Japan Eats

Japan Eats Podcast: Episode 1, “Accosting Chuck”

This week: food photography, the CAST shochu group, and the brand new Baird Taproom in Bashamichi, Yokohama.

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt, and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below.

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Here are some links to the things we discussed this week:

Intro/outro: “Aguamala” by Carne Cruda

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Recipe: Nibuta (braised pork shoulder)

The perfect addition to that bowl of homemade ramen

Ever wondered how to prepare those succulent slices of pork that sit atop ramen? There are two basic approaches to preparing char siu (Chinese) or chashu (Japanese) pork.

The Chinese method is to cut the pork into strips and roast it in an oven or over a fire. It is seasoned with a mixture of honey, soy sauce and five-spice powder.

In Japan, the pork is more often prepared by cooking fatty cuts of pork on a low heat in a heavy iron pot such as a dutch oven (what the British would call a casserole dish). After the meat has cooked for several hours with aromatics such as garlic and ginger,  it is allowed to cool before being cut into slices. The resulting nibuta (braised) pork can be served on its own, or over the ubiquitous ramen noodles.

This recipe may also be prepared in a pressure cooker, but I prefer using an enameled cast iron pot such as those from Staub.

Nibutta: braised pork shoulder

Nibutta: braised pork shoulder

Ingredients (serves 4-8)

  • 1.5 kg pork loin (700 – 800 g loaf of pork loin)
  • 150 g onion (1 whole onion)
  • 250 g green onion (2 whole green onions)
  • 40 – 50 g garlic (4 -5 cloves of garlic)
  • 40 – 50 g ginger
  • 2 red peppers (dried, without seeds)
  • 400 ml sake
  • 100 ml mirin
  • 300 ml soy sauce
  • 300 ml water
  • 5 tablespoons of sugar
  • String for cooking


First, tie each piece of meat so that it fits into your iron pot. Warm a flying pan on a high heat (without oil) and brown the pork well on all sides.

Next, place the meat into the iron pot. Crush the garlic using the flat part of a knife and remove the skin and any sprouts. Roughly peel the skin from the ginger slice into pieces 1 -2 mm thick. Cut off the green part of the green onion. Put all of the ingredients into the pot around the meat. Add the red pepper, sake, mirin, soy sauce and water.

Now peel the onion and cut it in half vertically. Place the pieces into the pot. Warm the iron dish on a medium heat. Once the soup becomes hot, add the sugar and let it dissolve.

Finally add water (not included in the ingredients list)  until the liquid covers the meat. Warm the pot on a medium to high heat.  Once the ingredients have come to the boil, lower the heat and cover with a lid.

One hour later, turn over the pork. An hour after that, turn the pork over again. Turn off the heat and leave the pot for 4 – 5 hours. As the ingredients cook, skim the lard from the top of the soup.

Once the pork has cooled, slice the pork (otherwise it will simply fall apart under the knife).

Finally, cut the white part of the green onion diagonally into pieces 2 -3 mm thick. Warm the soup and add the onion. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Present the sliced pork with the green onion and pour soup over the top of the pork.

A boiled egg would be great addition to the pork on a dish of noodles.

Review: Bar Vita, Fukuoka

Our man in Fukuoka, Kupa Hokianga, visits Bar Vita in Nakasu.

In Nakasu, just ten minutes’ walk toward the canal from the Tenjin Business Center, is the chic Italian restaurant Bar Vita, presented by ORTO cafe. My good friend Mat suggested we have lunch there, as Bar Vita is one of only a few non-smoking restaurants in Tenjin.

We arrived just after 12 p.m., greeted by the clatter of plates and the hum of conversation from a relaxed lunchtime crowd. You could tell most were regulars and the staff gestured to the free seating with one hand while holding a stack of white plates and utensils in the other.

An exposed ceiling and dark wood veneer tables dominate the decor. Even on a overcast winter’s day, loads of natural light comes in through the floor to ceiling windows at the front entrance and along one side. A generously proportioned bar with seating runs the length of the exterior window with more tables located in the center floor space. The design really appealed to me and, in fact, Bar Vita would not be out of place on Sydney’s Circular Quay waterfront.

The blackboard lunch menu changes regularly. On the day of our visit we could choose from a choice of spaghetti, pasta, curry, or spaghetti bolognese  for 900 yen. Included in that price was an unlimited selection of fresh breads, salad, soup, and beverages at the service bar in the center of the floor.

I ordered the spaghetti and we found a seat at the bar looking out onto the street. Reading from some printed information, it explained that the bread and sauces are prepared daily at their off site kitchen and bakery in Kego – using only premium ingredients – and delivered to the restaurant each morning. The pasta, along with any additional requests, is cooked to order in the restaurant kitchen. I counted ten different breads available at the salad bar, warmed and replenished by an attentive staff. There were at least six dressings and vinaigrettes to go with the two garden salads. There were several other foods to choose from, including a consomme soup with croutons. This was certainly a step above your average salad bar.

The spaghetti order arrived. My main criticism being that, with the attention to detail everywhere else, I would have liked to have seen a greater attempt to serve the spaghetti al dente and a little hotter. It was not a taste stand-out. My personal preference is for a rustic earthiness in Italian food, but for a city clientele at lunch, loads of garlic at this time of the day may not be wise.

Mat and I spent two hours catching up on gossip with regular trips back to the salad bar for fresh bread, mini pizza slices, and freshly brewed Illy coffee.

I will certainly be going back to Bar Vita and can recommend it to anyone visiting Fukuoka. Overall a 7.5/10: service was wonderful, food presentation faultless, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients, and it was, at 900 yen, fantastic value. The selection of breads and the coffee were my highlights. If they just got a bit more adventurous with the sauce it would have sealed the deal for me.

The serving counter has baskets containing loaves of fresh bread for purchase.

Bar Vita is located on 1F 5.6.25 Hakata-ku, Nakasu. Its open for lunch and dinner, and is non-smoking at lunch time only. Bar Vita is licensed. www.bar-vita.com

Japan Booze Blind: Nippon Craft Beer Festival (Part IV)

Christopher Pellegrini is joined by Teruya Hori of Laff International.

Happy New Year! In the final edition of our four-part NCBF 2010 series, Japan Booze Blind’s Christopher Pellegrini interviews one of Baird Brewing’s go-to engineers, Mr. Teruya Hori. Hori-san offers a unique perspective because his job is to make sure that beer is stored and poured under the best conditions possible.

While talking with us, he hinted at a challenge that was not mentioned in the first three parts of this interview series. Politely put: most bars and restaurants in Japan have little more than a vague understanding of how to care for and serve draft beer. Indeed, Japan Eats has seen kegs sitting out in the sun on landings and back balconies across this fair city. Granted, they’re normally cylinders of run-of-the-mill beer, but it is easy to imagine what might happen to a craft beer’s quality if it is forced to endure consecutive Tokyo summer days unprotected. Just like we heard back in part one of this series, “Bad Beer is the Enemy” rings true in the overall message of this interview as well.

Cafe Review: Artisan Coffee, Fukuoka

Kupa Hokianga reviews Artisan Coffee in Fukuoka

Recently, a friend of mine took one of his colleagues to a cafe I recommended for its excellent macchiato.
The coffee arrived at their table, the ham-handed colleague managed to spill his before tasting it. My friend offered to order another, but the guest responded, “Ah, doesn’t matter; I’m more a Starbucks kind of guy.”

My heart sunk when told. I’m not sure what the moral is here, something about a horse and water.

Artisan's Rocket espresso machine in action (Photo: Neil Witkin)

My wife’s friend recommended I try Artisan Coffee, a 12-seat, slightly bohemian cafe in Hirao (Fukuoka). It’s off my normal route, but the sample of their beans I received suggested it was worth a visit.

Takamiya-dori is a busy road in a prosperous residential part of town. When we arrived, the small cafe, which could be described in a 1980 Vogue magazine as “shabby chic”, was empty of customers. I ordered an espresso and my wife selected a caramel latte.

While making polite conversation with friends, I watched the barista out of the corner of my eye as he calibrated the grinder setting one notch to the right before a quick test into the palm of his hand, then fresh ground a dose of dark roasted beans before effortlessly swiping the port-a-filler level; a gentle tamp and tap and a few seconds later the extraction had started. My demitasse arrived with a perfectly proportioned warmed spoon on the side.

The espresso was near faultless – the crema maintained structure, the temperature was perfect, and the caramel sweetness from the bean came through with just a hint of bitterness. The macchiato I ordered next was excellent and is now my coffee of choice.

I cannot comment on my wife’s afternoon caramel latte as that drink at that time of day goes against everything I believe in. I took her word for it when she said it tasted fantastic and the rabbit face latte art was kawaii.

Artisan Coffee is a must-do, mainly because they consistently get the coffee basics right and to a high standard and the starchy Japanese cafe culture is tossed out the window.

The barista critique and my coffee snobbery aside, if you just want nice coffee and don’t mind mismatched decor, grab your favorite magazine, turn off your phone and enjoy this small indulgence. You will not be disappointed. The cappuccinos are creamy, the macchiato is full-bodied and the barista is working on his flat white.

Food selection is limited, so don’t arrive hungry, but there’s a relaxed, informal ambiance and outdoor smoking tables. Coffee prices start at 380 yen, which is exceptional value. Surprisingly seating always seems to be available. Their primary bean is Fidalgo Bay (organic shade grown), the espresso machine is a single-head Rocket.

This article has been edited. The original version misspelled Fidalgo. This has now been corrected.

Artisan Coffee is located on Takamiya dori. If accessing from Hirao station, it’s about 5 minutes’ walk on the right as you head towards Yakuin station. Open 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., six days a week. No website.