Archive for the 'Recipes' Category

Mabodofu

May 25, 2006

mabodofu

Spicy tofu with ground pork

Americans may question this combination. Why put a meat-substitute with meat? Sadly, tofu gets a bad rap in the states as a health food. Yet high-quality tofu (or practically any tofu in Japan) can be absolutely delicious even raw with a dab of ginger and a little soy sauce dribbled over the top. This dish, mabodofu, brings together the soft freshness of tofu with the contrasting texture of ground meat and unites it all with a bit of spice, an absolutely wonderful combination. Make a whole meal out of it, by piling it on an oppulent bed of red-leaf lettuce and eating it with a bowl of steaming hot rice.

Mabodofu is originally Chinese. I have no idea if the Japanese completely changed the flavors when they adopted it into their repetoir. I've only had it in Japan. Whenever I've gone to the lunch place where I ate this dish the first time ever, filled with businessmen, cigarette smoke, and super delicious lunch sets, I hope this dish will be the daily special as it was then. I'm never in luck, though. Now the cigarette smoke and slightly out-of-the-way location keep me away, but I still remember that mabodofu.

Sometime last week, I picked up a top quality cake of momendofu, or firm tofu, at Nishiki market on my way home. The day before, I'd finally gotten a small jar of tobanjan, a Chinese spicy paste made from soy beans and a little reminiscent of miso paste. In my kitchen, it easily came together for a quick dinner which few people could regret for its nutritional value and delicious flavors. Read the rest of this entry »

Takenoko

May 2, 2006

takenoko

Any guesses what this is? I’m not asking the Asians or the world travelers now. Having only eaten this plant from a can or cooked into a stir fry in the states and Europe, always in unrecognizable rectangular-shaped, thin slices, I never imagined it looked like this in real life. It’s a bamboo shoot. They’re in season now, and being a Kyoto specialty, Nishiki market’s shops have mounds and mounds of them for outrageous prices. Why the high prices? Because they are most tender and have to be dug up while still underground before they reach the sunlight in the early early morning, and bamboo can grow a meter in one day. I never thought I could afford one…

Until one fine day last week, I was walking through Nishiki market on my way home from work and I happened to see a small basket containing three at a small vegetable shop. The price tag said 525 yen, and I could hardly believe I could get even one much less three of them for that price. I incredulously had to reaffirm by asking the shopkeeper. Yes, they were 525 yen, and although they were a bit smaller than the giants at some other stores, they were being sold for less than half the normal price. I bought them without thinking twice and far from regretted it.

As I was packing my treasure away, the shopkeeper gave me a small bag of sawdust-like powder and gave me a bunch of instructions on keeping them for up to a week. Being far too ecstatic with my find, I hardly listened and didn’t ask him to explain again. Half way home my dream bubble burst and I panicked. How was I going to cook these things?!? Read the rest of this entry »

Taco Rice

April 26, 2006

taco rice 2

Although I had never even heard of taco rice before I had it in Japan, this dish can easily cure the I-want-food-from-home syndrome. It is a concoction created on the southern Japanese archipelago of Okinawa, where a large population of American military personnel still controls half of the main island. I can just imagine a homesick US military guy wanting some tacos, but not having the right ingredients for it, sticking the taco fillings on top of some rice, which like in all of Japan is abundant.

I remember the first time I had it on a trip to Okinawa over Christmas with three friends who were studying with me in Kyoto. On Christmas Eve, we arrived in Naha on a warm day and stretching our legs, found our stomachs to be in need of sustenance. On the main street of Naha, filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and obvious American influences, the first place we saw offering food was a small cafe or bar with a sign out front "Taco Rice." After polling the group, we decided to go inside and ate a large hearty meal that was simple, delicious, and reminded us of home.

Recently, however, I rediscovered it in Kyoto in a cafe that is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, Sarasa on Tominokoji somewhere between Oike and Shijo. Their taco rice is much more delicately done than the simple one I remember having a few years ago in Naha. What I like most about their dish is the cheese baked over the rice and the chili powder dusting the top of the lettuce.

My variation is a close approximation of Sarasa's, with the addition of fried onions and garlic mixed into the steamed rice. The result is pure taco, with a subtle reminder that I'm still in Japan. Read the rest of this entry »

Clam Chowder

April 13, 2006

clam chowder

It seems that clams are in season right now. On Japanese television, clams feature in every cooking show right next to fresh bamboo shoots (I want to get one shoot to experiment, but they're so expensive!). Fresh spring potatoes and fresh onions are also appearing in super markets, but the weather is wet and uncomfortable for someone who loves to take her bike everywhere like me. So, I decided on clam chowder yesterday.

It was my first time cooking clams, so I had to look up the basics of handling them. Apparently, clams are fresh if they are tightly closed. About half of mine were open when I took them out of the refrigerator the same day I bought them, but when I tapped their shells, they closed again, indicating they were alive and fresh. To get the sand out of the shells, you're supposed to soak the clams in salt water, but clams from the supermarket are usually already clean.

When finished, the soup was lightly creamy and infused with clam juice (since I'd cooked the clams whole with the rest of the soup) and the flavors of roasted onions and butter. The clams were not chewy, the potatoes smooth in texture and the onion gentle in flavor. It was perfect for a rainy, unfavorable evening watching the fifth season of Sex and the City. Read the rest of this entry »

Shake no Ochazuke

March 28, 2006

salmon ochazuke

Salmon Ochazuke

Perhaps the simplest, most homey Japanese food, Ochazuke is basically tea poured over rice. Traditionally, ochazuke comes at the end of an elaborate meal, maybe as a way to bring you back down to earth, but its often eaten by itself for lunch or a quick meal.

On the last day before I returned to the states after studying abroad here in Kyoto for a year, I got to request the meals at my hostfamily's. For lunch, we had ochazuke and for dinner, sashimi, perhaps the most ordinary and most refined meals in Japanese cuisine. Ochazuke is so plain, people have compared me to elderly Japanese for liking the dish.

Usually people add little flavor packets to the tea/rice combination that have nori seaweed, mini rice crackers (arare), dried salmon flakes, and green tea-flavored salt pieces. But then, who knows what's actually in these packets and how they preserve the fish bits. It's a bit questionable if you ask me. So I tried to recreate it, with some help from Maki's ochazuke recipe. Read the rest of this entry »

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