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.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Gyūdon - 牛丼


Gyūdon, literally 'beef bowl', is fast food Japanese-style. Salty and cheap, a fresh bowl of rice topped with saucy beef and onions will set you back 299yen (399yen for the large size) on a counter stool at one of the many chain eateries to be found near any train station. It's not quite as bad for you as a Mega Mac, but just like its friends at McDonalds you can make a much healthier version at home by using better quality meat, swapping white for wholegrain, cutting back on the oil and adding some vegetables.

I've tried a few different recipes over the years, some with added ginger, sugar, sake or white wine, but this bare bones recipe is what I usually use. If you want to add vegetables stir fry them at the beginning, remove, cook the beef and then add the veggies again right at the end to warm through. They get a bit dark and salty otherwise. Mushrooms or capsicums are really nice with this, as is a side salad with sesame dressing.

Recipe: Gyūdon - 牛丼
Serves 2

100grams super thin sliced beef strips
1 medium onion, cut into half moon slices
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 cup water
dash of sesame oil
rice to serve
pickled ginger (optional)
  • Saute the onions in the sesame oil over medium heat.

  • Add the beef, stir it around and add the soy sauce, mirin and water.

  • Cover with a drop lid or piece of silver foil, then go and do something else for 10 minutes.

  • Spoon the beef and onions over a bowl of warm rice with a little of the juice, adding some pickled ginger on the side if you like it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Supermarket Discoveries

Somen-style Tofu

Check this out - somen noodle style tofu! How did I miss this last summer? Just drain, sprinkle with mentsuyu (noodle sauce) and chopped spring onions and you've got a tasty, healthy, high protein snack that's cool and refreshing.

I'm trying to use up some bottled sauce but if you had some extra time on your hands, you could try making Maki's mentsuyu recipe.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Easy Okonomiyaki - お好み焼き


The American exchange student at my school went home this week. For his farewell party he wanted okonomiyaki, but we arrived at the chosen restaurant only to discover it had gone out of business mere weeks earlier. We had a great tempura meal instead, but I felt bad that he'd been cheated out of that one last taste. As he was somewhere in the skies between Tokyo and New York last night, I made a basic Osaka style okonomiyaki for dinner and wished him luck. (It was delicious Dillon. Sorry!)

Recipe: Okonomiyaki - お好み焼き
Makes 2 meal-sized pancakes.

1 cup flour*
1 egg
3/4 cup dashi
1/4 cabbage
1 carrot
1 bunch spring onions
sakura ebi (tiny dried shrimp)
any other vegetables or meat you like
(I used some mushrooms and chikuwa I had lying around)

For the topping:
okonomiyaki sauce (buy or make it)
bonito flakes (katsuo)
nori flakes (aonori)

  • In a bowl beat the egg well, then add the flour and dashi. Mix together until you have a thin batter.

  • Finely shred the cabbage, avoiding the hard white stem, and grate the carrot. Finely chop the spring onions.

  • Mix into the batter along with a small handful of sakura ebi.

  • Add any other fillings, chopped finely **, and stir.

  • Heat a splash of oil in a non-stick or well seasoned pan, then add half the mixture, flattening and shaping into a pancake.


  • Cook until underside is brown, then carefully flip and continue to cook until the other side is done and the edges are no longer runny.

  • Serve slathered with okonomiyaki sauce, drizzled with a little mayo and sprinkled with bonito and nori flakes.


Popular additions to okomiyaki include pork, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, kimchi, mochi, prawns, squid, octopus, natto, corn, beef, clams, balls of tempura batter, pickled ginger, ham and potatoes.

* If you're up for it, swap out some of the flour for grated yam. It gives the pancake a great sticky, starchy texture.

** If you add raw meat it can be tricky to make sure chunks inside the pancake have cooked through. One way around this is to give the meat a head start on the grill, then pour the rest of the batter on top of it. Otherwise, use very thin pieces and check carefully.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Kimchi - Serious Business

"Did you know Korean people are rarely constipated?"

Japanese people may talk about how essential rice is to their daily happiness, but they've got NOTHING on the Korean love of kimchi. I couldn't venture outside the hostel without some well meaning person letting me know about its health benefits, such as the high concentration of lacto bacillic acid that keeps your digestive tracts clean and clear (see above). I even heard it credited with helping Korea avoid the SARS epidemic, though I'm reserving my judgement on that one.

One thing is certain - Koreans are more devoted to this one food item than I could ever be to one of my edible loves, even ice cream. I learnt that most Korean people eat kimchi at breakfast, lunch and dinner and most Korean households have a special kimchi fridge, perfect for keeping kimchi at its optimum temperature without spoiling other foods.

Kimchi is served as a side dish with almost every restaurant meal, and there are kimchi burgers, kimchi pizzas, kimchi hotdogs and all sorts of other fusion versions.

Of course, it makes sense that Seoul would have its own Kimchi Museum.

Kimchi Feild Museum
B2, COEX Mall, 159 Sameong-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Adults 3,000won Students 2,000won

Hidden in the basement of a bustling mall that looks exactly like its Australian counterparts, the kimchi museum includes models of 80 different kinds of kimchi...

Kimchi Museum

...cute cartoons depicting the fermentation process...
Kimchi Museum

"Lactobacilli in kimchi create vitamin Bs during the fermentation of kimchi"

Kimchi Museum

"Kimchi has four times as much lactobacilli as other lactic acid drink yogurt"

... a tasting room, interactive video demonstrations of the cooking process, a microscope to examine the kimchi bacteria and a whole lot more that you never knew (or perhaps wanted to know) about kimchi.

I love these sorts of random, quirky museums and exhibitions, so I also popped into the Tteok Museum. As Sue had reported it wasn't up to much, but the cafe downstairs was lovely. Sunny, cool and calm, with display cases full of exquisite tteok rice cakes to choose from. I now wish I'd tried the ones that looked like a slice of regular cake, but I went for this delicate little apple blossom confection...

Apple Blossom tteok

Since I was just passing by on the way to my cooking class, I didn't mind too much that the museum didn't have a lot going on. The models showing special occasion foods and the evolution of certain dishes from past to present was interesting, and I dug these English translations of 15 Korean proverbs concerning rice cakes such as:

"Worshipping one's forefather with other's tteok" (Robbing Peter to pay Paul?) and

"By getting a little piece of tteok from one person after another you can gather a large a unexpected amount" (Many pennies make a pound?)

What proverbs and sayings do we have about cake in English? We all know that "you can't have your cake and eat it too" and something that's easy is a "cake walk" or "easy as pie", but there has to be more than that. Comment if you can think of one!

Monday, 28 May 2007


I got my first taste of Korean food in Japan - at Seoul BBQ near my old apartment - and since then I've been hungry for more. After visiting some great local Korean restaurants, experimenting with kimchi at home and browsing My Korean Kitchen when I should have been working, the next logical step was a trip to Korea, right?

I mean, it would have been a shame to have lived in Japan without visiting its closest neighbour. Seoul is less than 2 hours from Tokyo by plane - much closer than the northern Japanese islands. While my students took their midterm exams I booked a ticket, bought a guidebook and spent four days checking out the sights, sounds and tastes of Seoul.

This is what I ate...

My first meal off the plane was at Isaac Toast - a popular breakfast chain. The toasted sandwich with corn and egg omlette, ham, cabbage and pickles was pretty good, if a little greasy.

Isaac Toast for breakfast - delicious

Chicken and ginseng rice porridge (juk).
Juk - chicken and ginseng rice porridge

Kkultarae candies - sugary threads spun around a honey nut mixture.

Bibimbap - Rice, veggies, beef and a spicy paste arranged in a hot stone bowl to be mixed and cooked through at the table.

Korean sushi (Gimbap/Kimbap) comes pre cut! I love it! Unlike sushi, the rice isn't seasoned with vinegar and they don't usually use raw fillings.

Tteokbokki - rice cakes in a sweet spicy sauce. I enjoyed these on my first night at a street still in Dongdaemun Market, accompanied by a can of 'Cass' beer. One of the best things I ate in Korea.

Odeng (the Korean version of Oden?) was served with my tteobokki. The broth tasted very clean and light, with none of the fishiness of Japanese oden.

Japchae - glass noodles and veggies in a light sesame soy sauce. After the spice overload they were really refreshing.

Hotteok - a donut like package filled with nuts, honey and cinnamon. It was quite different from the one I ate in Koreatown.

I bought these sweet, sticky rice crackers coated with sesame seeds from an old woman with a little stand outside the station, who good naturedly put up with my absolute lack of Korean. They were so good - just the thing to nibble on with a cup of green tea.
Station Snacks

An apple blossom flavored tteok (rice cake) from Jilsiru Tteok Cafe, below the Tteok Museum. It was much more delicate than any mochi I've tried, filled with a slightly sweet paste and coated in coconut. Don't you think it looks a bit like coconut ice?
Apple Blossom tteok

Sujong-gwa - a sweet spiced ginger punch with dried persimmon served ice cold and garnished with pine nuts. The first few sips were heavenly but it was a little on the sweet side after that.

A huge circle of crispy pan fried batter filled with octopus and nira (garlic chives) and served with a tangy slightly spicy soy dipping sauce. In Japan these Korean-style okonomiyaki are known as chijimi but I didn't manage to catch their Korean name. The English menu reffered to them as Korean Pizza, which they don't resemble in the slightest. *sigh* Sometimes I hate the English menu.

Galbitang - beef rib soup. The broth was incredibly meaty and savoury, but there wasn't a lot of meat happening on those bones. A generous heap of glass noodles and lots of veggies almost made up for that though.

The side dishes that same with my soup. With 2 kinds of kimchi, little fish cakes and the complimentary rice, I nearly didn't need my main dish.
Whoa sides!

Bibim Naengmyon - noodles in a cold, spicy broth. These look so delicious, but like all food sold at the airport they were pretty nasty. I should have stuck with ice cream.
Bibim Naengmyon

One of the downsides of traveling alone is a lack of dining companions. I would have liked to splurge on an upscale restaurant one night or have a blow out yakiniku meal but my guidebook was pretty discouraging about dining solo. Not to mention cooking your meat by yourself feels a little too much like work. Ah well, next time.

Seoul was an incredibly friendly city and there was so much to do that I never found time for. Aside from the usual palaces and museums I was lucky enough to be there for the Lotus Lantern Festival in honor of Buddha's birthday, which was amazingly beautiful. I also visited a few foodie tourist attractions and took a cooking class where I made kimchi and a kind of bulgogi - pictures and recipes to come.


I'm back from my hastily planned jaunt to Korea and working on some posts about what I ate there as well as things from my kitchen that are long overdue.

It's been a fantastic few weeks, but all I can say is that I need to take a break from kimchi for a while!

Monday, 14 May 2007

Milky Kanten Jelly - 牛乳かん


Last year I took a few Home Economics classes with my students. I was partnered with some very genki third year boys who got a kick out of trying to mime the Japanese instructions and the whole thing was a lot of fun.

One of the first things we made was a milk jelly using kanten. Kanten, also known as agar-agar, is a seaweed extract that works like gelatin, is vegetarian-safe and full of fibre. Here in Japan there's been a lot of talk about its health and weightloss benefits and it's a common ingredient in desserts like yokan and anmitsu.

Kanten is also used to make a milky jelly called annindofu, which is flavored with almond extract and usually served cut into squares and mixed with canned fruit. It has a mild, creamy taste and the first time I tried some I assumed it was a kind of sweet tofu.

I wanted to try making something similar, but of course by now I'd misplaced the recipe from Home Ec and I had to make do with guestimations from the internet. The first batch wasn't great. I don't think I used enough liquid, and didn't disolve the kanten properly, because while everything set and the taste was fine, the jelly had a weird grainy texture. For my second attempt I did what I should have done from the beginning and followed the Japanese directions on the box, with a little tweaking to give it a vanilla flavor. This is the method I used....


Recipe: Milky Kanten Jelly - バニラ 牛乳かん
Serves 4 with fruit as a light dessert.

250ml water
250ml milk (low fat will work fine)
4g packet of kanten powder
40g sugar
dash of vanilla essence

  • Mix the water and kanten powder in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer, whisking until the kanten has been completely disolved.
  • If you're unsure whether kanten in sufficiently dissolved, rub a little of the liquid between your fingers. If it feels lumpy or grainy, it needs more time.
  • Add sugar, milk and vanilla, continue whisking until sugar is absorbed and it starts to bubble lightly.
  • Remove from heat and pour into your mould of choice.
  • Refridgerate for several hours until set firm.

This time the texture was as firm and smooth as Aeroplane jelly and thanks to the vanilla it smelt amazing. With this much sugar the jelly was delicious all by itself, but I'd use less if I made it to serve with canned fruit again. Jelly is such a great summer dessert - light, cool and perfect with all the fresh fruits that are appearing in the shops now.

I'm almost glad my first batch didn't work out, because while I was searching for answers I found my new favorite blog - Naoko-san is a Japanese expat living in California and she's got a really cute writing style, interesting Japanese-fusion cooking and a wealth of georgous kanten desserts like kuro goma and ricotta kanten, matcha milk kanten and marscapone kanten. I'm looking forward to trying out a few of her recipes as well as experimenting with coconut milk and tropical fruit combinations, or a jelly version of coconut bubble tea. Yum! I don't think I've been this excited about jelly since I was 5 years old.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Tea Eggs

I'd wanted to try these tea eggs (cha ye dan in Chinese) in Taiwan, but there was so much delicious food crying to be eaten that I never quite got around to it...

Eggs in soy? tea? Wulai

Last week B and I were at the Showa Kite Festival when we happened across a stall with Obasans selling local specialties. There were those tea eggs again! Alas, we'd already eaten lunch, so we contented ourselves with buying some locally grown shitake to make dinner with and sampling a few crispy fried senbei.

The mushrooms made a lovely risotto, but the next day the tea eggs were still on my mind. Did they taste like tea? It eventually occurred to me that they probably wouldn't be difficult to make at home.

They weren't, and as one blog comment put it "to the person who is afraid she would screw up tea eggs, there is no way. If they don't taste like you want them to, eat those and try again."

The method below seems to be the general consensus on basic tea eggs, but pepper, salt, orange peel, ginger, garlic, dry sherry and black sesame seeds have all come up in personal recipes, so feel free to experiment with what you have lying around.

Simmering tea eggs.

Recipe: Tea Soaked Eggs

6-12 eggs
4 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 black tea bags or equivalent loose tea

  • Place eggs in the bottom of a pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to the boil, cover and remove from heat.
  • Wait 10 minutes or so, then using spoon removed eggs from pot and plunge into cold water.
  • When eggs are cool enough to touch, gently tap with a spoon until small cracks form.
  • Place eggs back into pot, add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for a few hours. This will make your house smell amazing.
  • Eat desired quantity of eggs, refrigerate any leftovers still immersed in the simmering liquid.
(If you are in a rush, you can remove the eggs earlier but longer time will give a more intense flavor.)

Tea Eggs

The flavor was a lot milder than the wonderful fragrance wafting from the pot, but it was definitely a new and delicious twist on the standard hard boiled egg. Next time I might use a little more soy, ginger, or oolong tea, which apparently gives a nice smokey undertone.

If you want something a little less subtle, try mixing some of the simmering liquid with a little soy and sesame oil and using it as a dipping sauce for the egg. I ate a few that way and the tea and spice flavor really came through, but they were also good with just a dash of salt and pepper.

I think the spiderweb patterns the cracks make on the eggs are beautiful (though not too good to eat!), and next Easter I'm going to try dying a few eggs the same way.

Tea Egg

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Inari Sushi - 稲荷ずし


Do you ever have a kitchen inferiority complex? A technique or recipe that sounds so complicated or delicate you are forever putting off facing it, 'until I'm a better cook/more experienced/have more room/buy more expensive equipment/have an expert to hold my hand'?

A lot of people are in awe of the souffle, gelatin, or making creamy sauces. For me, it's always been baking with yeast. I know, people do it all the time, but somehow I fear the yeast will sense my nervous touch and refuse to rise. I don't mind eating my mistakes, but what do you do with a lump of flour?

Recently I've discovered my Japanese food fear - sushi rice. Something about the Japanese reverence for the skills of sushi chefs, the specialised equipment recommended and the heated internet discussions about the correct amount of vinegar has convinced me that the task of cooking some rice in a rice cooker and seasoning it with vinegar, salt and sugar is beyond me. Generally I believe in learning through making mistakes, and I've happily jumped in and butchered plenty of other Japanese dishes, but we're all a little illogical sometimes.

So for now I am gently skirting the issue, making faux sushi in all its varieties, reading up on the subject and, of course, sampling a lot of restaurant sushi to get a "feel" for it. The feel is very important.

This week's confidence booster was inari sushi pouches stuffed with a takikomi gohan mixture instead of the usual sushi rice. Inari sushi, pronounced inarizushi in Japanese, is named after the Shinto god of rice and is a homey sushi variation more comfortable in a bento box than a fine restaurant.

Most often filled with plain white sushi rice, I also see a lot of rice mixed with sesame seeds, furikake, seaweed or some thinly sliced vegetables. You could use whatever you like, but the rice should be the dominant taste.

Recipe: Inari Sushi with Carrot, Enoki and Kiriboshi Daikon
Makes 12 fully stuffed pouches.

1.5 cups of brown rice
2.5 cups of water
1 piece dried konbu
3 TBSP sake
2 tsp. mirin
2 tsp. shoyu
Carrot, grated or peeled into thin slices
Enoki mushrooms, cut into short lengths
Kiriboshi daikon (dried, shredded daikon, written as 切り干し大根)
12 ready made tofu pouches

  • If you've got time, put the water and konbu in the rice cooker to soak ahead of time.
  • Add the rice, seasonings and vegetables and press start.
  • When the rice cooker says you're done, taste the rice. Adding other ingredients can confuse even the smartest rice cooker. You may need more time, more liquid or both.
  • Rinse the tofu pouches in hot water, gently squeeze them dry and fill with rice mixture (I used a spoon for this, pressing down with the back to pack the rice into the corners).
  • Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy!

(I filled my sushi up to the top because it looks pretty, but if you want yours to look more like this just fill them about two thirds of the way, close the pouch and arrange flap side down.)

I found conflicting advice about heating and rinsing the tofu pouches. Some advised boiling the sealed package to keep in the flavoring liquid, others rinsing and squeezing the tofu as you would aburaage. For the sake of science, I tried it both ways and the rinse and squeeze is a) far easier to handle, b) retains the flavor just fine, c) tastes and feels a lot more like every other inari sushi I've had in Japan. You could probably skip the rinse, but definitely squeeze well.

Inari sushi pouches generally come pre-seasoned in a sweetish stock. If you're using plain aburaage, you may want to try one of these, stock recipes.

What I love about inari sushi is the way it fits perfectly into my bento box (a bento design feature, I wonder?) and neatly into my mouth. Even when I work up my nerve for maki sushi, I'm pretty sure I'll spill it all over me.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Campfire Food

Nagatoro River - Saitama

It's Wednesday, and I think I'm just about recovered from Golden Week. For those of you not in Japan, Golden Week combines the goodness of not one, not two, but THREE public holidays into the one week, prompting many people to take the remaining 2 days off and make a party out of it.

I had to come into work for a few classes, but I still managed to get out of town for a little rest and relaxation with some friends. It was my first time camping in Japan and I was surprised (and delighted) to discover the shower block you need thongs for had been replaced with indoor and outdoor onsen.

It was also surprising how much preparation had gone into these mini-breaks. Back home, most campers will grab some take away from the local fish and chip shop or use the provided BBQs to grill up sausages and steaks. At most, you'll bring a fry pan or hotplate and build a campfire to cook your meat. Here the sinks and prep areas had long waiting lines and many of the campers brought their own BBQs. When you consider than many of them were only staying one night, that's a pretty good effort.

We cooked our rice in kidney shaped metal canisters called hango (はんごう), which reminded me a little of the Australian billy, and gave that delicious crispy rice bottom that you miss out on with a rice cooker.

Hango - for cooking rice on a campfire.

There was also mountains of yakiniku and grilled vegetables, curry, yakisoba, gyoza, bread rolls and salad for breakfast. I don't think I'll ever get used to salad for breakfast, but everything was delicious and we ate and ate well into the night - Yoshi was still going back for curry seconds at 12 o'clock.

Since then I've been busy getting sunburnt, seeing giant kites and putting together lesson plans. I do have some more kitchen adventures to talk about though, so look back later this week.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

"A-I-U-E-Onigiri!" - おにぎり

Salmon Onigirl - 鮭のおにぎり

"A-I-U-E-Onigiri!" - so goes the happy tune the onigiri case at my supermarket plays on loop, and so goes my head now that I've started thinking about onigiri. Over and over and over again.

Onigiri (also known as omusubi) are a packed lunch and conbini staple, easily over-throwing that western champion, the sandwich, as Convenience Food #1. Just like the sandwich they're easy to wrap and carry, no heating or cutlery is required and you can buy them almost anywhere, with a huge variety of fillings, for around $1.50. Plus, they're made of rice. The sandwich never stood a chance.

There are a million and one guides to making onigiri on the web, using moulds, your hands or plastic wrap to pack and shape them. I usually use a plastic mould I bought at a local kitchenware store for around 200yen but the top has gotten lost somewhere in the flurry of hanami packing and unpacking.

This seemed like a good chance to read up on different techniques and go it alone. After a bit of research, I went with Maki's plastic wrap method and my memories of our swift-fingered riceball vendor in Taipei. I also found some step by step photos for using a mould or hand shaping here.

A cup of uncooked rice and a small salmon fillet, grilled and flaked, gave me four nicely sized onigri and a handful of leftover rice. You could probably get 6 onigiri with more fillings, or make some plain ones. I also tried sprinkling one of the onigiri with furikake - packets of flakes for flavoring cooked rice. In the past I'd mixed a little into the rice mixture before forming the balls, which added a nice salty touch, but I kept seeing photos of pretty onigiri coated in sprinkles or patterns. Blehgh. To me it was too salty and totally overpowered the salmon in the middle. Perhaps everyone else is using a milder kind of furikake.

Anyway, over seasoning aside, the instructions were really easy to follow and produced some delicious onigiri. The next day I put the leftovers in the fry pan until the sides were browned and called it yaki-onigiri.

Yaki Onigiri- 焼きおにぎり

Mmmmm, warm and crunchy. Yaki-onigiri are usually basted with a little soy sauce and grilled, and they're a great side to order at a yakitori place when you're drowning in meat.

I'll probably buy another mould, if only so as not to waste plastic wrap, but it's good to know that even my uncoordinated hands can shape an onigiri without one. There are no excuses now.

(For some impossibly cute onigiri presentation ideas, try a search for onigiri on flick: hearts, faces, hello kitty, and blue ones!)

Tuesday, 24 April 2007


Deli & Baking Co - Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa is ten minutes from Shinjuku on the Odakyu line. On a sunny Sunday its maze of alleys hiding quirky boutiques and cafes remind me of the best parts of inner Melbourne.

I had come to shop for summer clothes, but was easily distracted by the the display at the Deli & Baking Co.

Deli & Baking Co - Shimokitazawa

Their lunchtime deli plate is great value for 1000yen, with a choice of hot mains (I got pork and onion stir fry and lasagna) served up with dressed greens and your preferred vegetable side dish from options like bean salad, fresh tomato salad, simmered pumpkin or spinach sauteed with bacon. There's also rice with 5 grains or a toasted slice of that hearty, chewy rye bread that is so hard to find in this country.

The house specialty seems to be the 'popover', a pastry puff topped with a cream cheese dollop in a wide variety of sweet flavours or served plain alongside soup and salad. The Apple Cinnamon one was very tempting...
Apple Cinnamon Popovers

... but I opted for a (delicious but slightly too sweet) strawberry muffin and (perfect) soy chai latte for dessert as I frantically tried to finish my book before meeting with my bookclub later in the afternoon.

There are so many quirky little cafes, bakeries and bars in the area (including a tapas bar!) that I need to stop coming back to this place and try something new (I found a blog called Shimokitareviews. I'm starting to think there's a blog for everything) but the tiramisu looks like it needs further investigation. Next time.

Deli & Baking, Co.
1F, 2-29-2 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 03-5453-1313
(Or take the North exit and wander around until you find it)

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Lazy Yakiniku-style Lamb - 焼肉ラム

Call it yakiniku, Korean barbecue, Mongolian barbecue, jingisukan or whatever, it's fun to grill your own meat at the table.

From the pricey and upmarket to the casual chains, the typical set-up looks something like this... (excuse the blurry cell phone pic)

new year's eve yakinuku

... with a hotplate built into the middle of the table. You order plates of raw meat, seafood and vegetables, then cook and eat them at your own pace.

Sometimes the meat comes in a marinade, and sometimes you grill it plain and dunk it into a dipping sauce (tare) just before you eat it. (Various internet discussions point to the first method as more Korean, and the second as a Japanese invention, but most places in Japan do both.)

I don't have a charcoal grill or hotplate at home, but the cheap lamb I picked up at the supermarket the other day was cut for yakiniku and I didn't have any better ideas, so I put together something similar to this recipe and just browned the meat in a hot frypan.

The garlicky sesame marinade reminds me of good times out at yakinuku, but turning the meat at the stove wasn't quite as fun as drinking beers at the table with your friends. Next time I'm planning on getting together with someone who has a grill and trying out a few different seasonings, including these dipping sauce mixes (scroll down).

Yakiniku-style Lamb

Recipe: Yakiniku-style Marinade
Serves 2 with rice and side dishes.

200grams lamb or beef, sliced thin into mouth-sized pieces
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
  • Place ingredients in a bowl or plastic freezer bag and combine thouroughly.
  • Refridgerate for an hour or two. Overnight would be fine.
  • Spread out (cook in batches if necessary) over a hot grill or frypan, turning once.
  • Serve as is or with a splash of chili oil. Eat Immediatly.
Fun Facts - Did you know that August 29th is the official "Yakiniku day" (yakiniku no hi)? I didn't either. See Wikipedia's entry on yakiniku for more.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Ramen - らめん

Ramen, after.

I don't usually make ramen at home. I prefer to leave fast food to the professionals, enjoy my dose of grease and starch while I'm out and prepare healthier foods in the kitchen. But I had that pork simmering liquid lying around, and so I mixed it together with a little chicken stock, shoyu and all my ramen favorites - sliced pork, boiled egg, menma and negi (with a few nameko mushrooms I had to use up).

Ramen, before.

It was good stodgy, warming fair when the weather was being so mean to us last week, but the noodles were just the slightest touch overdone and the flavour wasn't anything to change my opinion that half the fun of ramen is going out to some obscure little whole in the wall to watch someone else make it for you.

My friends and I have our favorite ramen place here in Tokorozawa, in a little alley off Prope, that's known for its tomato ramen. The char siu pork is thick and marbled and the staff remember us even though we only go in every month or two. I get tonkotsu ramen myself, that creamy looking pork stock thick with collagen (and calories), but if it's not available my order of preference is miso, shoyu, then shio (salt). Shio ramen just isn't that great.

I wouldn't mind learning how to make a good miso base though. I found a few recipes here and here, but I somehow doubt I'll find the motivation until I'm back in Australia and I can't just walk down the block for a fresh bowl in five minutes.

Passion and ramen identification - The World Of Ramen
An unusually long and detailed Wikipedia entry.