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 »


Bento Heaven

April 23, 2006

Noh bento

My apologies for not posting for so long. While I'm in the middle of a job transition and dedicating more time to my traditional arts studies, this blog has been set aside in the crunch. That is not to say that I haven't eaten delicious food recently or that I've not been cooking. On the contrary, but the time to compose a coherent post about each item has been lacking.

So, in an effort to make up for the vacuum, here's a picture of a bento lunch I got at a Noh performance last week. Beautiful, isn't it? And this is only the top tier of the box, which contains various vegetables, two shrimp, fried fish in a sauce, a tofu/shrimp ball, rolled omelet (tamago maki), stuffed cabbage, two oysters, and a piece of roasted eel (my favorite). In the lower tier was rice mixed with beans (indicating good fortune), some fruit, and a traditional Japanese sweet (wagashi). 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 »


Miyako no Shokubunka

April 1, 2006

miyako no shoku bunka

The Museum of Kyoto's exhibit on Kyoto food culture

The poster looks tempting, or so I thought when I first saw it large outside the Museum of Kyoto, which is between my home and work, so I've seen the poster almost every day. What it says loudly in Japanese is nicely translated into English at the top: Traditional Food Culture in Kyoto – the history and charm of Kyoto cuisine and vegetables, and it's on display until April 16th. How fascinating. What might I learn, I thought, so when I finished work early one afternoon, I stopped by the museum on my way home.

(You may ask why Kyoto people have so much pride for their vegetables, which is easily explained if you look at a map. Kyoto is in the middle of the Japanese main island, about equidistant from the Japan sea in the north and Osaka bay in the south. Traditionally, there was little fish in Kyoto, which means also you don't go to Kyoto for their sushi… let's have a moment to sigh deeply… But their vegetable dishes can be exquisite in both flavor and aesthetics.)

However, after paying ¥1000 with an excited sense of anticipation, riding up to the fourth floor of the museum on an elevator, and getting off at the exhibit, I felt a little misled. I should have asked myself beforehand, "What could a museum exhibit about food?" Museums exhibit preserved objects for viewing. Food is for consuming and is difficult to preserve.

At least I got a general review of the different kinds of cuisine lumped together under the term "Washoku" (Japanese cuisine). 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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