Archive for ‘World Cuisine’

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.

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.

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!

May 30th, 2011

Food Fight

Once in a while, you encounter something just so brilliant you want to share it with the world. I’m not talking about babies/cats/dog doing something silly/cute/dumb, I have another obsession–food. Food videos are usually not that entertaining. They are there to teach people how to cut their Thanksgiving turkey or how to eat with chopsticks. So, when I saw this, I was almost jealous. Why couldn’t I have made something like this? The answer was obvious–I don’t know anything about animation. This is short video is a brief history of (American-centric) wars, but using food! America is represented by burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets; Japan by sushi; Russia by beef stroganoff, and so on. It’s just brilliant. Here’s the link:

Just in case you need to clarify the character, a cheat sheet is provided by the creators.