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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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