died in the wool ______

To have no set purpose in one's life is the harlotry of the will -Stephen Mackenna-

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I.V. vs. Haagen-Dazs

In the U.S. I eat like a crunchy hippy. Organic vegetables, soy nuts and tamari almonds, the list goes on. I do miss those choices. When i was grocery shopping with my uncle and aunt during my cousins wedding a few months ago in Portland, OR, I was running through the isles like a kid in a candy store grabbing boca burgers, organic black berries and zucchini, and of course tofutti cuties.

But there are no tofutti cuties here. Haagen Dazs is everywhere though. Haagen Dazs reminds me of, as I suppose it does with many people, my mother. As a child she always had stashes of expensive adult-ish sweets that we were never supposed to know about. The cookies were always Pepperridge Farm Sausalitos or Milanos. The ice cream was always Haagen Dazs coffee flavored ice cream. We would always sneak into it, much to her frustration.

Haagen Dazs has done a good job with localization here I think. Outside of the obligatory Green Tea ice cream flavor (which is amazingly good), they've created some really cool flavors; Azuki, Cassis and Cream, and the recent additions of Black Sesame and chai.

My favorite of all of these is a parfait that they sell. In Japan, you can sometimes find a desert that has a green tea mousse with azuki beans and white balls of mochi called shiratama. Well Haagen Dazs made this all into a parfait layering vanilla (for the shiratama) with azuki and green tea ice creams with kuromitsu (a sauce that tastes a little like molasses). Definately worth the hefty 4 or so dollar price.

But the crunchy hippy is calling out to me when I'm eating it. No!, it says, don't let Pillsbury dupe you into eating faux scandanavian, high butter fat, factory farm sourced dairy! And it was calling out to me as I walked by the freezer section with its floor to ceiling selection of Haagen Dazs. Will I go with the Black sesame or the kuromitsu and green tea ice cream sandwich, I ask myself almost in contempt of myself.

But as I scanned the case, something else was there. Little cups about the same size as the Haagen dazs single servings, but this one has a chic little design to it called I.V.. My interest is really piqued when I find out that its fig flavoured.

I take it out look at the front with 'I veggie' written as an explanation for the I.V. acronymn. I turn around the package to look at the ingredients on the back and see that the first ingredient is soy milk. That set the crunchy hippy bells and whistles off. It's a soy ice cream with rum soaked figs!

More reserach showed me that it's being distributed by Kanebo, a famous cosmetics company here, so I guess it's being targeted towards women.

It really is a great ice cream. I've seen other soy based sweets similar to this (soy milk pops, etc), and they haven't been that good. But this was just darn tasty! The kanebo website showed a bunch of other cool flavors (like champagne rose) that I would like to try. I'll definately be watching this one.

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openfaced schwarzbrot:bavarian blue w/miznua

This is really know suprise, but Japan is somewhat lacking in the bread department. What most may not know is that there is bread in most places throughout the country. Sadly, it is always something known as shokupan. Shokupan is essentially wonderbread cut very thick. Japanese (supposedly) love it because of it's pure whiteness. There are slight variations (some with flecks of walnuts or wheat grain, etc) but it's all essentially the same stuff.

My host mother when I was a student here, studied in germany, so she always had good hearty germanish breads around for us to eat. Even in some of the other places I've lived, I've been able to find some decent wheat breads to eat my sandwiches (crust and all; most sandwiches here cut the crust off).

Thanks to the German bakery Juchheim in the basement of Maru biru, I've now been formally introduced to Schwarzbrot. It's very dark/black like pumpernickel, but much more dense with white flecks that look like rice in it. The density of the bread makes it much more limp than more yeasty breads, but the flavor is much more intense, and more enjoyable to me actually.

Eating it straight was a treat, but I was hosting a little dinner get together, and I wanted to do something fun with it. I walked over to the nearby Meidi-ya also in the basement of Maru-biru, and decided to look at there cheese selection. They had the usual stuff, but one of them stood out to me for some reason; bavarian blue. Perhaps I've erased memories that I simply bought it for its price, but I am sure glad I bought it, whatever reason it ended up being. Bavarian blue, as the name suggests, is a mold cheese, but it's only a very subtle mold flavor. It's very close in consistency to a camembert-type cheese, The flavor is hard to explain, but it tastes very...fresh. The high fat content of the soft cheese mixing with the mold makes it have a very light flavor actually.

As I constantly say, I really like Japanese greens, and on those recently rare times I make sandwiches. Mizuna is my choice of green. Mizuna leaves are jagged much like a dandelion's would be and unlike lettuce are somewhat bitter. The stems of the mizuna, unlike other sandwich greens, are very thin and very fibrous and watery. I often try to add equal parts of the stem and leaf for both flavors.

Mixing the denseness of the schwarzbrot with the lightness of the bavarian blue and crisp bitterness of the mizuna (and a dash off pepper) makes this delcious! I endded up eating all the ingredients I bought in one sitting. This has become a favorite of mine when I have spare cash (cheese and the like are naturally a tad expensive here) or entertaing (it looks pretty quartered on a plate)

Schwarzbrot from Juchheim in Maru-biru
Bavarian Blue from Meidi-ya in Maru-biru
Mizuna avaliable anywhere in Japan or other Asian grocery stores

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

teriyaki tempeh

Tokyo Station. The national hub of the bullet trains running to the west to Osaka and Fukuoka and also to the North, almost reaching Hokkaido. Decades after it was built within view of the Imperial Palace, it still maintains its red brick facade, a novelty in Japan where, even in Kyoto and to much debate, the original building was replaced by a gleaming 21st centure building.

In front of Tokyo station is, then, its neighboring gleaming skyscrapers of the revitalizing Marunouchi, a sign of the determination of developers to not let this country get sucked into the funk of the last 15 years of recession. It's representative is the Maru Biru (biru being the romanization of building in Japanese).

One other tradition that has faded over the year are yatai, or street vendors. They are still around in a limited fashion, but Yatai are being morphed and reborn along with the reconstruction of Marunouchi, and appealing to a wider audience with more cosmoplitan offerings.

At the base of Marubiru is the Be Good Cafe. It's not inside the building, outside. These new yatai are UPS-sized vehicles offering food out them. Many of them offer Indian Curry or Gyros, but the good life cafe is my kind of place. The whole menu is vegetarian.

They have a great natural ginger ale with quite a kick. Most of the food is organic too. They have a tofu burger, which is actually quite good. The best thing on their menu by far in my opinion is the Teriyaki Tempeh burger. A toasted bun with a sesame dressing and teriyaki cooked tempeh, with very thinly sliced onions and some salad greens. Everything is prepared on the premises, and since it's outside, you can sit outside and enjoy the weather after being cooped up inside all morning. The street that marubiru is on is a cobblestone street which adds to the atmosphere of the area, it's suprising relaxed for a place like tokyo.Marubiru has a elevator that shuttles between the bottom and top of the building. Make sure to visit the top for some great views of Tokyo; Ginza, Imperial Palace, The National Diet Building, Odaiba, and many others.

Be Good cafe at Marubiru.

connected underground by JR (underground marunouchi southern exit) or Marunouchi Tokyo stations.
2 minute walk from Chiyoda Line Nijyubashi-mae

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tsurutontan; Udon in the most deliciously unlikely circumstances

Two things I've grown to dislike about Japan are Udon and Roppongi.

Udon(oou-doun), as most know, are the thick cut wheat noodles. Whatever way you eat it, you usually use tsuyu, which reeks of katsuobushi and mirin.

Roppongi, the at once high end and seedy underbelly of Tokyo, houses 5 star hotels and Roppongi Hills and Africans hussling you to come to hostess clubs. I usually avoid going there.

It was much to my suprise, then, to find tsurutontan, a somewhat refined udon resturant, which has it's origins in Osaka, in the taudriness of Roppongi.Suited to Roppongi, they are open all night.

It's location aside, they have a really wide selection of udon, and they are served in gigantic bowls.It's an open kitchen too, so you can see everything being prepared.

For an appetizer, we had fresh yuba, tofu skins, something I always enjoy fresh. And since it was sashimi, we dipped it in soy sauce with a little wasabi. My friend also had some grilled duck, which he said was quite good.

For udon, I chose the black soybean natto udon.Natto beans are usually small and pale in color, but these black soybeans were huge and delicious and lacked a lot of the stickiness that turns people off from Natto. I also had the ume (japanese plum) udon on a previous visit, which was also great.

These are both unusual varities for udon (the typical fair is rather boring I think)Absolutely worth several visits and becoming a regular customer. Their (Japanese) website is here

Tsurutontan: Minato-ku, Roppongi 3-14-12 On Gaien Higashi Doori, between Roppongi Intersection and Don Quixote.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

hoya hoya

Japanese language is filled with onomato poeia. Fuwa fuwa is something billowy, like smoke, whip cream or clouds. Kira kira is something clean and sparkiling like diamonds or, as I joke with my Japanese friends, gay white guys.

Hoya hoya is the freshness/newness of something. It is most often used colloqually in reference to marriage.

As I was looking for a resturant to go to with a friend of mine in Ebisu last night, we found a place called Hoya Hoya.

It really took me for a ride,and i saw that they had swordfish on the menu, so we went in and took a look. And what a first look it was! Even if after the initial shock of this place wears down, you still have to try the resturant. The entry way was made of large stones and glass partitions which you walked to and from over a white rock bed. Step in and the glass partitions continue leading you to a series of unopened lotus flower shaped booths perfect for two. Really fun, and not in an amusement park way, atmosphere.

At this point the waitstaff explained to me that hoya hoya is the freshness in which they deliver their food. Got it. The otoushi of yamaimo mixed with some wasabi came to our table, and unlike normal otoushi I actually liked it.

The swordfish turned out to not be on the menu, but the service was so good that I could forgive them.

My friend had a grapefuit sour, and I had my chilled sake, both of which were great. We then ordered Tofu that was okay (it had a semi cooked egg in it), some maguro sashimi which was pretty tasty, and an egg plant gratin which was quite good, all of which was upped to grand being in the presence of good company and a striking atmosphere.

Definately worth a look. In Ebisu, 3 minutes from JR, 2 minutes from the Hibiya Line:
Quarried Ebisu West B1, 1-8-3, Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0021
Info in (terrible) English and Japanese

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Burdock Root

I still remember the first time I saw Gobo. Called Burdock Root in English, it was in the produce section of the co-op near where I lived in Minneapolis. I thought this big long thread of a vegetable was so cool.

Of course, I walked right by it because I had absolutely no idea how to prepare it.

I'm a bit older and hopefully a little wiser now, and I now know how great gobo actually is. It can add great depth and earthy hartiness to foods and dishes remeniscent of red meat perhaps.

Gobo is most often served shredded with an equal amount of shredded carrot and other things in Kimpira Gobo salad. My first exposure to Gobo was an up-scale-ish fast food resturant here called mos burger. At Mos Burger they serve your average meat burger, but they also have something unique (to non-japanese anyway) called rice burgers. the 'bun' is rice and in my case the filling was kimpira gobo all tied to together with a piece of rolled sushi-style seaweed, and I still remember being a study abroad student trundling down from the Waseda University Int'l Division with some classmates and so looking forward to my kimpira gobo rice burger.

Gobo is also great eaten just like french fries. Cut and prepared the exact same way, the mellow flavor is a great alternative to the starchiness of potatoes. These can be found at some bars and even family resturants here. At a place frequented very often by my office at the time, my supervisor recommended to me something called 'pari pari salad', which was fried gobo and thinly cut lotus root. It came with a wedge of lemon (to squeeze juice on with of course), and I would devour batch after batch of this stuff. The tart lemon juice with the mellow flavor of the gobo became a staid favorite, and I still wish I could find a place that sells it here in Tokyo, although I could just as easily make it myself.

One of the most unique uses I've seen for Gobo was in a recipe for a tofu burger. Unlike the US, there are not a lot of premade, vegetarian 'burger'-type products avaliable here.

You can, however, often find tofu burgers here. Don't let that fool you into thinking it's vegetarian though; it's only to add an image of health. Chicken (and worse) are often frequently added. Lucky for me, I found a great recipe that doesn't have meat in it. The gobo and Nira Onions add a grounded earth tone flavor to these that make them unusally tasty in my opinion. I initially saw this on Japan's version of PBS, NHK, on a very popular show called Kyou no Ryouri (Today's Cooking). The tofu burger was also prepared with a wine and ketchup sauce which is so good if you just consider it to be ketchup spiked with wine rather than being an actual sauce. I often reduce the sauce by simmering the tofu burgers in it and using it like ketchup when I eat it.

This is not immediately obvious, but it's important to press as much water out of the tofu as possible. One way of doing this is to put a plate on top of and underneath a block of tofu wrapped in a towel. This may take some time (maybe an hour), but you can do it unattended (plate acrobatics notwithstanding):

Makes 4 patties

1 Cube soft tofu, water removed and crumbled with hands
1 bunch nira onions, cut in 1 inch segments
equal amounts of gobo shredded
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 red wine.

Mix tofu, gobo and Nira onions in a bowl, until combined. Form into patties (smaller is better). Using a teflon pan add a small amount of butter or oil and fry the patties, taking care not to let them fall apart. While cooking, combine ketchup and wine, and add to pan after the patties have been flipped. Serve.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005


If you're going to cook, you're going to make a mess. After using organic this and free range that, you want what eventually is going down that drain of your to be nice to the world too right?

The Germans, with the stereotype of always being one step ahead when it comes to this kind of thinking and creating of products, actually might be on this one. A company called Frosch, which means frog in German, has some great stuff for just this purpose. We use something called Neutral Reiniger, which is according to their website, 'ph-neutral cleaner is a natural, very high-yield, and thusenvironment-friendly all-purpose cleaner. Its ph-neutral formula is mild to sensitive skin'

I first stated using this stuff when I met my roommate. We actually use it for dishwashing and laundry, that's how versatile the stuff is. And it smells great.

Baffled at where he was getting this stuff, we eventually ran out, and I had to go get some. It's a place Akasaka actually down the street from the Roppongi interstection. I assumed that it would be this earthy organic store. Much to my suprise it was a very retro 60's looking parlor with nothing for sale. The only reason I was able to find it was because of the big display in the window showing they had Frosch for sale. I stepped into the genkan, and just tried to see if someone was there. Eventaully a not very native sounding speaker of Japanese came down in an equally retro 60's pizzicato 5 ish aura about her came and helped me out. She gave me a huge jug of the stuff. The price was a cut throat 1500 yen ($14), and when I asked why it was so cheap, she just kind of avoided the question saying 'we've got a lot of it'. Next time I'll have to ask why, but hopefully with the amount that I bought, that won't be for awhile.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

komatsuna saute

I have posted before about my love of Japanese vegetables. (I'll hyper link when I'm not using my mac) Their is such a depth and breadth of them that most people out of the country or at least out of asia don't really know about.

But today let's talk about Komatsuna. It looks similar to spinach and perhaps kale, and I think it is nutritionally (green leafy vegetable, high in iron as well as calcium). Komatsuna, strangely, is a member of the turnip family, and also doesn't wilt when cooked (but it does much more so than kale does) making it ideal for sauteing. The first time I had komatsuna was at a meeting of freelance translators in Shibuya. I really wasn't expecting much, but when it came to our table I just couldn't stop eating it. It didn't look particularly difficult to make either, so I took a stab at it, and met with great success.

Komatsuna doesn't wilt, and another suprising part is that the stalk retains its water through sauteing and the water mixing in your mouth with the butter, garlic, well how can that not taste good?

One thing I suggest, if you haven't already, is putting some spices in your salt mill, in particular, rosemary will add greatly to this. Also use coursely ground pepper for this. It's also important not to crush the garlic, but to slice it. For some reason over here they almost never crush garlic, and visual and textural feel of sliced garlic adds to this recipe I think:

3 sprigs of Komatsuna, stalks and leafs cut and seperated
1 clove of garlic, sliced (or its equivalent of dried)
1 tbsp of butter/margarine
Rosemary salt/ course ground pepper

Melt butter in pan, and add garlic slices, and only brown slightly. Add stalks and saute for about 1 minute before adding leafy section. while adding salt and pepper, saute until leafy section wilts only slightly. Serve immediately.

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