Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Green beans with ground pork - いんげんの 挽肉 いため

While in Taiwan, I ate some stir fried green beans that had been tossed with ground pork, ginger and spring onions. They didn't look like much...

Dry-fried green beans

.. but they were suprisingly delicious, easily outshining the duck and pork we'd ordered. So imagine my happiness on Monday when I came across a similar recipe in one of my Japanese cookbooks (Harumi Kurihara's Japanese Cooking), with chili and soy sauce as the central flavours.

The original recipe involved making an infused oil, which seemed like too much work for a quick Tuesday night meal, so I just used the ingredients as is and hoped for the best. Following Kurihara's advice I kept the beans al dente, rather than aiming for the well browned and withered look of the first picture, and it seemed to help their flavour come through in the final dish. It was 'can't wait to eat it again for lunch' good, with just the right touch of heat and very very salty. I'm a salt-fiend, but I'd probably cut back on the soy a little next time.

japanese-style green beans with pork

Recipe: Green Beans with Ground Pork - いんげんの ひき肉 いため
Serves 2 with rice

200 grams green beans (いんげん)
100 grams pork mince (豚挽肉)
4 small chilies, seeds removed and finely diced**
1 clove garlic (にんにく), minced
green onions, finely chopped
sesame oil (ごま油)
1 1/2 TBSP soy sauce (しょうゆ)
1/2 tsp fine sugar

  • Prep the beans and par-boil for a few minutes, remove when just tender and rinse in ice water.
  • In a fry pan, heat the sesame oil, garlic and green onions until fragrant and stir fry the pork.
  • Add chili peppers, 1 TBSP soy and the sugar.
  • When the pork is cooked through, add the green beans and mix together.
  • Sprinkle with a further 1/2 TBSP soy sauce and serve immediately.
** The original recipe calls for dry but I used some jarred in oil. Fresh would also be fine.

You can serve this over rice for a quick meal, or as one of a few side dishes. I was craving nori so I made myself a few brown rice onigiri and some sweet crunchy kabo (Japanese turnip) pickles and tucked in in front of the TV. It's nice to be back home in my own kitchen.

(Looking around the internet, I also found a Thai version, a Japanese recipe without the pork, and awestern variation with ground turkey. Now I'm just surprised I'd never eaten green beans this way before.)

Frogs on Toast

From a karaoke place in Ueno:



The frog is made of green tea icecream. Yum.

Kitty-chan, Bubble Tea, Wasabi Hotdogs and other cheap eats in Taiwan

The foodie portion of our trip got off to an interesting start with Eva Air's Hello Kitty themed meals.

Eva Airplane Food

Like most in-flight food, the taste was eh - but the cuteness! Note the Hello Kitty kamaboko and Hello Kitty custard buns (of course, I ate the head first.)

Aside from chowing down on some snakes, Christina and I ate mountains of delicious food while in Taipei and left regretting we hadn't had a chance to try half of what we wanted to.

The language barrier made things interesting, as neither of us spoke a scrap of Chinese, but there was a lot of good natured pointing and smiling and we didn't end up with a single bad dish.

This was our favorite find, from a street cart down the road from our hostel:

Favorite breakfast, Taipei

...a rice ball filled with meat, vegetables, egg, fried bread and perhaps pork floss? I'm pretty sure they came in different varieties but when the vendor discovered we had no idea what was going on he just gave us a little bit of everything. Soft and crispy, salty and filling, it made the perfect breakfast with a cup of the excellent coffee from across the road. Apparently coffee has recently taken off in Taiwan, and we were really impressed with how well they're doing it. Japanese coffee has always tasted a little burnt to me.

Some of the other highlights included wild boar with sweet chili sauce, sticky rice steamed in bamboo wood, wasabi and shiso hotdogs, coconut bubble tea, piles of dumplings and noodles, fried onions on everything, green beans stir fried with pork and ginger, creamy peanut ice cream and camphor smoked duck (if only it wasn't so bony).

Of course, when I said above that we didn't order a single bad dish, I wasn't including this ... interesting side to our tofu in Wulai:

Thousand Year Eggs

According to Lonely Planet, Thousand Year Eggs are "duck's eggs that are covered in straw and stored underground for six months (the traditional recipe has them soaked in horse urine before burial!). The yolk becomes green and the white becomes jelly." I managed to try a small bite of this, and honestly it didn't taste like much more than a strongly flavored egg, but just looking at it made me feel a little queasy.

Now that I'm home I'm digging back into my Japanese favorites and trying to ignore my cravings for that coconut bubble tea. I might have to try Pearl Lady in Shinjuku this weekend, but I'm sure it won't be TW$25, around 100yen.

Being a food dork I took pictures of almost everything we ate, and much that we didn't (tragic, I know). The full set is on Flickr here but these are a few of my favorites from around the nightmarkets:

Fresh fruits and stuffed cherry tomatoes...
Fresh fruits

Tiny shellfish by the bag (being sold alongside silkworms, which I forgot to snap a pic of)...
Shinlin Nightmarkets

No idea what these fried beauties are...
Taiwanese snacks?

The sign called this 'Wow, frog's eyes!' but it looks more like jelly and limes to me..
The alleged frog's eggs.

Snakes On A Plate - Adventures in Taiwan

As promised, I went to Taiwan and ate a snake. I remember looking over the photo's from Robyn's parents' trip to China a few years ago as they described how the diners next to them had celebrated the birth of their grandchild by having a snake's throat slit tableside and toasting with its blood. I was fascinated by this unusual delicacy, but not quite fascinated enough to drink fresh blood. Since Taipei's Snake Alley is famous for restaurants specialising in different preparations of our slithery friend, I figured I should seize the chance to eat a snake in its natural culinary habitat. It probably tasted just like unagi, right?

Despite their hyping of Snake Alley, our guidebook provided little advice for anyone who might like to sample the food, just the reassurance: "Don't worry, you won't be served snake unless you visit a restaurant that specialises in it". Granted, most tourists would probably prefer to stick with dumplings and noodles, but the food vocabulary section gives the Chinese for things like Frozen Duck's Blood Soup (yaxie gao, if you're interested). Is any traveller more likely to chow down on frozen ducks blood than a snake steak? I don't think so. We armed ourselves with the Japanese kanji for snake (蛇) and hoped it was the same.

After asking a few expats for directions we finally found the place, and decided that Snake Alley is more like Seedy Sex Shop Alley these days. There were only two likely looking restaurants. The first had cages of snakes and rabbits in the doorway. Outside, the angriest looking Taiwanese woman I've ever seen was playing with a big .... python? Like this one:


Christina's rather nervous "oh my god, a snake!" exclamations seemed to throw her into a rage, and she stomped off to retrieve a rabbit in a small fish tank which she tangled provocatively in front of her pet. The other place had a video of the chef preparing and drinking snake's blood playing outside, with signs in Japanese (a plus) but the sole English sign declaring No Photos (damn). We settled on the first place and braved the angry snake handler:

Snake Restaurant Taipei

Once inside, we had a choice between snake's blood, snake's blood and a tasting menu of 7 organs and offal, soup with snake meat, stir fried snake and BBQ snake. Hrrrmm. In the end we went with the stir fry:

Stir-fried snake.

The texture was closest to calamari, though a little less chewy, and the flavors were very mild and sweet, like an un-fishy swordfish or bland poultry
. The taste of the meat was somewhat overpowered by the strongly spiced sauce and greens that tasted of aniseed, but perhaps that was the point. Snake seems to be eaten as much for its medicinal properties as its flavor, with many believing it can improve your eyesight and relieve fatigue.

Back at our hostel we chatted with some of the local English teachers who said the Alley was popular with older Taiwanese guys looking for an aphrodisiac before heading to one of the areas many massage parlours. According to this site "snake gall is believed to be a terrific aphrodisiac, more potent than two doses of Viagra and a bowl of raw oysters.... men in particular do shots of it because the Chinese character for gall 季 dan also means courage". Perhaps the bottles of "hebi seieki" (snake sperm) on sale are also meant to increase libido:


At TW$420 (around US$12) it was the most expensive meal I ate in Taiwan, though still very reasonable, and probably my least favorite. Yet I'm sure I'll remember it long after the wasabi hotdogs and bubble teas we enjoyed afterwards. How often do you get the chance to bite a snake?

Background on snake in Chinese cuisine.
A review of three snake dishes.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Ochazuke - お茶漬け

Ocha zuke

Literally 'soaked in tea', ochazuke is perfect comfort food. Freshly brewed green tea poured over warmed up rice and a few favorite toppings.

From the references to ochazuke I've seen in Japanese manga and popular culture, I have an image of it as the eggs on toast of Japan. Simple, nourishing food prepared by little old men and students in tiny bedsits, when you can't be bothered cooking but you want something hot, or when your stomach is worn out on rich, extravagant meals and you long for something subtle, almost bland.

When my family hosted some Japanese exchange students a few years ago they brought packets of instant ochazuke (freeze dried toppings and powdered seasoning similar to cup-a-soup) in their luggage, insurance against our unfamiliar cuisine.

I like to make mine with flaked salmon and nori, occasionally tossing in some leftover mushrooms or wakame seaweed, but the variations are almost endless. A brief internet search gave this list of possible toppings: tsukemono (pickles), umeboshi, arare (tiny rice crackers), bonito flakes, jako (tiny fish), nori, salted salmon, wasabi, wakame, mitsuba (a type of herb), furikake (rice seasoning packets), sesame seeds, tarako (fish roe), mentaiko (more fish roe), shiokara (pickled seafood), nori no tsukudani (nori seaweed paste or preserve), green onions, omelette, green peas, cubed tofu and various other fresh fish. Not counting more fusion suggestions like 'steak' or 'last night's stir-fry' that's at least 20 recommended toppings, with umeboshi, rice crackers, nori and pickles the most commonly suggested.

For the tea I use genmai-cha, green tea with toasted rice kernels, because I think it has a really deep, savoury flavor that works well in this dish. You can use whatever kind of green tea you fancy (hojicha, sencha, etc) but avoid powdered matcha.

Recipe: Ochazuke - お茶漬け
Serves 1

Rice (I use brown, but white short grain is more traditional)
Mug of hot green tea (any kind but matcha)
Salmon fillet, grilled or sauteed with lots of salt** and flaked into tiny pieces
Shredded nori
Soy sauce
Sesame Oil

  • If using leftover rice, warm it up a little.
  • Arrange the salmon (or toppings of your choice) on top of the rice.
  • Pour the green tea over the rice until it's just covered.
  • Season with a dash of soy and a sprinkling of sesame oil. (optional)
  • Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  • Sprinkle with nori and serve.

The most important thing is keep experimenting to find out what you like. Taste the broth with just tea, with different kinds of tea, with soy, salt, and different combinations of toppings. Some people also use hot water or dashi instead of tea.

After reading everybody else's favourites, I'm looking forward to trying some crunchy little arare in my next bowl of ochazuke but it will have to wait until I get back from Taiwan. I'm flying out tonight with my friend Christina for five days of sightseeing, beach lolling and culinary adventures. My Japanese friends who've been can't stop raving about the food and I'm dying to try something new, including perhaps a local delicacy: snake. After that, I'll probably be craving a nice simple bowl of rice and tea again.

** In Japan you can buy fresh salmon that has been soaked in salt (often labeled 甘口(sweet mouth) ) Perhaps, like me, you have already bought some by mistake and ruined another dish. If you're using this, you don't need to add more salt at cooking time.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Baking in Japan (cornbread)

When I lived in Melbourne, baking seemed so much easier than making a stew or stir frying vegetables. There's no 'handful of this' 'season to taste' or 'when it looks done..' in baking, your success relies less on kitchen instinct than slavish obedience to the rules. Helping my mum bake chocolate orange cake and specalaas as an eight year old, it was drummed into me that any idiot could turn out perfect cakes and golden brown, chewy cookies as long as they FOLLOWED THE RECIPE EXACTLY.

Cue my arrival in Japan and the realisation that it will often be impossible to follow the recipe exactly. To begin with, like most Japanese people, I do not have an oven. Buttermilk, cooking chocolate and more unusual spices are difficult or impossible to find. At the supermarket there is only one kind of cream, the rows of flour all look the same to me and I have no idea if the cocoa I've bought is intended for cooking or making hot chocolates with. But it can be done. I've used a toaster oven with a temperature dial and various substitutions to make all sorts of cookies, cakes and floury things. They're not perfect every time, but there are a lot more successes than failures.

I go through periods of fear, discarding every recipe I don't have the exact ingredients for and worrying that anything that needs to rise won't be able to make it in my tiny toaster oven. Eventually though, the thought of going months or years without homebaked treats gets the better of me.

On the weekend I tried this recipe for cornbread, that Amy wrote about here. "Aha!" I thought. "If she's not afraid to bake with a few substitutions, perhaps I can do this too". I had to get the cornmeal from the international supermarket an hour away, substitute plain yogurt for the buttermilk, a Pyrex dish for the preferred cast iron skillet and accept that anything that close to the top element of the toaster oven is going to end up a little charred, but look:


... fresh, warm cornbread, crispy and perfectly risen, mocking my hesitation as it waits for the butter. Hurrah!

A few tips
  • If you're using a toaster oven with a temperature dial, use the same time and heat setting as the original recipe but test carefully. Sometimes things need a little longer.
  • Many Japanese microwaves have a convection or 'oven' (オーブン) setting that bake or roast like a gas oven. Try this guide to microwave kanji if you're not sure how yours works. Convection ovens usually require an adjustment to temperature or cooking time, but I'm not sure about the microwave hybrids.
  • The top element of the toaster oven tends to burn anything taller than a cookie. B has had some luck covering the pan with silver foil or another pan and removing at the end to brown, but I usually just slice off the burnt part. It's a good excuse to make icing.
  • Decorating ready made or packet mix cakes seems to be much quite popular here, and the 100yen stores have a good range of pans and cake decorating supplies. You can buy silicon bakeware and other more advanced gadgets places like Loft and Tokyuu Hands.
  • The flour isn't usually kept with the other cake supplies. Keep looking.
  • You won't find much at your local supermarket but international supermarkets usually have a great baking section and stock a bigger variety of dairy products as well. Otherwise, you could try the Foreign Buyers Club.

Useful Vocabulary
Flour フラワー furawaa
Bread flour 強力粉 kyourikiko/ パン用 panyou
All purpose flour 中力粉 chuurikiko
'Weak' flour (the most common here) 薄力粉 hakurikiko
Whole wheat 全麦 zenbaku
Baking Soda 重曹 juusou
Baking Powder ベーキングパウダー beekingu paudaa
Yeast ドライ イースト dorai iisuto
Gelatin ゼラチン zerachin
Food colouring 食用色素 shokujoushikiso
Honey はちみつ hachimitsu
Vanilla essence バニラ banira バニラビーンズ banirabiinzu

Some Necessary Substitutions
Buttermilk -
For every cup of buttermilk, substitute one cup plain yogurt or 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar plus enough milk to make 1 cup, mixed and left to sour for 5 minutes or so.

Self Raising Flour -
SRF is very popular in Australian recipes but no-one I've asked here has heard of it. Happily, it's just all purpose flour with the leavening agents pre-added. For 1 cup self raising flour, substitute 1 cup plain flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Chocolate Chips -
You can find these at most international supermarkets but they're quite pricey. Buying a block of your favorite chocolate and hacking it into bits yourself will only take a few minutes, is much cheaper and you'll get a better quality of chocolate too.

Specific kinds of flour, cream, sugar/syrup or spi -
Try foodsubs.com: Dairy, Flour, and Baking Supplies or use what you've got and see what happens. Using honey instead of golden syrup won't taste the same, but it may still be delicious.

Having said that, I'd better start baking more and stop waiting for the day when I have a perfect kitchen with a huge oven, kitchenaid mixer and food processor, just down the street from a fully stocked international market. Or I could raid the apartment of the only person I know with a real oven, a stereotypical batchelor who has only ever used it as a table for his home bar. Mottainai ne?

Monday, 12 March 2007

Kimchi Seafood Nabe -  キムチ 鍋焼きうどん

kimchi name ingredients

If I was going to open a concept take-away place, it would be Nabe-to-Go. Earthernware pots in a variety of sizes, filled with a selection of fresh vegetables, seafood, meats and tofu, some resting on a bed of udon noodles, floating in dashi flavoured with soy and mirrin, miso or kimchi.

You could grab one on the way home, paying for the ingredients and putting a refundable deposit on the nabe pot, pop it on a burner and within ten minutes you'd have a healthy, freshly cooked meal with no prep and one dirty dish to clean and return to the store at your conveinience.

That's what I was wishing for last night on the train, after a long day tramping around Shinjuku. Happily, it didn't take that long for lazy old me to grab a few things at the supermarket, chop up the veggies and layer it all into my little nabe.

You can use the nabe pot the way you would for shabu shabu, heating the broth and dipping your ingredients in one by one at the table, but I love the nabeyaki udon style, where udon noodles are simmered in the broth alongside your ingredients. My favorite restaurant near B's house does a seafood udon nabe in a wonderfully rich miso broth, with just the right touch of heat, so I thought I'd try making something similar at home.

I messed around with this recipe** for a classic chige nabe, changing most of the ingredients, adding more water and reducing the ammount of kimchi, and ended up with something resembling my goal, though with a more distinctive kimchi flavor. If I didn't love kimchi as much as I do, I might try substituting shichimi togarashi or chilli oil next time.

kimchi nabe

Recipe: Kimchi Nabeyaki Udon - キムチ 鍋焼きうどん
Serves 2

100 grams udon noodles (half a small packet) (うどん)
75 grams momen (cotton) tofu (木綿/もめん 豆腐)
4 big raw prawns, cleaned and shelled (生えび)
Small fillet cod (たら) or other white fish
1 bunch of boy choy aka chingensai (ちんげんさい)
Handful enoki musrooms 
Handful fresh beanshoots
50 grams kimchi (around 2 dessert spoons) (キムチ)
2TBSP miso paste (みそ)

  • Place the noodles in the botton of the nabe and top with sliced vegetables, tofu, fish and kimchi.

  • In a measuring jug disolve the miso paste in approx 1 cup hot water then pour into the nabe, topping with extra liquid until about 3/4 full.

  • Place on a low-medium burner and simmer until prawns are pink and fish has cooked through.

  • Serve.

** Yasuko-san's Home Cooking has a huge collection of Japanese family recipes that have been translated into English by her daughter with charming illustrations. At times the translations can be a bit difficult to understand (ie. 'velvet-stemmed agaric' instead of 'enoki') but it's a fascinating insight into the everyday food you don't see in restaurants or glossy dinner party cookbooks.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Koreatown in Shinjuku

HoTok in Koreatown, Shinjuku

A few weeks ago I put an ad in Tokyo's weekly English magazine, Metropolis, looking for people who were interested in showing me how to cook their favourite Japanese dishes, in exchange for a few free English lessons.

I got a lot of responses but most of them went something like this: 'I don't like Japanese food....' "I don't know how to cook Japanese food..." "I know a few Italian recipes....." blahblahblahijustwantyourenglishlessons. Heh. A few cool people did reply though, and today I met one of them in Shinjuku for a meal and a chat.

After a hearty bowl of katsudon, Hatsue showed me something awesome that's been under my nose for the last year and a half. If only, on one of our post-conference rambles through the seedy Kabukicho district east of Shinjuku station, we had wandered that little bit farther. A few more blocks away, around Shin Okubo station, are Korean restaurants and shops of every description, signs written in hangul, street stalls selling snacks and the spicy scent of kimchi in the air.

Woe that we had already stuffed ourselves full of katsudon! We poked around a little, guessing at the strange creations in sweet shop windows and marvelling over shops selling nothing but merchandise plastered with the smiling, well-groomed heads of Korean pop idols and actors. After a leisurely coffee to escape the short hail storm, we'd cleared enough stomach real estate to buy a few Hotok(aka hodduk) from a stall. I had the hachimitsu (honey) flavour and it was amazing. The gooey filling tastes exactly like baklava, honey spiced with cinnamon and ground nuts. Further internet research suggests the pancake-like outsides are made with "a yeast leavened flour-based dough that has rice flour (from the type of sticky rice that is used to make mochi) mixed in to improve its chewiness". So good.

Directions: 'Koreatown' is a ten minute walk from the East/Kabukicho exit of JR Shinjuku station, cutting straight through Kabukicho. The Hotok stall is right outside discount chain Don Quixote (ドンキホーテ), so you can follow their map, and sells anko, honey and cheese hotok as well as 'toppiki' - Korean-style mochi in in spicy red sauce.



One of the unexpectedly cool things about food in Japan is finding wacky imported fruits just sitting next to the apples and oranges at the local supermarket. When was the last time you saw a starfruit at Coles or Safeway?

Sadly, Starfruit reminds me a little of the white part of the watermelon rind. It's not exactly nasty, it's just 'why bother'?

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Mackerel boiled in miso - さばのみそ煮

Saba and Miso

Mackerel, saba in Japanese, isn't my favourite fish. It has a really strong, oily taste and the few times I've tried it as a topping for nigiri sushi, I've barely been able to choke it down. On the other hand, it's a great pairing for a bowl of steamed rice or in a bland, sweet bento lunch that needs a salty, savoury kick.

The strong, salty miso flavour of this sauce holds its own with the mackerel in a way more delicate flavours could not, but this isn't something I wanted to gulp down in a few bites on its own. A little bite of fish, some rice, some pickles, then another little bite of fish was all I could take. Yet I'll be making this again, if only because it complements the collection of rice, pickles and side dishes that make up a quick Japanese meal so well.

Like many of my Japanese cooking adventures, I received a translated copy of the recipe from a co-worker. This time, it was a good deal shorter than the original recipe and omitted some ingredients I could plainly see in the accompanying photo of the dish. Hrrrmmm.. I winged it, but going over the recipe with my Japanese tutor after the fact it seems I did everything but score the skin of the fish before cooking. This recipe comes from a book of simplified Japanese recipes for the rushed home cook, which I hope to get my hands on soon, and it took me less than twenty minutes from concept to table, perfect weeknight fare.

Recipe: Saba no misoni

Serves two with rice and side dishes.

2 fillets of fresh mackerel (さば), cleaned and boned**
1/2 naganegi (長ねぎ)aka 'Japanese leek'
3 thin slices of fresh ginger (しょうが)

Simmering Liquid
1/4 cup sake 酒
2/3 cup water 水
1/3 teaspoon dashi powder だしの素
2 tablespoons miso みそ
1/2 tablespoon sugar 砂糖

  • Clean the fillets and remove any visible bones. With a knife, score a cross into the skin side for easier flavour absorption.

  • Combine the ingredients for the simmering liquid in a frypan, add the ginger and bring to the boil.

  • Add the mackerel and simmer for 8-10 minutes, spooning the liquid over the fish every now and then.

    Miso Saba in the pan

  • After around 3 minutes, add the onion, turning to coat occasionally.

  • When the sauce has thickened, remove the mackerel and negi from the pan, arrange on the plate and spoon some of the sauce on top if desired.

** Beware the partially dried, pre-salted fish sold alongside the fresh in Japanese supermarkets, which will be far too salty for this recipe but can make a delicious 2 minute dinner when tossed under the grill just long enough to warm through and crisp the skin.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Pork and Vegetable Miso Soup - 豚汁

tonjiru - pork miso soup

Growing up in such a mild climate, I never thought much about the seasonality of dishes. Aside from a handful of very hot or freezing days, it seemed pefectly natural to have soup in summer and BBQs in winter.

The Japanese, on the other hand, are very proud of their distinct four seasons; a dry, cold winter, all-too-short sunburst of spring, wet sticky summer and pleasantly gradual cooling and goldening autumn. Restuarant menus change with the seasons and produce appears and disappears from supermarket shelves as the weather changes. More than that, sensitive Melbourne girls are simply too hot or too cold to contemplate whole genres of dishes.

For the last three months I've rarely eaten a salad or cold sandwhich. Ingredients for vietnamese rice paper rolls sit untouched in my cupboards and I laugh at myself eating the occaisional icecream safely indoors with the heater blasting and wooly slippers on.

With the arrival of March and the (as yet unfufilled) promise of warmer days, I've started thinking about all the foods that have warmed me up this winter. Pots of spicy chili, nabe cooked at the table, rich stews, curries and vats and vats of soup. I wonder "Will I have another chance to eat you before December?"

Determined to make the most of the remaining cold weather, I've been making the most winter friendly dishes I can think of. Tonjiru is a hearty soup by Japanese standards, packed with pork and vegetables and flavored with miso. The best tonjiru I've tasted was eaten sitting on the grass in Ashio, Tochigi, after a hard morning of tree planting with the local environmental group. Prepared that morning by volunteers, it had been simmering away for hours, softening the vegetables and mingling flavours.

Most versions contain daikon, potato, gobo, carrot and the jelly-like konyakku. I skipped the konyakku and potatoes and added some nameko mushrooms and aburaage tofu because that's what I had lying around. I also cheated slightly by using ready cut gobo, because scraping all the dirt off is mendokusai (a pain). Despite the substitutions it turned out hearty and flavourful, so it seems like a fairly forgiving recipe. If anything the liquid to filling ratio was a bit low. Next time I'd add a cup of water at the beginning or top up while simmering.

Recipe: Tonjiru - 豚汁
Serves Four with rice and other side dishes.

200 grams very thinly sliced pork
3 cups dashi stock
A good dash of sake
2 TBS miso paste
1/4 daikon (大根)
Packet ready cut gobo strips
1 carrot, peeled and cut into strips
1 sheet aburaage tofu (油揚げ 豆腐)
Handful of nameko, shitake or shimeji mushrooms

  • Saute the daikon, gobo and carrot in a little oil. As they begin to soften add the mushrooms and stir for another minute or two.

  • Add the pork and stir until cooked through.

  • Add the dashi, bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for around 15 minutes. Check that your vegetables have softened and add a little more liquid if needed.

  • Dissolve the miso paste in a ladle or cup, using a little of the stock, and add back into to the pot.

  • Add the sake, simmer for a couple of minutes and serve.

(This recipe is loosely adapted from the many I found on the internet, including Lucas's, which features a step by step video.)

Japanese citrus season - iyokan いよかん

The outside looks like an orange....

iyokan (outside)

... but the inside looks like a mandarin.

iyokan (inside)

Such is the wonder of the iyokan (いよかん), the shiny orange fruit flooding supermarkets around here lately. The price of your standard orange has risen sharply from the standard 99yen to as much as 178yen! Terrible! Meanwhile, iyokan can often be picked up for as little 50yen, and never seems to rise beyond 99yen.

Sadly, the ones I've had so far have been a little dry and withered for my liking. I appreciate the ease of peeling, and the best ones have a tart twang to them that's more interesting than the sweeter dekopon, but until the king of iyokans comes along to prove me wrong, I can't help but think of them as a poor man's orange.