Archive for January, 2012

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.

January 7th, 2012

When size meets taste…

A friend of my husband’s sent him this photo.

It’s a hammered pork sandwich from a restaurant in Las Vegas called Hash House a go go.  What made a mere sandwich so noteworthy?  The plate is as big as 3 adult faces!  On a recent trip to Japan, this one picture helped bridge the language gap as my non-Japanese speaking husband was able to ‘wow’ my Japanese friends and family with it, as they marveled at the sandwich’s size.   Both amused and appalled, Japanese people already think American portion sizes are huge, but this picture was beyond their imaginations.  Immediately, they asked if this was something we ate in the States everyday.  I knew the answer they wanted to hear, was ‘yes’, as that pretty much goes in line with how they already picture America–huge EVERYTHING, but the answer, as you could guess is a realistic ‘no’.  Sure, compared to Japanese food, American portions are usually twice as big, but to find truly huge portions like that, you have to do a bit of searching.

When we were in Las Vegas, my husband suggested we go to Hash House a go go, for breakfast.  I was reluctant because usually the best part of a big portioned meal is its size and not its flavor.  Also, call me a snob, but who’d believe a restaurant found in a dingy casino on the strip would be good?  As we walked over, I was thinking, “There are many, many great places to eat in Vegas, but marriage is a give and take.”  Since he took me to a four star restaurant the day before, I should let the next meal choice be his, right?  My stomach clenched in horror as I realized that my next stop would be home to something I’m still learning to appreciate, big portioned, hearty American food.

Talk about surprises!  Oh my goodness.  Fried Chicken with bacon (!!) waffles, where the waffles and chicken were bigger than an adult male’s enlarged heart.  But what about the taste?  The waffles were delicious; very dense, yet fluffy, and not airy at all.  It tasted great with the fried leek garish that came with it.  The fried chicken was delicious, with a moist inside and crispy outside, and as an added plus, it was kindly de-boned!!  Sure, having actual strips of bacon instead of bits, baked into their waffles and preparing well seasoned fried chicken shows that the chefs cook with care, but serving de-boned chicken demonstrates that bit of extra love that’s so often lacking.  Without a doubt, I can say that this is possibly some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.  I’d never thought I’d say this, but I’m so glad my husband took me to that diner in that run-down casino!    Since we got back, I’ve semi-seriously suggested several times, that we drive to Vegas just for one more taste.  I found there’s the original location in San Diego, which is shorter drive from Los Angeles… totally doable.

Sure, they might laugh at a picture of what I’ve just described, but would Japanese people actually like this dish?  The one hurdle to overcome is the combination of sweet and savory, which Japanese people usually don’t like.  In this case, serving fried chicken alongside maple syrup might seem scary at first, but with a dish like this, I’m confident that this huge plate of food will please their senses of taste as much as it dazzles their senses of sight.  Viva America!