Archive for March, 2009

Winter stews

The last vestiges of winter are slowly creeping away (at least they better be), so I thought I should write up these lovely stews while they still seem seasonally appropriate.

Our December trip to Japan gave us the opportunity to have several special dishes that are especially associated with wintertime.

Noodles: soba and udon

Noodles: soba and udon

In mountain town of Gora, we had a fabulous lunch in a noodle restaurant. I chose soba—thin buckwheat noodles—and Yusuke selected udon, which is thick, almost doughy noodles. Both dishes had a light broth, probably soy sauce-based. My soba featured delicious mountain vegetables, like mushrooms (yay!), bamboo shoots, fiddleheads, and onions.

Daikon soup

Daikon soup

My mother-in-law made this soup one evening during our visit. Root vegetables are especially popular during the winter, and so daikon is the main element, along with pork, shitake mushrooms, and mizuna, a flavourful leafy green. Daikon is a root veggie, but since it’s a radish, it’s not starchy like potato or squash. The texture is much smoother and juicer, especially when it’s nicely ripe. If it’s not good quality (like we sometimes get in Montreal), it’s rather stringy. In Japan, all of the daikon was huge, white, and smooth, and it melts in your mouth when cooked in a stew. In Montreal, in contrast, sometimes it’s small and skinny, greenish, and pock-marked. Boo. I miss daikon in Japan.

Oden

Oden

Oden is awesome. It’s a pot dish that typically has various soy-based and processed fish-based products that are completely foreign to Western cuisine. The wikipedia article has a more detailed explanation. My mother-in-law made quite the oden feast. One of my sisters-in-law and I monopolized the konnyaku, but I liked all of the new things I tried in this dish. Another of my favourites was the kombu, which is thick seaweed, neatly tied into bows here. There’s also hanpen (the white triangles of surimi aka fish purée), gobomaki (boiled greater burdock root wrapped in surimi), chikuwa (tubes of surimi), ganmodoki (fried balls of tofu mixed with grated vegetables), and atsuage (deep fried tofu).

Nabe

Nabe

 

Finally, we had nabe on two different occasions (at a friend’s house and at a fabulous restaurant in Tokyo’s Ginza district). Nabe (short for nabemono) is central to Japanese culture and cuisine. It is essentially a hot pot dish, cooked on the dining table, in which all different types of meat, seafood, and veggies are boiled in a special broth. Everyone is served out of the communal pot on the table, so it brings a warmth and closeness when shared among family and friends. Chankonabe is special, extra-hearty nabe that is a staple in sumo wrestlers’ training diets…which is what we had in Ginza: a million different types of mushrooms (yay!), along with some kind of meat, napa, onions, eggs, tofu, noodles, and some other stuff that I can’t remember. At the lovely home of a friend, we had nabe chock full of succulent oysters (sooo fabulously juicy and briny), white fish, mushrooms, carrots, napa, and and other veggies. We didn’t take any pictures of our nabe, so I borrowed the one above from “Tavallai” on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tavallai/2084203089/. And another nabe pic with oysters is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/upon/2314309029/

Advertisements

Comments (1)

Zōni soup

Zoni

Zoni

Zōni is a traditional dish for New Year’s. We ate it in Japan for the holiday, but Yusuke made it recently here, too. The soup has a clear broth with soy sauce and a bit of dashi (bonito powder). Various veggies can be used, so we went our usual standbys of carrots, mushrooms, spinach, and green and white onions. The key ingredient is mochi, which is sticky rice pounded into a glutinous mass. Mochi has a strong place in traditional culture. While we Westerners see the Man in the Moon in the shadows and craters, the Japanese see a rabbit with a mallet making mochi!

Rabbits making mochi

Rabbits making mochi


Image from cesare a.k.a synkronicity (http://www.flickr.com/photos/55046325@N00/3149792735/)

Comments (1)

December sweets

Japanese sweets are very intricate, varied, exotic, and difficult to describe to foreigners who have never had anything that is comparable. The making of wagashi (image search and more pics), or traditional confectionery, is a true art in Japan. We learned on a TV show that wagashi apprentices spend about 15 years perfecting their anko before attempting to make the actual sweets. They are considered masters after 30 or 40 years of practice.

Here, though, I just have some of the everyday desserts that we tried during our December trip to Japan.

Goza souro

Goza souro

This picture shows goza souro being made in the department store Sogo. It’s essentially a sandwich of a soft, dense batter (like a pancake) and sweet bean paste.

French toast with azuki

French toast with azuki


This was Yusuke’s dessert at Denny’s, of all places. Only the menu wasn’t anything like what you find in North America. A prime example was this French toast with azuki beans and pumpkin ice cream.

Chocolate mochi

Chocolate mochi


Mochi is glutinous rice that is pounded— traditionally with a mallet— into a soft, sticky, erm, mass. It can be eaten in many ways, but these mochi balls were coated in cocoa powder. One of Yusuke’s sisters, a chocoholic, ate nearly all of the ones that we bought for the family, but I managed to snatch a taste of one.

Kuzu-kiri

Kuzu-kiri


Kuzu-kiri consists of flat gelatinous, noodle-like stuff made of starch from the kuzu plant. My explanation in words doesn’t make much sense, so more pics are here and here. The chilled “noodles,” for lack of a better word, are dipped in a sweet syrup to give them flavour. Yusuke describes the taste as very “gentle.”

Shiruko

Oshiruko


I wrote about oshiruko (sweet azuki “soup”) before, but it was particularly wonderful at this sweets shop in Kamakura. The homemade mochi was lightly toasted and perfectly chewy. Yuuummmmm.

Rum ball

Rum ball


We had fabulous rum balls at Yusuke’s uncle’s house. They were bigger than a golf ball, filled with dense rum cake and coated in chocolate, tastefully served on a Hello Kitty plate. Very rich, but perfectly balanced by green tea.

Ohagi

Ohagi


Ohagi is an extremely yummy sweet—definitely one of my most favourite new discoveries on our trip. It’s basically squished sweet rice coated with sweet bean paste (anko) or other ingredients. For example, we also had black sesame and edamame bean ohagi. It’s not sugary-sweet like Western cakes or cookies (even though it does have TONS of sugar). The about.com article describes it well and so does the explanation on Just Hungry.

Year of the Cow

Year of the Cow


We had these cute sweets, decorated in honour of the Year of the Cow, at a friend’s house. They are manju, a small cake filled with azuki paste. The outside has a thin layer of hardened icing. The effect is somewhat similar to a petit-four.

Sweet potato and chestnut cake

Sweet potato and chestnut cake


This cake was selected by Yusuke to serve as his birthday cake. It was not overly sweet, instead having a more subtle and rich taste, made with sweet potatoes, pumpkin, chestnuts, and light icing. He didn’t want to admit it was his birthday, though…
ult

Comments off

Cabbage fried rice

Cabbage fried rice

Cabbage fried rice

This Chinese-style fried rice dish was a great way to use leftover cabbage. The veggies—carrots, cabbage, mushrooms (yay!), and white onions— were stir fried briefly first, and then the rice and beaten eggs were thrown in. The seasoning was salt, black pepper, chicken bouillon, and a tiny bit of soy sauce.

Comments off