For a Winter Delicacy, Look No Further Than the Zuwai-gani Snow Crab!

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Various Types of Crabs Served in Japan

Various Types of Crabs Served in Japan

Various Types of Crabs Served in Japan

In Japan, crabs are nationally loved as a fine culinary ingredient. Since Japan is surrounded by seas on all sides, the nation enjoys an abundance of crab varieties, including the Zuwai-gani snow crab, the Taraba-gani king crab, and the Ke-gani horsehair crab.

Zuwai-gani Snow Crab: The Quintessential Japanese Crab

“Zuwai-gani” Snow Crab: The Quintessential Japanese Crab

Among them, a particularly popular variety is the Zuwai-gani snow crab. Characterized by a form that is slimmer than the other crabs, the Zuwai-gani snow crab is loaded with concentrated “umami” (savory taste) that crab-lovers crave, and appeals to the palate with a distinctly sweet flavor note. The Zuwai-gani snow crab dwells primarily on the west coast of Japan, in the Sea of Japan (as far north as Hokkaido, and as far south as Tottori Prefecture), where fishing season for the snow crab opens around November, and harvesting continues until around March of the following year. In some regions of Japan, the Zuwai-gani snow crab is referred to by a name that signifies the local place of origin, such as “Matsuba-gani” and “Echizen-gani”, and some of these local varieties are recognized as luxury seafood brands.

No-Sweat Tips That Make Eating Crab Easy

Use Kitchen Shears to Make Eating Crab Easy

Have a pair of kitchen shears ready. Starting from the main body of the crab, sever the legs. Then, cut the legs into sections at the joints, insert the shears into the shell, and peel off the meat. Although removing the meat from the crab can be cumbersome, there are very convenient tools for this in Japan.

Spoon & Fork Crab Utensil (left), Crab Cracker (center), Peeler (right)

Spoon & Fork Crab Utensil (left), Crab Cracker(center), Peeler (right)

One way to further simplify cutting crabs, is to scoop out the meat from the legs with a spoon & fork crab utensil, a tool specifically designed for this purpose. A peeler and a crab cracker for cracking the shell, are also convenient to have handy.

Crab Cuisine Dining Spots

Yude Zuwai-gani (boiled Zuwai-gani snow crab)

Yude Zuwai-gani (boiled Zuwai-gani snow crab)
Kani-shabu (crab shabu shabu)

Kani-shabu (crab shabu shabu)

All over Japan, there are a vast number of sushi restaurants and Washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) dining establishments that serve crab cuisine, including those near fish markets and fishing grounds. One such example is the “Kani Doraku” franchise, whose restaurants offer a wide selection of crab dishes served in an interior that provides traditional Japanese ambience. “Kani Doraku”‘s restaurants can be easily spotted by their signboards featuring a giant crab. There are many other establishments that serve crab cuisine, too many to list here. All we can say is, if visiting Japan during the winter, it is highly recommended to try a Zuwai-gani snow crab dish at least once.

Japanese Elementary School Perks

One of the cool things about teaching at a Japanese elementary school is that sometimes, after work, they prepare food. Granted, it’s not usually a four course meal or anything, but it is quite tasty. On one of the colder days last week (winter is rearing his frigid head) one of the teachers prepared a suiton soup. If you’re not familiar with suiton, the best way I can explain it is that it’s kind of like a dumpling made of flour. On a cold day like this one, a bowl of this hot soup, chock-full of vegetables, juicy meat, and suiton, really hit the spot.

One day this week, one of the staff members diced up some sweet potatoes, cooked them with milk salt and sugar. I wanted to eat ALL of them! I didn’t, but BOY were they good.

So one additional perk about being at a Japanese elementary school is that it’s a great way to learn about Japanese food culture. As I am a foreigner, the teachers always try their best to explain to me the foods that I’m eating. This helps me to build some cool relationships with the teachers and staff around me.

The Joys of Japanese Noodles

Mom always taught me not to slurp my noodles, but the cool thing about being in Japan is that the slurping rule goes completely out the window. If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant that serves any kind of noodles, or if you’ve been to a Japanese friend’s house for a meal, you probably know exactly what I mean.

My problem is that I’m so used to NOT slurping that I haven’t quite mastered the fine art of slurping without splashing noodle juice on myself and everyone around me. As a result, I enjoy that noodle goodness in silence.

Why do Japanese people slurp their noodles? I haven’t figured out the exact reason, but I have three theories. The first is maybe it’s like taste-testing. I remember watching this story about this professional coffee tester and she demonstrated how she tests coffee. She made the loudest slurp I had ever heard. She said she did it because it was the best way to quickly spread flavor and texture to the taste buds. I’m not sure Japanese noodle slurping is that “deep,” but it’s just a theory. My other two theories are a much simpler. Theory Number Two: Those noodles are hot, dude! Theory Number three: Those noodles taste good as hell!

Japan makes some of the greatest dishes on the planet. Let’s take a closer, mouth-watering look at a four of the most popular types of Japanese noodles: soba soumen, ramen and udon.

Soba (蕎麦-そば)

This is probably one of the healthiest of Japanese noodles. Soba is a buckwheat noodle that can be eaten either hot or cold.

The Japan Guy’s Soba Recommendations
Tanuki Soba (タヌキそば)
Raccoon dog soba? Don’ worry, these noodles don’t have pieces of tanuki animal in it. This soba has pieces of fried tempura batter. I usually eat this dish cold and boy is it good!

Tanuki Soba

See the fried bits of tempura batter? Yep, that’s tanuki soba!

Yaki Soba (焼きそば – やきそば)
I can’t say whether or not yakisoba is the healthiest food in the world, but damn all that!  I’ll fight somebody over some yakisoba.  It’s that’s good!  Yaki soba literally means fried soba.  This dish a bit oilier than some of the others on this list and contains cabbage, pickled ginger, and lightly sweet, yakisoba sauce.

Soumen (素麺そ-うめん)

Soumen is the fine, white Japanese noodle, maybe one of the thinnest noodles you will ever see in Japan. I remember trying them for the first time and thinking “Wow, if I wrap three of these together, I could probably floss with them.”

Being as thin as they are makes many of the soumen dishes very light and easy to eat. Don’t let their thin appearance fool you, though. These little guys, when prepared correctly can pack a delicious wallop of Japanese taste.

Though Soumen is primarily eaten cold, there is a dish called nyumen (煮麺 – にゅうめん)which uses soumen noodles in a hot, soy sauce-based broth(I haven’t had the pleasure of trying it yet, though).

The Japan Guy’s Soumen Recommendation
I don’t have the specific name of a soumen dish for you to try, but I usually eat my soumen cold, topped with spicy ground chicken, red peppers and green onions.

Ramen (らめん)

These Japanese noodles are my personal favorite! Though ramen is originally a Chinese dish, Japan has put it’s own tasty signature on this dish. There are countless types of ramen dishes. Some are your typical types of soup, while others are local specialties or even original restaurant concoctions.

These are the four major types of ramen:

  1. Miso (味噌 – みそ) or soy-bean paste-based broth
  2. Shouyu (醤油 – しょうゆ) or soy-sauce based broth
  3. Tonkotsu (豚骨 – とんこつ) or pork bones/pork belly based broth
  4. Shio (塩 – しお) or salt-based broth

I have tried every one of these types (except for salt) and every one of this is tasty. The cool thing about ramen is that no two shops will make it the same way and they can both be equally tasty.
Popular ramen ingredient additions: pork, bean sprouts, seaweed, kamaboko (steamed, fish-paste cake), and green onions.

Though these four standard types of ramen are wonderful, but there are other ramen dishes that are EASILY just as good.

The Japan Guy’s Ramen Recommendations
Tsukimi Ramen (月見らめん – つきみらめん)
Moon ramen. The way you know if you’re eating tsukimi ramen is if you see a raw egg (the moon) sitting in the middle of it. I know some of you may not be fans of going all Stallone-style, eating raw eggs. But if you stir the raw egg into your soup, not only will you not notice, you’ll might actually like it.

Yummy Tsukimi Ramen

See the yellow ‘moon’ right in middle?

Gomoku Ramen (五目らめん – ごむくらめん)
This is one of those dishes you can’t go wrong with. Gomoku loosely translates to mean a five ingredient mixture. I’m not sure of all five ingredients, or even if it always has to be five, but the gomoku I’ve tried generally has several types of vegetables, chicken, and mushrooms.

Tasty Gomoku Soba

Gomoku the noodles that mix it up. This is actually a picture of the soba version (I eat quite a bit of soba), but the same restaurant has gomoku ramen, too! TASTY!

*Did you also know that there are gomoku onigiri (rice balls) and gomoku sushi?
Now that the weather is starting to cool down quite a bit here in Japan, a hearty bowl of ramen is a perfect fall/winter food.

Udon (うどん)

The thick, Japanese wheat noodle. These are without a doubt the thickest noodles I have ever eaten, but they are so good! Udon noodles can also be eaten hot or cold depending on the dish.

The Japan Guy’s Udon Recommendations
Kitsune Udon (キツネうどん)
Fox Udon?! Again, this might be what you’re thinking. You’re not eating fox meat. This dish is made up of udon and aburaage (油揚げ – あぶらあげ – deep-fried tofu).

Curry Udon (カレーうどん)
Do you like curry? Do you like udon noodles? Well, if you do you’re a lot like me and this dish will be like a bowl of spicy, piping-hot heaven for you (wait, does it get hot in heaven?).  Ingredients: Curry, udon noodles, pork (or beef), diced onions.

Bowl of Curry Udon

The Japanese Breakfast vs. The American Breakfast

Please close your eyes for a second and think about your idea of the perfect, most delectable breakfast you could have. Think about every nuance. Are you eating it at a restaurant that really makes your tummy smile every time you go? Perhaps it’s at your Mom’s house or another family member. What breakfast foods are running through your mind? Please feel free to leave your ideas in the comments section.

The American Style Breakfast

When I think about the perfect breakfast, it’s gotta be one thing for me…pancakes. I think about a piping hot, short-shortstack of fluffy, buttermilk pancakes with whipped butter on top and just the perfect complement of maple syrupy goodness streamed on top. Throw in a serving of scrambled eggs and a class of chilled orange juice, and there we have it…breakfast heaven! You could just as easily replace the pancakes with a hearty plate of waffles, or french toast, and I’d still be a happy dude. There is just something about those syrup-based breakfast dishes that reminds of home. It reminds me of waking up at 6:00 am on an early fall Saturday mornings, where my brother Derrick and I would sit and watch the morning cartoon lineup together. Mom (or one my sisters) would wake up a bit later and sometimes ask the magic question. “Boys! Y’all want some pancakes?” Umm…YEAH!! They’d cook up a batch of slamming pancakes (sometimes with eggs if we were lucky) with turkey sausage. AHHHHHhhh…I think I feel a bout of homesickness coming on.

In my head, pancakes, eggs, sausage, and orange juice are the quintessential elements of a perfect, American-style breakfast. But if you ask somebody else, like maybe my Dad, you may get a different answer.
*I’m pretty sure Dad would say grits (like a cornmeal porridge) are a part of an ideal breakfast.

Now if we’re not talking ideal, but just your run of the meal weekday…it was always a heaping bowl of cereal with lowfat milk (Mom always bought 2% milk, and now I’m hooked on the stuff! Thanks Mommy!!). Cereals…I used to eat so many different kinds. As a kid I was more partial to the sugary cereals: The Original Cap’N Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms, Apple Jacks, Count Chocula (General Mills), Boo Berry (General Mills), Cocoa Puffs, Golden Grahams…pant…pant…Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs, Crunch Berries (a type of Cap’N Crunch), Trix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Berry Kix, Cookie Crisp…I could keep going, but I’ll stop there. During the teenage years, I started to enjoy cereals like Clusters, Wheat Chex, Cracklin’ Oat Bran, Bran Flakes, and even started to get more into oatmeal. I won’t lie to you, though, I’m still a huge fan of the kids cereals, it’s one of my unabashed pleasures.

Though I know it’s not big for everybody, in the Ash family, breakfast was always a big deal.

The Japanese-Style Breakfast?

Even in America breakfast can vary from place to place and region. Breakfast menus can sometimes be a product of where you come from. Nowhere have I gotten to experience this more than in Japan.

When I came to Japan, it was so cool to hear some of the other things that people had for breakfast. Everybody had such different breakfast menu ideas. I don’t remember exactly what was common in England or Australia, but it was different from the American style. The Japanese-style breakfast, though, was nothing at all like the American style I was used to.

What exactly does a Japanese breakfast consist of? Well, much like back home, it depends on who you ask, but the standard breakfast that I’ve heard Japanese friends and co-workers mention consists of the following: miso soup (味噌汁), natto(納豆), steamed rice (ご飯 or gohan), and grilled fish (焼き魚 or yakizakana). I remember, when I first got here, thinking “Huh? Fish for breakfast??” It’s quite different from my Georgia-ideal breakfast, but it has really grown on me. Once you’ve gotten used to it, this can be quite a hearty, tasty breakfast, too.

I have heard other people mention eating fruit for breakfast here in Japan and, in rare cases, even cereal or pancakes**.
** Why the freak is maple syrup so expensive in Japan…and soooo thin. I’m not saying I want my syrup to be cane syrup thick, but if it’s going to be that expensive, I want it to really get the job done

Having tried both styles, I have to say that both have their benefits. I think the Japanese style breakfast is FAR healthier and far lighter than the American-style that I like. After eating this type of meal, I feel like I had my fill, but I don’t fell heavy…if that makes sense. After my ideal American-style breakfast, I feel like unbuckling my belt and unleashing my mighty stomach. On the other hand, when you talk about straight up deliciousness, I have to say the American style all day.

The True Sapporo Ramen Experience

I love ramen. Not the instant stuff served in Styrofoam cups, but the fresh noodles served in a bowl of rich soup stock topped with fresh vegetables and slices of pork. I try to eat it several times a month at the various authentic ramen shops across Honolulu. However, as many say, you can only get real New York style pizza in NYC, I believe you can only get real ramen in Japan. And the northern city of Sapporo is the place to get that authentic ramen taste. So during my recent trip to Japan, I made the arduous trek to Hokkaido to eat miso butter ramen.

My Tokyo-born travel buddy, Yoshi, who I met in college in the US, decided to do the ramen travel trip with me. Having him around made it easier to travel to northern Japan as the further away you get from the major tourist cities, the less English you’ll find. Since it would take an entire day to reach Sapporo by train, we opted to take a domestic flight from Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport to New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. From there we hopped on the JR Line that took us straight to Sapporo Station in the center of town. The entire trip took us a little over three hours or so. In late Spring 2016, the new Hokkaido Shinkansen High-Speed Rail service will begin and its said it will take under five hours to get to Sapporo. However, flying is much quicker if you don’t have much time.

Banraiken Second Stage Sapporo Ramen

Once we got into Sapporo, we headed straight to Ramen Yokocho, or Ramen Alley in the Susukino District. The easily found alleyway, lit by a garish street sign, is a mecca for ramen lovers around the world. More an enclosed hallway, Ramen Yokocho boasts about a dozen small restaurants that seat no more than a few customers at a time. Christmas tree lights hang from the ceiling and lanterns illuminate large picture menus of sumptuous bowls of ramen for sale. A looped recording of a charumera, a horn-like instrument once played by ramen pushcart vendors in the old days, echoed throughout the narrow alleyway.

With many different varieties to choose from, it was tough to pick the right place to eat. Most places seemed to have the same picture of the same bowl of soup, but Yoshi said they were all very different as the toppings varied from local seafood to pork. He was also undecided so we kept aimlessly wandering around staring at menu after menu. We finally chose a restaurant because the pictures showed huge slices of pork atop bowls of their ramen so we slipped inside Banraiken Second Stage Restaurant.

Chef Kazuyoshi Uchibayashi sang out “Irrashaimase!” in a terse, rather aloof tone as we sat at his tiny L-shaped counter. He placed small water glasses in front of us and quietly stared at us, waiting for us to place our order. There was no small talk or other pleasantries and his face blankly waited for us to place our orders. I squirmed uncomfortably, and after a few seconds of staring at the pictures on his Japanese-only menu, I pointed at a dish. And with a curt “hai,” chef Uchibayashi, whose name was written on a certificate seen on the back wall of the store, began to prepare my first authentic black soy miso butter ramen.

Preparing Soy Miso Butter Ramen

With steam and smoke filling the restaurant, Uchibayashi began to move like an octopus in his tiny kitchen. One-hand woking bean sprouts over a gas flame; another grilling the sumptuous pork over hot coals, all the while keeping an eye on his boiling noodles. He warmed empty soup bowls with hot water, then ladled broth and other ingredients into them. He used no timers or measuring cups, as his precise eye was all he needed. He then pulled the fresh noodles from the boiling water and violently shook them over the sink to drain them.

And as quickly as we had ordered, Uchibayashi placed steaming hot bowls of ramen soup in front of us. My senses were overloaded as the steam fogged my eyeglasses and the smell of the broth overwhelmed me. The large pork loin still sizzled from the grill. Gooey, bright orange boiled egg yolks swam along side bamboo shoots and dumplings.

But as I dipped my spoon into the soup and took my first taste…I was…well…not impressed! I couldn’t taste anything. The flavors seemed so bland and needed something…more salt, chili paste, soy sauce…something…because the soup had no flavor.

Then all of a sudden, the Japanese umami kicked in and I began to taste the complex balance of flavors Chef Uchibayashi had created in his simple bowl of ramen. It was as if my tastes buds had been reborn and I could understand the essence of his ramen.

Soy Miso Butter Ramen

Growing up in American, my palate is accustomed to gobs of ketchup, glasses of sugary soda, and overwhelmingly salty food. My taste buds are used to immediate gratification. Yet Japanese pride themselves on having an expanded palate and acclaim dishes that blend and balance flavors with each other. Most declare American food to be too bold and Uchibayashi’s soup was clearly a masterpiece in subtleties.

Uchibayashi forced me to taste each ingredient in his ramen and how they affected my difference senses. My mouth filled with the earthy taste of the grass-fed pork. The miso coated my tongue as the savory broth clung to the al dente noodles. I tasted the many hours it took him to create this magical bowl of what I thought was a flavor-less soup.

We noisily slurped our noodles but sat in silence, as we were both overwhelmed with Uchibayashi’s ramen. The chef looked on but also said little as he washed his pots and prepared for another order soon to arrive. Although the bowls were large, we managed to finish the soup and left little behind.

Afterwards, Yoshi translated for me and I asked Chef about his ramen. Uchibayashi, wearing a blue bandana tightly across his forehead, said all of his ingredients were locally sourced in Hokkaido. His vegetables were from a local farm and he purchased his pork from one rancher in Hokkaido because of the particular way the pigs were raised. He tried using imported goods but they failed to extract the flavors he expected from them. He claimed the Japanese ingredients to be superior and he chose to use nothing less. Yet he said his broth wasn’t perfected, although he’s been working on it for most of his adult life.

I asked him how he separates himself from the other shops across the alleyway. He didn’t care much for my question, as it appeared he wasn’t in any competition as his ramen stood on its own. He said other shops have a good product but sometimes the fancier toppings like fresh scallops and shrimp mask the taste of their inferior broths. The broth is what makes his soup better.

He also said he had several apprentices go off and open their own ramen shops but they were not copies of his recipe, as everyone strives to make ramen in their own, unique way.

Uchibayashi bowed politely to us as we paid our bill and as we left his tiny shop, we noticed his faded black tee shirt said in Japanese, “If you’re a real man, shut up and eat ramen.” I chuckled after Yoshi translated that phrase, as I now understood the true taste of ramen. And like that slice of NYC pizza, I would just have to come back to Hokkaido get the real stuff.

by Marco Garcia

FOOD: 6 Tips to Eat Like a Local in Japan

From amazing street food, to exquisite dining, and opportunities to learn cooking secrets from the masters, Japan offers you food experiences like nowhere else in the world. Check out these helpful tips for eating like a local in Japan:

1. Train Station Boxed Lunches

Aso-san Eki-ben

Ekiben are boxed lunches sold at train stations and on trains throughout Japan. Stations that offer ekiben pride themselves on unique presentations of local flavors and specialties, ready to be enjoyed from the comfort of your train seat.

 

 

2. Department Store Food Halls

Department Store Food Hall Japan

Meals in Japan don’t always have to break the bank. Visit a department store basement level at closing time when shop owners are eager to sell off the days remaining product and get great discounts on freshly prepared meals.

 

 

3. Izakaya: Japanese Pubs

Izakaya

For a place to eat, drink and hang out with friends, try a Japanese pub. The low prices and shareable dishes are great for groups and the extensive menu options make it easy to find something for even the pickiest eaters. Also, be sure to remember that there is no tipping!

 

 

4. Take A Cooking Class

Japanese Cooking Class

Want to really immerse yourself in Japanese cuisine? You can learn how to make dishes such as sushi and soba from the chefs themselves. Don’t forget the best part – you get to eat your work when you’re finished.

 

 

5. Stand Up Noodle Shops

Stand_up_soba

Usually featuring soba or udon noodles, stand up noodle shops are a common fixture in train stations and shopping thoroughfares in Japanese cities. Warm up with a hot bowl in the winter or cold noodles in the summer. Either way, surrounded by noodle slurping locals, this is a can’t-miss cheap and quick meal.

 

 

6. Conveyer Belt Sushi Shops

Conveyor belt sushi

Conveyer belt sushi bars allow you to experience sushi in Japan at a price (and pace) closer to fast food. Offering fresh seafood ubiquitous in Japan, with plates starting at 100 Yen (about $0.80), how can you not afford to get filled up on sushi?

 

 

photo credit: Salads via photopin

5 Unique Soft Serve Flavors of Japan

Japan has a reputation for unconventional and adventurous flavors that few others would think or even dare to attempt. Here are 5 must try soft serve flavors that highlight not only Japan’s unique taste profiles and the regions famous for their interesting flavors.

1. Plum (Ume)

Ume soft serve at Kairakuen ©Kay Allen

Ume soft serve at Kairakuen ©Kay Allen

Let’s start off with the tamest of the bunch. Not to be confused with plums commonly found in the United States, the Japanese variety or ume is more closely related to the apricot and is not suitable to be eaten raw. Ume is most often eaten pickled umeboshi or used to make wine umeshu but it also makes a delicious soft serve with a distinct floral note and sweetness. You can grab a cone and admire the famous plum blossoms (late February – mid March) while strolling through Mito city’s Kairakuen gardens located in the Ibaraki prefecture just 2 hours northeast of Tokyo.

Plum Blossoms in Kairakuen ©Kairakuen Park

Plum Blossoms in Kairakuen ©Kairakuen Park

 

From Tokyo take the Hitachi or Tokiwa express line to Mito station and then take the Kairakuen bus directly to the garden.

“Mito Plum Blossom Festival,” the harbinger of spring

 2. Wasabi

Wasabi ice cream cone ©MGA73bot2

Wasabi ice cream cone ©MGA73bot2

Most westerners wouldn’t conceive of the spicy green paste most often associated with sushi converted into a sweet cold treat but the resort town of Izu, in Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture, has perfected the confection. Waterfalls such as Jyouren no Taki deliver clean mountain spring water downstream to delicate beds of wasabi plants or wasabiden, making Izu renowned for its quality wasabi. The soft-serve itself has a sweetness similar to vanilla with a distinct spicy aftertaste. One can enjoy this unconventional treat just outside the trail to the famed waterfall which leads tourists through a lush green forest and past the wasabi paddies. A definite must visit.

Jyouren no taki and wasabi paddies

Jyouren no taki and wasabi paddies downstream ©Kay Allen

 

From Mishima station take the Izu-Hakone railway Sunzu line to Shuzenji station and then take the Tokai bus to Jyouren no Taki bus stop.

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/regional/shizuoka/amagi_kawazu.html

3. Miso

Miso soft-serve from Takeya Miso Kaikan ©Evan Liu

Miso soft-serve from Takeya Miso Kaikan ©Evan Liu

Few flavors are as singularly Japanese as miso. The fermented soybean paste has been a staple of the Japanese diet for centuries and is used in countless dishes from simple soup stocks and marinades to sauces for meat and vegetables. Visitors to the Nagano prefecture can take a break from traversing the Japan Alps and head down to the Takeya Miso Kaikan on Lake Suwa. There you can learn about the centuries old art of miso while sampling the many delicious culinary incarnations. Be sure to try the miso soft serve while you are there for a salty sweet flavor experience that you’re sure to remember.

Panorama of Lake Suwa, Nagano ©そらみみ (Soramimi)

Panorama of Lake Suwa, Nagano ©そらみみ (Soramimi)

Take the Chuo Main Line to Kamisuwa station and it is just a short 15 minute walk to the Takeya Miso Kaikan.

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/regional/nagano/suwako.html

http://www.takeya-miso.co.jp/english/index.html

4. Bitter Melon (Goya)

Goya soft-serve at Goya Park ©ゴーヤーパーク (Goya Park)

Goya soft-serve at Goya Park ©ゴーヤーパーク (Goya Park)

 

Okinawans often attribute their notable longevity and health to their diet of native fruits and vegetables, specifically the goya or bitter melon. This vitamin rich fruit is an Okinawan staple and is used in many dishes; the most well-known is the Okinawan stir fry dish known as goya champuru. There is even a whole park (Goya Park) dedicated to goya that is open to the public free of charge. There you can sample this bittersweet soft-serve treat along with many other goya based foods while you walk the grounds.

Sliced goya ©Pixeltoo

Sliced goya ©Pixeltoo

From Naha Airport, go to the bus terminal and take the Nago Tousen bus to the last stop where taxis are available.

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/regional/okinawa/hokubuokinawa.html

http://www.goyapark.com/park/index.php (Japanese site)

5. Squid Ink (Ika Sumi)

Ika sumi soft-serve ©Katherine Donaldson

Ika sumi soft-serve ©Katherine Donaldson

The area of Hakodate in Japan’s northern most prefecture of Hokkaido is renowned for its seafood. The morning market in Hakodate is a great place to sample and purchase the freshest seafood Hakodate has to offer. So fresh in fact that a favorite tourist pastime is squid fishing in the market’s fish tanks, where a successful catch can be instantly prepared as sashimi. Hokkaido Farm, a popular ice cream parlor at the far end of the market, has found a way to marry Hakodate’s famous seafood with Hokkaido’s high quality dairy products with their squid ink soft serve. The shop boasts a delicious soft serve that is free of additives and uses only the freshest cream. Visitors who can look past the gray color are in for a sweet surprise.

©663highland

©663highland

Hakodate Morning Market is located just across the street from Hakodate station.

http://www.hakodate.travel/en/things-to-do/top7/morning-market/

5 Things We Love About Osaka Dining

Any cities whose people coined the phrase kuidaore, meaning to eat until you become broke, is sure to have good food and a sense of humor.  Osaka has both in spades and more than lives up to its nickname, tenka no daidokoro, or the nation’s kitchen. And although the city loves a joke, it takes this role seriously. With most tourists flocking to Tokyo and Kyoto, the Japanese foods in Osaka cater for hard working, savvy locals.

Thankfully though, Japan’s second biggest city is also seriously friendly, ensuring visiting foodies an accessible, yet oft ignored, eating experience.

Here are 5 top bites to look out for:

Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki

Two of Osaka’s marquee foods!  Takoyaki are glutinous balls of dough, fried and filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger, and onion.  The balls are sprinkled with green laver and bonito shavings, and are usually eaten with a toothpick. Be warned, fresh from the pan they are brutally hot!

Okonomiyaki: Osaka soul food.

Okonomiyaki: Osaka soul food.

 

Okonomiyaki means grilled as you like, which is appropriate, because often in okonomiyaki restaurants, you’ll be the one doing the grilling.  Sometimes described as ‘Osaka soul food’, okonomiyaki is a kind of pancake batter is mixed with shredded cabbage and a choice of fillings such as pork, seafood, cheese and even kimchi, then griddled on a flattop.  An inch thick and top with brown sauce and mayonnaise, this is not a dish for the faint of heart!

Kushi-katsu

Kushi katsu: Goes great with a beer and good conversation.

Kushi-katsu: Goes great with a beer and good conversation.

 

Food on a stick! Kushi-katsu is a favorite among Osaka’s office workers; it’s fast, filling and goes down well with cold beer. Developed as a lighter way to enjoy deep-fried pork cutlets, kushi-katsu now encompasses a variety of bite-sized meats and vegetables, battered, deep-fried and then skewered. Head to the ‘old school’ Shin-sekai area to get some of the best Japanese foods on a stick in town.

Kitsune Udon

Kitsune udon: Simple and delicious.

Kitsune udon: Simple and delicious.

 

Osaka loves its stock. It gets the priority treatment and claims to serve the best kitsune udon in the land. On the surface, the Osakan bit is the kitsune – a piece of deep-fried tofu added to the udon noodles and piping hot broth. However, delightful an addition as it may be, the real show-stopper is that broth – made from the finest ingredients with only light seasoning needed, Osaka challenges you to find anywhere that makes it better.

Hakozushi

Osaka may be bold and brash but it does ‘food as art’, too. Enter, hakozushi, or, boxed sushi.

Unlike the sushi that most of us are familiar with, hakozushi’s ingredients are either cooked or cured. Layers of rice, fish or other ingredients are pressed into a square wooden box, removed, and delicately sliced into cubes, giving you something that, quite frankly, looks too good to eat!

Hakozushi made from anago, or salt-water eel.

Hakozushi made from anago, or salt-water eel.

 

However, hakozushi tastes as amazing as it looks, and because it doesn’t need to be eaten immediately, it is often bought as a gift. That said, it is best eaten within 24 hours, so go on, treat yourself.

Kappo-style Dining

3988523396_62ec13830a_bIt should come as no surprise that kappo-style dining originated from Osaka. In this intimate eating experience, a small counter separates the chef from drooling patrons who wait as a delicious meal is prepared in front of them. The setting lends itself perfectly to Osaka’s spirit of bonhomie, and was the preferred style of dining for the city’s merchant class who felt more at ease in the intimate yet open kappo setup.

Nowadays, kappo establishments range from salt of the earth working class through to high-end operations, usually preparing traditional Japanese foods.  Whatever your budget though, dinner is best served with a dedication to quality and good conversation that can only be found in Osaka.

 

 

 

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Robatayaki: Fireside Cooking Japanese Style

Sushi, sashimi, ramen and tempura are all well established in the average gourmet’s Japanese food vocabulary, but robatayaki, where small portions of meat, fish or vegetables are slow-grilled to perfection on smoking charcoal, remains sadly under appreciated abroad. This is a shame, because there is arguably no more social or enjoyable way to eat. After all, it’s basically an upmarket version of cooking around the campfire!

Seafood Robatayaki Inakaya Roppongi Tokyo

Cooking seafood on the grill at Inakaya in Roppongi, Tokyo.

The story goes that fishermen in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, wanted to cook some of their catch on the shore as soon as they landed, but had no way of starting a fire. Instead, they put red-hot charcoal in a solid, wooden box at the start of the day, took it with them, and at the end of the day the charcoal would still be hot enough to cook the fish. They’d cook on an oar from the boat, which is why some robatayaki places still dish out food on a long wooden oar as a tribute to those hungry Hokkaido fishermen.

The joy of robatayaki is in the performance. The chefs in charge of the grill keep up a steady stream of banter and activity, and they will undoubtedly get you involved sooner or later. Ordering is simple as fresh produce is laid out in front of your eyes; simply point to an appetizing morsel, and the chef will whisk it away on his oar to the grill. When it’s done, the same oar will be used to pass the food back to you; be it melt-in-the-mouth cubes of medium-rare Kobe beef, lightly seasoned portions of fresh shiitake mushrooms, or barely-seared tuna that was swimming in the Pacific Ocean until that very morning. These are some of the classic robatayaki dishes, but chefs will always be happy to assist with other requests, even if that means using some imaginative sign language!

Robatayaki display

The freshest produce, meats and seafood on display.

So, enjoy the performance, wash the food down with a few beers or delicious, crisp sake from a narrow-necked clay flask, and you will truly be enjoying one of the quintessential Japan food experiences. These are some of the best places to try robatayaki.

Inakaya (Roppongi, Tokyo)

This is the classic ‘robatayaki as performance’ restaurant. The chefs entertain and feed customers simultaneously, using specially produced compressed oak charcoal that gives every dish a divine sweet smokiness. Not cheap at around 15,000 yen ($150) for two with drinks, but worth every penny for the exceptional experience.

Musashi (Shinbashi, Tokyo)

Musashi is Inakaya’s down to earth cousin. You don’t get as much of a performance, but the food is fresh and tasty, and with a fixed price of 290 yen per item you’ll be hard pressed to spend more than 6,000 yen ($60) to feed and water two people handsomely.

Mizukake Chaya (Namba, Osaka)

Mizukake Chaya combines the best of both worlds. The chef’s performance is enhanced by his gregarious Osaka accent, and even the fresh prawn and oysters come in at the fixed price of 300 yen ($3) per dish. If you can get a seat by the counter, you’ll be in for one of the best evenings a Japanese food lover could ask for.

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Hearty Autumn Eating in Japan

Autumn is the season for healthy appetites. A time to indulge in the bounty of the harvest and nourish ourselves for the cold months ahead. Check out five popular seasonal foods that symbolize hearty autumn eating in Japan –

1. Matsutake Mushroom Soup

One of the more notable smells of autumn comes from a hearty mushroom soup called matsutake dobin mushi. The dish is served in a clay teapot called a dobin, enjoyed by pouring out the broth into a small cup and picking out the vegetables to enjoy. The soup consists of a bonito stock, seasonal vegetables, slivers of chicken or shrimp, and the star ingredient, aromatic pine mushrooms called matsutake, which contribute a unique smoky flavor. It can be complimented with a few drops of citrus, such as yuzu or the green-skinned sudachi fruit.

Matsutake Dobin Mushi Warming Autumn Fruit

Matsutake dobin mushi is a soup brimming with mushroomy goodness!

While matsutake dobin mushi is available in restaurants around the country, the price range can differ depending on whether domestic or imported mushrooms are used—matsutake cannot be cultivated and are becoming scarce in Japan, leading to very high domestic prices.

2. Salt-Grilled Sanma

Pacific saury, known as sanma in Japan, is the savory dish of fall; the sleek, silver fish is best enjoyed grilled with salt, called sanma no shioyaki, due to its distinctive oiliness and fatty content. Sanma no shioyaki is served whole, so you should start eating from the crispy skin, adding a squirt of lime juice, daikon radishes, or soy sauce to the flesh as a light garnish, and use chopsticks to pick out portions until only the bones are left.

Sanma shio yaki

Salt-grilled sanma provides the centerpiece to a hearty autumn meal.

Salt-grilled sanma can be enjoyed in traditional pubs with a mild sake, but if you’re looking for an extraordinary street food experience, walking out the east exit of Meguro Station on the first Sunday of September will land you at the smoke-filled Sanma Matsuri, a festival where over 5,000 grilled saurys are given away to visitors to celebrate the hauls brought in from Iwate prefecture.

3. Steamed Shinmai Rice with Gingko Nuts

The first harvests of rice in autumn, called shinmai, or “new rice,” are considered to have a completely different taste than the rice harvested year-round. Japanese will often say that new rice is moister, sweeter, and more aesthetically pleasing, something not to be missed if you’re visiting from late September towards the end of the year.

Mushrooms, sweet potatoes and chestnuts are also popular toppings for those seeking a vegetarian meal, but gingko nuts are a subtle accompaniment to new rice that doesn’t overpower its well-sought flavor.

4. Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Croquettes

To satisfy your fried food craving, you can sink your teeth into a sweet potato croquette. While croquettes are not considered an original Japanese food, the deep-fried delicacy evokes the image of an autumn comfort food for many across the country. Croquettes are often a homemade snack, but they can also be found in the food aisles of department stores such as the Tokyu Foodshow in Shibuya.

Pumpkin Croquette

Reassuringly crunchy with a sweet creamy center – that’s a pumpkin croquette!

Unlike the standard American sweet potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes have a drier texture, but taste creamy. Pumpkins may not have the “cinnamon and spice” image you may be accustomed to, but the rich, butternut-squash-like flavor does not disappoint when combined with the croquette’s hot, crispy, breading.

5. Candied Chestnuts

Candied chestnuts, or kuri-kinton, are a simple sweet treat in which chestnuts are steamed, mashed, and combined with a delicate confectionary sugar before being twisted into a bun shape using a cloth. Sweet potatoes may be added to heighten the flavor, and the snack is best enjoyed with a cup of hot tea.

Boxes of kuri-kinton are popular gifts for friends and family in the autumn. They are available wherever traditional sweets are sold, but Nakatsugawa city in Gifu is exceptionally famous for the treat, with many specialty shops, some of which have been in operation for more than a century.

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