Thursday, 9 August 2007


I've been back in Australia for nearly two weeks now, spending some quiet time with family and friends, shopping and just wandering around the neighborhood. Japan never seems all that different until I leave, and suddenly everything is so big and spacious. There are people from so many different cultures walking around and they're pretty much all speaking a language I can understand, with a lot more front than the typical Japanese. It's not an unpleasant short of culture shock, coming back home, but it does take some getting used to.

After two weeks without Japanese food I'm hankering for a good nabe on one of these rainy nights, but it might have to wait as I get my mum to run through her repertoire of childhood favorites. What could be better on a winter evening than apple and rhubarb crumble hot from the oven with vanilla ice cream? Not much.


Now that I've got my computer and internet set up properly this coming week should clear the backlog of posts from my last few weeks in Japan and bring the first installment of my adventures with Australian Japanese food. Will it be delicious and authentic? Or will I like it as much as I liked pasta with mentaiko? Only time will tell....

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Eating Around Japan - Aomori

After reimen and relaxation in Morioka our next stop was Aomori, a port town on the tip of Honshuu and the gateway to Hokkaido via the Seikan tunnel.

Aomori is famous for its apples, a fact reinforced from the fresh apple stand at the station exit to the plethora of apple related omiyage in the stores (apple curry anyone?) and the room devoted to the apple industry at the prefectural museum. The specimens we tried were crispy and sweet - ten times better than anything you can buy in a Kanto supermarket this time of year - and we marveled at all the varieties grown here, from dark purplish fruits to one breed as big as a child's head.

For dinner we followed the recommendation of our guidebook and enjoyed locally caught scallops grilled in butter (hotate batayaki) at Kakigen, a homey little place on Shinmachi-Dori. We were a little thrown off by the menu's inconsistent use of both kanji (帆立) and hiragana (ほたて) for scallops but everyone pretended to be impressed with our Japanese and was so friendly.


The quality of the food was excellent, from the little touches like the miso soup and pickled daikon to a fresh, crunchy side salad made with harusame, cucumber, carrot and chikuwa and dressed just so. I wanted the recipe. And the scallops! Oh the scallops! Soft and just done, with a delicate char, the chewy offcuts piled in the middle and all of it in a sea of salty creamy butter. When they were eaten I couldn't help pouring the rest of the hot scallopy butter over my rice. At 1400yen the scallop set was one of the pricier things on the menu but easily the best value meal of our trip.

One the other hand, I doubt this other Aomori treat would be good value at any price:

Scallop flavored ice cream! The other tourists seemed to be lapping it up, but I know my palate well enough to pass on this one. Sorry Japan, two years on from the squid icecream and I just can't get behind mixing fish and iced confections.

While trying to identify the monster apple variety we saw (I failed) I came across some interesting guides on apple selection and which apples work best for eating, cooking and juicing, so check those out if you're curious. Personally, I'm looking forward to digging into some of my mum's apple crumble next week when I'm trying to adjust to the Melbourne winter. I fly home on Thursday, so this will probably be my last post until next week. Everything is pretty much packed and finished, the movers are coming tomorrow to move my furniture to my replacement's apartment and the biggest responsibility I have tonight is a few last gin and tonics with some friends. Take care and I'll see you all with some more Japanese recipes from down under.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Eating Around Japan - Morioka

I've just gotten back from a Japanese farewell tour of sorts - an eating expedition up north. B and I bought the cheap Hokkaido & Higashi Nihon Pass and gradually made our way up to Sapporo. Our first stop was in Morioka, the capital of Iwate prefecture.

After getting settled at our hotel (the New City) we set off in search of some local eats. Misreading the map and walking half an hour away from the city centre landed us at a bright and shiny Saty shopping mall that filled us with (puzzling) nostalgia for the Westfields of home.

B's stomach was motioning towards the Grand Buffet, but I managed to talk him into a soba shop serving the peculiar Moriokan version of reimen (冷麺 lit. "cold noodles"). This unlikely combination of cold noodles in broth with kimchi and seasonal fruit seems to be a riff on Korean cold noodle dishes like Bibim Naengmyon (below), introduced and adapted to local tastes by the city's sizable Korean community.

Bibim Naengmyon

My soba reimen arrived pleasantly chilled and dotted with kimchi, cucumber, apple, sliced green onion and a peice of char sui.


At first the cool broth with spicy kimchi and sweet crunchy apple was a delightful novelty. The flavors were clean and refreshing and the char sui was excellent, dark and salty, but about half way through the noodles I just ... got tired of eating it. The noodles were so chewy it was like exercise and more than that it just felt as though something was missing. I find kimchi is an excellent foil to meat and other savoury, salty flavours but alone the in-your-face spiciness lacks something.

Unfortunately, a hurried lunch on the run the next day and B's demands for pizza (take-out from Strawberry Fields on Saien Dori, crispy and delicious) didn't leave room for the all-you-can-eat wanko soba or a plate of jaja men. Next time. There was still plenty to be eaten in Aomori and Sapporo.

(One of my favorite Japanese food bloggers, Kat, recently posted a recipe for a meatier version of jaja men for anyone keen to try it out at home.)

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Homemade Kimchi Part 2 - Making the Red Sauce

kimchi closeup.jpg

Last week I posted the first part of my three part series on making simple kimchi, soaking the cabbage. Below are Ellie's instructions on preparing the red sauce that you will layer with your soaked cabbage quarters to make the finished kimchi. During our lesson Ellie really stressed that you should adjust the flavors to your own tastes. She isn't much into ginger, so she uses much less than this recipe calls for when she's cooking for herself at home. Similarly, many foreigners have trouble with the heat level of this kimchi and may want to reduce the chili powder a little. The kimchi exported to Japan, for example, is much less spicy and slightly sweet compared to standard Seoul kimchi.

Recipe: Simple Kimchi Part 2 - Red Sauce

You will need:
300 grams daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
2 cups chili powder
1 cup fish sauce (Ellie's preference is anchovy based)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 minced onion
50 grams spring onion
1/4 cup salt
  • Cut the radish into matchsticks.
  • Mix the chili powder and fish sauce together, then add the mixture to the shredded radish and stir until the radishes are stained red.
  • Add the remaining ingredients.
  • Optional - in class we also added a handful of sesame seeds to the mixture, but they've been left off the written recipe. Toss them in if you're in the mood.
  • Set aside for an hour or two, until the radish has gone limp and released most of its moisture and you are left with a thick red paste like in the photo above.

You're now ready to put together your kimchi, so stay tuned for the third installment later this week on assembly and storage. In the meantime, what would you do with a bucketload of delicious kimchi? Give us your best kimchi recipes and meal suggestions in the comments.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The Satisfaction of Empty Cupboards.

In a few weeks B and I will be finishing our contracts and returning to Australia to see our family and friends and work on our careers for a while. It's been a two-year roller coaster of new experiences here in Japan and I'll never forget many of the people I've met, places I've seen, and amazing food I've tasted. That said, it's time to go home.

Right now everything seems a little surreal, an endless parade of 'lasts' - my last Japanese class, my last plate of zaru soba, my last lunch with my friend Hitomi. There are so many arrangements to be made, flights to book, and boxes of junk to get rid of that I just want it all to be over so I can relax.

The one change that seems comforting is the winding down in the kitchen. Where six months ago I looked at the full freezer of neatly stacked leftovers and the rows of spices and sauces with contentment, these days I feel a disproportionate sense of satisfaction every time I use something up, never to be bought again.

I found some gyoza skins in the freezer last night, left over from god knows when, and put together a filling with some minced pork and cabbage and whatever else I still had lying around. One less thing to throw out and three delicious lunches, done.


I won't give you a recipe based on my pantry scraps, but there are plenty of others online. I liked the look of these ones:
Pork Gyoza
More Pork Gyoza
Vegetarian Gyoza
Shrimp Gyoza

You can boil or steam them, but the typical cooking method here involves browning the bottoms in a little oil, then adding water to the pan and covering to finish. There used to be a great little YouTube video from a Japanese cooking show demonstrating the technique, but it's no longer available. Happily, the instructions live on here.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Homemade Kimchi Part 1 - Soaking the Cabbage

Kimchi - made by me!

While I was in Seoul I took a short cooking class where we made kimchi and bulgogi. The instructor, Ellie, had lived in Australia for a few years so we had a great time chatting about that and about my experiences in Japan. She had the cutest Australian Italian accent, picked up while waitressing at an Italian restaurant in Perth. When they found out I spoke some Japanese, the instructor who takes the Japanese classes came over to chat too and some very fun and confusing bilingual conversations ensued - 3 people, three languages, but not one in common for all of us.

As with tsukemono in Japan, more and more time-poor Koreans are picking up their kimchi at the market, even if they do take it home to a special kimchi fridge. Yet although it requires a little advance planning, making kimchi isn't a particularly labor intensive process. The cabbage and the red sauce we used in the class had been pre-soaked by the last students, and we prepared both of them for the next group. The actual preparation time for all the soaking and putting together the kimchi was less than an hour, but with soaking time and aging you need to allow at least 5 days from start to plate*.

Putting together a recipe from my class notes and the rough translation of the Korean recipe Ellie gave me is proving quite a process, so I'll give it to you in three parts: brining the cabbage, preparing the red sauce, and combining them and storing your finished kimchi.

Recipe: Simple Kimchi Part 1 - Soaking the Cabbage

You will need

1kg Chinese cabbage (aka hakusai, looks like this)
300 grams salt
6 cups water

  • Discard any brown or wilted outer leaves and cut the cabbages into quarters.
  • Sprinkle salt between the leaves, adding plenty towards the root end.
  • Make a brine from 6 cups of water and 1 cup of salt and soak the cabbage sections in the brine. (You may need to place a weight on top of the cabbages to make sure they remain submerged).
  • Let it stand for around 6 hours (in summer) or overnight (in winter), turning the cabbages over several times for even salting.
  • When the cabbages are well-salted and a bit limp, rinse thoroughly in cold water and drain on a rack for 2 hours.
From what I can gather, the longer brining time for winter kimchi is designed to give it a longer shelf life over the months when fresh food is scarce. It may also have something to do with the temperature and quality of the vegetables at different times of year. However, if you're just making one batch to store in the fridge I think you can safely go with the snap rule. The root end of a fresh cabbage leaf will snap quite easily if you fold it over but after soaking the cabbage will become more rubbery, and you should be able to fold it over most of the way without breaking it. Give it a go and if your leaves are still brittle soak for a little longer.

Next Time - Making the Red Sauce

Friday, 22 June 2007

Eating in Discomfort

I've done something strange to my back and haven't been able to sit down for very long at a time but I'm working on a few things in short bursts, so check back later this weekend for gyudon and kimchi recipes and other assorted ramblings. Hope you're all having a good Friday.