July 10th, 2014

Bacon, Sushi and Freedom

I love bacon.  That’s definitely one food item that America does best.  No matter how great Japanese, French or Italian cuisines are, no other country can offer a better piece of cured meat than America.  That pride and joy has led to a bacon craze.  Bacon mac n’ cheese, chocolate covered bacon, even bacon cocktail and bacon chapstick.  Some are good, some are… not so much.

Tuna BLT Roll | Blue C Sushi

Tuna BLT Roll | Blue C Sushi

Then I ate a tuna BLT roll at Hollywood’s Blue C Sushi– a classic sandwich favorite turned into sushi.  Bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado wrapped with seaweed and rice, then topped with seared tuna and bacon jam.  Sushi and bacon… It can be the greatest thing, or a total disaster.  Which was this?  It was absolutely delicious.  When you dip it in soy sauce a little (Do NOT over dip! That’s a sushi 101), the sweetness of the bacon jam along with the saltiness, is the best ‘east meets west’ creation since Hello Kitty Give Away nights at Dodger Stadium.  (Not a good example, but hey, they are popular.)  The crispy bacon, tuna, rice with creamy avocado combination makes it fun to eat as well.

Blue C Sushi | Hollywood, CA

America puts its virtue on freedom and being creative.  Japan is a country of tradition and rules.  That’s why Jiro only dreams of sushi, while American chefs can create sushi with bacon jam.  Being Japanese but living in America, I go back and forth between the two cultures as I love traditional sushi as well as the creative and unique version.  You can’t compare those two and judge which is better.  Both serve different purposes.  Blue C Sushi, a Seattle based revolving sushi restaurant, makes good creative sushi.  The interior is bright, pop, and futuristic as you’d imagine Tokyo to be, with a big subway motif on the middle of the wall.  All plates are named for Tokyo’s subway lines.  For example, Salmon is on a light blue plate, which is the color code for the Tozai Line, and goes for $4.75; California rolls are on the orange Ginza Line, all priced at $3.50.  Yes, revolving sushi virgins, plates are all color coded and priced accordingly which makes it easy to see how many plates you’ve eaten as well as how much money you’ve spent.   As an example of pure American freedom of choice, alongside rainbow rolls and octopus, you’ll also see brownies, cookies and  cupcakes. Why not?  (I also overheard there’s a secret dessert… Fried brownie!)

Hama Chili | Blue C Sushi

Hama Chili | Blue C Sushi

Creativity doesn’t stop at bacon.  Take for example, Hama Chili, fresh, melt in the mouth yellowtail with citrus soy chili, and  serrano chili and cilantro on top.  Also shigoku oyster with pungent fish sauce mignonette.  Shigoku oyster is known for its round, plump and firm flesh and a deep cup.  Ocean tides tumble them a few times a day results in that special texture.  For a non fish eater, there’s potato katsu on the menu.  That’s a Japanese answer to tater tots, deep fried panko breaded potato comes with tonkatsu sauce.  It’s not really Japanese, but who cares, it’s fun!  That’s probably the best word to describe eating at Blue C Sushi, fun… and delicious.

May 26th, 2014

Bread and Chawanmushi

Everybody has a favorite carb.  Depending on my mood, my favorite carbohydrate is either Japanese rice or noodles.  My husband?  His choice is predictably, bread.  One time, I left him to fend for himself for his meals, and found out later, that he ate two baguettes by himself in a day. I like the smell of freshly baked bread and eat it at restaurants, but I never brought a baguette or any bread home before I started dating my husband.  One of our first dates, we went to a restaurant which name contains bread and bar for lunch.  Two of his favorite words.  We ordered a bread basket, expecting lots of freshly made warm bread.  Unfortunately, they didn’t deliver anything close to our expectations as we got scraps of bread pieces.  Right there, we established the unspoken code of “NEVER ORDER THE BREAD BASKET”.

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Bread Plate | Faith & Flower

Fast forward five years to the current day where we just realized that we’ve ordered a bread basket twice in a few week…and even more surprising, one was my idea.  Faith & Flower, a rustic Californian restaurant opened near our home, and a few weeks ago, they started offering brunch.  The menu offers a variety of interesting selections.  You can get something familiar like twice cooked potatoes or something exotic, like “Chawanmushi”, which is coincidentally my favorite dish of all time.  It’s a traditional Japanese savory egg custard made with eggs and seafood stocks, but at Faith & Flower, it’s made with lemon dashi and chicken confit.  The brunch also offers their signature dishes,  “Eggs Benedict Pizza,” and “Oxtail Agnolotti.” Both are available on their lunch and dinner menus as well.  I usually order something interesting so I was deciding between their handmade ramen or their Chawanmushi, but since my husband ordered the potato, fried egg and a bread plate, I picked a protein instead of a carb.  Western style Chawanmushi.

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Chawanmushi | Faith & Flower

The bread plate came with a couple of slices of chewy and hazel nutty oatmeal bread, right out of the oven (with the proof being a slight burn on top) croissants, and a pistachio bun with butter and homemade berry preserves on a pretty French antique looking plate.  Very pretty. Even prettier: the bread.  All three kinds of unique, fresh and warm bread made me happy, but the highlight was the pistachio bun.  It was soft, moist and had the perfect density, with a pistachio creme and citrus zest on top.  We were hooked.  Everything that came after was good, but my husband and I were already discussing how we could come back the next day and get this bread plate again. Fortunately or unfortunately, one of us has to work on weekends for while, so we didn’t get to revisit this gorgeous plate of bread for a couple of weeks, but we did talk about it a few times, so that counts.  All that changed this Sunday while I was making us brunch.  I made a call to the restaurant and ordered the bread plate to go.  I had to, because now, I understand the beauty of good bread.

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Pistachio Bun | Faith & Flower

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Crispy Egg | Faith & Flower

 

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Crispy Twice Cooked Potato | Faith & flower

 

 

March 25th, 2013

Spaghetti Napolitan

It started with a simple request: “I want spaghetti tonight.”  I didn’t have any sauce precooked, and the thought of pasta sauce in a jar? No way.  I refuse to use those from the grocery shelf since my first taste back in college.  What spaghetti dish could I make with limited time and ingredients?  The answer? Spaghetti Napolitan!

napolitan

“Napolitan” sounds Italian, doesn’t it?  Then why you haven’t heard of it?  Because it isn’t real Italian, that’s why.   (Spaghetti) Napolitan is a Japanese kids’ favorite that you can find on the menu at most of Japanese cafes.  It’s spaghetti with onion, green pepper and mushroom with some kind of processed meat (such as bacon or ham) and ketchup.   The Japanese created this dish after World War II.  Japanese chefs at the Hotel New Grand, which GHQ requisitioned for a while, got the idea from observing American soldiers eating spaghetti with ketchup as their regular meal.  So those hotel chefs probably thought why not, right?   My exact thoughts: my husband loves ketchup, he puts that on everything, so why not?

I was so wrong.  My husband said he didn’t like spaghetti with the flavor of ketchup.  “But”, I said, “You like ketchup!”  “Not with pasta!”  But again, I said, “This is almost like omerice that you like.” Instead of answering, he quoted GoodFellas.  “I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup.”  *Sigh* I can’t argue with one of the greatest movies ever, but still, all these Japanese kids grow up eating it and loving it!  Are they schnooks?   Why doesn’t  my ketchup loving husband like it?

Adding insult to injury, he even said he’d rather have spaghetti with sauce from a jar.  Although I doubt he’ll eat jarred pasta sauce, I guess he was expecting “real Italian” spaghetti, so receiving “ketchup” tasting pasta was disappointing.  I thought this was ironic because ketchup was invented by Americans, and Napolitan was invented by the Japanese, so in theory, it’s a perfect “fusion” dish, right?  Oh well, cook and learn!

P.S. He didn’t hate it; he finished the plate.

April 18th, 2012

Breakfast in America

Could we have kippers for breakfast

Mummy dear, Mummy dear Supertramp may have inspired me to try kippers, but my husband’s love of deli breakfasts made it all possible…

You have no idea of my joy and excitement when I found out what kippers were and how frequently they were on the menu at local Jewish delis.  You see, I grew up eating kippers.  My mother cooks a really good kipper dish, which I always asks her to make when I go home to visit. In Japanese, kippers are called nishin.  My absolute favorite way to have it is by soaking dried kippers in water overnight, then cooking them in a soy sauce based broth until they’re tender.

When you travel to Japan, check the menu for migaki nishin.  It’s not as popular as sushi, still, I highly recommend that you try it. It’s usually served on warm soba noodles, but at home, I just eat it with rice.
“Boy, you are courageous”.  a veteran waitress told me when I ordered kippers at a Jewish deli in L.A..  I guess it’s not the most popular item for breakfast in America, but those like me, who do enjoy them, experience a delicious buttery, salty sensation.

My kippers were served alongside sauteed onions, potatoes, and eggs.   If they had come with a side of rice, I may had experienced the perfect breakfast.  Finally, it pays off to be married to a Jewish guy with an unhealthy obsession with breakfast.

April 16th, 2012

Jewish Deli

My father-in-law always asks me if there’s still a Jewish deli in Tokyo.  Apparently, he saw one when he visited back in the 90′s, and that surprising image has stuck with him.  To give him an answer, I couldn’t rely on experience, I had to trust Google. Growing up in Tokyo, I had never seen or heard of a Jewish deli.  In fact, I didn’t even know what the heck a Jewish deli was until I moved to NYC after graduating from college in Boston.  Come to think of it, did I ever even try a bagel back then?  Luckily, I’ve made up for it since, thanks to my Jewish American husband.

Obviously I’ve changed, because now, Jewish delis are some of my favorite places.  Don’t believe me?  Visit one to experience the excitement for yourself.  As you walk in, every sense is engaged.  You hear veteran servers shouting out orders.  You see black and white cookies and hearty, doughy bagels waiting to be taken to a good home.  You smell succulent pastrami as it’s being sliced, AND if you ask nicely, you can taste a sample.  Finally, at your table, your sense of touch grabs that dill pickle to stave off the hunger pangs you’ve just acquired.  You may only recognize half of the menu and display case items, but you know they must be good as it’s always crowded– ALWAYS.

I’ve come a long way in my appreciation of the Jewish deli.  Before I met my Jewish American husband, only things I ever ordered were items in my comfort zone, like pastrami sandwiches and cheese cake.  To be honest, I was just scared to venture into the unknown, never setting foot into the foreign lands of matzo bowl soup and knishes.  Even when I conquered that fear, one hurdle remained–pronunciation.  How in the world is a Japanese person supposed to order kasha varnishkas or matzo-brie?  Thank goodness I’m long past just pointing to many shades of beige items on the next table, when telling the server what I want.

Now with experience, I can proudly say (and pronounce) “Although I like matzo ball soup, I prefer kreplach soup”.

And no, I still haven’t found a Jewish deli in Tokyo.  While there are many delicatessens which sell cured meats and European delicacies, sadly, there’s not a matzo ball to be found in Tokyo.  Any investors out there?  Give my husband a call.

April 5th, 2012

Bruschetta

They say all married couples start to look like each other.  Is it true?  Today, my husband said, “You are turning into me.”  Why?  After eating my homemade bruschetta with a fresh baguette, I said, “I could eat all of this bread by myself.”

In my single days, bread was my least favorite carb.  Did I ever even buy a baguette?  Sure, I like bread, but if I’m going to consume lots of guilty calories, I’d rather it be something nutritious and versatile.  Bread is pretty much the least nutritious and the least versatile of all carbs compared to Japanese rice or pasta/noodles.  I firmly believe that I’m right, but I married a bread snob, who claims he could eat a dozen of bagels if I leave him alone for the day.  On top of that, he doesn’t like rice, so I have to find interesting ways to use less-than-nutritious bread.  One of which, is bruschetta.

My recipe is quick and simple.  Dice tomato, chop garlic & onion, chiffonade basil leaves add olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and good salt to taste.  Leave in a tightly lid container for a few hours to overnight in the fridge.  Spread on a nice piece of bread and you’ll feel like you are biting into a little of Italy; bright, fresh and delicious  It’s so good that it may change your opinion of that evil white bread.  It surely changed mine.  At least I found a way to include fresh vegetables so that I don’t feel guilty reaching for that third piece.  Maybe I am turning into my husband.

 

April 2nd, 2012

The Tofu Switcheroo

Lasagne is a great comfort food.  How could it miss with hearty meat sauce, noodles, and melted cheese all in the same bite!  I have nothing against beef, but recent news items have made me rethink my desire to eat burgers and steaks everyday.  With that in mind, don’t tell my husband, but I occasionally substitute the beef in my lasagne with turkey.

The result?  I think the text he sent me after his first bite, said it all: “Damn, that’s good lasagne!”

Am I being greedy to think I know how to make this healthy lasagne even healthier without sacrificing taste?

How, you ask?  Tofu.  Tofu is an essential part of the Japanese diet.  We eat it everyday with most of our meals.  It can be consumed many, many ways, as is, in soup, a steak or in a casserole.  It’s popularity is simple: it’s delicious, nutritious and versatile.

Even with all its selling points, my Asian food-phobic husband doesn’t approve of this particular item.  Why?  He thinks it looks too cubic–too futuristic; something from a not too far off time where we eat capsules instead of savor meals.  To get him to eat it  I have to be sneaky creative.  Regular lasagne recipes often use a mixture of ricotta cheese, egg, and parsley.  Instead, I use a mixture of crumbled tofu, egg whites and chopped kale.  I also added layers of mushroom and spinach.  Delicious! The tofu switcheroo turned out to be the perfect April Fool’s Day hoax!

 

 

February 13th, 2012

Love, February

Are you outraged that my husband won’t take me out to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day?  Drinkers always refer to St. Patrick’s Day as ‘Amateur Night’ and we think the same about Valentine’s Day. Why go out to eat an overpriced prix fixe menu that most likely will be full of dishes he won’t like?  Why buy bad quality, mass produced chocolate that I won’t like or want to work off?   It’s not that we don’t love each other, we just both feel like there are other ways of expressing your love for each other without a side order of commercialism.  Maybe we’re just lucky that February is full of real occasions for us, leaving no need for an invented holiday.  What real occasions?  Besides our wedding anniversary, our first date was on a special day as well…leap day.  With those events on the calendar, a generic Valentine’s day doesn’t make our celebration list.

American men seem to work a lot harder on Valentine’s Day than their Japanese counterparts.  On Valentine’s Day in Japan, women give MEN chocolates.  Sometimes, the gift means love, and other times it may be just something to cheer up a lonely friend.  If the gift is not for a love connection, it’s called, giri choko, “obligatory chocolate”.  Nice, huh?

Giving chocolate has another meaning in Japan–confessing your affection for someone. Sounds serious, right?  I remember I made sacher torte to a guy I had a crush on when I was a teenager.  I guess it wasn’t that good, because I married someone else!

Seriously, dating in Japan goes way beyond Valentine’s Day trinkets.  Here, you go out on a few dates first to see if you and the other person are a match.  Once you find out that you make a great couple, you finally express your emotions when one person puts an ‘I love you’ out there and hopes for a return.

In Japan, you first “confess” that you really like someone and ask them to be in a relationship before the first date! I really hope I knew this when I moved to this country, but if I didn’t, I’m sure there are a few guys out there still telling the bizarre story of the Japanese woman who confessed her love to him before they were even introduced.  Talk about confusing; I didn’t know I was on dates with guys, because I never heard them “confess.” But hey, it worked out in the end.  I married an awesome guy who surprised me by confessing about other things!

By the way; if you think Japanese men have it easy on Valentine’s Day, guess again… A month later on March 14th, men have to give something back to ladies, and this time, it needs to be something a little more than a cheap box of chocolate.  On March 14th, men typically buy women things like European pastries or designer handbags. Either in America or in Japan, it looks like men can’t get away from Valentine’s Day.

Do you think my husband got off easy because we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s day?  Last Valentine’s Day, he put it like this: “We don’t need to celebrate Valentine’s day for the sake of Valentine’s Day, but I do want to honor you,” and gave me a few gifts.  Pretty sweet, huh?  No matter how you spend Valentine’s Day, I hope you make it fun and sweet in your own way!  Happy Valentine’s Day!!

January 26th, 2012

Fish bits

My husband doesn’t like seafood, but at least, he always tries.  He finds a few things here and there that he doesn’t mind , with ‘doesn’t mind’ meaning he wouldn’t go as far as saying he likes it nor would he order it by choice.

I noticed that most American fish dishes are fillets, so not only my husband, but also many of my sushi loving American friends are not big fans of seeing an entire fish on a plate, head and all! For Japanese people, ordering fish and receiving an actual, entire ‘swim ready’ fish is as normal as getting a pizza with pepperoni on it.I have news for you.  If you think an entire fish is disgusting, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Let’s take a look at what I ate lately.
Mentaiko, spicy cod roe, is a Japanese favorite. As a matter of fact this is always on top of our “what do you want to eat with rice?” list.  It’s kind of like cod roe kimchi without the pungent smell, and it makes both a great pasta sauce and fantastic drinking food.We don’t discriminate when it comes to odd fish parts.  Besides eggs, we’ll gladly eat fish milt as well.  Even better is cod milt, shirako grilled on a bamboo leaf.  Its cheese-like, creamy texture melts in your mouth and can be better than foie gras.

Speaking of liver, this is ankimo, which is a monk fish liver, salted, steamed, cut and served in ponzu.  American sushi places started serving this over the last few years or so.  Believe it or not, it’s actually a seasonal thing and best between November and February when water is cold and livers gets fat.  Just like foie gras, it’s basically fat…creamy, delicious fat.

If my husband reads this, I think he’ll dislike seafood even more.  He’s barely past fish and chips.  Oh well, one step forward, ten steps back.

January 24th, 2012

Japanese comfort food

“Eat as much seafood as you can!”  That, and “I love you,” were my husband’s parting words, when I left for Tokyo. What thoughts led to his advice? At least one, but probably all of these: if she eats lots of seafood in the land of seafood,
1) she won’t come home craving more.
2) I don’t have to hear her say “Let’s go for Japanese tonight!”
3) I don’t have to see/smell strange fish products in the house like this;
4) While she’s eating all of her favorites, I’ll eat as much American food as possible!

He’s wrong on 1), 2) and 3), but after seeing a breakfast picture he sent, looks like he’s right on the money for 4).
We all enjoy our comfort foods, but what do you imagine when you hear ‘Japanese comfort food’? It may be ramen, curry rice or macaroni gratins (Google it! It’s the Japanese answer to mac & cheese). Contrary to what you might guess, not all Japanese foods are healthy and based around seafood. Japanese cuisine does include some heartier dishes that people grow up with, that are as delicious as their American counterparts. But today, when looking for my comfort food, I wanted salt, not heavy.  So what was on the menu?Here’s what my mother prepared: from bottom left-counterclockwise: a bowl of perfectly cooked white rice; miso soup with daikon; squid in salted fish guts; spicy cod roe; and Japanese pickles.  It doesn’t look like much, but it’s truly an art to cook rice perfectly. You don’t just throw grains into water and boil.  You have to start with good quality rice that’s washed carefully. Then, the quantity and quality of the water and the method you cook and steam it comes in to play. Granted, the last two parts depend largely on how good your rice cooker is, but I’ve never had rice half good as this in America.

I’ll tell you more about awful sounding fish dishes tomorrow.  Until then, have another bowl of rice!

PS: PS: Do you remember what Iron Chef Morimoto requested for his last supper on episode 15 of Top Chef All-Stars?   If Antonia cooked something like my mother prepared for me, she would have won the competition.