Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
it's so hard to understand why it is so. The traditional Japanese
Christmas tradition consists of a yummy strawberry shortcake and The
KFC Christmas family pack. Ehhh?
Since Japanese ovens are too small to roast an entire chicken or
turkey, KFC is the next best thing. You can actually get roast or
fried chicken almost anywhere the week of Xmas, but KFC is defintely
the most popular choice. If you ask me, it is kind of an awesome
I will be partaking in the KFC tradition this weekend and couldn't be
Thursday, December 17, 2009
...do as they do. I have tried my best to subscribe to this way of living. I go to the bookstore and read fashion magazines without buying them. I layer unnecessarily and I stand in long ridiculous lines for sweets. (There are some things that I will just never do, no matter how long I live here: wear a face mask when I'm sick, gurgle in public or drink coffee with my burgers while smoking just to name a few)
The holidays in Japan are visually similar to that of the US, but the way they celebrate couldn't be more different. This not being Christian nation, Christmas in Japan is basically another Valentine's Day. From what I can tell, it is ruled by 3 industries:
1. Kentucky Fried Chicken
2. Department Stores
3. The Japan Post
By the end of the year, I will have written about all three, but today I'm focusing on the Japan Post. Japan Post Holdings is 100% owned by the government, but it is run more like private corporation. Unlike the US Postal System, the Japan Post makes money. A lot of it. One of the main reasons for this is that it also operates a the largest bank in the world (Japan Post Bank) and a life insurance company (Japan Post Insurance). In their spare time, they also deliver the mail. If that makes it sound like they slack on their postal duties...you'd be mistaken. They work around the clock to assure that you receive your mail. If I'm not home to sign for a package, they leave a note, I call them and tell them to come back...they'll deliver until 9pm 6 days a week.
How do they tie into the holidays? One of the traditions in Japan is to make and send New Year's cards (nengajou). It's not that groundbreaking...we do that in America with Christmas cards, but my co-worker shed some light on why Japanese people are SO into sending the cards. Basically, to increase the mail volume during the holidays, JP pours a ton of money reminding people to send their cards, guaranteeing that they will be delivered on January 1st. They are currently running huge billboards in the subway, reminding people to get their cards ready. To further entice potential card senders, JP runs a raffle/lottery. Huh?
You can buy postcards (blank or designed) at the post office and on each card, there is a lotto number at the bottom. The person you send the card to can check the winning numbers in the local paper on January 1st to see if they won a prize. Apparently, the chances of winning are actually pretty high since there are different prize levels. My co-worker said she won the 3rd place prize a few years back...she won some "really nice meat". Prizes apparently vary from meat to stamps to flat screen TVs and trips to Hawaii. I think this is a really cool idea. Getting real mail is exciting enough...adding the potential to win something makes it 100 times cooler.
Getting into the spirit, I trekked to the local stationary store to stock up on my post card making instruments. Stamp, ink, pens, wagashi stickers... There are apparently some rules about card design. They must depict the new year's lunar animal...so you can't reuse cards from the year before. Some people, like my coworker, carve their own stamps, or get special stamps made each year. I'm a beginner, so I stuck to the standard fare. I'm still perfecting my design, so the picture here is just a preliminary mock up....it needs work, but it's getting there. Now aren't you excited for my postcard?!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I referred to a YouTube video entitled Cooking With Dog in which a cute Japanese woman makes gyoza with her poodle sitting obediently on the counter while her son narrates the steps in English. Her fingers move
so quickly to fold the gyoza, I had to rewatch it at least 10 times. My dumplings ended up looking more like perogis...which is fine, but not exactly what I was going for. By my 20th try, I was starting to get a handle on things, but alas, I ran out of filling.
Cooking the gyoza is pretty fast but is more involved than you would think. You first brown the bottoms on medium heat in an oiled pan. Then, you add boiling water so that it comes up to about halfway of the dumplings. Cover immediately and let steam-fry until the water has disappeared. Last step: add some sesame oil to the pan and fry the bottoms once more, but don't burn 'em!
I like to dip my gyoza in a mixture of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. If I'm feeling sassy, which I normally am, I add some chili oil or Sriracha.
My first try was pretty successful and I can't wait to give it another try and experiment with different fillings.
Don't they look yummy?!
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Chu-hi are alcoholic alternatives to beer. They're carbonated cocktails in a can and made with Souchou, a liquor popular in Asia, most notably Korea. It's basically like sake's tacky cousin. It has virtually no taste so it mixes well with anything. I am a big fan of ordering Oolong-his at bars and restaurants, iced oolong tea and souchou. The alcohol content of most souchou drinks is pretty low, so it's good for low-tolerance party people such as myself.
Chu-his are sold in cans in the beer section of grocery stores and combinis. I became a little obsessed with them while walking by the creepy combini near my home everyday and seeing all the cool dudes smoking cigarettes and downing an afternoon Chu-hi. SO COOL. Currently, all the breweries are introducing their special holiday flavors. Kirin has a really yummy apple Chu-hi which tastes exactly like an alcoholic sparkling apple cider. (Kind of defeats the main purpose of sparking apple cider I guess...) Suntory takes the prize for my favorite Holiday flavor - Mikan. These taste exactly like Sunkist soda...but alcoholic. Genius.
*Note: Japanese people take Sake really seriously. So much so, that in Japan it is called O-Sake...O being an honorific prefix. They do this with O-Sushi and O-Cha (green tea) too. If you say "sake" in Japan, people will just think you're talking about any kind of alcohol. O-sake refers to the honorable Japanese liquor. It's complicated. Anyhow, if you're not in Japan, call it whatever you want...but promise me that you will pronounce it SA-KAY not SA-KEE. Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing the latter.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Yokohama. What a pleasant surprise. Just a hop skip and jump away from Tokyo, Yokohama is the 2nd largest city in Japan. I guess because it was so close to Tokyo, I never really considered it a destination spot, but it has quite a lot to offer. You can take a lovely 15 minute ferry ride from central Yokohama to Motomachi-Chugakai, where you will find Japan's largest Chinatown and a cute shopping street lined with cafes and shops.
I have seen a few Chinatowns in my lifetime. I took the SF Muni 42 bus almost everyday for a year. So yeah, I've seen/smelt/tasted/been elbowed in the face by Chinatown. What happens when you create a Chinatown in a clean and organized country such as Japan? You get clean, friendly and spacious roads filled with yummy food and Hello Kitties dressed like pandas. It seemed as though every other person was trying to give us a sample of freshly roasted chestnuts. There were steam buns galore - some the size of your face, others adorned with panda faces. We had a really tasty dinner at one of the many Chinese restaurants in town. I had the best Mabo Tofu I have ever had in my life. Whoa.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Along with the fried rice, we made a very simple curry soup and fried shrimp chips. The rice was pretty good, however I am always hesitant to cook anything that requires shrimp paste, because it will make your apartment smell for DAYS. I saw some more interesting classes for November and hope to drop in on one...particularly the Japanese Party Platter which teaches you how to make a salmon sushi roll and green tea mochi. Here's hoping I make it to one of those classes!
I have never really seen a tuna fish live in the flesh - I'm a little embarrassed that I had NO idea they got so big. Tuna auctions happen every morning at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, but a tuna this size is special. Think about how many sushi shops there are in the Tokyo area alone...not imagine all those shop owners bidding for this beautiful fish. I have no idea how much this piece cost, but I'm guess A LOT. Back in January, a 282-pounder went for $104,700 to a guy that has a shop in Akasaka! I wonder if it is the same guy...hmmm..
Tsukiji is a popular tourist destination, but I think that tourists were interfering too much with the auctions, so they closed off the auction to the public. Even if you have to wake up at the crack of dawn, it really is a great place to eat the freshest sushi in town.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
There is a very cute donut shop called Neyn, down the hill from where we live and as I learn more and more about the shop, the more I love it. The donuts are very unique - they are all handmade and most are baked rather than fried and more cakey in texture. Don't let that fool you - they're still quite tasty. My favorite is the fromage donut which is covered with organic powdered sugar and filled with a sweet cream cheese. They also have matcha, chocolate, cassis and orange chocolate varieties. The design of the cafe is European and authentic. The coffee is strong and tastey - kind of rare of Japan.
What makes this shop pretty bitchin' is the story behind it. The owner, Yoshihisa Yamada is a 45-year-old bad ass. I really admire people who have "made it" in the business world. I guess maybe because I used to work in that kind of environment, I understand how hard it is to be successful and not just another paper-pusher/middle-management drone (like I was...wah wah). Yamada's resume is truly impressive: he graduated from the best University in Japan (Tokyo University), got an MBA from Harvard, worked at both the Bank of Japan and Goldman Sachs, then became the man in charge of Rakuten Travel, the largest online shopping operator in Japan, kind of like the Amazon.com of Japan. Did I mention he's only 45?
Thankfully for sweets lovers, he decided to take his smarts and invest it into a donut shop. It might seem kind of random, but he has such a good business-oriented reason as to why he chose a donut shop. From a Japan Times article:
Yamada decided on doughnuts because their popularity in Japan is a constant, and because there aren't all that many competitors. He said he could have tried the fashion business or a patisserie, but Tokyo already has a ton of those and he wasn't sure if he could set his company apart...He also chose his location, Akasaka Sacas, because of the high density of Office Ladies (called OL's in Japan) in the area. Office ladies are kind of their own demographic here. In short, OL's are young women who work in big offices, taking care of the workers by fetching tea and snacks. They live at home with their parents and stop working once they get married. The whole point of being an OL is to find a husband...or at least this is what I'm told. Most cute cafes and lunch spots are catered to OLs, and Neyn is one of them.
"Creating value-added products and bringing them overseas — that's what I'm interested in doing."
Neyn seems to be doing pretty well for themselves. Aside from their main shop in Akasaka, they opened an experimental 1-year shop in the swanky Tokyo Midtown building. I hope this shop does well. Anyone who thinks that donuts are a value-added product is someone I can get behind.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009
I'm not shy about my love for Martha Stewart so when I heard about Harumi Kurihara, I couldn't wait to learn more about her. She is often referred to as Japan's Martha Stewart. She is a self-taught cook from Shimoda, and she specializes in classic Japanese homestyle cooking. She was encouraged by her TV anchorman husband to write a book, so she did, and now has numerous successful cookbooks, a magazine and a cooking and clothing line. Impressive! I got one of her English cookbooks (Everyday Harumi) for my birthday and couldn't wait to try out the recipes. I have been trying out simple Japanese dishes for the past few months so I'm not a total Japanese cooking beginner. In fact, I can probably whip up Japanese food better than I can bust out Vietnamese. FOR SHAME!!
Japanese cooking is very simple. Once you stock your kitchen with a few key ingredients (rice vinegar, soy sauce, sake, miso and mirin) you can make tons of healthy, tasty and easy dishes. There is a great website called Just Hungry that teaches awesome Japanese recipes and the stories behind them. Some of my favorites from Just Hungry have been the Soy Sauce and Butter New Potatoes (addicting!) and the Miso Pork. I have been a little frustrated trying to make recipes out of my American cookbooks because I can't find the right ingredients here in Japan but now that I am experimenting with Harumi's book, things have gotten much easier.
My first stab at her book was the Ginger Pork over a bed of Bok Choy and a side of Sesame Dressed Green Beans. The pork was as simple as mixing 4 ingredients for the marinade, dipping the sliced pork in the marinade and pan frying it for 2 minutes. You let the pork rest on the stir fried bok choy, and the juices from the pork dress the veggies. SO YUM. Everything turned out great and I have been eating leftovers for days. If you're in a cooking rut, try cooking some Japanese dishes! They're very well balanced and it's fun to try something new in the kitchen.
La Boutique de Joel Robuchon
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
After my gross lunch today, (see below), I had to get something special to wash away the sadness. My solution? Hokkaido Soft Cream. Hokkaido is Japan's 2nd largest island behind Honshu. It is the big one just north of Honshu. Hokkaido is synonymous with milk and milk related products. I guess the climate up there is good for herding cows, and cows there produce a very creamy tasty milk. People in Tokyo go crazy for Hokkaido Soft Cream. I mean, I have never seen people line up for something like that before but I can totally understand why they do it. Most soft cream in Japan is made with lard or vegetable shortening or something else gross...but not Hokkaido Soft Cream. It is super creamy and clean and in my opinion, the plain milk flavor is the best. Today I got a swirl of Melon and Milk and it was pretty good. So good that that salaryman in the background is staring at my cone.
Hokkaido is also known for their beer. The biggest city in Hokkaido is Sapporo which of course, makes a very famous beer. A few years ago, milk consumption was dropping so a company in Sapporo decided to mix their two biggest exports and create Bilk - Milk Beer. I am hesitant to write about this only because I get a little tired of the "wacky Japan" articles picked up by mainstream international media. (I'm looking at you New York Times!) Yes, there are weird things in Japan (dudes having relationships with dolls and figurines, vegetable flavored chocolate, etc) but most of the weird things only represent only a super tiny portion of the population. Yes, there is a vending machine in Tokyo that sells used ladies underwear, but that is 1 vending machine out of god knows how many in Japan! Ok, I'm just venting now...my point is, those articles are always super entertaining but now that I've moved here, I realize that they probably do more harm than good. Although...this one is a classic.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Serious Eats recently posted a recipe from Scott Conant of Scarpetta in NYC. Though I used to live literally right next door to it, I have never eaten at Scarpetta, but have heard good things. He pops up on Top Chef a lot, which means he's gotta be somewhat big news. He shared his recipe for Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil and it is one of the best, not to mention easiest, recipes for homemade tomato sauce I have found. I highly recommend giving it a try. The photos on Serious Eats are a lot more appetizing than mine, so maybe you should hop over there and check out what their professional photographers mustered up.
Full disclosure, the first time I made this sauce it was way too salty and not very good, but it wasn't the recipe or sauce's fault. It was me and my salt tooth. I over salted my pasta water, thus the "it's so salty My Roommate won't even have a second bowl even though he ALWAYS has at least a second bowl" first try. So, you know...don't do what I did. Despite the salt, you could tell the sauce was good! I swear! The second try proved me right and it was wonderful. I'm even tempted to make a third batch this week. It is such a simple sauce and if you don't have fresh tomatoes, don't be ashamed to use canned. That's what I did and it tasted great. Again, butter makes a secret appearance at the end, just like Martha's Wonderful Chicken Noodle Soup. People like to say that everything is better with bacon, but if I had to pick my poison, it'd be butter all the way. Team Paula Deen!
Fresh Bakery is in the Akasaka Sacas building in front of the Chiyoda line ticket machines.
Monday, October 12, 2009
but this is a small size burger...it's slider size but with all the
fixins of a hamburger. It was way yum. Daikanyama is now one of my
favorite 'hoods in Tokyo. Tons of cute cafes and shops.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Sadly the Vietnamese food booth ran out of coffee, but they did have some funny looking Banh Mi. I decided to pass but didn't come away completely empty handed. I bought this lovely Vietnamese nose flute. I'm not sure if this instrument was totally made up by Japanese people because I have never seen this ever in my life, which really is a shame because I feel like I could have made a nice career out of it.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
If you love being in the kitchen, there are a few appliances that you just dream of having. Blame Giada for that. She makes a salt and pepper grinder look so sexy! (Even with those creepy tiny hands) Maybe it is my not so subtle hints to basically anyone I come across, but I have been blessed to accumulate a few of those blue chip items in my kitchen. To show you how serious I am about my kitchen accessories, when I moved from New York to Tokyo, the first and only thing I shipped directly to Japan was my beautiful Blue Betty Cuisinart Stand Mixer. It cost me a fortune but if I could have flown her first class, you bet I would have. I love you girl!
A few weeks ago, Betty got a new friend. Meet Ruby Red.
Ruby is my new beautiful Le Creuset Dutch Oven compliments of The Roommate. (Awww!) Since Roomie was the one to fulfill my latest kitchen fantasy (and also picked the color, fyi), he was given the honor of choosing the first of many dishes made with Ruby. His choice? Chicken Noodle Soup from scratch. Canned broth and bouillon cubes need not apply, this was a true home cooked meal. As with all my plans in Japan, nothing went smoothly and yet everything worked out just fine. Finding a whole chicken carcass was difficult. I tracked one down but it was frozen and $60. I opted to make the stock with random cuts of chicken but this was very stressful since the only bones I used were tiny wings and legs. To my surprise, the stock was very flavorful after 3 hours on the stove.
A good trick I picked up from the internets: when you make the soup, first saute the chicken meat with about 2 tablespoons of butter, then add the veggies. Julia Childs would be proud.
Though time intensive, this will be a staple in the kitchen since chicken noodle soup is hard to find in Japan. If you're interested, here are the recipes I used:
Stock :: http://www.countryliving.com/recipefinder/homemade-chicken-noodle-soup-3996 (They used chicken broth, but I just used water)
Soup :: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/chicken-noodle-soup
Saturday, October 3, 2009
I love baseball. I swear I really do. My passion has waned a bit over the years due to the A's being embarrassingly horrible, living in New York being sandwiched between pompous Yankees fans and depressed Mets fans, and the overexposure of SportsCenter at my former job. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go to a Japanese baseball game and the season is winding down. During Silver Week, roomie and I headed to Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo to watch the Yakult Swallows play the Yomiuri Giants. The Swallows are the less popular team in Tokyo, but I'm kind of a fan. The stadium is small and intimate and this being Japan, had the NICEST outfield scoreboard I have ever seen.
Some Japanese Baseball 101:
- Baseball teams in Japan are owned by companies. Yakult makes a weird yogurt drink that is very popular in Japan. Yomiuri is a newspaper company. Unlike college bowl games (I'm looking at you Chik-Fil-A), you have to be a pretty legit company to own a baseball team.
- The Yomiuri Giants are the Yankees of the East. They play at the Tokyo Dome and pretty much have all the good players. The Hanshin Tigers are the Red Sox of the East. They are from Osaka (nemesis of Tokyo) and it pretty much comes down to these two teams for the Japan Series.
- Japanese baseball fans are super passionate but also respectful. Organized cheering and chanting from the bleachers NEVER stops. It is actually very impressive. More impressive is their following of an unspoken rule that only the batting team's fans chant during the inning.
- Beer servers run like the wind, wear beer backpacks and are mostly all cute girls or pale skinny pasty guys. We were told by our beer girl that we were "best couple!!!".
It was a great night at the ballpark. The Giants won, but the home team scored a few runs. Apparently the Swallows' version of the Terrible Towel are tiny pastel umbrellas that they open and lift up and down anytime the Swallows score a run. This was quite a sight for someone that is not in the know. As was this:
Afternoon Tea, Marunouchi
Shin-Marunouchi Building, 5F
Tokyo Station (Marunouchi, JR)
Friday, October 2, 2009
Japan has a lot of holidays. This is a fact. There is at least one national holiday a month and it is awesome. Also awesome? The Japanese law that states if there is a work day sandwiched between two holidays, the working day becomes a holiday too. Because of this fancy law, we got a 5-day weekend in September. It is sometimes called Silver Week. Taking advantage of the days off, roomie and I took the Shinkansen to a small beach town on the Izu Penninsula called Shimoda. Shimoda is most famous for being "discovered" by Commodore Matthew Perry, thus ending Japan's Era of Isolation. (I got that from a guide book...)
Shimoda is pretty awesome. It reminds me of a sunny and warm Santa Cruz minus the Boardwalk. Beach frolicking can really work up your appetite and we definitely took advantage of what Shimoda had to offer. We had some gooey ramen (think Shark Fin's Soup with Ramen Noodles), super fresh conveyor belt sushi, lots of candy, Mos Burger, Tsukune (chicken meatballs in a sweet sauce), chicken skin on a stick and a funny late night burrito from a night market/ska concert.
Like a good Japanese coworker, I brought back some omiyage for my coworkers. It is customary in Japan to bring back a souvenir from your trip for your coworkers to enjoy. Shimoda is in Shizuoka Prefecture which is apparently NUMBER 1 for a lot of things. Citrus and Green Tea are two things that Shizuoka is famous for, so I brought back some citrusy treats and tea for those hard working teachers. They loved them and now they love me. Thank you Shimoda!!
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Akasaka Biz Tower, B1F