Saturday, August 27, 2016

Adventures in Japan: 2014

In 2014, I took an epic trip to Japan during the cherry blossom season, and I haven't had a chance to write about it. I wanted to make sure I did the trip justice, and I fell into a funk of nothing but business, career, and job. Now that I've got my priorities more settled, it's time to share my amazing Japan trip with you!

It was a whirlwind fifteen days. I visited cousins, gave my respects to my ancestors at our temple, visited our ancestral house, and trekked up a cliff to visit our family grave surrounded by citrus trees. I dressed up as a geisha (maiko to be specific) in Kyoto, hugged deer near Hiroshima, got lost on the Tokyo train system more than once, and explored the enchanting Ghibli Museum. Most of all, I ate tons of amazing Japanese cuisine, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Yawatahama's many graves on the hillside
I thought a bit about how I wanted to present all the information and pictures without turning this blog into a travel blog, but also not leaving you with the impression all I did was stuff my face (to be fair, it was a main feature). So for each city or province I visited, I will have a short post with some history, pictures of what I did besides eat. This regional post will be followed by a review of a restaurant if possible, or perhaps an overview of the regional food will be worked into the first post if not. Lastly, I will have a recipe for each place inspired by my visit. I hope you enjoy sharing my adventures, and I hope that my recipes will allow you to experience a little bit of what I enjoyed on my travels!

This post will stay on top until I complete my Adventures in Japan series so that you can skip to places at your leisure! Each region page will have a list of all the ingredients and recipes associated with it linked at the bottom!

Miss Mochi at Miwajima Island
Fukuoka, Fukuoka prefecture, Kyushu region
Yawatahama, Ehime prefecture, Shikoku region*
Beppu and Yuifin, Oita prefecture, Kyushu region*
Hiroshima, Hiroshima prefecture, Chogoku region*
Kyoto, Kyoto prefecture, Kansai region*
Tokyo, Tokyo prefecture, Kanto region*

*coming soon! check back!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Adventures in Japan: Fukuoka!

After taking a long plane flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo, we took a teeny plane from Narita, Tokyo to Fukuoka, Kyushu where most of my relatives call home.

Fukuoka is the capital of Fukuoka prefecture, and it's one of the biggest cities in Japan. What I liked the best about Fukuoka is even though it's the 6th most populous city in Japan, it has a lot of open spaces, greenery, and little shrines even in the heart of it.

We were led through Fukuoka at a blazing pace by my relatives. Coming from Orange County, which has virtually no public transportation, we were amazed when we took a plane, private car, taxi, ferry boat, bus, train, and subway all within a 24 hour period. Not only was I jet-lagged, I was overwhelmed.

Fukuoka had two of my favorite shrines. I fell in love because they weren't tourist attractions, like I would experience later in Tokyo and Kyoto, crowded with people of all walks of life.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mizuna, Apple and Jicama Salad with Yuzu Kosho Vinaigrette

I don't post a lot of salad recipes. They generally aren't my favorite thing, especially when the lettuce leaves are huge and they end up slapping me in the chin and I get salad dressing everywhere and look like an idiot. I never claimed to be graceful, in fact I'm pretty much a walking disaster when it comes to food and a lot of other things now that I ponder it.

I've written about the chaos that ensues while making dishes, but I'm also a natural disaster whilst dining as well. Spaghetti and salads made with lettuce are a sure-fire way to ruin a blouse in my book. I rarely disappoint when it comes to this splattering, despite being a slow and careful eater. This trait seems to be genetic, as my father tends to involuntarily decorate his button-downs as well.

However, here's a salad that I'd be willing to wear white silk around because mizuna isn't nearly as ungainly on a fork as romaine or butter lettuce, especially when you chop it down to size. I mean, don't get me wrong, if anyone can make a mess of things it's me, but I'd at least take that challenge. My only other beef about salads: their names are often unwieldy as hell!

Yuzu Kosho

Yuzu Kosho is a powerhouse condiment and another specialty of Kyushu I wanted to share with you. A simple but inspired paste of yuzu zest, chili peppers, and salt, there are two types depending on whether red or green chili peppers were used.

My mother, who by the way I just realized doesn't have a nickname (Mama Mochi?), really fell in love with this condiment when we were served it with a hot pot dish. Being served as a condiment for nabemono, or hot pot cooking, is definitely the most traditional usage for yuzu kosho, but it is versatile and especially delicious as an ingredient in sauces for grilled meats or even salads.

As stated above, there are two types of yuzu kosho: green (ao) and red (aka). I happen to think the green is a bit sharper than the red, but I urge you to try them both and draw your own conclusions, as there doesn't seem to be a consensus on the difference between the two besides color. Both of them are a magical mixture of floral, spicy, citrusy notes that make wonder why every culture doesn't have a chili citrus paste in its repertoire.

Yuzu kosho is sold in very tiny quantities normally
This is a condiment that still isn't widely seen outside of hot pot restaurants, but it is having its moment, with publications like Bon Appetit and Saveur both publishing articles extolling its virtues with recipes in tow.

You'll find it at any well-stocked Japanese market, but it might take a bit of searching as it is generally purchased in a tiny little jar the photo on the right. This paste is normally dabbed on pieces of simmered hot pot ingreidnets, however it can be thinned and used to brighten up sauces or included in a marinade.

Marinate a steak with it, make a spicy fresh vinaigrette, top fresh seafood with it, spice up your noodles dishes, this condiment is so enlivening to so many dishes apparently it has even made its way into the arena of desserts!

Here's a list of recipes that include yuzu kosho on this site:
Mizuna, Apple, and Jicama salad with Yuzu Kosho Vinaigrette
Yuzu Kosho Shrimp Spring Rolls *coming soon*

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mizuna (水菜)

Mizuna (水菜) is a green that you will see called by a lot of different names here in the states: Japanese mustard, potherb mustard, even California peppergrass or the wildly ambiguous "Japanese greens." I like sticking to the name Mizuna because I think those other names are a bit misleading. Mizuna isn't that peppery and it's certainly not mustardy despite being in the mustard family. The name "mizuna" literally means "water greens" which refers to its juicy stems.

I'd peg the taste of mizuna as plesantly crisp, very mildly peppery (much less than arugula), with a bit of earthiness in the leaves. I'm not a fan of frisee or arugula because they tend to overwhelm so many other flavors, but I find mizuna to have just enough kick and bitterness for me. I also love that you can use the stems just as well as the leaves in most dishes without trimming as they are just as mild as the leaves.

Actually, you've probably already eaten mizuna and just not realized it! Baby mizuna is a popular green to be in a mesclun or spring salad mixture. Especially here in California, you can often find baby mizuna alongside other greens in a mixed salad.

Feel free to use those juicy stems! They aren't overly bitter at all!
In Japanese cooking, you will find mizuna most commonly pickled, simmered, or added to a hot pot dish rather than a salad. Now if you ever come across a recipe for a cooked mizuna dish and it seems like they got the amount wrong--they couldn't possibly mean to add that much in--don't worry as it cooks down quite a bit.

It is a very cool weather friendly plant, which is why you will see it added to a lot of hot pots. Especially in the winter months when you crave a hot pot, traditionally there weren't a lot of leafy greens to choose from.

How to use mizuna? Any way you would use arugula you can substitute mizuna (especially if you're like me and think arugula is a little too feisty sometimes). Try some tossed with balsamic vinaigrette, strawberries, crumbled feta and walnuts for a salad, or sauteed like spinach next to a roast. My mother likes to sneak all sorts of homegrown greens into her sandwiches, so I often stuff some into my Caprese Sandwich recipe. I think a BMT (bacon, mizuna, tomato) would be equally delicious!

Recipes that feature mizuna:
Mizuna, Apple, and Jicama salad with Yuzu Kosho Vinaigrette *recipe coming soon!*
Caprese Sandwich

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fries with Mentaiko Mayo Dipping Sauce

Karashi Mentaiko (or usually just called mentaiko) is spicy marinated fermented fish roe (normally cod or pollock) that is a specialty of Kyushu that I introduced as part of my chronicle on my 2014 visit to Japan. Now you may be thinking that there's no way in hell I can marry American tastes with a Japanese product that is as funky, spicy, and fishy as mentaiko. Let me introduce you to my secret weapon: mentaiko mayo.

Mentaiko mayo takes the assertive fish roe and turns it into something creamy and delicious while still maintaining that zing and pop.

photo cred: Creamy Steaks
Mentaiko mayo is so popular there's even a mentaiko mayo Cheetos flavor in Japan, and I'm absurdly disappointed I have not seen or tried it (see here for a review) I love mentaiko mayo's versatility and I believe you will too. It's super easy to whip up, and once you do I think you'll find yourself spreading it on everything.

Some easy ways to enjoy it: spread it on top of baked salmon and broil to finish, mix it in with canned tuna instead of plain mayo for more of a pop, even smear it in a sandwich. But my favorite has to be as a dipping sauce for fries.


Mentaiko, especially spicy karashi mentaiko, is a specialty of the Hakata ward in Fukuoka City. Mentaiko is fish roe (normally pollock) that is marinated in chili, sake, konbu and yuzu citrus, and then slightly fermented for several hours.

Karashi mentaiko is so popular that usually the term "mentaiko" refers to the type that is spicy, while "tarako" is the regular marinated roe.

Mentaiko is actually originally Korean, as is a lot of the ingredients and dishes that Kyushu is famous for as they are very close to Korea there in the southern regions of Japan.

Mentaiko can be seen traditionally served by itself as a side dish to sake.  It can be eaten raw or cooked (it turns a lighter pink when cooked) and either in its egg sac or removed.

This is how the eggs look removed from the egg sac membrane
One of the more traditional ways you will see it served is over rice with the egg sac intact, where it is often cooked with a bit of oil first. Another traditional use is as a filling for onigiri rice balls or topping sushi, however these days this flavor powerhouse isn't limited to just rice.

You'll find mentaiko incorporated with cream as a delicious pasta sauce, used as way to spice up egg omelettes, baked on top of french bread, mixed into potato salad, spread on top of skewers of chicken, and even as a topping for Japanese pizza! One crazy concoction I love is mochi baked with cheese and mentaiko for a gooey chewy savory-spicy mess.

Here in the states, you can find mentaiko at Japanese grocery stores like Mitsuwa and Marukai. It freezes fairly well, which is good because it's not cheap!

Recipes that use mentaiko:
Fries with Mentaiko Mayo Dipping Sauce