Monday, August 30, 2010

Super Yosakoi Genki Festival and Yokote Yakisoba

I have been trying to do a better job of keeping up to date with the different events going around Tokyo. I've found that Time Out Japan puts together a good weekend round up of the upcoming festivals and concerts. That's where I learned about the Super Yosakoi Genki Festival in Harajuku. Yosakoi is an awesome style of group dance in Japan. It is a modern version of the traditional Japanese Summer dances. They're performed in large groups of people in matching costumes. There are usually a few people that wave giant flags with their city or school name on it and the dances are narrated over a loudspeaker by the most passionate member of the team. Here's a video. The Super Yosakoi Genki Festival in Tokyo is one of the biggest yosakoi events of the year. The festival takes place at 5 different stages in Yoyogi Park in addition to a parade down Omotesando. It's gotten so big that this year's festival was sponsored by Volkswagen. It's a really fun event and I highly recommend checking it out if you ever get a chance. Each group varies greatly in age, style and appearance. I saw a group of 60 year old cat ladies eating next to a group of 20 year old slutty pirates. The groups do have one thing in common though - they are all super psyched about dancing and performing. As they should be, as genki roughly translates to "healthy" or "energetic" in English.

But of course, it wasn't the dancing that originally lured me to this festival. It was the promise of the best B Level Gourmet food in all of Japan. B Level Gourmet, you ask? Cheap, delicious and filling fast food in Japan like yakisoba, okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Osaka is famous for their exceptional B-level food. There is a competition for the best B Level Gourmet food in Japan called the B-1 Grand Prix and the 2009 champ is yakisoba from the city of Yakote. I actually heard of this dish from a lesson of  (Lower Intermediate, Season 3) and when I read about their appearance at the Genki Festival, I marked the event in my datebook. The signature marking of Yokote Yakisoba is the fried egg on top. They also use ground beef and the noodles are boiled rather than steamed like regular yakisoba. This dish lived up to the hype. I loved the egg and the fresh scallions and I wish we loved closer to Yokote so that I could eat it more often.

I really really enjoyed the Genki Festival. Even though it was an incredibly hot day, the energy was still high and everyone was getting down with the dancing and the food. I really appreciate Japanese peoples' enthusiasm for hobbies and extracurriculars. You could tell that the participants were really looking forward to performing and seeing other groups. Here are some more pictures from the event:
These are naruko. Like yosakoi, they are from Kochi and were originally used to scare away birds from the crops. These instruments are used in the yosakoi dances and they make a delightful clapping noise with the choreography. 

Resting after their performance. 

Enjoying the day's snacks. 

Cat ladies! First of all, the sequin jumpsuits are amazing. Second, I love their commitment to their theme - check out the cat paw naruko!

(There's always money in the banana stand.) 

This man embodies the definition of genki. What a great smile!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Les Creations de Narisawa :: The Review

I've been meaning to write about our experience at Les Creations de Narisawa for awhile. This is, if you remember, the best restaurant in Asia according to San Pellegrino and a handful of notable chefs from around the world. My honest opinion is's good, but it just didn't live up to the hype. I think Squidward put it best when he said that the meal just wasn't visceral. There was a lot of technique shown in the cooking -- stuff I didn't quite understand, but sounded very complex. This and the fact that all his ingredients either come from his own garden or from local sources are probably the reasons why professionals and fellow chefs rank Narisawa in the highest regard.  I still really enjoyed the experience and it is certainly one of the better (albeit, most expensive) restaurants I've eaten at in my so far, short life. I still rank Momofuku Ko as hands down, the best meal I've ever had. Twice.

The August 2010 theme was Gifts from Nature. Here are some of the highlights of my experience:
Our road map for the evening. 

Everything on this plate is edible and I liked eating it with my hands. Now THAT's getting down with nature. 

Can you guess what this is? 

Now it's in a clay pot sitting on our table for a few courses. 

Tada! It's bread! Fermented and baked right at your table! This was by far my favorite part of the meal. Neat trick. 

Not too many Michelin starred restaurants would have the balls to serve you a pot of dirt. Well this one didn't either. This is actually butter for the bread with a dehydrated olive tapenade on top. SO cute. 

Bad picture but this is one of Narisawa's signature dishes. A strawberry and fois gras salad. Very very delicious. 

The main course. Super duper tender and slow cooked steak in leek ashes. 

After 2 desserts, we were treated to anything we wanted from their petits fours cart. I definitely took advantage. Here are some mini macarons in a variety of flavors.  

I actually would be really open to returning for another meal. As the menu changes month to month and dishes dictated by seasonality, perhaps a fall or winter meal would be more up my ally. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Cup Cake...Cake

Happy Birthday Squidward! One of the very first things I made in my Tokyo kitchen was a birthday cake for Squidward. Last year, it was a Martha Stewart chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, adorned with a candied smiley face. This year, I went with a super moist chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting from the always amazing and drool worthy Smitten Kitchen blog. In one of Deb's posts, she talks about how she wanted to make a cake version of a Devil Dog or Hostess Cup Cake. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out when she gave it a go, but I decided to give it a shot and tada! Here is the finished product. Look familiar? 

The layer inside the cake (and the swirls on top) is a recipe similar to the yummy marshmallow filling you'd find in a Ding Dong, Cup Cake or Devil Dog. Seven Minute Frosting is the name. Even though it took a lot of sweat and muscles to make (beating the egg whites by hand over simmering water....Big Blue Betty was of no help to me here) it really made this cake authentic and cut some of the over the top chocolatey-ness. If you're going to make a chocolate cake in the near future, USE THIS ONE. It is devine. As for the sure to eat the cake fast because the seven minute frosting will eventually absorb into the cake. 

I read A LOT of food blogs thanks to my Google Reader. (Why isn't everyone using it already?!)  I'd say that 90% of my kitchen experiments are inspired by the things I read online. However, when it comes to baking, I really need to be more diligent about converting the recipes to be Japan friendly. I made this recipe as it is shown on Smitten Kitchen and I'm lucky everything turned out ok. Ovens and cake pans are MUCH smaller here so I had a ton of leftover batter and a little bit of cake overspillage on the first batch. (This just means I have 4 extra cakes in the freezer...wah wah) And as I mentioned before, ingredients are measured in grams, milliters and CCs. Even the Japanese Cup is different from the American Cup. 200mL vs. 237 mL respectively. I just learned this last tidbit yesterday and it blew my mind. So, I've started keeping an Excel document that will help me convert these American recipes into Japan friendly portions as not to waste ingredients and bake more accurately. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ABC Cooking Studio Bread Course :: Orange and Almond Buns

mMMmmmMMm! Now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout! Class number 2 had us baking a sweet bread with an almond and candied orange topping. They are divine. I was worried that with all the sugar and almond paste, it would be too sweet but the candied orange peels really balanced things out. 

All purpose flour is not common in Japan (or I just haven't come across it in the grocery store.) Instead, flour is is divided into two types: strong (bread flour) and weak (cake flour). The kabocha bread we made in class 1 only used strong flour. This sweeter almond bread used a mixture of weak and strong and you can definitely tell the difference. This bread was lighter and more resembled a bun. 

Our teacher this time around didn't speak any English but the ABC staff was overly helpful in preparing us. They are really nice and though we didn't need help with translating, it was comforting to know that they were keeping an eye one us. If any other expats in Japan are interested in taking these courses at ABC, I highly recommend starting out at the Tokyo Midtown branch. Since it's in the heavily foreigner populated Roppongi area, their staff is much more skilled with their English. I'm learning a lot of vocabulary and am starting to feel more comfortable using my limited grammar constructions. Thankfully, the Japanese language employs a few very common words for certain situations and I have those ones down pat. (Delicious! Looks delicious! So skilled! Ok! Difficult!) In English, you might sound like you have Tourette's, but in Japanese, it's perfectly normal to just shout out verbs and adjectives and expect people to understand you. 

I want to share some of the recipes from the classes because bread baking it really fun and actually quite easy. However, when we signed up, I signed a crazy 3 page contract (all in Japanese) and I think one of the 100 points was that I wouldn't share or sell their recipes. The details are hazy and I'd rather not risk it. So, I'm planning on coming up with some variations of my own and will post back later. 

And of course, apologies to my Gluten Free gals out there...I'll be sure to cook up a nice juicy steak in a future post as well

Thursday, August 19, 2010

ABC Cooking Studio Bread Course :: Paprika Kabocha Bread

It's been a year since I first went to ABC Kitchen to make a low calorie brunch. I guess their policies have changed since then because I am now allowed to take their bread and cake courses even though I speak very little Japanese. I suppose they've learned that for the most part, the monkey see, monkey do approach to learning works pretty well. (No offense to us foreigners. That was an unintentional reference to us being monkeys.)

I took my first class tonight with a friend. She's much more talented with handling bread dough. I was a little lost and got a tiny bit behind, but everyone was very encouraging. It helped that there were 2 other English speaking expats in the group that had taken a few classes. They were nice enough to show us the ropes. Our teacher also spoke quite a bit of English, but we were warned not to get used to it. Message received! Trying to read all the kanji and baking jargon in Japanese was pretty overwhelming, but in my defense (or not) I didn't really prepare too much. Despite this, I had a lot of fun. At one point, I emphatically stated to my cooking partner that I was having so much fun. It's true!  It's a really satisfying experience. You get your hands dirty, work up a sweat kneading and the final outcome is pretty and delicious. Maybe this is what men feel like when they beat each other up or grow beards in the woods.

There are 8 classes in this first introductory course. This first class gives us a foundation for all the breads we'll be making in the future. It's a simple flour, water, yeast, butter, salt and sugar mixture then topped with red peppers (paprika apparently...who knew?), black olives and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin). Underneath the veggies is a healthy smearing of mayonaise mixed with mustard. It is a pretty typical recipe for Japan. For us monkeys, it may sound and look pretty weird but in the end, it tastes delicious. Next class is Monday!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fire Flowers in the Sky

I cannot shut up about this, but it is way hot in Japan in the summertime. Despite the heat, summertime is still really fun. There are a ton of festivals around town and come August, fireworks rule the sky. And I'm not talking about a measly 20-minute show. We're talking balls to the wall hour and half long fireworks! That's super impressive. 

This weekend, I invited the few friends I do have over to our apartment to watch the Tokyo Bay hanabi. In Japanese, fireworks translates into Fire Flowers. We have a rooftop bar and terrace that I didn't really know about until a week ago and they invited all the residents to come up and watch the show. It was pretty fun. My Japanese friend said that Japanese people go crazy over Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and Hanabi (fireworks shows). Maybe if we were down by the bay near the festival, it would have been pretty crazy, but I'm happy to report that my neighbors are a well behaved group. 

I'd put this fireworks show at #2 on my list of all time greatest fireworks shows seen by me. It is just above the Movie Themed fireworks night at Oakland Colesium (fireworks set to Star Wars and Grease songs?!) but below the 2009 4th of July fireworks show on the Hudson River. Those were pretty epic. 

Talking Like a 5-Year Old on Lang-8



Aug 16th 2010 23:01


As I mentioned in my last post, I'm trying to improve my Japanese. It's a bit silly that it took me exactly 1 year to realize this but hey, at least I'm trying! Along with listening to more podcasts (shameless plug...) I recently joined a social networking site called I had heard about this site from other blogs and decided to finally give it a shot. It was started by a student at Kyoto University as a way for peers to help each other with their foreign language studies. You write journal entries in the language you're studying and then native speakers of that language that are also using the site correct your sentences. In return, you can correct other peoples' entries in your native language. There are people on there writing in all kinds of languages, but I think Japanese-English are the most popular. 
I've been using it for about a week now and it's pretty cool actually. The website is a little clunky but aside from that, it's a really great idea. You get to put what you know to use and you end up learning a lot of vocabulary words along the way. The corrections usually come within 5 or 10 minutes of writing so the process is pretty quick. As an added bonus, people are really friendly and they write comments about what you wrote and tell you how great you are. No really! It's quite a confidence booster. 
I have to warn you though, it can be addicting. Not so much the writing part, but the correcting! For all you grammar snots out there, this is the site for you. It's just so tempting to go through and correct non-native English. For the most part, you can understand the gist of what they're trying to say and it makes you feel really helpful to give your 2-cents. Here's a part of a post of one of my "friends" : 
Many beer gardens open in summer. Most of them are held on the roofs of department buildings. I don’t know an origin of “beer garden.” However I know these roofs have no garden.

A lot of English words are used as Japanese, but there are many Japanese English which we can’t make sense of what it means. “Beer garden(ビアガーデン)” which is held on a roof of building is such a Japanese English.
This was a particularly satisfying post to correct as I could impart my German language knowledge on him. JA WOHL! I really enjoy reading Japanese peoples' posts a lot. Since I have so few friends to actually talk to, this is a nice way to break down a tiny piece of the wall between me and Japan. So far I've read about a woman who has just ended a friendship and is pretty bummed over it, a guy who went to his high school reunion and everyone said he looked fat and another guy that I thought was gay because he kept talking about his partner but he just means his girlfriend. 
I realize that this service is building up a false confidence in me because despite all the positive feedback, my Japanese is actually not that great. Those characters look really cool and everything, but it's basically 10 different childlike sentences like "It's hot." "I like to cook." "I'm an American." strung together in a somewhat coherent manner. Whatever, like I said, at least I'm trying.
By the way, the post above basically says this: 
It's really hot. I don't want to use the stove. So, I made Vietnamese food. These are spring rolls. Inside, there's shrimp, pork, various vegetables and noodles. Delicious! I'm an American. But my parents came from Vietnam. They went to a German university. Afterwards, they went to California. I don't speak Vietnamese. It's too bad. I'm not good at foreign languages. My mom is really good at foreign languages. She can speak French, Vietnamese, English and German. Awesome! I really love my parents. I want to study Vietnamese. But right now, I have to study Japanese. I don't have time. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

1-Year in Japan. Done.

Sprawling Tokyo
My very first meal in Tokyo. Store bought tsukemen and ginger ale with a side of jet lag. 

One of our first out of Tokyo trips to Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula. 

Lots of adorable things with animals and sake along the way...

A lot of Buddhas

And my own personal deity, Hello Kitty.

This post is a little late, but August 5th marked my official 1-year in Japan milestone. It's not really that interesting of a milestone but it did make me think back on the year. It seemed to go by very fast and where I am today is very different than 365 days ago. Well...I guess in just some aspects of my life, that's not necessarily true.

A quick recap on year 1: I taught English to middle schoolers in Asakusa for 6 months, I became good friends with 1 Japanese person, I became good friends with 1 German person, I got a new job as a marketing director in an office, I know how to use all the appliances in my home, I went to Vietnam, I know how to cook more Japanese dishes and have really improved as a home chef, I became a runner, Squidward and I still like each other a lot and we saw a lot of different kinds of Buddha statues together.

Looking on year two, my plans are to improve upon year 1. My Japanese hasn't really progressed as rapidly as I would have liked and I only have myself to blame. I got pretty lazy with studying and practicing. I also wish I had been more social and really forced myself to make some friends. There are a lot of moments I look back on and regret not seizing the moment. I also regret not doing a better job of keeping in touch with my family and friends from home. This blog was sort of a way to do that, but I don't know... I guess I'm a little old fashioned. Don't worry millions of readers! I'm keeping the blog, but don't be surprised if you a get more phone calls and postcards.

So my tentative plans at the moment is to sign up for a 10K this fall, talk to as many Japanese people in Japanese as possible, buy a book of stamps, renew my Magic Jack and also take the easiest level of the Japan Language Proficiency Exam in December. To be continued...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Rolls the Remix :: Bun Thit Nuong with Fried Scallion Rolls

Working off my kitchen high from yesterday's spring rolls, I decided to to take a stab at one of my favorite dishes Bun Thit Nuong. This isn't too different from a summer roll actually. It's like a deconstructed summer roll. You know how at Chipotle, you can order something called a burrito bowl? This is like a burrito bowl, but less gross sounding. It shares about 90% of the ingredients from the rolls which is good because I had a lot of leftovers that I didn't want to waste. An added challenge for the evening was making my own carrot and diakon pickles. I've never really pickled anything before and yeah, in theory, it seems pretty easy. But for some reason, I always shied away from it. After tonight, I don't think I'll become a pickling master but it will be nice to have a jar of these tangy and crunchy pickles in the fridge.

I made something really similar a year ago when my mom taught me how to make cha gio. Instead of cha gio, this dish has grilled pork in a sweet marinade. If I could get my hands on lemongrass paste in Japan, I would definitely add that to the marinade, but alas, I am without. I tried to get a proper recipe from my mom but she went to bed before she got my email and catering to my every request just isn't on the top of her list of things to do anymore. So I googled a bunch of different recipes, took what I thought made sense, sprinkled that with some of my own knowledge and gave it a try. It may not be the most authentic, but it is delicious!

I felt like I'd really miss the crunch of cha gio, but was also too lazy to whip up a batch. Instead, I paid homage to the nem nuong I had in Nha Trang in 2004. Once upon a time, there was a pretty kickin' night market on the beach and I had these amazing spring rolls with pork meatballs. What I loved most about these rolls was the crunchy fried scallion wrapped inside. It was just a scallion rolled up in rice paper and fried but it added the perfect texture and made these irresistible. I was really sad to find out that this night market is no longer popular, thus, the delicious nem with crispy scallions are gone.

Fear not! They live on in my memory...and now in my kitchen. I fried up some of the leftover chinese chives wrapped in egg roll wrappers and added them to my bowl thus officially making this MY recipe.


Fried Scallion Rolls

  • Egg Roll wrappers
  • Scallions, chives or any other herb you can fry
1. Cut 5 inch pieces of chives. Roll in egg roll wrappers, sealing with egg wash. 
2. Fry for 2 minutes on each side. Set aside. 

Thit Nuong 
  • thinly sliced pork
  • 1 TB fish sauce
  • 1 TB sugar
  • 1 TB mirin or sake
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • lots of black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
1. Put everything but the pork in a plastic bag and mix well -- make sure the sugar dissolves. Add the pork and marinate for 30 minutes to an hour. One thing I learned through Japanese cooking is that if you have thinly sliced meat marinating in alcohol, you don't want to marinate for longer than an hour. The point of the alcohol is to tenderize and if your meat is sliced too thin, you're going to break down too much protein.

2. Grill or pan fry. The sugar is going to caramelize and burn a little. Let it. That's part of the charm of this dish I think.

Nuoc Mam Sauce
Mix all contents together in a bowl. 

  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup White Vinegar
  • 1 Cup of Water
  • 1/2 Cup of Fish Sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
  • 1 Garlic Clove, finely diced
Bun Thit Nuong
  • Cooked rice noodles, room temperature
  • Lettuce
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Bean sprouts (I totally forgot to put bean sprouts in my bowl -- doh!) 
  • Pickled daikon and carrots
  • Mint
  • Cilantro
  • Thit Nuong
  • Peanuts
  • Crunchy rolls, cut in half
1. Fill the bottom of a large bowl with rice noodles. Add all the veggies in varying quantities depending on your taste. 
2. Add pork and sprinkled crushed peanuts on the pork. 
3. Add some crunchy rolls. 
4. Top the noodles, veggies and meat with nuoc mam

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer Time, Time for Summer Rolls

It is still balls hot right now in Tokyo. I'm apparently allergic to A/C so I've been using it in tiny spurts here and there but for the most part, the apartment is just too hot to cook in. While I've enjoyed eating out, I just could not kick a craving for fresh summer rolls. And who better to make it than me? Thankfully, summer rolls require very little cooking.

After I made my first roll, I literally jumped up and down and squeeled with glee. Partly because it looked so pretty and partly because this is the first time I've ever made goi cuon on my own and I managed to do it in Japan. I cannot stress to you more, the frustrating nature of wanting to make a certain dish and not be able to do it properly (or at all) because you can't find the right ingredients. (Cue slideshow of failed attempts to make thit kho, risotto, pie, chicken curry and tomato sauce) For me, cooking in Japan takes a lot of effort. In order to make these 10 spring rolls today, I went to 2 grocery stores, translated Vietnamese and Chinese into Japanese, try to find sufficient substitutes for the things I couldn't find and then hope that it all worked out. That one spring roll gave me so much joy because it represented one of the very few victories in my kitchen this year. I guess it's just a good reminder that cooking is hard and I don't more prepared? Hopefully I'll have more victories in this 2nd year in Japan. I'm a little bit more hip to the game and more aware of the things I can or cannot get at my local grocery store.

So yeah, I made summer rolls or goi cuon (salad roll). Aside from assembly, the cooking part of this recipe couldn't be easier. It's a good thing my mom put me through Vietnamese Rolling Techniques bootcamp last summer.


(there is no green tea in this recipe, I just have a messy kitchen) 
  • 10 shrimps, shelled and deveined 
  • 1/2 lb of pork loin or roast 
  • Vietnamese rice noodles
  • Vietnamese rice paper
  • Lettuce (I have no idea what kind I used, but it resembled butter lettuce) 
  • 1/2 cucumber, halved and sliced thinly
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Chinese chives or scallions 
1. Poach the shrimp in salted water until cooked through. Halve the shrimps when cool enough to handle.  
2. Poach the pork in salted water until cooked through. Slice thin pieces of pork when cool enough to handle. 
3. Cook rice noodles in boiling water until cooked through. Rinse under cold water. 
4. Fill a large bowl with warm water. 
5. Dip the rice paper in the bowl of water so that the whole sheet gets wet, but don't soak it. You'll have to figure out how much water to use for yourself, but rice paper absorbs water slowly. You may think it's not soft enough but just be patient. 
6. Set the rice paper on a clean cutting board. First place the lettuce on the side closest to you. Top the lettuce with noodles, then mint, then 2 pieces of pork, then cilantro. Place 4 slices of cucumber directly on the rice paper above the lettuce. 
7. Roll the rice paper half way, then stop. Add 3 pieces of shrimp onto the rice paper. Fold in the sides. Place 1 leaf of the chive onto the shrimp so that it sticks out of one end. 
8. Fold in the sides of the rice paper and finish rolling. 

TADA! Wasn't that easy? There's a really good rolling tutorial here

The dipping sauce is a combination of hoisin, Sriracha and chunky peanut butter cut with a little bit of water. Play around with your own proportions because I'm too lazy to think about how exactly I made mine tonight. I think it was something like, 2 TB Hoisin, 3 TB PB, 2 TB water and a healthy squeeze of Sriracha. 

Les Créations de NARISAWA :: Reservations Booked

I'm sure you've read this about a million times, but Tokyo has the most Michelin stars of all the cities in the world. I've been here almost a year and have yet to eat at any of them. Shame! Especially considering that there is a Michelin starred tempura shop right on my street. There are lots of reasons but it's mostly because aside from Michelin starred establishments, Tokyo has amazing food EVERYWHERE. Go! Go! Curry, basically any ramen shop in town...the list is pretty long but for the most part, these kinds of places are more accessible and sometimes more delicious in a low brow kind of way.

But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dying to try out a few of the highly rated and celebrated restaurants in Tokyo. So, why not start off with a bang?! Les Créations de NARISAWA has won the Best Restaurant in Asia award from The S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants annual ranking. It's billed as modern French and as the name of the restaurant suggests, it serves the creations of chef Yoshihiro Narisawa. Our reservations are for this Saturday August 6th and from the looks of it, we're in for a long, delicious and playful treat!

to be continued...