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Sunday, August 29, 2010


Tofu is a diet staple in Japan, and there are many different kinds. Yesterday my friend Sachiko handed me a packet of yuba and said "please enjoy". I did ! 

When tofu is made the soy milk is heated and a 'skin' forms on the surface, just like with hot milk, but more delicate. the skin is carefully lifted from the surface and stacked in layers. This is yuba. I admit, when I was first told about yuba I didn't think it sounded appealing... but these days I'm a confirmed fan.

So what's it like? Well, the texture is like very creamy scrambled egg (just the way I like it!) And the flavour is of course like soft tofu. It can be eaten warm or chilled and is served with tsuyu (a dip made of soy sauce and clear stock.) I'm not sure whether you are suposed to tip the tsuyu over ithe yuba, or dip pieces of yuba into the tsuyu. Both ways worked.

Thank you Sachiko! It was delicious!


Lamingtons are squares of sponge cake Covered with chocolate (or raspberry) icing and grated coconut. They were invented in Australia and named after an Australian Governor General, Lord Lamington. They are popular throughout Australia and New Zealand.

I've heard of lemon lamingtons (sounds nice - must try it!) but maybe I'm the first person to make matcha lamingtons...? Anyway, green tea powder and grated coconut are a delicious combination. If you'd like to try this out, the recipe is below.


Sponge cake cut into squares. You can also use sponge drops. (In Japan I make these with 100 yen packets of べべカステラ or カステラ from the supermarket.)
1 cup of icing sugar
1 cup dried grated coconut
2-3 tablespoons of green tea powder (matcha)
a little hot water

Combine the icing sugar and matcha.
Add hot water gradually, mixing well, until the mixture
is a slightly thick syrup (like honey on a warm day.)
Put coconut into a bowl. Now the process becomes very sticky and messy!
Coat the sponge cake by dipping it into the syrup and turning it over.
I recomend using tongs or two forks, but some people just use fingers.
Be careful not to break up the fragile sponge cake.
Next lift the sponge cake and let the extra syrup drain of for a few seconds,
then place in the coconut and turn until completely covered.
Place on a tray or plate to set.
Repeat until you run out of sponge cake.


If you know me, you know I love coffee. At home I drink drip filter coffee with milk, no sugar, but at cafes I usually order a latte (not at Starbucks though, because their lattes are too weak for my taste.) I love the thick foamy topping on lattes. Yum.

Recently I went sightseeing in Nara. Promoters of the ancient Japanese capital have come up with an anime character named Sento-kun. They hope to make Nara appeal to the younger generations in Japan who, strangely, are not flocking to Nara to look at dusty relics and mouldering temples.

We had coffee at the Kintetsu station before commencing sightseeing, and as an optional extra you could order latte decorated with Sento-kun. Of course I bought one to take a photo. They made the image by sprinkling chocolate powder over a stencil. Very easy to do. I want to try this out with some stencils of my own !

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I have a breadmaker and bake my own whole-grain bread. It makes wonderful toast. Tomatoes on toast has been one of my favorite things since I was a child. I would slather on delicious New Zealand butter thickly, top with sliced tomato, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Since I came to Japan however, I've pretty much given up on butter. Hokkaido butter is pretty good, but it's also pretty expensive. Besides, I've lost the illusion of invincibility that is a part of being young, so using butter the way I like to use it (thickly) makes me feel vaguely guilty. And perhaps most significant of all, Japanese refrigerators don't seem to have butter conditioners. But I've found a very satisfactory substitute - mayonnaise.

I hate the too-sweet, too-acidic 'mayonnaise' in New Zealand. I never used it. You can buy wonderful mayonnaise in Japan, rich and creamy. Add crushed garlic and it would do for aoli (don't tell my friend Sandra, who is a real foodie, I said that!) I usually buy 'karashi' (hot muststard) flavor. It's an excellent stand-in for butter with tomatoes (doesn't work well with marmalade.) It's also really good with ham on toast. I never ate ham on toast before a Japanese friend introduced me to it, but now I'm a big fan.

The other thing I really love to eat on toast is banana.  And that doesn't need butter, just a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Show me a fruit or vegetable I've never seen before, and I'll try it!

Recently I spotted something new at the supermarket. I couldn't read the name, but luckily I was with a Japanese friend who told me the thick light green stalks were lotus stems. Although lotus root is a common vegetable in Japan, my friend had never seen the stems on sale before. Of course I bought some and, after returning home, Googled lotus stem recipes to find out how to eat them. I found two main kinds of recipes that used lotus stems - Vietnamese salads,and Indian currys. Having a large quantity of stems at my disposal I was able to try both. I didn't have all the neccessary ingredients so I improvised  and what I made is rather different from the recipe I found. The results were very tasty anyway, so here are MY recipes!

500g of lotus stems cut in half lengthwise then into 2cm slices. 
juice of 1 lemon
100 grams julienned carrot
1 onion finely sliced and soaked in a little rice vinegar.
100g cooked prawns or shrimps
small block of silken tofu, drained and crumbled
50g 'Vietnamese pickles' (I used pickled myoga)
50-100g roasted unsalted peanuts (you can leave
them whole or chop them if you prefer)
finely sliced red chili
chopped fresh basil or coriander
fish sauce or soy sauce

Soak lotus stems in water and lemon juice for 15 minutes, then drain well.
Add  carrot and toss in 75g sugar. Leave for 30 minutes, then drain again.
Combine stems and carrot with prawns or shrimps, pickles, vinegared onion,  peanuts, roughly crumbled tofu, chili, and basil or coriander. Sprinkle with fish sauce or soy sauce to taste.

This salad was crunchy, fresh tasting, and totally delicious. You could maybe serve it with shrimp crackers.

300-400g  prawns (or mixed seafood)
300mls fish stock (Make it with prawn heads
and shells? I didn't. I'm a lazy cook.)
2-3 tbsp Thai green curry paste
1 tablespoon of turmeric
150g lotus stems, cut into 5cm pieces
can of coconut milk

1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce
fresh basil or coriander

Mix curry paste and turmeric with fish stock.
Heat to simmering then add lotus stems and seafood.
Cook a few minutes then add coconut milk,
lemon or lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce or soy sauce. 
Serve sprinkled with roughly chopped herbs.

I ate this with chopped tomatoes and fresh mint (and white rice of course.) It was great!

Just a couple of weeks after this foray into lotus stem cuisine I traveled to Kurashiki. We ate a lunch that included sashimi at a canal-side restaurant in Kurashiki, and there under the sashimi, diagonally sliced and wafer thin, an exquisite garnish of pale green lotus stem. My Japanese companions didn't know what it was, but I did!

Monday, August 9, 2010


In Japan I buy three different kinds of grains. Of course I buy rice. Brown rice is available, but I usually buy white rice because I find it more versatile. Japanese rice has short, rounded grains and is kind of sticky when cooked. I eat rice most days, sometime with every meal, although my breakfast is very un-Japanese (more about breakfast in another post.)

In addition to white rice I also buy 'mugi' which is barley. I get barley to mix with the rice to add fiber and vitamins. And I like the slightly nutty texture it gives the rice, without being too 'wholegrain'. Also, sometimes I add it to vegetable soups in cold weather. Vegetable soup with barley reminds me of my mother's vegetable soup back in NZ.

Finally I buy mixed grain. It includes barley, millet, corn, black sesame seeds, brown rice, and several other unidentified grains. It's a bit expensive, and health conscious Japanese add it sparingly to rice, but I buy it for bread. I've always preferred wholegrain bread, but the selection and pricing of wholegrain bread in Japan seems aimed at discouraging general consumption. It is only available from expensive little boutique bakeries.

Never mind! Have breadmaker, will improvise!

Here is my wholegrain bread recipe for a breadmaker. It makes very delicious bread, excellent for sandwiches or toast. It reminds me of Vogel's bread in New Zealand.

Wholegrain Bread:  makes about 1 kg loaf 

1/2 cup water
5/8 cup milk (or milk and yoghurt mixed)
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup cooked mixed grains
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon yeast

Follow manufacturers directions (OR put everything in the machine and switch on. That's what I do!)

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I went to Kintai Bridge in July 2009, and there was an ice-cream shop with 100 different flavors! Unfortunately I had just finished a delicious blueberry-yogurt ice-cream from a shop with a much smaller selection, and I had no appetite left. Maybe I should say fortunately... how do you choose from 100 flavors?! In Nagano at a hot spring resort I once sampled wasabi ice-cream, but I didn't enjoy it.

But the ice-creams that really get me excited are the ones you can buy at the convenience stores. They bring out seasonal flavors (and not just in ice-cream) which you can only buy for a couple of months and then they're gone. Sometimes they re-appear next time the season comes around, and sometimes they're gone forever. Like the divine chocolate fudge brownie - frozen fudge brownie on a stick - briefly available in Winter 2007. It still haunts my taste buds!

Actually, winter is my ice-cream season. I know that's weird, but in summer I'd usually rather have iced tea. But when the weather is freezing and I'm bundled up in coat, hat, and scarf, I crave ice-cream. The object of my ice-cream desires during the winter of 2009-2010 was the wonderful kinako-mochi monaka. Kinako is a nutty flavored powder made from roasted and ground soy beans, and mochi is a soft, doughy, slightly sweet rice-flour cake. I think this one is a standard because I saw it first in 2008-2009 winter. Lucky me!

Another frozen treat I'm particularly fond of is the frozen fruit ice lollies. The first one I tried was mandarin flavor - frozen juice packed full of mandarin segments. That was good, but was subsequently eclipsed by the mango version. Recently I saw grape and peach versions at the convenience store, but I haven't tried them yet.... it's summer in Japan, you see.


Todays dinner was spicy fried rice with baby squid, and a salad of sliced cucumber and shiso leaves with bought onion dressing. (Shiso is a kind of herb.) 
Fried rice has got to be one of the easiest things to make and is great for using up left overs, or odds and ends lying around in the fridge. To make this I heated some sesame oil in the frypan, added the squid which had been shaken in flour, salt and chili powder, and fried until brown. Next I added some sliced onion and fried that briefly. Then I added cooked rice and continued cooking till it was heated through. A splash of soy sauce and a shake of black pepper finished it off. 
It was VERY delicious!


Japanese crackers are so good. There are many different kinds. I especially love the little thin white crackers with tiny pink shrimps and flecks of green seaweed, and the thicker crackers with small black beans. Yum! But the best senbei I've had are the big ones you can buy warm from the oven (grill?) at senbei stands. Yesterday I ate a yuzu flavored senbei from a shop near Ginkakuji. It was covered with large sugar crystals, very crunchy, not too sweet, and not too salty, with just a delicate hint of yuzu citrus flavor. Absolutely wonderful.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


One of my favorite Japanese meals is donburi. 'Donburi' is a bowl of hot rice with some kind of topping... so gyu-don is beef on rice, and buta-don is pork on rice, and oyako-don is rice with chicken and egg (oya = parent and ko = child!) Donburi is easy. It's quick. It's satisfying. And for me it's also comfort food.

Lots of Japanese restaurants sell donburi. You can often buy a a donburi set which includes a generously sized bowl of rice and topping, a small dish of Japanese pickles, a cup of Japanese tea, and a small salad for under 1000 yen. It's very good value.

I absolutely adore ikura-don, which is salmon eggs on rice. I also really like any kind of sashimi-don (sashimi being raw fish.) I love sushi and sashimi, but in my opinion raw fish over hot rice is a heavenly combination! I sometimes go to one of the sashimi-don restaurants in Sanjo Teramachi where I usually order a combination of salmon eggs (ikura), sqid (ika) and prawn (ebi.) If you want you can add soy sauce, wasabi or maybe ponzu (combination of sour citrus fruit and soy sauce) but I usually eat it without any extra flavoring.
Sashimi-don is really easy to make at home. I just buy a tray of sashimi from the supermarket, cook up some plain rice, and eat! Simple, elegant and totally delicious!


My attitude toward food has always been celebratory and appreciative. I enjoy food! There are some foods I enjoy less than others, but I can honestly say there is nothing I dislike. Although I did dislike a bitter vegetable called goya for a while. But people all around me were eating and apparently enjoying the bitter vegetable (think snozzcumbers from Roald Dahl's BFG) so just I kept trying different recipes until I found a way to enjoy it.

People often ask me, "what do you cook?" or "what do you eat?" I suppose they ask me this because I'm a New Zealander living in Japan. My Japanese friends are probably just curious about what a foreigner might eat, and my NZ/Australian friends know I'm a bit of a foodie who loves to cook, so they wonder what I'm cooking up in Japan.

So here it is: Cathy's food adventures!