Archive for ‘holiday food’

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!!

December 25th, 2011

Christmas food

As my brother and I got older, we graduated from KFC to sushi for Christmas.  Nothing traditional about that.  Japanese people in general, like to eat something special on Christmas; it could be paella, it could be tandoori chicken.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this survey I saw in a Japanese magazine!

Like I mentioned yesterday, the number one food Japanese people want to eat on Christmas day is fried chicken, followed by: #2 Roast beef, #3 Pizza, #4 Fried potatoes, #5 Sushi, #6 Tandoori chicken, and finally, #20. Garlic toast.  Pretty random, isn’t it?  As a Japanese person who has been living in America most of my adult life, I don’t understand this list either.  By the same token, as a foreigner living in America for over 20 years, I don’t understand why people eat the same food on Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are both within a month of each other.

My husband is Jewish, so this year, we decided to go for a traditional Jewish Christmas dinner, Chinese food.  This year, we were in New York City on Christmas day, so we hopped in a taxi to my favorite Chinese joint, Congee Village restaurant.  Turns out our plans weren’t all that unique.  When we arrived, we were told the wait would be 45 minutes, but after converting ‘hostess’ time to real time, our wait turned out to be an hour and a half.

I asked my husband what I thought was an obvious question: Did you grow up eating Chinese on Christmas? Surprisingly, his reply was a simple “no”. While he knows the stereotype, Jewish people eating Chinese food on Christmas was something he never experienced first hand; only on tv. But then again, he doesn’t like spicy mustard, so maybe he’s not completely in line with all the Jewish customs.  It must be a tradition as there’s even a 1992 study of Jewish people and Chinese food by sociologists!  Plus, the Chinese Restaurant Association officially thanked Jewish people for their patronage on that special day of the year!  It must be true…I saw it on Facebook!
Maybe my husband’s Christmas tradition is tainted by the fact that he prefers anything to Asian food. As for me, I hope this Chinese food on Christmas tradition will continue because I love those ultra-rare occasions when my husband enjoys Asian food with me.  At least I can eat well ONE day out of the year!  Happy holidays!

December 24th, 2011

Christmas in Japan

I wrote to Santa every year with a simple, easy gift request: a 5 bedroom house.  It looks like my letter was lost somewhere between Tokyo and the North Pole, but even still, that didn’t stop me from enjoying Christmas, growing up in Japan.  What better to decorate a small fake tree with, than fake snow?  Christmas dinner was special too.  Besides the excitement over my mother’s homemade strawberry short cake, there was something even better to look forward to: picking up a traditional Christmas dinner– Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yes, you read it right, KFC.  For Japanese people, Colonel Sanders may be the bearded man that brings the most Christmas joy, as KFC has been THE Christmas dish for Japanese people for many, many years.

My recent trip to Tokyo confirmed this trend.  At the Aoyama location of KFC, where they allegedly started the “fried chicken on Christmas” tradition, there were signs for Christmas dinner reservations everywhere.  According to KFC Japan website, foreigners came to this location about 40 years ago to buy fried chicken because there was no turkey (and apparently no whole chicken) available.  Capitalizing on this, the store manager came up with the “eat fried chicken on Christmas” advertising campaign, which apparently, became one of the most successful ones in recent memory.

This is the Christmas menu from a Japanese KFC:

Combo of 8 chicken pieces, a bowl of salad and a “glocage chocolate” cake.  All for 3940 yen (approx. $50)!  There was also the Premium Roast Chicken ($70) — a roasted whole chicken called Gokoku Ajidori, which is raised on a special diet consisting of a combination of 5 different grains including soy and brown rice.  In addition, no KFC meal would be complete without raisin bread with liver paste.  Is it me, or do these ‘fast food’ menu items sound like they belong in a fancy restaurant?

As you can probably see, as I’m finally getting used to turkey on the holidays, I’m now fascinated by non-turkey people.  Fried chicken in Japan makes sense, having no other options, but what’s with the holiday ham culture here in America.  I love it in a sandwich, but as the star of a holiday meal?  Why not holiday bacon?  Chew on that…until part 2, tomorrow…

November 25th, 2011

The day I acutally enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner

I must have done it right, because It’s the day after thanksgiving, and I’m still full.  Sure, half of America is saying that right now, but for me, it’s the first time I’ve ever uttered those words AFTER Thanksgiving.

You see, I don’t like turkey.  Let me rephrase that, I used to not like turkey.  For some reason, every time I ate it, there was this strange “turkey” flavor that I couldn’t get over.  But, something happened at dinner yesterday that not only changed my long-standing opinion of turkey, but actually made me say the following four words, “I love this meal!”

There are millions of restaurants out there, but how many of them do you go back to over and over, every time leaving happy? Not many.  Stefan’s at L.A. Farm is our exception.  We always leave satisfied.  It’s hard to believe that from one restaurant, I’ve discovered so much great American food.  Now, I can proudly add Thanksgiving dinner to that list.  While the entire meal was delicious, a few dishes, on their own, actually changed my opinion on Thanksgiving dinner.

As I explained yesterday, my husband picked Stefan’s for our first ‘restaurant’ Thanksgiving dinner from just looking at their menu.  Why did he pick Stefan’s?  The menu offered the straight forward, classic Thanksgiving meal he was hoping for: roasted turkey, gravy, stuffing, yams and yes, mashed potatoes, which he believes is a must dish for Thanksgiving.  Judging from their regular menu, I was expecting a good meal, but I have to admit, I was reluctant that I had to eat turkey as a my main dish.  As we were driving to the restaurant, I even said to my husband “if I don’t like the turkey, we’ll just stop at a Japanese noodle shop later.”

Surprise, surprise, I actually loved turkey!  Instead of that strange taste I was expecting, I enjoyed only flavorful tender meat.

Another dish I don’t like is yams.  It’s usually served either very, very sweet, and/or too watery.  The texture of the marshmallows placed on top usually doesn’t sweeten the deal for me either. With a combination like that, you can imagine that the idea of candied yams is not at all appetizing for me.  But tonight, Stefan’s baked yams with marshmallows completely won me over.  The marshmallows were slightly crunchy and the yams were cooked sweet, but in a very delicate degree.  Finally, it made sense that these two should be served together, or should I say, three, as the dish went well with the turkey!

It’s hard to believe that it took me a quarter of a century to truly appreciate the Thanksgiving meal.  So to honor the tradition of Thanksgiving, let me say how thankful I am that my husband insisted on picking a restaurant with mashed potatoes.  I’m also thankful for Chef Stefan and his staff who always treat us like family!

November 24th, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Every year, as if he forgot, my husband asks: If we were in Japan during November, would I be able to cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal?  My answer, ‘yes, and no’.  The side dishes would be a snap, but the turkey itself, would be a more difficult issue.  Japanese people don’t really eat turkey, and finding it in Tokyo would probably earn me a long trip to what we jokingly call ‘Americatown’, where restaurants and stores are mostly geared to tourists who need that quick burger to re-energize before exploring the rest of the city.
Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the taste of turkey, I have grown to love cooking the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  My husband proudly states that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, and when asked to explain, will offer you three points:  you get a great meal, there’s football on tv, and if you’re a guy, somehow, you get out of cleaning up.  He does make a solid point.  As if I needed more convincing, he adds that during his bachelor days, there was an added advantage: you get all the leftovers!  He’s lucky he married someone who loves to cook, because now his leftovers are already in the fridge, with three exceptions: cornbread stuffing, wild rice stuffing and pumpkin mac and cheese.  There’s an old rule of cooking that states that in order to have leftovers, you must actually leave some over.  That just doesn’t happen, as we devour these three sides every year.  At least stuffing is good for you, right?

This year, though, would be different.  With his parents out of town, we decided on our first ever ‘restaurant Thanksgiving’.  I carefully picked a few restaurants to choose from, with a few guidelines in mind.  Since it’s an American Holiday, I avoided Italian and French, and steered towards chefs who cook American cuisine.  And since this is the one holiday where eating two desserts is seen as a badge of honor, I had to find a place that would offer more than just a slice of pumpkin pie.

I finally found a few places to choose from.  So he wouldn’t be biased, I covered the names of the restaurants, and just showed him the menu.  I was surprised as he immediately rejected half of the restaurants by uttering this question, “No mashed potatoes?”  There it is.  I never realized mashed potatoes were such a crucial component to the Thanksgiving meal.  As long as there’s cooked turkey, cranberry sauce and some kind stuffing and yams, isn’t the rest optional?  Apparently not.   What do you think?

Maybe I just watched the wrong American movies growing up, because I also, mistakenly thought that mac and cheese was a popular and traditional holiday menu item.  When I made it each year, people loved it, but, while checking a few menus, I saw that almost none of the restaurants offer mac and cheese.

So, after multiple mashed potato and dessert dilemmas, we ultimately decided on our tried and true favorite spot where the people are friendly, the cocktails are strong, and most importantly, the food is delicious.

(I’m secretly going to be mad if he doesn’t eat his mashed potatoes.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

July 3rd, 2011

The best hot dog

While enjoying hot dogs during a game at old Yankee stadium (I love the Yankees; my husband loves the Dodgers), my husband disappointed at the condiment selection, described New York as ‘spicy mustard town’.  His choice: plain, regular, middle of the road French’s yellow mustard.  Add one spice or tinge of flavor to the mix and he’ll throw away whatever food it sits on.  So when he first got a chance to try all the best New York has to offer a Jewish guy from California, like hot dogs, knishes, and pastrami, he had to do it without a favorite condiment by his side. Luckily for him, times have changed; Yankee stadium now has yellow mustard, which for my husband, is delightfully neutral in its spiciness, but with a refreshing mild sourness.

In Japan, there are two basic kinds of mustard: Japanese yellow mustard or dijon mustard.  The former is very hot and has a good kick to it.  Just like with wasabi, we use it sparingly.

Whether Eastern or Western, condiments should be used with care so that you can really enjoy the taste of the hot dog itself.  If your hot dog is not impressing you with its fantastic flavor or reminding you of that day at the game with your dad, you need my trick.  But first, the theory:  A $1.50 hot dog from a street vendor and a $6.75 hot dog at a baseball game taste different.  It is not the price making the difference nor is it the ambiance of the stadium.  The secret?  It’s actually the steaming effect of its wrap.  When you buy a hot dog from a street vendor, most likely you eat it right away, but when you are at stadium, it comes wrapped in foil where it’s benefits from a bit more steaming.  You then put on your favorite condiments, wrap it up again and take it to your seat.  Without knowing it, you’ve steamed that dog for an additional 10 minutes or so.  While wrapped, heat radiating  from the hot dog works to blend the condiments and transform a dry bun into a soft and moist, but not soggy, roll.  The flavors have a chance to get acquainted before your first bite.  By the time you dig in, the party is in full swing and everyone’s invited.  To recreate the good times at your place, try this:

1) Grill. (if not available, use your toaster)2) Wrap the hot dog with condiments of your preference on it.  Set the table, take dirty dishes to sink, tell everybody their dogs are ready…3) Plate with side of kale slaw (recipe here),  unwrap, and enjoy your 4th of July!!!