you or let you make your own creation at the self-service counters.

One of our favorite oden recipes can be found here, and we hope you will try it out during this winter season.

Until next time, stay warm and don’t forget to look out for our last post about Japanese street food for 2016!

Japanese Street Food: Yakiimo!

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“Ishi yaaaaaakiiiiimooooo! Ishi yaaaaaakiiiiimooooo!”

Anyone who has spent autumn or winter in Japan knows how exciting it is to hear the sound of the “yakiimo man” driving through their neighborhood in his mini-truck. His iconic call to come enjoy a hot sweet potato has children eager and adults nostalgic for the days when they ran out into the cold to get these stone-baked treats. Whether the yakiimo man sings his own melancholy song or broadcasts it from the loudspeaker mounted on his truck, the wintery tune brings smiles even in the coldest weather.

Yakiimo is a sweet potato, most typically of the satsumaimo variety found in southern Japan. These sweet potatoes were brought to Japan from Central America by way of China in the late 16th century. Their cultivation was limited to the subtropical southern region of Kagoshima Prefecture for many years, until a widespread rice famine struck the country in the mid-18th century. In heavily populated areas, especially near modern-day Tokyo, crop failures led to major food shortages, starvation and civil unrest.  Konyo Aoki, a local scholar, experimented with growing satsumaimo in the Kanto region in order to help feed the hungry Japanese people. This colder northern area was traditionally thought to be inhospitable to growing satsumaimo, but Konyo was able to help them flourish, and their popularity soon spread.

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Satsumaimo have reddish-purple skin and cream colored flesh, starchy and sweet. The yakiimo man bakes them in hot stones placed inside a propane-powered, steel stove in the back of his mini-truck. He bakes the sweet potatoes until their skin is browned and wrinkled and the insides are soft, giving them to hungry people wrapped in paper. You might hear those same hungry people say “Achi! Achi!”, or “Hot! Hot!” as they hold the fresh sweet potatoes.

Yakiimo can now be found in many convenience stores, but nothing replaces the experience of breaking them open and taking the first savory-sweet bite from the one purchased directly from the yakiimo man.

Until next time, stay warm and don’t forget to look out for next month’s post about Japanese street food!

 

Good Taste: Yuzu!

 

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Yummy for the palette and yummy for the skin!  Yuzu is a gorgeous, cold-hardy citrus fruit used in Japanese cooking, cocktails and beauty treatments. Yuzu is popular in dishes…as an ingredient in dipping sauces like ponzu and in spicy pastes like yuzukosho. It’s even more popular muddled into cocktails like the Yuzu Sour, which is mixed with rum, vodka, triple sec, soda and simple syrup.

The yuzu fruit is small, about the size of a large lime. It’s tart and a little bit bitter, citrusy as if a grapefruit and a lemon were mixed together. Very little juice can be extracted from the fruit, since the fruit has a very thick rind and large seeds relative to its size, but the juice that is available has a concentrated flavor, and zesting the peel releases the fruit’s aromatic oils. Yuzu seeds were also used medicinally.

Yuzu zest in chawanmushi

Yuzu zest in chawanmushi

The hardy yuzu plant is able to thrive in diverse planting zones, and can even survive temperatures as low as 5°F. In April and May, the trees flower with delicate white blossoms. From June through August, the trees remain dormant, laden with dark green fruit. Even though the fruit is not yet ripe like it will be during the winter months, the rind of the green fruit is grated and served with salads and sashimi to add a citrus spice to these dishes. During the winter months, the fruit turns golden and aromatic, and is used fresh and preserved. Yuzu marmalade is extremely popular, and can be used in desserts and teas. Marinades for chicken and fish, as well as dipping sauces for vegetables and beef are also commonly used. We love the Baked Sea Bass with Yuzu Pepper recipe on our website… give it a try!

One of the best uses of yuzu is on Winter Solstice, or Toji. A hot bath is drawn and whole yuzu fruit or sliced fruit bundled in cheesecloth is added to the water. Bathing in this water is said to ward off colds and flu during the winter, and to rejuvenate dry, chapped skin as the aromatic oils are released into the water. The nomilin in the fruit’s oils also produces a relaxing effect and increases circulation.

Luscious and appetizing, yuzu is a treat at this time of year!