I made negitoro don
for dinner the other night. Negitoro don
is a donburi
, meaning a rice bowl. It's made by topping the rice with julienned omelet, chopped raw tuna, sliced green onions, and strips of nori.
It's not a spring specialty per se, but the colors are very beautiful and springlike.
When Good Pickle Beds Go Bad
Oh, the horror. We've discovered the worst-tasting thing in Japan: pickles from a nuka-zuke bed
that's gone off.
As we mentioned in the April Fool's Day
post, life around Let's Sharing HQ has gotten quite hectic. I haven't had as much time to attend to the house as I did before, so certain things have gotten neglected. Among them was the pickle bed. According to (in my opinion) the best English-language Japanese cookbook, nuka-zuke
beds should be turned every day to prevent harmful bacteria from developing. Also, if the bed goes off, you should be able to tell because the bed will smell sour. My pickle bed didn't get turned for a couple of days, but when I got back to it, it smelled like it always had. It did have a thin layer of white funk on top, which I scraped off before turning the bed. I put in some daikon and let them ferment for a day or so, like usual, and they came out shrunken and softer, like usual. Then I tried to serve them.
What daikon pickles should taste like: still radishy, but earthy and a little salty.
What daikon pickles should not taste like: radishy spoiled milk.
*sigh* Five months of cultivation down the drain.
Living in Kitakami places us smack in the middle of sansai ryouri
country. As its name translates, sansai ryouri
is cooking based on mountain herbs and vegetables. Yesterday, the local model shop owner's wife gave us a bunch of gyojaninniku
, a type of mountain garlic or chive, along with instructions for preparing it. It's apparently pretty rare outside of Hokkaido, although the bunch she gave us was from Aomori.
We did as she'd instructed, chopping the gyojaninniku
finely and steeping it in soy sauce before mixing it with hot rice. We also threw in some minced shiitake (and thank goodness for the easy access to cheap, fresh, delicious shiitake), and Matthew added some nattou
I don't know whether this technically counts as sansai ryouri
, but it was really honking good.
Convenience stores equal convenience food. Hence, grilled-ham-on-a-stick:
Because we eat rice for breakfast most mornings, we like some variety in our toppings. Matthew usually eats some combination of nattou
, soy sauce, and aonori
(finely ground seaweed that comes in a shaker), maybe with an egg, while I have umeboshi
or milk and honey. Now, thanks to one of his students, we have a brand new bag:
It's Gohan Desu Yo!
, literally "It's Cooked Rice!" Gohan Desu Yo!
is a seaweed-based condiment, lightly sweetened and flavored with small amounts of fruit and other stuff. You scoop it out of the jar with your chopsticks and mix little bits of it in with your rice for a nice, savory, seaweedy flavor. It's pretty addictive; I was actually glad to get off my milk-and-honey kick so that I could eat it. It's also a lot of fun to go around saying Gohan Desu Yo!
We both already wear glasses, so we don't need to worry about this
Last night, I made kitsune udon
is the Japanese word for "fox." Legend has it that foxes love aburaage
, or deep-fried sheets of tofu, hence the name. I think it's because the triangles of aburaage
look like fox ears in the bowl.
That's tofu-ya aburaage
, by the way. Doesn't it look amazing?
Yaki = Grilled = Food... Right?
At Inukko Matsuri
, we decided to enjoy some of the festival food for dinner. But what to have? Pretty much every food item available was something yaki
- grilled or fried. There was takoyaki
(octopus in fried balls of batter), yakiniku
(grilled beef skewers), okonomiyaki
(fried pancake with toppings), ikayaki
(grilled squid), yakizakana
(grilled fish), yakisoba
(fried noodles) with or without medamayaki
(fried egg), yakimochi
(grilled chicken skewers), and yakidango
(grilled rice flour balls). Other foods such as nabeyaki udon
(fried noodle hot-pot), sukiyaki
(simmered morsels), teriyaki
(meat or chicken with a sweet sauce) and yakiimo
(grilled sweet potato) were not represented at the festival.
As we considered our options, we saw a tent set off from the others a little ways, advertising dondoyaki
. What kind of food might that be? We'd never heard of it, but thought it would be best to check it out before deciding what to eat. As we approached the tent, it became apparent that food was not involved. They actually seemed to be collecting pine branches. Then it dawned on us that yaki
isn't just for food - it also means burning things. In fact, they were collecting new year's decorations to burn in a bonfire as part of a Shinto ceremony.
Needless to say, we opted for some of the other yaki
s for dinner.
"Who can take a bean curd, shape it in a square,
Fry a flattened piece until it's gold and light as air?
The Tofu Man, the Tofu Man can."
Many apologies to Mr. Davis Jr. for appropriating his song, but really, I feel like our local tofu shop is magic. You know that scene in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (the one with Gene Wilder) when Charlie finds the dollar in the street and goes into the candy shop, staring around at the chocolate in astonishment? That's how I feel going into the tofu shop with my 160 yen. "One Creamy Awesome Cotton Tofu Delight, please."
Tofu shop tofu is, in a word, amazing. We had some last week, topped with seasoned miso and grilled, and it was quite possibly the best tofu we'd ever eaten, all savory and earthy. Later on, I bought an aburaage, or sheet of deep-fried tofu. Now, supermarket aburaage comes in perfect, tasty rectangles of pale blonde. Tofu shop aburaage, on the other hand, is individually shaped, deep golden, not at all greasy, and tastes fantastic.
The tofu shop staff is also quite wonderful. They're chatty and helpful, happily answering my questions about which tofu will work best in which dishes. We're very glad we finally tried the place, having gone past it probably hundreds of times before we even noticed it. Yay, tofu shop!
Yesterday was Setsubun
, the day before the beginning of the "spring season" in Japan. Setsubun
is a day akin to New Year's, when people engage in rituals to chase evil away from their homes and bring good fortune in during the year. The most famous ritual is mamemaki
, or "bean throwing." Mamemaki
involves the head of the household throwing beans out the door of the home at someone dressed as a demon, while the family members chant: "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!
" ("Demons out! Good luck in!"). You're also supposed to eat one bean for each year of your life to bring good luck. Here in Kitakami, stores were selling peanuts to be used for mamemaki
, rather than soybeans.
We didn't do mamemaki
at home (scaring demons away is why we have big fuzzy dogs), but we did partake in the ritual of eating ehomaki
's place. This tradition allegedly originated in the Kansai region, but has spread to other areas of Japan. Ehomaki
is a fat sushi roll (called futomaki
days). If you can eat the entire uncut roll while praying, and without speaking, it is believed that you will have good fortune throughout the year. You eat the ehomaki
while facing the eho
(direction of good fortune) for the year. The eho
is determined by the year of the Chinese zodiac; this year, for the year of the mouse, the direction was south-southeast. Hige-oyaji
had a fancy Setsubun
compass, set with zodiac symbols and their related directions, to tell us what direction to face. Unfortunately, I didn't completely understand what was going on, so I ate most of my ehomaki
facing a wrong direction. Oops.
Strawberry Fields for Winter
Last weekend, I had to make dessert for a dinner party. Wanting to do something with fruit, I headed to the produce section, thinking about citrus or maybe pears. Those thoughts were blown out of my head by the sight of row upon row of . . . bright red strawberries. And a big sign proclaiming the arrival of the "Strawberry Fair."
In Japan, winter is the high season of the strawberry. Strawberries sit in little boxes in displays at the front of the store, announcing their provenance and price ("Fresh Strawberries from Sendai! 680 yen!"), drawing attention away from all the other fruits. Every patisserie sets out an array of strawberried treats ¡½ filled, topped, stuffed with jam, you name it. Strawberry KitKats, strawberry danish, and strawberry eclairs are everywhere. Traditional sweets, like daifuku
-filled mochi balls) contain strawberries at this time of year, too.
The prominence of strawberries in January is very strange to me because, as for most Americans, strawberries scream "summer!" It seems somehow wrong to see them everywhere when we're still rocking our snowboots every day. A bit of research
revealed that in many parts of Japan, strawberries alternate with rice as a part-of-the-year crop, so it's not completely out of the question that they would be reaching peak over the winter months. In fact, the strawberries we've eaten were grown in Japan and were quite delicious. On the other hand, it makes me think: perhaps the strawberry producers are in cahoots with the weathermen
("If we sell strawberries during the winter, they'll make people think of summer! They'll forget that the temperature hasn't gotten above freezing in six days, and all will be right as rain!).