Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Lunch :: Dec 29th :: Cafe Meal Muji

Sweet and sour karage, tofu mash and chicken broccoli from Meal Muji in Yurakucho. Finished The Wind Up Bird Chronicles in the process. Not my favorite Murakami, but good enough.

Cafe Meal Muji
Muji Yurakucho, 2F
Yurakucho Station (Mita, JR Yamanote)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

KFC :: King of Chistmas

It's been written about a ton, but it is worth mentioning again since
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
more excited.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When In Japan...

...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

My Lunch :: Dec 9th :: Zip Zap Cafe

Thai Green Curry lunch set at Zip Zap Cafe in Harajuku. Definitely recommend this place if you visit Tokyo. It's a nice calm place to get a decent meal in the middle of the Harajuku craziness.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Homemade Gyoza

I was feeling rather adventurous tonight so I decided to make gyoza for dinner, from scratch. The actual gyoza filling is quite simple- ground pork, ginger, garlic, scallions, napa cabbage, chives, soy sauce, sake, sesame oil and pepper. You just chop everything into small crunchy pieces and mix it with the pork. Let it marinate for about and hour...then the tough part. Assembling the gyoza.

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

I Love Chu-Hi

I'm not a big drinker. Maybe in college, I did some indulge here and there, but compared to others, and I'm not naming names here, I was an embarrassment. Had I had access to Chu-Hi back then, it may have been a different story.

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.

My Dinner :: Dec 3rd :: Ecclesia Cafe

Roomie and I finally ate at the cafe across the street from our "manshon" (all tall apartment buildings are called that in Japan, but it makes me feel so hoighty toighty). This meal was actually not that memorable except for the very cute heart shaped rice.

Ecclesia Cafe
Akasaka 2-chome

My Lunch :: Dec 5th :: A16

Pizza Margarita at A16. Also had some chestnut pasta that looked nasty but actually tasted quite good. Great pizza and good wine selection. 

Marunouchi Brick Square