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Monday, May 2, 2011


In spring you can buy three-color mochi dango. Apparently they are a traditional food for O-Hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties.)  The white ones are plain, and the green ones are colored with a herb named mugwort in English. It doesn't have any flavor that I can detect. It would be nice to think the pink ones were flavored with cherry blossom petals, but I couldn't taste it if they were. But they are good - soft and chewy and not too sweet. And they look pretty in spring colors. I love mochi.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Nabe (pronouced nah-bay) is the Japanese word for a kind of cooking pot, but it also refers to a one-pot meal including meat or fish and lots of vegetables cooked in broth. In Japan eating nabe is very popular in winter. There are dozens of different flavored nabes. Formerly my favorite nabe was kimchi nabe, and one of my friends has been raving to me about carbonara nabe. But recently at the house of a friend I was privileged to eat Hokkaido style Ishikari Nabe. It's fabulous!

Salmon, potatoes and cabbage (possibly onions too?) are simmered in stock, then milk is added. Japanese miso paste is thinned with some of the broth, and added. A generous slab of Hokkaido butter completes the gorgeously rich flavor. This nabe is one of my new favorite things! I like the way it is a blend of Western and Japanese cuisine. I sincerely hope you can eat it one day!

Saturday, April 30, 2011


My apologies for the long gap between this post and my last one. I've been through an extremely busy patch of life, as happens every now and then, but here I am again...

On my trip to France in February this was one of the best meals I ate, in a cafe with outside tables and chairs only a meter from the busy road. Sadly our very tight sightseeing schedule didn't allow for much cafe time. Don't get me wrong - I loved the sightseeing, and I thought Paris was a wonderful city. But French cuisine is famous so I  regret being able to sample so little of it.

This cheese and ham 'sandwich'  (which would be called a 'filled roll' in New Zealand)  came accompanied by a large pot of pickled gherkins for us to help ourselves to.

Normandy is famous for puffy omelet, and while visiting Mont San Michel in France, our Japanese tour group stopped at a country restaurant to eat omelet, chicken casserole and apple cake washed down with apple cider.

Unfortunately the general feeling was that large quantities of raw whipped egg take a lot of washing down! Most of the tour group couldn't eat it. Although I ate it all, I certainly didn't enjoy it. And I seem to remember making puffy omelet at Intermediate School in New Zealand. I'm sure it was actually cooked, and tasted good.

As for the rest of the meal, the chicken tasted free range which was strange for my Japanese companions. Sadly it came with the odd feather, which was a bit off-putting. The apple cake was not very inspiring. Apple cake can be difficult to make well, because it easily becomes very stodgy and even soggy.  This was both. The restaurant was very nice, with beautiful tableware and decor, so it was just too bad about the meal.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Like Japanese curry made with roux, which I wrote about in an earlier post, this was made with cream stew roux. On the packet it showa a picture of a stew made with potatoes, carrots and what looks like chicken, but my friend Miyoko likes to jazz things up. This salmon and pumpkin cream stew was  SO GOOD!!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Zenzai is the Japanese answer to hot chocolate with marshmallows. On a freezing cold day when you want a warming drink, it's great. I love the mochi, but sometimes the sweet red bean soup is just too sweet for me.    Perhaps a pinch of salt might help.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Crunchy, not too salty snacks that taste like edamame (baby broad beans.) One of my favorite snacks in Japan. I try not to eat stuff like this too often (just because it's vegetable flavor doesn't mean it's healthy!)

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Melon-pans are one of the wonderful things you can buy in Japanese convenience stores. Melon-pan is a kind of sweet bun with a very light texture and a slightly crunchy topping. They some in all sorts of colors, changing flavors with the seasons. Sometimes they have custard or cream fillings.This melon-pan had a deliciously gooey chocolate filling. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011


A simple and delicious way to use fresh strawberries is to mash them (or slice them if you prefer) and pile them on toast or fresh bread. So much better than sugar loaded jam! If you want to add something, try black pepper which is supposed to enhance the flavor of strawberries. Or if you feel like something decadent, how about a dollop of whipped cream...? Cream cheese under the strawberries would surely be good too.

Monday, February 21, 2011


One of my friends is crazy about Mexican food. I've never eaten authentic Mexican food... so I don't know how close this was. Anyway, here are the tortillas and fillings my friend made for me.. spicy chicken and red peppers, shredded lettuce, salsa, guacamole, cheese, tomato and lime juice. It was great!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Here's a picture of a typical traditional Japanese dessert. It included cubes of some firm translucent slightly sweet substance I have yet to identify. Can you tell me what it is? The dessert also included plain and matcha-flavored balls of soft mochi (yum!), sweet red beans, one large sweet black bean, and a small piece of mandarin orange. It was served with a small bowl of matcha syrup to pour over the top.

Sweet red beans are almost always included in traditional Japanese sweets and desserts. A lot of Western people don't like the texture. I do, but I've noticed that the flavor varies - perhaps according to the quality. Sometimes they seem too sweet.

As for matcha flavor, I like it very much with some things (latte, cheesecake, or a strong bitter drink they give you at tea ceremonies) but I don't like it much as sweet syrup. So I had the black sesame syrup instead...

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Sunday, February 13, 2011


There are plenty of Japanese people who can't stand natto, and even among those consume it every day, if you ask them, "Why do you like it?" they usually reply "It's very healthy." But in my opinion, "healthy" is not a good substitute for "delicious."

In case you never heard of natto before, it is fermented soy beans. Like many other fermented foods, it is often recommended as being good for you. It smells like week-old socks, and is both slimy and sticky at the same time. When you lift a fork-full to your mouth threads of slime will trail from it, and if you're not careful they will stick to clothing and the sides of your mouth. You can easily end up smelling like stinky socks all day!

Fortunately there is a reduced smell version available, because  - although you might not guess it from my description - I do actually like natto! Why do I like natto? Because it's healthy... no, just kidding. Eating a bowl of natto over hot rice feels satisfying and wholesome. The nearest Western thing I can think of to compare it with is plain oatmeal. You can almost feel it doing you good.

I buy natto in serving size packs. Each serving comes with a little sachet of hot mustard and another of soy sauce, which you mix in just before eating. Japanese people often add sliced green onion as well. You can eat it on its own or over hot rice. It's very fast and convenient and I infinitely prefer it to 2 minute noodles.

While I was still developing my taste for this strange Japanese food, I tried it many different ways - for example, on toast with miso paste and chopped onions (quite good) or Tochigi style with brown sugar (horrible!) Although I disliked the texture of sugar and natto, the flavor was good, so I tried it with honey (not bad) and maple syrup (really really good!)

So now I enjoy shocking my Japanese friends by telling them I eat natto with maple syrup for dessert! It's delicious!
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Saturday, February 12, 2011


There are many different ways to enjoy rice. It is often eaten 'garnished' with something else that has a strong flavor - for example,  Japanese pickles (tsukemono.) 

I love the very salty flaked salmon sold in jars at the supermarket. Just a little is all you need to add glorious salmon flavor to a bowl of cooked rice. Once a friend gave me home-made flaked salmon, and it was much better than the kind I bought from the supermarket. 

Another common fishy thing is katsuo bushi, which is dried bonito flakes. The dried bonito resemble pieces of wood, and are scraped to make flakes that look like fine wood shavings. Katsuo bushi gets sprinkled on lots of things including okonomi-yaki and tofu. Sometimes the deliciously flavored shavings are mixed through cooked rice. If I do this, I usually add cooked edamame as well.

Seaweed can also be nice with rice. Black hijiki seaweed is sometimes mixed through cooked rice adding an interesting flavor, color and texture. I've snacked on dried wakame seaweed straight from the packet before, but recently a friend served me crunchy, salty dried wakame crumbled over rice. It was very good, better than torn nori seaweed which quickly goes limp in the steam from the rice. I do like nori with rice, but I usually buy the slightly oily and salty Korean nori, and eat it as a side dish rather than put it directly on top of the rice.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Buri-daikon is one of my favorite meals in Japan. Buri is amberjack, or yellowtail, and the Japanese say it is especially good in winter.

To make buri-daikon, cut about 600g of daikon (giant white radish)  into 2-3cm thick half moons.
Using water in which rice has been washed, bring daikon to the boil for  minutes or so, then turn off heat and leave till cool. (Actually I usually skip this step - because I'm lazy...and I don't think it makes much difference.)
Take 2 buri fillets and cut into two or three pieces. Blanch them by dipping into boiling water then into ice water.
Put 2 cups of dashi (fish stock) into a saucepan and add the daikon and buri.
Bring to boil then add 1 tablespoon of sake and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Reduce to medium heat and simmer  for about 5 minutes.
Add about 3 cm ginger root which has been finely sliced, 1 tablespoon of mirin (cooking sake) and 3 tablespoons of soy sauce.
Cover with a drop lid (or a piece of aluminum foil resting directly on the food) and simmer until the daikon becomes gold-brown in color.

I haven't tried it, but my recipe book says you can use bonito or tuna fillets instead of buri. You can also use buri cheeks which are considered a 'waste' part of the fish these days. However the flesh from the cheeks used to be highly valued, and is particularly delicious (yes, of course I tried it!) Eating fish cheeks may be a bit fiddly, but just think of it as a challenge for your chopstick skills!
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Friday, January 28, 2011


Is your mouth watering? Mine is!

I ate this dessert at a Christmas party I was lucky enough to be invited to. The friend who bought these had to stand in line at a famous sweet shop for a very long time.

It was so nice to taste fresh raspberries again. I always associate raspberries with Christmas because in New Zealand it falls in summer. Sometimes we spent the holiday season on my sister-in-law's farm, where there was a huge patch of raspberry bushes. On Christmas morning, after opening the presents, someone would go out to the raspberry patch and pick a huge bowl of  fresh raspberries to have with Christmas dinner.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Seriously, Japanese crackers are amazing. These elegant little packages contained nothing short of art! More evidence that in Japan food is an art form!

I suppose the 'crackers' on the right were technically dried vegetable chips. Whatever. Among other things there were was mushroom, sweet potato, green bean, lotus root, and burdock root.

This packet included shrimp, crab, and seaweed flavors. Usually black color means back sesame flavor, but since this packet had a seafood theme perhaps it was squid ink...

As for the last packet, the black cracker has the same kind of seaweed used for sushi. The largest cracker had sugar crystals on it, not salt, and I have no idea what flavor the others are, but they all tasted delicious.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


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Saturday, January 22, 2011


Carrot cake is popular in New Zealand. It probably comes in third after those other perennial favorites, chocolate cake and banana cake. I used to make carrot cake quite often, using wholemeal flour and always adding cinnamon and raisins. The traditional topping is cream cheese icing but I think prefer lemon or orange butter icing. Good carrot cake should be moist and soft. Once I tried out my carrot cake recipe with daikon. The result was ... interesting. Not horrible. I prefer carrot cake.

I haven't seen many carrot cakes in Japan, but maybe I just go to the wrong cafes. The carrot cake in the photo was a gift from my friend. I have really nice friends! It was every bit as good as it looks.
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Sunday, January 16, 2011


The first time I had delicious hot mulled wine was when I went to the Czech Republic over New Year. Vendors on the streets of Prague were selling it in paper cups. It's a wonderful warming winter drink, and also has a nice festive feel.

Naturally I tried to make it at home. I boiled some cinnamon sticks, sugar, and orange and lemon slices in water, then tossed in a bottle of cheap red wine. Do you know what happens when you heat alcohol? Heady fumes rapidly filled my kitchen as the alcohol evaporated, and set off the alarm of my gas detector! Even with the doors and windows wide open, it took ages for the fumes to clear.

Not wishing to repeat that episode, I wondered if I could just pour the wine into the hot liquid before drinking, just as you add milk to tea or coffee. That worked well. Even a quite small amount of wine seems stronger when it's heated.

Then my lazy streak kicked in. The hot wine I drank in Prague was not spiced, so I wondered whether wine, sugar, and hot water would make a good drink. It does! I also tried heated orange juice laced with red wine (tastes great but looks murky and unappealing) and hot lemon tea with red wine (very nice.) If you really want the spice and citrus flavors, a shake of cloves or cinnamon and a slice of lemon will do the job.

Give it a try - it's delicious!
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Friday, January 14, 2011


This "Cake in White Satin" with its ...Image via WikipediaI've been to two weddings in Japan. They weren't so different from weddings back home, except that they seemed rather more formal and lavish. Many young Japanese couples just have Western style weddings these days, and there are lots of "chapels" around Japan with hired-for-the-day Caucasian "ministers" (often just actors.) But some couples have both a Western and a traditional Japanese ceremony (probably at twice the expense, not to mention all that exhausting effort!)

But this post is not about ceremonies, it's about wedding cakes. The weddings I attended had fairly standard looking wedding cakes, grand white tiered affairs. Someone told me that like the "ministers" they are hired rather than bought! I don't know if that's true, but I do know that the rich heavy fruitcake that is the traditional wedding cake (and Christmas cake) of countries with a British Heritage, like New Zealand, is almost unknown in Japan. Fortified with brandy or some other strong spirit, the cake can be kept for long periods of time. So the quaint custom of keeping your wedding cake's top tier for your first baby's christening or your first anniversary is not as shocking as it sounds. The flavor of the cake actually improves. I know this is true, because I followed this custom.

A little while ago my friend Sachiko brought me some traditional Japanese wedding cake. It was sweet adzuki beans covered with two layers of mochi, one white and on pink. A combination of red and white signifies celebration in Japan.
Although I like traditional Japanese sweets very much, I'd take a rich fruit wedding cake any day.
I love rich fruit cake!

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011


is rice cake, made by pounding cooked mochi rice till it is sticky and glutinous. It can be cooked a number of different ways, for example, in soup, or toasted over a wire grill, and with many different accompaniments such as kinako (nutty flavored toasted soybean flour), or sweet red bean jam. Soft mochi is sometimes sweetened to make little Japanese style cakes, but in winter and around New Year plain unsweetened mochi can be bought for zenzai (made from sweet red bean jam, zenzai is the delicious Japanese counterpart for hot chocolate with marshmallows), toasted mochi, and a traditional New Year soup called zoni.

Sometimes I like to experiment by combining Japanese ingredients with Western tastes. Here is one of my experiments, putting a new spin on a Japanese New Year classic. Toast some squares of plain mochi till puffed and golden brown. Immerse them in simmering water for about a minute, then roll in a mixture of kinako, kurozato (dark brown sugar), a generous amount of dried ginger, and some chopped toasted almonds. The flavor is like gingerbread. Eat while it's warm, but be careful... every year a few Japanese choke to death on mochi! I recommend taking small bites and chewing well (which is what you ought to do anyway, right?)

New Year  mochi at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto
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Monday, January 3, 2011


I know I should have done this post on New Year's Day but the truth is, I'm not the most organized person around.

Just as Western people have lots of special traditional Christmas food, in Japan they have lots of special New Year food. One of the things they eat is called osechi ryouri. For more than a thousand years Japanese people have prepared a variety of beautifully presented delicacies with special traditional meanings to be eaten on the first three days of the year.

I'm told that not many people make their own these days. Instead people spend a lot of money (typically hundreds of dollars) buying osechi ryouri. I consider myself very lucky to have been invited to friends' houses to eat gorgeous osechi ryouri three time now! The osechi ryouri in the photos was home-made too, by my friend's father, who enjoys cooking as a hobby now that he is retired.
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