Archive for ‘Traditional Japanese food’

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.

June 7th, 2011

Banned from the house

We were hosting a Sunday family dinner at our house. Everybody was enjoying food; roast chicken with pancetta and olives, creamy polenta (recipe at bottom) and grilled asparagus. Nice, right?  My husband went to the kitchen to get drinks from fridge and came back and whispered to me “there’s something rotten in there.”

Keeping a meticulously clean kitchen, I knew nothing was rotten in our fridge.  What was he smelling?  The culprit was kimchi, Korean fermented pickles.  The ‘rotten’ quality comes from the fermentation; garlic, chili, onion…, all the healthy stuff that’s good for your body, but bad for the nose, if you’re not used to it.  That night, it was decided: kimchi is officially banned from our fridge, along with natto, the other fermented product that I love, but that can also really stink up your place.  The way my husband explains it, “The smell makes it too hard to notice if the other food has gone bad.”

Smell, maybe more than sight,  is such a big part of the culinary experience.  When I was a kid, I smelled every food that came my way.   My parents were embarrassed by my behavior, and scolded me a million times, “Do not smell that, you are not a pig!” But, no matter how many times they said it, I never listened.  I have a very keen sense of smell.  I can smell things that are far away or things that are very subtle; it  is my superpower; ESP or invisibility might have been more useful for fighting crime, but my gift serves me well in the culinary world.  I was having dinner with my best friend last week, and as soon as my plate came, I unconsciously smelled my dish.  “You still smell everything, don’t you?” she casually mentioned.  I didn’t realize anybody noticed my habit, but looking back, I have to rephrase my previous statement from “When I was a kid…,” to “Since I was a kid, I’ve always smelled every food that comes my way.”

There is a brand of natto (Japanese fermented beans dish) that smells less offensive. The manufacture’s website mentions since they are freshly made in United States and never frozen, the smell stays mild.  In other words, most of natto in the states are imported from Japan, so due to temperature changes, its fermentation is accelerated and that may lead to a stronger smell.  So natto has started to sneak into our fridge.  Here’s my favorite breakfast and lunch menu.  Kimchi and natto over rice with seaweed.  While there’s no single word in this menu that appeals to my husband besides ‘and’, for me, it’s heaven.

Creamy Polenta recipe:

1C polenta

2C chicken stock (this is what I use and think is the BEST)

1C water

1TS butter

1/2 C low fat or regular milk

salt & black pepper to taste

Boil chix stock & water, add polenta, stir medium heat for a few minutes

steam in low heat 20 min with lid on

add milk stir, salt & pepper low heat for 5 min

add butter stir for a minute or so and serve.