Japan Eats

Japan Eats Podcast, Episode 18: “The 19.6 minute lunch break”

On this week’s show, we cover recent travels and the evolution of the Japanese lunch hour

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Japan Eats feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

Follow us on the Japan Eats Twitter feed. And please “Like” Japan Eats on Facebook.

Japan Eats Podcast, Episode 16: “Size doesn’t matter”

This week, the team talk about kitchen storage and the types of rice used to make sake.

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Japan Eats feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

Follow us on the Japan Eats Twitter feed. And please “Like” Japan Eats on Facebook.

Recipe: Tori no tatsutaage (deep fried chicken coated with starch)

Do you know your tatsutaage from your karaage?

Karaage is the deep fried chicken dish familiar to anyone who’s visited a Japanese izakaya. The chicken is coated in an egg based batter and then fried in vegetable oil.

Tatsutaage, on the other hand, is chicken, pork or fish are marinated and then coated with starch.
Here, we’re double frying chicken marinated in a mixture of soy, sake and ginger.

Serve with mayonnaise, ponzu or (our favorite) Thai sweet chili sauce.

Tori no tatsutaage

Tori no tatsutaage

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 500 – 600 g chicken thigh
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sake
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 10 g of ginger
  • 6 – 7 tablespoons of potato starch (or corn starch)

Method

Take the chicken from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room
temperature.

Next, cut away any fat or gristle. Place the chicken on a tray and sprinkle salt over the pieces. Again, leave it for 20 minutes. Wipe away any remaining moisture with a paper towel.

Prepare to marinate the chicken by peeling and grating the ginger. Now cut the chicken into 5 cm square pieces. Put them into a bowl and marinate for 30 minutes to an hour in a mixture of the sake, soy sauce and ginger.

If you haven’t already, fill a deep fryer with enough vegetable oil to cover the chicken (5 – 7 centimeters ought to be enough). Heat to 170 degrees centigrade.

Evenly distribute the starch on a tray. Coat each piece of chicken before gently dropping it into the oil. Take care to shake off any excess starch before dropping the chicken into the oil. It’s also worth noting that the chicken should be coated in starch right before frying.

Deep fry each piece for 2 – 3 minutes, then remove them from the oil and allow them to rest for a further 2 – 3 minutes. In order to maintain the temperature of the oil, it’s best not to fry all the pieces at once.

Now it’s time to fry the chicken a second time. Do so for 3 – 4 minutes, or until the chicken becomes brown. Keep a close eye on the bubbles erupting from the chicken as it fries – they will become smaller when the chicken is ready to remove from the oil. Before you take the chicken out of the deep fryer, turn the heat up so that the outside of the chicken becomes crispy and you can easily drain the oil.

Once the oil has drained away, serve with your choice of condiment.

Recipe: Tori to renkon tsukune (chicken and lotus root meatballs, teriyaki style)

Liven up your next bento with these chicken and lotus root meatballs

Tsukune are meatballs, usually made from either chicken or pork. They make a delicious meal, or an excellent addition to a bento (Japanese luchbox).

Here, we’re adding a twist to usual recipe by adding renkon (lotus root). The grated lotus root softens the meatball mix, while the other – roughly chopped – half of the vegetable provides some texture.

If you prepare this for a bento, garnish with shichimi (assorted spices) instead of asatsuki. The more adventurous can even use leftovers as filling for teriyaki meatball sandwiches (just add lettuce and mayonnaise!)

Chicken and lotus root meatballs

Chicken and lotus root meatballs

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4)

  • 300 g of chicken mince
  • 150 g of lotus root
  • 1 egg
  • 10 g of ginger (1 clove)
  • 50 g green onion
  • 1 teaspoon of sake
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of potato starch
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of mirin
  • 1 tablespoon of white sesame seeds
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of chopped asatsuki chives

Method

Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar to a bowl containing roughly 2 cups of water. Peal the lotus root and place it in the water for ten minutes to whiten it and take out any bitterness.

Take the lotus root out of the bowl and remove any moisture with the paper towels. Chop half (75 g) of the lotus root roughly into pieces 1 – 5 mm square. Grate the other half of the lotus root.

Finely chop the ginger and green onion. Take a bowl and mix the chicken, ginger, onion, lotus root, sake, soy, egg and potato starch until sticky.

Pour 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil into a frying pan and warm it on a low heat. Moisten your hands with water and shape the batter into balls, then sauté with the lid on the pan. One one side becomes brown, turn them over. Sauté both sides for 5 – 6 minutes in total on a low heat. Repeat the process until you finish the mixture.

Next, prepare the teriyaki sauce. Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Once you have finished cooking the meatballs, turn the heat to medium and pour the sauce into the frying pan. When it comes to the boil, turn the heat to low and dunk the meatballs into the sauce – 1 minute for each side.

Boil the sauce down until it thickens. Plate the meatballs and pour the remaining sauce over them. Garnish with a pinch of sesame seeds and chopped asatsuki chives.

Japan Eats Podcast: Episode 12, “Calling sports″

This week, we road test soy sauce infused with wasabi, as well as two unusual toppings for ice cream.

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

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can also subscribe to the fortnightly Japan Eats feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Find the Japan Eats Facebook page here. Have something to say? Drop us a line.

In this week’s Japan Eats Podcast, Garrett DeOrio and Marcus Lovitt are joined by James Steele.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

You can e-mail us at lovitt@japaneats.tv

Follow us on the Japan Eats Twitter feed. And please “Like” Japan Eats on Facebook.

Recipe: Wafu pasta with yuzukosho sauce

A delicious meat-free pasta 

This dish is easy to prepare and is vegetarian-friendly.

The key to success is making sure that the eggplant is washed in salt water prior to cooking, so as to prevent it from absorbing all of the oil. Be sure to squeeze the salt water out, though.

As yuzukosho has a strong flavor, start by adding only a teaspoon – you can always add more later.

For more about yuzukosho, listen to Episode 8 of the Japan Eats Podcast, where the Japanese condiment is discussed in detail.

Wafu pasta with yuzukosho sauce

Wafu pasta with yuzukosho sauce

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 160 g of bavette (or spaghetti)
  • 200 g of eggplant
  • 100 g of shimeji mushrooms
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of sake
  • 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of yuzukosho
  • 10 g butter
  • 5 – 6 sheets of shiso to garnish

Method

Pour 200 ml of cold water into a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of salt. Remove the top of the eggplant and then cut it in half lengthwise. Cut each half into six more pieces. Put the slices into a bowl of saltwater for 5 minutes to remove any bitterness.

Pour two liters of cold water into a large saucepan and place it on the gas table. Once it has come to the boil, add 20 g of salt and the pasta.

Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the frying pan and add finely chopped garlic. Place the pan on a low heat and sauté slowly until they’re lightly browned.

Remove the salt water from the eggplant by squeezing each slice softly. Add to the pan and sauté until they too become brown. Again, use a low heat.

Once the eggplant is ready, add the shimeji mushrooms. Cook for another minute.

Pour 4 tablespoons of sake into the pan, then cook on a low heat to burn off the alcohol.

Add 2 tablespoons of boiling water from the pot in which you’re cooking the pasta. In addition, add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce to the inner surface of the pan, and add 1 teaspoon of yuzukosho and turn off the heat. Mix thoroughly.

Drain the pasta and then add to the pan. Combine with the sauce.

Add 10 g of butter, and again mix well.

Finally, wash the shiso and remove the water with a paper towel. Roll the leaves together and slice thinly. Serve with the shiso as garnish.

Recipe: Buta no shogayaki (pork ginger)

A simple pork sauté that’s full of flavor

Pork ginger is Japanese comfort food, pure and simple. It’s often featured in bento lunches, as it can be prepared in advance and tastes equally good served hot or at room temperature. Best of all, its dead easy to prepare. Serve with a handful of shredded cabbage (kyabetsu no sen-giri).

Pork Ginger

Pork Ginger

Ingredients (serves 2 people)

  • 200 – 250 g pork (sliced between 1 and 1.5 mm)
  • 150 g cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 20 g (1 clove) of ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of sake
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 100 g chopped onion

Method

Wash the cabbage leaves and remove the core. Pile the leaves together and then roll and cut into 1 mm slices. Place them in cold water for 10 minutes, and drain.

Place a frying pan on the gas table and add one tablespoon of oil. Warm on a low heat.

While heating the pan, take the slices of pork and coat them in a thin layer of flour. Now increase the heat to medium and sauté the pork until brown. Be sure that the pork strips are cooked evenly. When they are ready, take them from the pan and on a plate.

Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan and warm it on a low heat. Slice the onion into pieces 5 mm thick – cut against the grain. Sauté the onion until it softens and becomes translucent.

Now pour the sake, sugar, and soy into the pan. Turn up the heat to medium. Put the pork back into the pan and add the ginger. Mix and cover the pork and ginger with the sauce. Serve with sliced cabbage and a generous helping of the sauce.

Bar Review: Kuriya Jube (Matsumoto)

Tony Alexander samples locally-made sake in Matsumoto, Nagano.

Finding pretty good pubs and sake bars in Japan isn’t that difficult. However, finding one with a strict code, where you are asked upon entering, “Do you love sake?” by a knowledgeable bar master is rare.

Sake and sashimi

Sake and sashimi

The customers who frequent this establishment claim that the sake is their main reason for coming here, as the food menu is quite modest. The bar master is a traditionalist and maintains an austere atmosphere in his izakaya, which, to me, only adds to the allure and charm. No raucous, smoke-filled main street pub, this quiet place is located down a dimly lit street and people come here to drink the rare pricey stuff, not chatter about nonsense. It’s straight-laced and I love it that way. Kuriya Jube is at the top of a short list of places which specialize in the sake drinking experience.

The wooded interior and soft lighting make this sake pub really attractive. The whole bar counter, where I recommend sitting, is made of cedar. I love the quaint, traditional feel of the wood counters and zabuton. Even the sake cups are made of cedar, matching the bar counter and the whole mood of the place.

The key here is jizake! That’s right, the locally-brewed stuff that’s hard to get your hands on. Oftentimes, when people step into an izakaya, they get carried away with all the national sake brands they see on display and in the refrigerator. To each his own, but I measure a sake pub by how many locally-brewed sakes they have available: Stuff that you only can get there, or through a friend of a friend.

The menus here, with a long list of local and national sakes to choose from, are handwritten. On my last visit, the drinks included: Metobano Izumi and Sasa no Homare from Matsumoto and Suiro from Suwa City, as well as Yoakemae, Tatsunocho, and Shinanotsuru Tokubetsu Junmai.

The fare that evening went perfectly with our sake. There was hobo fish, which was superb and fresh, like it was just caught; deep-fried breast of chicken, lightly seasoned; fried tofu on a stick; duck – really simple, yet delicious; battered, deep-fried pork with hot sesame sauce: absolutely none of which overpowered the sake. And then there was the ichijiku goma cream made from cheese, yoghurt, and sake, which was a complete hit with the ladies.

Price range: 3,000-10,000 for two people.
No English menu available
Conveniently located about a 10 minute walk from Matsumoto Castle
Cash only
Hours: 18:00 ~ 24:00
Phone: 0263-37-9100

Book Review: “Drinking Japan”

Garrett DeOrio reviews Chris Bunting’s Drinking Japan

I tend to approach tomes of this genre with a fair dose of skepticism as they often fall into one of two categories, even when they’re not bad: a. strong on one drink or area, weak on the others, or b. written by authors who don’t know the turf and focus on spots tourists would find anyway.

Drinking Japan

Drinking Japan by Chris Bunting

Thankfully, my skepticism was dispelled within moments of cracking the cover on Chris Bunting’s attractive new release. He included a few places I know and love (which shows he has good taste!) and listed many more I either didn’t know or hadn’t tried. What better way to give a drink or travel book a fair shake than to road test it?

Bunting’s motivating premise, as he sets forth in his introduction is, simply, that “Japan. . . [is] the best place to drink alcohol in the world.”

He allows that the denizens and partisans of other capitals might be irritated by his proposition and grants them their due. He’s being too nice – those who put forth other locales, especially other cities against Tokyo (where the majority of the bars Bunting includes are located), simply don’t get it, which is why his book is so welcome.

Drinking Japan reads like a travel book – not a touring handbook, mind you, but a travel book, replete with anecdotes and impressions, which not only gives the reader a better idea of what they might be getting into, but also allows Bunting to establish a voice. And that voice is one that will make most readers feel like having a beer, or a whisky, or a glass of wine, or shochu, or awamori, or sake, or even makkori, with the man.

After a brief introduction to Japan’s drinking culture, complete with both a few warnings for the neophyte (or for those who just haven’t yet learned their lessons) and some history, Drinking Japan is divided up into chapters based on the sort of drink each of the 112 establishments he includes specializes in or is most-worth going for. These being: Sake, Shochu, Awamori, Beer, Whisky, Wine, and then others. Each of the seven drink-centered chapters is preceded by an introduction to the drink and its history and place in Japan’s tippling milieu.

The drink chapters are followed by a chapter on liquor stores and other retail establishments and a brief appendix on “Bar Japanese”.

Drinking Japan is focused on the good stuff and written for people who are interested in drinking, as opposed to people who just drink. While not every place he includes is pricey, this is far from a guide for the budget traveler. If you believe that you get what you pay for or don’t mind paying more for better drinks and good atmosphere, Bunting has something you’ll like, if not 112 things. On the other hand, if a cheap happoshu nomi-hodai is all you want out of your drinking life or don’t care how knowledgeable the bartender is or how friendly the clientele might be, you probably won’t get much from his work.

As with any effort of this breadth, Drinking Japan has a handful of minor shortcomings. First and foremost is geography: Of the 112 establishments included, 75 are in central Tokyo and a further nine are lumped together in “West Tokyo”. Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, rates only two entries – both beer bars. The entire Tohoku and Chubu regions merit just one each: Sendai’s Isshin and Takayama’s Pub Red Hill, which means Japan’s fourth-largest city, Nagoya, is overlooked entirely. Likewise, the entire island of Kyushu is represented only by two shochu bars in Kagoshima – nada for the Fukuoka metropolis – and lovely Shikoku is passed by.

Being centered on the drinks themselves, the book also omits a number of neighborhoods known for their charm more than their pure liquid gourmet appeal, although he does include the venerable Lion Ginza 7-chome (the old one) solely for its mosaic and its place in history. Similarly, the inclusion of the cheap izakaya Kaasan – a chain shop for the cheap gourmand and notable for its ability to host sizable parties seems odd. Nothing wrong with the place, and its branches tend to have a more relaxed atmosphere and fewer screaming kids than other chains, but it does raise a question: Why Kaasan and not any of the numerous more worthy entries of the same sort?

That said, I still eagerly took a number of Bunting’s recommendations and largely agreed with him. He doesn’t mind spending a bit at times, but he knows whereof he speaks, gets the details right, and won’t steer you wrong.

If you’re unfamiliar with Japan, especially Tokyo (and that seems to be the target audience), Drinking Japan is a great place to start. If you live here, you’ll still find some new gems.

If you pick it up and decide to try it out, let us know. If you have a beloved haunt Bunting missed, let us know about that, too. Heck, invite us to try it out with you sometime. (We bark a lot, but we rarely bite. Except for that one time, and Pellegrini is really sorry about that.)

Drinking Japan
by Chris Bunting
Tuttle, US$24.95/2,130 yen (may vary), 272 pgs.

Boozehound: The Joy of Sake

Christopher Pellegrini takes in The Joy of Sake

Tokyo’s installment of Honolulu’s Joy of Sake party was packed by legions of professionals from the nihonshu industry and the well-heeled business folks from the southwestern section of the Yamanote train line. Also in attendance were some of sake’s biggest supporters outside of Japan, namely author John Gauntner and sommelier Ake Nordgren, and the air in the two tasting halls was one of a giant reunion made possible by the continuing success of one of this country’s most recognizable exports.

Bottles of Daiginjo 'A' waiting in the TOC Main Hall.

And then there was me.

To be fair, I wasn’t the only nihonshu nerd in attendance, but very few others felt brave enough to whip out their notebooks and scribble tasting notes as they worked their way up and down endless banquet tables of daiginjo. And I must admit, it was truly a joyful experience.

Curiously, many guests chose to ignore the TOC Main Hall where all of the daiginjo ‘A’ bottles (rice polishing ratio of 40% or less) sat vulnerable to unlimited perusal. The other, more brightly lit hall had more food, but no daiginjo ‘A’.  With everyone busy munching away, I was allowed ample elbow room to compare some of the best sake currently known to the world. In fact, there were no less than 329 labels from 166 breweries on display, and the main hall also featured a good selection of yamahai and kimoto sake.

No, I didn’t try them all. I’m only human. And there were no spit buckets.

Change this alt text

Australian Ginjo.

All 329 varieties of sake were in fact entrants in the 2010 US National Sake Appraisal which took place in Honolulu back in August. That includes all of the daiginjo ‘B’, ginjo and junmai labels on the tables in the Tokubetsu Hall. The two day event sees ten judges run through all of the bottles as they attempt to find imbalances in each of them.

Of the 83 daiginjo ‘A’ bottles, 27 were gold award winners with top honors going to Kizakura’s “Daiginjo”, Kodama Jozo’s Taiheizan “Tenko”, and Nagurayama Shuzo’s “Kanpyokai Shuppinshu.” My favorites were Asahi Shuzo’s famous “Dassai 23″, a sake with the unimaginable polishing ratio of 23%, and Ume Ichirin Shuzo’s “Kanpyokai Shuppinshu.”

The former didn’t make it to the final round during the panel’s blind tasting, but the latter did and earned a gold award in the process. Interestingly, Ume Ichirin Shuzo is located in Chiba Prefecture, a region not typically associated with sake brewing excellence.

Other bottles that caught my attention were “Hana no Youna” junmai ginjo from California and “Go-Shu Blue” ginjo from Australia. Neither won plaudits from the contest’s auditors, but Australia’s entry was noticeably more enjoyable than America’s.

Change this alt text

Several top notch restaurants offered small portions of their finest sake-paired appetizers.

More than anything, Joy of Sake is an excellent opportunity for the nihonshu-curious to figure out what they like. By using the mini-siphons to import two thimbles of sake into one’s tasting cup, it’s possible to keep inebriation on the back burner and slowly sample everything from the refined to the complex, the clean to the more cloying.

And of course there was food there, too. Twelve top-notch restaurants from both Japan and America provided appetizers to the buoyant guests. Takao (Los Angeles) served their Maguro Spring Roll with Avocado and Sweet Spicy Miso Sauce while Al Porto (Tokyo) offered Bruschetta di Prociutto Crudo e Caponata.

Change this alt text

Volunteers begin uncapping bottles before the start of the festival. Notice the small plastic syphon used to transfer sake into guests' tasting cups.

Through conversations with other guests, it became clear that many were enthusiastic about Nobu (New York) and their Fresh Sashimi from Niigata with Yuzu and Dried Miso. Hoku’s (Honolulu) also had a long line waiting for bowls of its Sake Braised Black Angus Beef Short Angus Beef Short Ribs with Hawaiian Chili Pepper, Spiced Crispy Onions and Lomi Pineapple Tomato.

Judging by the 8,000 yen ticket price, Joy of Sake is not an event targeted at the 20-something crowd, and that observation was easily supported by a quick look around the audience. The average age of the guests was likely late 40s, which is not meant to imply that this sake celebration was a sedate affair. Anything but. Several couples old enough to be my grandparents kept up and carried on just like the small groups of young women four decades their junior.

If this party returns to Japan in the future, indeed if sake is to survive at home, this generational imbalance is something that they will hopefully choose to address. In the meantime, let’s hope that this event continues to turn heads and change minds overseas as sake brings its special brand of Japanese joy to a wider audience.