Saturday, December 29, 2012
Friday, December 28, 2012
Two girls are walking towards each other along a busy sidewalk. One is hungrily munching on a musubi (Japanese rice ball) with ume and shiso and responding to a text. The other finally peels away a stubbornly wrapped bar of chocolate sprinkled with lava salt and is just about to take a bite. Their lives come to a crash when they turn a corner.
Foodie #1: You got ume all over my chocolate!
Foodie #2: You got chocolate on my shiso!
When I think of ume and shiso, what immediately comes to mind? Hot tea poured over a bowl of shiny white rice and a pink schmear of jaw clenching sour and mouth watering salty pickled plums (ume). Fresh shiso (intensely herbal in a minty-citrus-licorice sort of way) is exquisite with sashimi dipped in shoyu or in hiyayakko, chilled tofu drizzled with shoyu and sprinkled with katsuobushi - wispy thin shavings of smoked tuna. Better yet, shiso quickly simmered in shoyu, as in Korean cuisine, served with ume, rice, and tea.
Even though I've tried garlic roasted grape ice cream and enjoyed chocolate dipped potato chips, never would I have imagined Big Island Candies' creation of silky ume-shiso filled chocolates. They kept in check the intense sourness of ume and sharpness of shiso, presenting a well-crafted piquant chocolate confection.
And they lived happily ever after. The end.
Monday, December 24, 2012
I can't get enough of the egg nog cupcakes at a Cookie and a Cupcake -- moist and noggy, nogtastic, nogerrific! The gingerbread cake is spicy and not overly sweet. Just right!
How sad these tasty temptations, just a few things I look forward to this time of year, won't be available for much longer.
A Cookie and a Cupcake
2173 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 344-9433
Sunday, December 23, 2012
You know a country has a hardcore food culture when great meals can be found in trains that are, in all practicality, considered public transportation. In Japan, not only are the trains clean, beautiful, and punctual, a wide variety of well made, mostly healthy, and beautiful meals are available.
On the way to Kumamoto from Hakata, we cheated and bought our ekiben, literally "train meal," at one of several kiosks within the station just before boarding. With a choice of more than 25 different lunches ranging from 400 yen to 2,000 yen ($5-25 US), I am sure to my father's chagrin, it took me 15 minutes to decide. Had we not purchased our meals there, we would have been able to on the train in the dining car or from a cart at our seat.
Staple Japanese dishes are available like chicken or beef bowls; however, the best part about traveling by train is tasting the regional specialties. Each region, large or small, has some kind of specialty whether it is an ingredient, preparation style, or container.
My father purchased a beautifully prepared Hakata meal and I picked out a Nagasaki meal. My father had considered the Nagasaki meal but deferred since he was going to travel from Hakata, where we stayed, to Nagasaki by train a few days later, when I would be traveling to Oita.
I'm not well versed in Hakata cuisine, but I recognize mentaiko, spiced cod roe, on the bottom right of his box. Hakata is also famous for their traditionally dressed ceramic dolls, so one is pictured dressed elegantly in a kimono on the cover and along the front strip of my father's box. As such, the meal is elegantly arranged and colorful...considering our meals went vertical a few times despite my best effort to keep them horizontal.
Nagasaki's culture and architecture appears different from much of Japan due to its exposure to Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch missionaries and traders from its history as a port city. For periods of time throughout Japanese history, foreigners were restricted to the confines of Nagasaki. Nagasaki's Chinatown is more significant historically (15th century) than the Chinatown in Yokohama, near Tokyo, which is the largest Chinatown in Asia -- of course, outside of China.
My meal included shumai, a Chinese style dumpling with hot Chinese mustard, bottom right. To the left, kashiwa tori meshi -- chicken cooked in sweetened shoyu stock, egg, and nori (seaweed) over rice. The salted grilled salmon hidden behind the decorative greenery was very tasty, and matched very well with the steamed vegetables (lotus, carrot flower, mushroom, and beans).
As I generally adore Japanese tsukemono (pickled vegetables), it was to be expected that I enjoyed the pickled Japanese mustard greens and the very crunchy pink daikon slices. Even the dessert of white kanten and cherry (top right) was just right at a couple of bites.
One of my favorite train meals took place on the way to Takayama nearly 20 years ago. Simmered rice with mountain vegetables were served hot in a ceramic bowl and a bamboo cover. I continue to use this bowl! Each time I use it, I reflect upon the wonderful trip I had.
Tsubame line Shinkansen
Hakata to Kumamoto
Friday, November 9, 2012
While we were taking a walking tour in Oita, I saw a red and white bear sleeping in a house.
Monday, November 5, 2012
While waiting to decide how many of us were entering Kumamoto Castle, I noticed a man walking across an intersection with his pet cat on a leash. Wait, a cat willingly [insert anything human here]? I can't get my cat to step through the threshold to go outside. That's probably a good thing, I suppose.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Karatsu Kunchi (Karatsu Festival) is held the first weekend in November each year for the past 400 years. Massive wooden floats (hikiyama), lacquered with layers of washi weighing 2-5 tons, are paraded down the streets of Karatsu in wooden carts with wooden wheels 2-3 feet in diameter. Additionally, there may be 6-10 people who ride on a float, playing fifes or taiko (drums).
The display of helmets, palanquins, and figures from history and folklore are pulled by 50+ people consisting of mostly men, then boys, and an occasional girl. At certain points along the parade route, the wooden wheels roar down the street amidst the cadence chants, "En-ya! En-ya!." It's an incredible visual and auditory experience mixed with the gustatory and olfactory beckoning of festival treats everywhere.
The float of Shuten douji (oni leader) biting Minamoto Yorimitsu's kabuto (helmet) is derived from a legend where Minamoto and a group of men were dispatched by the emperor to kill Shuten douji for kidnapping daughters of noble families and eating people. The men were given gifts from the gods - special sake, cord, and a helmet.
When Shuten douji was incapacitated from the sake, he was bound with the cord, then decapitated. As the oni's head flew up, it landed upon Minamoto's magical helmet trying unsuccessfully to bite his head.
Kinjishi means golden dragon.
Shichihomaru represents takarabune, the treasure boat of the 7 gods of fortune (shichifukujin) -- Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Daikokuten, Ebisu, Fukurokuju, Hotei, and Juroujin. At the front of the ship, not easily seen below, is a dragon.
Outside of Japan, those who play video games are probably familiar with Bishamonten, god of warriors, in Onimusha. Hotei's statue is popular - people rub his belly for good luck.
Shachi is a killer whale with a tiger's head. They are often seen on the rooftops of samurai homes, castles, and gates as protection from fire by spitting water to extinguish the flame.
Aojishi is green lion.
Uesugi Kenshin's helmet and mask are paraded as he was a great warlord during the Sengoku period. He is known for being a keen military tactician and administrator and a follower of Bishamonten, the Buddhist god of war.
Uesugi Kenshin's rival was Takeda Shingen, represented by his helmet and mask.
Tai, sea bream, symbolizes good fortune and is often seen during celebratory occasions like weddings. One of the 7 gods of fortune, Ebisu, is often pictured with tai. Its pectoral (side) fins are movable. As the float is pushed up and down and the fins flap, it gives the appearance of swimming.
He was a slippery fellow to photograph. My father really wanted a picture of this float. As we roved around the parade route, we would catch a glimpse of it racing before us between buildings. We ran after it several times, each time it would slip around a corner until we finally caught him.
Festivals bring vendors. There were vendors of all sorts -- fishing, shooting games, cutesy trinkets, scary shows, fortunes, festival gifts, grilled foods of all types, takoyaki, desserts, candies, ...it was quite intense.
The scent of grilled and deep fried foods was unbearable. We only have two stomachs, so little space and time, so many choices. We happened upon two women quietly working within their tent and ordered beef yakitori, which was a bit tough but tasty. Grilled meat. How could it not be tasty?
[Chicken] yakitori was tender. Of course, it was salty...and oh, so good. My father also bought fried chicken pieces called kara-age. It is similar to popcorn chicken.
I also bought a whole grilled squid slathered in a salty sweet brown sauce. It looked and smelled so delicious, but was a bit difficult to eat without napkins. Ah well, I licked my fingers clean. Sauce was probably smeared all over my mouth.
I was tempted to buy one of these happy looking bananas. I probably should have, since it was the first time I had ever seen these. Who knows if I'll ever see them again.
1st weekend in November
Karatsu, Saga Prefecture
Friday, November 2, 2012
Hakata has numerous regional food specialties of which I was able to indulge: [Hakata] ramen, mentaiko (spiced cod roe), and takana (salty pickled mustard leaves) at the table in ramen-ya (ramen shops). Aside from yatai (street vendors), Ramen Stadium at the top floor of one of Canal City's wings presented us with five ramen options.
At the front of each ramen-ya is a barker greeting and encouraging hungry customers to their restaurant much like the steamy street stalls just a block away, an attraction for tourists and a destination for locals. Japanese street stalls date back in the 1700s and are different from American food trucks in that you can eat at the stall seated on a stool.
Unlike yatai where one orders from the cook, the restaurants here have a vending machine standing prominently at the front of each store. A touch screen in English, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese displays menu items from types of ramen, drinks, and side dishes like gyoza.
Money is first deposited, then selections are made. Once the transaction is finalized, printed ticket stubs for each item ordered spits out, and change is given. As we walked in, we were shown to our table and relinquished our tickets.
My shoyu ramen was topped with grated ginger, citrus zest (unusual), and wispy shaved onions. Of course, I gifted the onions to my father. Under the toppings are bits of ground meat and wood ear. The sliced pork was tender and smoked - the best slice I've ever tasted. I don't usually like cha siu because it's often soggy and fatty.
Instead of the usual curly noodles, these noodles were straight. It is so refreshing to be able to order ramen with confidence the noodles aren't overcooked or grossly undercooked. It was just right, with an appropriate chew.
I realize that Hakata ramen is synonymous with tonkotsu ramen, pork bone broth that is milky white. The broth was greasier looking than I expected coming from a shoyu broth because of the ground meat and the possible use of pork in the broth. Another surprise, I didn't bloat from the salty soup.
Another Hakata tradition, if anyone is still hungry after their bowl of ramen and there is sufficient soup, an extra "ball" of noodles may be purchased (bottom right on the vending machine screen above), or, as my father taught me, by asking your server, "kaidama, kudasai!"
At Misono, an extra ball of noodles costs only 100 yen. I was too full that I barely finished my bowl.
Canal City in Hakata, Fukuoka is like nothing I've seen before as far as shopping malls go. Granted, I passed up going to Mall of America in Minnesota a few years after it opened so I haven't experienced the, then, largest mall in the world. I have been to Vegas. Also, as a foreigner, if you show your passport, you're able to receive discounts in a number of stores.
With 6 levels of shopping (2.5 million sq ft), there really is something for everyone...unless you're into trolls hanging upside down from the ceiling serving pastries. Then again, there's a Moomin bakery and store here. (Moomin is huge in Japan but relatively unknown in the US) The mall is located in what seems like the heart of the city, within walking distance from the entertainment district, a major railway terminal (Hakata Station) with 16 railway and 2 subway platforms.
All manners of restaurants, clothing, desserts, electronics, kiddie and more grown up toys, cinema, books, jewelry, art, sports, shoes, relaxation therapy, and so on from high end to bargains are available. Uniqlo has quite a visible presence on 3 floors.
Spiral Girl had a lot of fun looking clothes, but made for young, thin Japanese (that was redundant, wasn't it?) women. Fall is definitely the best time of year to go window shopping - cool light coats, fun styles since it's cool enough to play, and beautiful shades of subdued hues.
Along the perimeter of the mall, there was a smoking tent so cigarette smokers can stand under the protection of a tent to smoke. That's pretty nice of the mall to offer this since I wouldn't have thought to and don't see these at all in the US. It's far enough away from the door so you don't drag that smoke into the mall area.
There's even a Taito arcade near Capsule Toys (later post). We just took a quick peep, but didn't really stop in - too busy trying to get our ramen dinner.
Between Taito Station and Capsule Toys, this would make any 30 something fanguy or gal a poor person.
Had I known there as a Rockport store at Canal City, I would have bought a pair of shoes since we no longer have a standalone store in the region. We have access to a few Rockport shoe styles through Macy's and Lucky shoes, but I'm really not exaggerating when I say a few, at least for women.
My father makes the best fried rice. I think it's because he lives life fully and, as a result, seasons without restraint -- but not with reckless abandon on either. Garlic, Spam, peas, eggs, onions, salt, pepper, beni shoga, and a healthy dash of furikake provides a wonderful fusion of salty, sweet, nutty piquancy in every bite.
Breakfast was to have been a light meal, but it was quite filling. For a mid-morning snack, I was tantalized by two flavors of Japanese Kit-Kat bars, pumpkin and vanilla. My father mentioned that Kit-Kat is very popular in Japan, a bit by chance and a bit by marketing genius. By advertising the bars with the slogan, "kitto-katsu" (go ahead, say it out loud), students and anyone attempting to overcome any challenge will "surely win" (literal translation). Neat, huh?
After we made our visits and did some shopping, we embarked on our journey to Japan. Our meal on our Hawaiian Airline flight was to have been Japanese curry with rice, then we were informed it would be Hawaiian barbecue pork. We received barbecue chicken and rice with edamame and bamboo shoots.
The grilled chicken marinated in shoyu was neutral-good, neither dry nor moist. The rice was overcooked, but adding edamame and bamboo shoots is a good idea, perhaps with a little shoyu, mirin, and shiitake. Of course, I didn't eat the salsa (raw onions). Dessert was a cloying and semi-fluffy pineapple cheesecake slice. A drink that I often miss, the taste of Hawaii, passion-orange-guava juice, was offered throughout the flight.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
A few hours after touching down from Los Angeles and visiting with relatives -- they aren't doing well, but glad they are doing better -- my father took me to a very cool place called Yakiniku Don Day, a Korean restaurant, on Keeaumoku Street with exclusively outdoor seating. He described eating at restaurants in Korea under tent-like coverings much like this.
My father picked out a dinner menu for two ($49), wondering if there would be enough food. Within a few minutes, banchan platters were brought out -- potatoes, egg custard (texture was not very fluffy), napa cabbage kimchi, bean sprout namul, cucumbers, and ogo (seaweed) -- a large bowl of salad, two amazing, large crisp mandu (deep fried half-moon dumplings filled with meat, green onions, garlic, and ginger), a larger platter of napa cabbage kimchi, and sundubu jjigae (seafood soup).
The table and a side table quickly filled up! There was no question that this was more than enough for three people.
Before the flame was lit to the grill, I wondered how people in Korea ate outdoors in winter. A few minutes after the flame was turned on, my question was answered.
I felt sated by the time one of the women placed slices of pork belly, beef tongue, beef brisket, onion, garlic, and kimchi on the grill. What a great aroma! As I've never had grilled kimchi, this was intriguing. It doesn't really affect the flavor just heats it up. Another ingredient that took me by surprise was the use of potatoes in the sudubu jjigae. Its addition thickened the soup and rounded the flavor of the gochujang (fermented chili paste).
Eating outdoors in the gentle Hawaiian breeze with my father was great. This is one of the best lettuce wraps I've had, piling meat, kimchi, banchan, garlic, smearing some doenjang (miso), then dipping into salted toasted sesame oil. My father enjoyed the food also. I miss the place already.
Yakiniku Don Day
905A Keeaumoku St
Honolulu, HI 96814
Tel: (808) 951-1004
Hopping off the plane at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, I leisurely walked to my gate during a layover when I did a double-take as I passed Shoyu in Concourse G. The cooks were showcased behind glass under racks of hanging strands of fresh noodles. Even though I was headed to Japan via Los Angeles and Honolulu, I was intrigued and plopped down at the counter.
At each seat, at the counter or table, there is an iPad, electrical and USB outlet, and credit card swipe. iPads have access online, updates to your flight, and the menu. Selections included sashimi, sushi, ramen, and other dishes. I selected Tokyo style ramen with pork ($12.50) and asparagus tempura roll with mango sauce ($12).
I was startled when the food arrived in under 5 minutes. Broth was a bit lacking (in presence) when the ramen arrived. After I finished taking my pictures and packing my camera, the broth was nearly soaked up by the noodles.
The few spoonfuls of shoyu broth was a touch salty, but keep in mind that I'm sensitive to salt, had another layover, and about 8 hours until I arrived in Honolulu (swollen legs). Even though the noodles soaked up most of the broth, the texture was perfect - good bite and chew. Toppings were generous and delicious.
Clockwise from the top: beautifully boiled egg with a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi; nori (roasted seaweed); spinach; wakame (seaweed); menma (Japanese marinated bamboo shoots); and shredded smoked pork with scallions. The smoked pork was moist and similar to kalua pig from Hawaii.
The asparagus tempura roll was technically made all right. The rice wasn't smashed or overcooked, and the ingredients were crisp. My gripe resides with the mango sauce. It would have been better to drizzle it on the platter so one can choose the level of inclusion. I would have opted for zero to a touch. It wasn't horrible, just too sweet for my palate.
If Shoyu was a standalone restaurant in Cleveland, I'd return. It's not perfect, but Cleveland is a ramen desert. There are a few restaurants that make a fair bowl of udon; however, there are no restaurants we've tried that can make a passable bowl of ramen. We have yet to try Dante in Tremont because they begin Japanese noodle service at 10:30 p.m., no earlier. Maybe one day...
Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport
Monday, October 29, 2012
Before the weather turned, we went to the park and a long ride all over town. She enjoyed it and took a long nap curled in a blanket after she came home.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Monday, October 15, 2012
I wanted this coat that was on display at the Cleveland Auction Company, but there are only so much room for nonessential acquisitions. Plus, this coat probably would't fit - too small or the sleeves would likely be too long.
Cleveland Auction Company
2418 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 631-3232
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Cupcakes at a Cookie and a Cupcake are always a treat - from their cupcakes available daily to their special cupcakes available for 1-2 days. I've been thinking about my favorite daily flavors. Strawberry and apple come to mind immediately.
Whiskey maple bacon and cookie dough cupcakes were specials of the day. Cookie dough was delicious, but the whiskey maple bacon was superb with its salty bacon and a large scoop of sweet whiskey maple buttercream. It's no wonder this is one of their best selling cupcakes!
A Cookie and a Cupcake
2173 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 344-9433
Friday, October 5, 2012
Friday, September 28, 2012
The special cupcakes of the day at a Cookie and a Cupcake were Oreo and goat cheese and fig. Second to their date pudding cupcake, the goat cheese and fig is one of my favorites. Goat cheese (chevre), not feta, works marvelously as a cupcake topping with its slightly sour and satiny texture. Slightly sweetened, I would eat mounds of this. Moist figs top off an already delicious cake.
A Cookie and a Cupcake
2173 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 344-9433