Japanese Cakes/Wagashi 2: Recipe-Anko/Sweetmeats

WAGASHI-4

One main ingredients in traditional Wagashi/Japanese Cakes is “anko” (or more simply “an”) which can be translated as “sweetmeats” or “bean jam”.

I would like here to introduce a simple way to make one’s own “anko” at home:

INGREDIENTS:

Azuki/Adzuki/red beans (in Japanese: 小豆): 150 g
Sugar: 150g
Salt: a little

RECIPE:

a) Wash azuki lightly. Put in a large basin with an equal amount of water and turn on heat to high.

b) Bring to boil. If beans level is higher that of water, add water till beans are completely covered. Let simmer. Add water 2 or 3 times as soon as the water does not cover completely the beans and this until beans stop floating on water.

c) Drain beans, put them back into basin with same amount of water and turno fire to high. Repeat a9 operation.

d) Cook as c) fro 40~60 minutes.

e) Mash azuki beans lightly. Add sugar. Simmer and stir to mix, making sure the jam does not overboil.

f) Add a little salt (to your taste) and mix.
Let cool completely.
You can eat as it is of course, but you will need it to make your cakes!
You can either sieve it to make it a very fine paste, sieve a part and mix it with the unsieved part, or use it as it is. In any case it will be easy to fashion!

WAGASHI-ANKO

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Sea Pineapple/Common Sea Squirt: Hoya/Mahoya

HOYA-1

The Common Sea Squirt, very often called Sea Cucumber is neither a coral, seaweed, shellfish or whatever.
It is an animal of its own class.

HOYA

in its natural habita, already a prey to many marine predators, it has become rare because of the extensive catch by humans.

HOYA-NATURAL

Its natural colour is whitish out of the water while (see pic above) Hoya rasied by humans are of a deep orange colour.

We are just in the middle of its season, May.
They are mainly raised in Miyagi Prefecture while natural ones are caught in Iwate Prefecture.

HOYA-2

You have to cut it open to reach its edible part.

HOYA-3

It can be eaten raw, slightly boiled or pickled.
It is said to be the rare sea animal combining the four tastes: sweetness, saltiness, sourness and acidity.

HOYA-4

For a better view of its insides. It is called sea squirt, because it is mainly filled with sea water which can be expelled at will.

HOYA-SUSHI

Ipersonally appreciate it as sushi nigiri, although it is a bit of an acquired taste!

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Japanese Cakes/Wagashi 1: Introduction

WAGASHI-1

There is a traditional way of making cakes in Japan that ought to please no end vegans and people allergic to wheat flour and dairy products, namely Wagashi!

Wagashi (和菓子) is a traditional Japanese confectionery which is often served with tea, especially the types made of mochi, azuki bean paste, and fruits.

Wagashi is typically made from natural based (mainly plant) ingredients. The names used for wagashi commonly fit a formula—a natural beauty and a word from ancient literature; they are thus often written with hyōgaiji (kanji that are not commonly used or known), and are glossed with furigana.

Generally, confectioneries that were introduced from the West after the Meiji Restoration (1868) are not considered wagashi. Most sorts of Okinawan confectionery and those originating in Europe or China that use ingredients alien to traditional Japanese cuisine, e.g., kasutera, are only rarely referred to as wagashi.

WAGASHI-2
Assortment of wagashi for a tea ceremony

During the Edo period, the production of sugarcane in Okinawa became highly productive, and low quality brown sugar as well as heavily processed white sugar became widely available. A type of sugar, wasanbon, was perfected in this period and is still used exclusively to make wagashi. Wagashi was a popular gift between samurai, in significance much like a good wine. Wagashi is served as part of a Japanese tea ceremony, and serving a good seasonal wagashi shows one’s educational background.

WAGASHI-3
Wagashi in the shape of rape flowers/Na no Hana

There are many, many kinds of Wagashi.
I will introduce them in the next posting, followed by another posting on the basic preparation.

WAGASHI-ABEKAWAMOCHI-2
Shizuoka’s Abekawa Mochi

Just know that about every region in Japan has its own traditional Wagashi!

Avaibility:
Wagashi is widely available in Japan, but quite rare outside it.
Minamoto Kitchoan (源 吉兆庵)
Has a varied selection, and stores in New York City (shipping throughout the US), London (shipping throughout Europe), and Singapore, in addition to Japan.
Toraya (とらや)
Has a full Paris store, stores in Japan, and sells a limited selection (yōkan only) at New York stores.
Fugetsu-do
Family owned and operated in the USA, since 1903, Fugetsu-do now ships anywhere in the USA.

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Sea Urchin Species

UNI-AKAUNI-2
Aka Uni/Red Sea Urchin Roe

Sea urchins, or uni/海栗in Japanese, are popular in many countries, but maybe not as much as in Japan!
The situation sometimes is becoming ridiculous as time and again Chinese and North Korrean ships are caught poaching sea urchins in the Japan seas to export them later to Japan!

There are many kinds of sea urchins, some great, some barely acceptable, and many inedible.
I will keep this posting to the most popular ones in Japan.

EZO-BAFUN-UNI
UNI-EZOBAFUNUNI-1

Ezobafun-uni, or Kaze, or Kanze are best appreciated in Spring.
Most are caught off Hokkaido.
As its name in Japanese says (Sea Chestnut), when fresh it has a firm texture and tastes like chestnuts.

UNI-EZOBAFUNUNI-2

Its roe is a beautiful orange.
Beware of imported copies that don’t mely in your mouth!

UNI-EZOBAFUNUNI-3

Beautiful as sushi nigiri or gunkan!

KITA-MURASAKI-UNI
UNI-KITAMURASAKIUNI-1

Appearing on the markets between early Summer and Atumn, domestic specimen come from Hokkaido (12,000 tonnes).

UNI-KITAMURASAKIUNI-2

Please note the different colour, more yellowish.
It is widely imported from Russia (6.200 tonnes), USA (2,600 tonnes), Chili (2,100 tonnes), Canada (800 tonnes) and Kora (300 tonnes).

UNI-KITAMURASAKIUNI-3

Great as sushi nigiri!
Good quality specimens should be firm, with a definite shape, and leave a yellow colour inside its box or on chopsticks!

CHILI-UNI
UNI-CHIRIUNI-1

Chili-Uni/Sea Urchin from Chili is considered as the best imported sea urchin in Japan and merits a special mention.

UNI-CHIRIUNI-2

Beautiful served as sushi gunkan!

AKA-UNI
UNI-AKAUNI-1

Aka-uni/Red sea Urchin, although of a lower grade, is considered a choice morsel.

UNI-AKAUNI-2

Aka uni roe, some of which will find its way in the following dishes!

SEA URCHIN DISHES

There are countless ways of cooking and using sea urchins!
The following are just suggestions.
Enjoy!

UNI-CHYAWANMUSHI
Uni Chyawan Mushi

UNI-COLD-PEPEROCINO
Cold Pepperocino Sea Urchin Spaghetti

UNI-GRATIN
Sea Urchi Gratin in its shell

UNI-GRATIN-2
Another Sea Urchin Gratin in its shell.

UNI-PILAF
Sea Urchin Pilaf

UNI-RENKON
Uni-Renkon: Sea Urchin cooked inside slices of Lotus roots

UNI-SHUMAI
Sea Urchin Shou-mai

UNI-TOFU-AVOCADO-MILLEFEUILLE
Sea Urchi Tofu and Avocado Millefeuille

UNI-TOFU-SOUP
Sea Urchin and Tofu Soup

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Tomatoes: Local varieties in Shizuoka

AGRI-TOMATO1

I had my good friend Rich in mind when I set off on my bicycle yesterday morning in the direction of the Abe River in Shizuoka City. This major river is dotted almost all the way up to its source with farmland. Very often, while the men are busy with staple crops like rice,tubers and even peanuts, some housewives grow vegetables and other produce as a “side business” to contribute some cash to their homesteads.
About an hour ride from my place one will find a JA (Japan Agriculture) market called “Agri Road Miwa” associated with 13 such housewives who sell their vegetables, fruit, flowers, tea, honey and home-made cakes on a daily basis, guaranteeing fresh produce everyday.
The only problem is that you must be there when the market opens at 9:30 and fight off the local “o-baasan/grannies”! LOL
Being seasonal produce only, you can expect something new every morning!
I had already picked some great burdock roots, pink potatoes and maountain veggies, when my eyes stopped on some unusual tomatoes.
Interestingly enough. the grannies were more interested in the lettuce and strawberries, so I had enough time to choose the best specimens!

AGRI-TOMATO2

“Black Tomato”. Actually it is a very deep red colour, practically dark blue-violet.

AGRI-TOMATO3

“Orange Tiger”. Beautiful name, isn’t it?

AGRI-TOMATO4

“Green Tiger”. A cousin of the above!

AGRI-TOMATO5

“White Tomato”. Actually more of a mild beige colour.

Bear in mind that all these tomatoes, in spite of their colour, were ripe.
I bought enough for myself and Yasaitei, a favourite local Japanese Izakaya which specializes in vegetables (I just give them away as the prices are simple ridiculous. If Yasaitei can promote these farmers’ products, I’m more than happy!).
Some actually did not reach my office intact (a long rough bicycle ride is not a great idea for shopping!). I just “sampled” them,… I ended up eating all the “damaged” tomatoes! They were sweet and tangy at the same time, firm and juicy, all basically of the same taste. No need for drinking water after that!
I stored the intact tomatoes in the fridge and later brought them to Yasatei. This izakaya is run by ladies only, and it was a discovery for them! No need to say that the tomatoes were immediately displayed for the customers’ pleasure!

Agri Road Miwa
Shizuoka City, Aoi Ku, Abeguchi Shinden, 537-1
TEL:054-296-7878
Business hours: 09:30~15:30 (from 08:30 on Saturdays)
Homepage (Japanese)
Even if you don’t understand Japanese look at their products!

Yasaitei
Shizuoka City, Aoi Ku, Tokiwa-Cho, 1-6-2 Green Heights Wamon 1-C
Tel.: 054-2543277
Business hours: 17:30~22:00
Closed on Sundays
Reservations highly recommended

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Octopus Species

OCTOPUS-MIZUDAKO-SALAD
Mizudako Octopus Sashimi Salad

Octopuses are common on the markets along the Mediteranean Sea, especially Greece, italy and Spain.
Tey are also very common in Asia, especially Korea and Japan.

OCTOPUS-MADAGO-TSUKIJI
For people living in Tokyo, you will find plenty inside the Tsukiji Market.

OCTOPUS-NUMAZU-HARBOUR
As for people living in Shizuoka Prefecture, go and visit the Harbour in Numazu City!

There many kinds of octopus, some edible, some definitely not!
I will talk here about the main varieties found, sold and eaten in Japan!

MADAKO
OCTOPUS-MADAGO-1

Madako or “True Octopus” will be sold from late Autumn till early Spring.
50,000 tonnes are caught in Japan while 100,000 tonnes are imported, 60% fromm Morocco, 20% from Mauritania and some more from South Africa.

OCTOPUS-MADAGO-2
Boiled Madako from Japan

OCTOPUS-MADAGO-3
Boiled Madako from South Africa

It is very often found boiled in the supermarkets and are appreciated in salads, chyawanmushi, takoyaki and so on.

OCTOPUS-MADAGO-4

But lightly as sushi nigiri is probably the best!

MIZUDAKO
OCTOPUS-MIZUDAKO-1

Mizudako, also called Shiodako and Oodako is a large variety reaching up to 3 metres. It is caught in Autumn and Winter at depths bewteen 100and 1,000 metres in the Northern half of Japan.
It is usually sold frozen. It is then cut when half thawn for:

OCTOPUS-MIZUDAKO-3
Mizudako sashimi

OCTOPUS-MIZUDAKO-SALAD
Mizudako Salad

OCTOPUS-MIZUDAKO-2
It is also very common boiled and pickled in rice vinegar.

OCTOPUS-MIZUDAKO-EGGS
Its eggs are a rare morsel eaten as sushi on a gunkan!

IIDAKO
OCTOPUS-IIDAGO-1

Iidako, also known as Komochidako or Ishidako are caught south of Hokkaido Island. They are comparatively small and do not measure more than 20 cm. A lot are caugt along the Korean Peninsula and China at depths down to 20 metres. They tend to lay their a bit everywhere, even inside empty cans at the bottom of the sea!
Imports have been increasing of late.

OCTOPUS-IIDAGO-2

Iidago are much appreciated cooked whole with their eggs or

OCTOPUS-IIDAGO-3

whole again, boiled or raw, as sushi on nigiri!

CHIHIRODAKO
OCTOPUS-CHIHIRODAKO-1

Chihirodako is local Shizuoka variety found at Numazu Harbour.
It is appreciated boiled or in Tenpura

OCTOPUS-CHIHIRODAKO-2
Its tentacles, boiled, are popular as sushi nigiri!

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*_All-you-can-eat_

lojol

This is an article written by my good friend, Patrick Harrington on this popular if quaint Japanese institution called Viking Bar or Resturant!

‘Viking with a drink bar’*

What image is conjured by these words? A wild Norseman who runs a pub?
An even wilder Norseman who has been ordered not to drink?

To someone in Japan a ‘viking’ is an all-you-can-eat meal, and a ‘drink
bar’ refers to the option of unlimited drinks. This is very popular in Japan and comes in various forms.

My favorite is the breakfast buffet, especially when on vacation. It
expands into a huge brunch. If I slip a couple of bread rolls into a bag
I can skip lunch and enjoy an uninterrupted day of leisurely sightseeing.

Then there is ‘lunner’, the lunch/dinner combination, which again
affords the opportunity to skip a meal. And if you time it just right
you can pay the cheaper lunch-time price and get to try some dishes from the more extensive dinner menu.

And then there are the specialist buffets. I once had an afternoon cake buffet in Harrods of London. The array of mouthwatering delights was so dazzling that I just had to sample at least one of each. I walked out so bloated that I didn’t eat a thing until dinner the following day, a full 24 hours later.

*So how do you fell about all-you-can-eat establishments?*
This concept has quite an attraction for customers and proprietors alike.

Waiters are not needed, the only service being the collection of
crockery and cutlery, though in many places the customers do this too.
In addition there is no need for the cooks to prepare individual dishes,
so many more customers can be accommodated. There are cost savings all round.
There is also the obvious advantage of a wide variety of food. We can
choose more of what we like, avoid what we dislike and experiment a
little too. We can decide to have our onion soup after dessert, we can
have strawberries with our salad, and we don’t have to wait for coffee.
In short it’s culinary freedom.

I must admit to having taken advantage of these places more times than I care to remember.

Because we all know there is a big downside. In many places the
all-you-can-eat deal is just that: a low-cost, low-quality,
high-temptation binge-fest: the rush to get the last of the fried
potatoes, the hustle when the chocolate gateau apears. I’m sure this
kind of thing brings out the hunter-gatherer instincts in us. And our
instincts also tell us that bingeing cannot be good, indeed the perils
are widely documented.

*But it doesn’t have to be like this!*

It _is_ possible to prepare good quality food. It _is_ possible to
provide an attractive balance and variety of dishes. It _is _possible
for cost-savings to be made. And it _is_ possible for customers to eat
and drink sensibly in a cordial atmosphere.

There is a ‘viking with a drink bar’ on the 7th floor of the Parco
Department Store in Shizuoka City. Much of the food is local and
organic, and the sake is local too. The dishes are seasonal, in some
cases original, and the taste ranges from very good to excellent. The
ambience has a rather quaint, traditional woody feel, not a plastic
chair in sight, and here is the kicker: the customers talk to each other!

Even the wildest Norseman would be placated in such a place.

If it can be done by a department store it can be done by anyone.

VIKING
(Japanese Hotel Viking Restaurant Sample)

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