Japan Eats

Japan Booze Blind: Baird Summer Beers

Host Christopher Pellegrini discusses summer beers with the Baird Nakameguro Taproom’s Marco McFarren.

Baird Beer’s Nakameguro Taproom is a shining beacon for beer-o-philes around Tokyo and is doing its best to broaden that group, not only through events such as tastings and seminars, but through serving some of the best beer in the country.

There are currently 28 beers on tap, all but a few Baird’s own. The few guest beers are also high-quality microbrews. Most beers are 900 yen a pint, with some at 1000 yen and some in slightly differently-sized glasses (depending on type). Smaller sizes and tasters are available. Read more

Recipe: Shiso juice

The perfect way to beat the summer heat

Tokyo is enjoying (some would say enduring) one of the hottest starts to summer in years. What better time to try out this refreshing Japanese drink? Made with red shiso (a relative of mint and basil) it’s sweet, doesn’t require refrigeration and looks wonderful.

Ingredients

1 l water
200 ml rice vinegar
300 – 400 g sugar
300 – 400 g aka shiso (red shiso)

Method

Place a saucepan containing the water and rice vinegar on the gas table and bring it to the boil.

Take the red shiso and lower it into the pan, boiling it for 5 minutes. Once done, pour the contents of the saucepan through a colander, into a large bowl. Allow the boiled shiso leaves to cool.

Once the leaves are cool enough to handle, squeeze them between your fingers extracting any remaining juice. Now discard the leaves themselves and pour the juice back into the saucepan. Add the sugar and then heat the pan on a medium flame for 15-20 minutes.

Once the juice has again cooled, pour it into a bottle or jar. Be sure that this container had previously been washed and dried thoroughly.

Try the juice before serving, adjusting the taste by adding fresh water and ice. I usually serve a mixture of 50 per cent juice to 50 per cent water.

What We’re Drinking: “Tokyo Beer” by Tama no Megumi

This bottle conditioned beer by Ishikawa Brewery out near Haijima station in Western Tokyo is an easy step up from what one normally consumes by way of Japan’s macro-breweries.

I’m not sure how much my bottle was shaken, but the pour was pretty hazy and could be best described as having a murky straw hue to it. The off-white head was thin and disappeared quickly on my pour from a 500 ml bottle into a pint glass.

The bottle was dated October, 2009. Not ideal, but within the realm of acceptability. Also of importance, it’s labeled as being 5.5% ABV.

Fresh out of the fridge, the mouthfeel on this beer was neither harsh nor special. It’s a medium-bodied brew that is perhaps a bit too shy on hoppiness, but at the same time balanced in terms of the light barley sweetness that highlights the start of the short trek from the front to the back of the palate. A few gulps later, once room temperature has started to assert its influence, a bit of breadiness starts to creep in and a bit of astringency (not unpleasant) colors the aftertaste.

This beer would benefit from a stronger hop backbone in my opinion, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. I suspect that, if you can get past the price tag, this beer will be popular with the Tokyo masses that wouldn’t mind something a little more complex than what is commonly found in the supermarket or convenience store cooler. Expect to pay around 400 yen for a half-liter bottle.

What We’re Drinking: Nakanaka Mugi (barley) Shochu

This bottle was a birthday present from my friend Karen who knows that I’m studiously perusing the range of barley shochu offerings available in Tokyo. It was a very welcome addition to my home bar!

This bottle, Nakanaka, is a good place to start one’s exploration of honkaku mugi shochu. When drinking it straight, Nakanaka starts with a slight, honey sweetness on the tip of the tongue before giving way to an assertive barley-alcohol twinge at the back.

With an ice cube or two thrown in this shochu loses a bit of the sweetness up front and experiences a slight drop in alcoholic bite as well. Taking a good drag of air to mix with a mouthful of Nakanaka will help revive the sweetness that is easier to find when enjoying this drink neat.

Most industry folks recommend that this drink be enjoyed either on the rocks or with a bit of warm water (oyuwari in Japanese). The latter is advised especially if you want to get more out of the nose. Cold water (mizuwari) is also an option.

Drinking Nakanaka straight is not to be discouraged, even though I seem to be the only only openly recommending that it be consumed that way.

At around 1,050 yen for a 720 ml bottle the regular stuff (it’s usually found in a brown glass bottle), you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Nakanaka.

Recipe: Hiyashi soumen

With the arrival of summer, Japanese are increasingly looking towards light meals at lunchtime. A bowl of soumen (cold noodles) is one of the most popular ways to relieve the summer heat.

Soumen is traditionally served with a large variety of yakumi, or condiments. While it may be tempting to cut back on the number of different garnishes, it’s worth trying all of the yakumi listed below at least once so that you can better judge which you prefer.

Serve the noodles on ice in a wooden bowl.  Pour a little soup into each guest’s bowl and allow them to choose their own condiments, which they mix into the soup.  Finally, guests add noodles which they should mix together with the yakumi.

Itadakimasu!!

Soumen

Soumen

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 3 bunches of dried soumen
  • 1-1.5l water

Yakumi (condiments)

  • 1-2 mioga (mioga ginger)
  • 10 asatsuki chives
  • 4-5 green shiso (green perilla) leaves
  • 1 package of kaiware daikon (radish sprouts)
  • 1 deep-fried tofu pouch
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sake
  • 1 teaspoon of shichimi togarashi (a mixture of red pepper and six other spices)
  • 1 clove of ginger

Tsuyu soup

  • 2 cups of dashi soup
  • 1/2 a cup of soy sauce
  • 1/2 a cup of mirin

Method

First prepare the tsuyu soup. Pour the mirin into a pan, place it onto the gas table and bring it to the boil. Add the dashi soup together with the soy sauce and bring it to the boil again. Once boiling, turn off the heat and allow it to cool.

Now for the yakumi (garnishes). Cut the mioga in half lengthwise and then again into thin strips. Rise  in a bowl of cold water for a minute then drain.

Cut the asatsuki chives into thin round slices.

Slice the green shiso leaves into julienne strips, rinse them in a bowl of cold water and drain.

Peel the skin of the ginger grate it.

Cut off the root of the kaiware daikon, then cut into halves.

Toast one deep-fried tofu pouch for about one minute. Mix a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sake and a teaspoon of shichimi togarashi and spread onto one side of the tofu pouch. Toast it again for about one minute until it becomes crispy. Finally, cut the pouch into bite-sized rectangles (12-16).

Bring a bowl of water to the boil and cook the soumen noodles for roughly two minutes (refer to the cooking instructions on the package). If the water rolls up to the edge of the pot, add a half cup of cold water. Once the noodles are ready, rinse them in running fresh water.

Place water and ice in a wooden bowl and arrange the noodles so that they don’t stick together.

Serve the noodles with the tsuyu (soup) and condiments in individual plates or bowls.

World Cup Sake, Match 1

Hasegawa, purveyors of fine sake and savvy marketers of products such as the Tokyo Swallows baseball beer, have outdone themselves for the 2010 World Cup.

Rather than produce new libations, Hasegawa has repackaged some popular sake, shochu, and umeshu in fancy 2010 World Cup South Africa-themed bottles. While there were 13 different sake, two shochu, an umeshu, and a lemon liqueur thus bottled, we here were able to get our hands on six nice sake selections. Read more