Tag Archives: Japan

The weird and wonderful world of Japanese Kit Kat Bars

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Green Tea Kit Kat by Smallbrainfield

JapanKit Kat, the chocolate-coated wafer candy from Nestle, is experience a bit of a publicity resurgence in the US, due to a popular series of quirky ads featuring Chance the Rapper. However, nowhere is Kit Kat more popular than in Japan, where the humble Kit Kat bar is only a jumping-off point for fanciful flavors and gourmet Kit Kat creations. Kit Kat was introduced to Japan in 1973, and has since become ubiquitous convenience store treat, as well as a popular gift for students and a present for friends and family when traveling. In Japan, the different flavor varieties of Kit Kat are seemingly endless – there are nearly 300 – including anything from strawberry cheesecake to plum to wasabi. Now there’e even a Sake-flavored KitKat. When we visited a candy store in Chicago’s Chinatown, we were able to sample the sweet potato and green tea Kit Kats. The sweet potato flavor basically tasted like white chocolate, but the green tea flavor was really excellent! If you are hankering for some unique Japanese-flavored Kit Kats, check out Amazon – you can get a variety pack, or pick up bags of esoteric flavors like Pumpkin Pudding. And just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder – enter Kit Kat sushi!

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Kit Kat display in Tokyo by jpellgen

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Happy New Year 2017

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We love this Japanese candy advertisement wishing us a happy new year (in 1956) – we hope you have a Happy New Year, too!

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Pastry Post-Doc: Japanese Taiyaki

JapanThis crazy week has left a lot of people, the eaters included, in need of a smile (and some food therapy). And we have found a light-hearted dish that may put a smile on your face: Taiyaki. Taiyaki is a Japanese dessert cake shaped like a fish (“taiyaki” means baked/fried fish in Japanese) and filled with red bean paste. Made with pancake-like batter poured into a fish-shaped mold, taiyaki is commonly sold as a street food or festival snack. This fishy dessert has been around in Japan for at least 100 years, though others argue that its roots can be traced to imagawayaki, a non-fish shaped cake with the same flavors that has been around for centuries. Though taiyaki is largely unknown in the US, it is starting to make some waves at Taiyaki NYC, an ice cream shop where the taiyaki is used as a cone. We’re adding that to our NYC food list! You can make Taiyaki yourself at home if you have the right pan, but what’s the fun in that?

taiyaki

Taiyaki by Eliza Adam

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The Hidden Japanese Food Emoji Revealed

emojimoonJapanEmojis have saturated our texts and tweets, and everyone is familiar with perennial food favorites like the coffee cup and the bowl of noodles. Some food emojis are more esoteric, however, and we needed a little help to decipher them (most are Japanese snacks that are not as common in the US). However, Bon Appetit may have just uncovered the most esoteric food emoji of all: an emoji with a moon, grass, and what appears to be a basket of eggs. However, this emoji actually references a fall Japanese moon-viewing ceremony, Tsukimi. And the basket doesn’t contain eggs, it is full of mini mochi (rice cakes)! Tsukimi is celebrated to honor the autumn harvest, and includes food, drink and tables covered with tall grasses, and bowls of mochi and chestnuts. Yum!

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Japanese Coffee Culture at Sawada

JapanWe are serious about our coffee (well at least one of the two of us is) so we were extremely excited to hear about the opening of Sawada Coffee (112 N Green St, Chicago, IL 60607). The small coffee bar, which is actually located inside of the BBQ spot Green Street Smoked Meats, is a collaboration between restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff and master Japanese coffee impresario Hiroshi. Sawada founded Streamer Coffee Co., a darling of the Tokyo coffee scene, and is also a world latte art champion. With a pedigree like that you have to figure the coffee is probably going to be pretty serious.

Sawada

The selection of drinks at Sawada is relatively small, but there are some notable choice like boozy steamers, and the signature drink of Sawada, the Military Latte. The Military Latte, which just may be one of the most photographed drinks in all of Chicago (which we are contributing to, of course), is basically a mashup of a mocha, a matcha green tea latte and a shot of espresso. It sounds kind of bizarre, but tasted divine, and looks even better.  The more standard coffee drinks like cortado and cappuccino at Sawada are also crafted with care, and the knowledgeable baristas are friendly. There are few seats around the window by the coffee bar (and at the ping pong table) but the traffic also seems to overflow into the Green Street Smoked Meats area, so there is a bit more room. If you are feeling peckish they even offer Doughnut Vault doughnuts.

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Persimmon season is here!

Move over pumpkins, its persimmon season! We did not grow up eating persimmons, and our first experience really eating this Japanese fruit was in Brazil, where they are called caqui (the Japanese word for persimmon is Kaki). Persimmons were brought to the US from Japan in the 1800s, where they are considered the national fruit. As we began diving into the world of persimmons, we were intrigued by the differences between the varieties. There are two major persimmon types in the US (and many more in Japan and other areas) the Hachiya and the Fuyu. Their texture and preparation differs widely: the acorn-shaped Hachiya can only be eaten when extremely ripe, while the Fuyu can be eaten at any stage. One step further for persimmon aficionados is the hand-massaged and dried hoshigaki persimmon. So lets get cooking: The Kitchn has 10 seasonal persimmon recipes, or try an amazing looking bread or a savory persimmon caprese.

by Darya Mead

Persimmons  – Fuyu (L) and Hachiya (R) by Darya Mead

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The end of an era: Hotel Okura’s Modernist Building Closes

JapanIt may just be the end of an era. The main wing of Toyko’s most famous modernist hotel, the Hotel Okura, is now closed, and is in the process of being demolished. Watch this video from Monocle to get an idea about the distinctive design of the Okura, originally built in 1962, with more photos from Curbed. The restaurants and bars in the hotel were also iconic, particularly the Orchid Bar, which looks like the perfecet setting for any James Bond film or diplomatic meeting. I remembered the Hotel Okura instantly from “Walk Don’t Run,” a charmingly bizarre movie about the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (starring Cary Grant).

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Muracci’s Japanese Curry in San Francisco

JapanMuracci’s (307 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108)  was on our shortlist of places to try  in San Francsico for a long time, so when I had a work trip there, I jumped at the chance. We were intrigued by the concept of Japanese curry, a version we had never tried before, despite being extremely well-acquainted with Thai and Indian curries. Legend has it that the dish was introduced to Japan by the British in the 1800s (when India was still a British colony). It is definitely not an elegant or refined dish, and is generally seen as “home cuisine,” and is not commonly available in Chicago Japanese restaurants.

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When we went to the counter to order we noticed the large 64-plus gallon vats of curry stacked on the side of the counter, which we took as a good sign. You can order 3 strengths of curry: mild, medium and hot.  There were several varieties of meat that could be topped with the ubiquitous crurry – and the chicken katsu ($10.25) and pork tonkatsu ($10.25) seemed to be favorites, though you could also get prawns, salmon, beefs and veggies. I went with the medium-spice chicken katsu, which was a chicken breast, pounded flat and breaded, served with choice of rice, slaw and pickles. Other non-curry options included chicken teriyaki, hot curry noodle soup and homemade mochi.wpid-0406152024.jpg

There is really nowhere to sit in the counter-only postage stamp-sized shop, and they did a brisk trade in takeout. I did particularly enjoy the miniature shrine with a cow they had set up right by the cash register. I took my meal back to the hotel, where I unpacked the little Styrofoam container, which had the curry in a separate tub – which was nice because you could add as much or little as you wanted. The curry was delicious and fragrant, with similar spaces to a mild Korma curry, heavy in garlic and onion. It was a perfect compliment to the juicy boneless fried chicken. This curry was a great, quick filling meal, and a new taste of Japan.  We are itching to try some Japanese curry in Chicago, and Time Out found a couple of spots that serve this rarer dish. Another option is to make it at home, using “curry roux” pre-formed blocks, or even from scratch.

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Origami: Starbucks’ single-use Japanese pourover kit

JapanPourover coffee is having a moment, but now Starbucks in Japan is taking it one further with their “origami” single use pourover kit. Seems like a pretty cool way to brew coffee, and we certainly prefer it over the more common single-serve coffee method of K-Cups or freeze dried coffee powder. What do you think – would you use origami?

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Will 2015 be the year of Matcha?

JapanBon Appetit certainly thinks so. We have always been fans of matcha – powdered Japanese green tea, so we are look forward to seeing it become more popular in the US. From lattes to cupcakes to sugar cookies, matcha is good in everything.

Matcha

Matcha Latte by cgc76

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A Winter’s Nabe Tale

JapanWhile we have always enjoyed Japanese cuisine, we don’t consider ourselves experts. But we do consider our friends R & R to be Japanese food experts, given their years of experience in Japan and a passion for Japanese food. They recently opened out eyes to a whole new dish when (just as the weather turned colder) they invited us over for some Nabe (or nabemono 鍋物, なべ物), a warm, hearty, wintery stew. Nabe’s name derives not from its ingredients but from the pots used to make it (donabe), which also are heated to keep the dish warm on a portable burner after it has been served. A true stew, nabe can be made with pretty much anything you have a taste for.

Nabe

Nabe ready for consumption!

Typically this begins with special nabe broth, which can be purchased pre-made in packets in a variety of flavors. One then adds veggies and many add-ins along with a dipping sauce, which are then cooked with long metal cooking chopsticks. A particularly hearty chicken and fish nabe is also known as “sumo nabe,” Chankonabe (recipe here), since it allegedly helps sumo wrestler pack on the pounds. The nabe R & R made was composed of a spicy kimchi broth, cabbage, carrots, noodles, mushrooms and meatballs, and was delicious, hearty and filling. You also use the leftovers to make a fried rice dish, which was amazing. Our first taste of nabe made us hungry to try more in the future. Spicy pork and seafood nabe sounds good, no? Thanks R & R, for introducing us to the vast world of nabe!

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The Art of Fake Food, Sampuru, in Japan

Japan[Via Metafilter] We recently came across an absolutely fascinating video depicting a master fake food maker in Japan. That’s right, FAKE food, known in Japanese as sampuru, which is derived from the English word “sample.” In many restaurants in Japan, as well as Japanese restaurants abroad, enticing fake food is put on display to give potential customers an idea of what they will get. Creating the food itself is an art, and sometimes it’s even a little hard to tell real from fake.

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How (fresh) Ramen Noodles are made

Japan[Video via Kottke] We spoke recently how authentic ramen restaurants were becoming increasingly popular across the US, and that trend has no sign of slowing down. Some of these restaurants make noodles in-house, but many buy them. Check out how fresh ramen is made for some of the most popular ramen eateries across the US, at Sun Noodle.

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Blue Seal, the original Okinawan Ice Cream

JapanOur World Cup coverage continues with an unexpected cross-cultural treat from Japan. Okinawa, Japan may not be first place you think of when you think of ice cream, but it turns out the island is crazy about it! Ice cream came to Okinawa with American troops in WWII, but became a trend that lasted much longer. The main purveyor is Blue Seal, originally founded to provide troops with a taste of ice cream from home, but eventually the ice cream became available island-wide, where it has gained quite a following. There are flavors that Americans would be familiar with, as well as Okinawan flavors like sugarcane, bitter melon and purple sweet potato. Blue Seal-branded cafes are found all over Okinawa, and now even in Tokyo, too. Softserve is more popular in Japan, but Blue Seal definitely holds the top spot for American-style ice cream.

Blue Seal Ice Cream

Blue Seal Ice Cream by Jason Poon

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Reclaiming Ramen

JapanWhen the word “ramen” comes up, your first thought may be of the ten-for-a-dollar deals your local supermarket had on instant ramen in college. However, there is a lot more to it than that, and the traditional preparations of this Japanese soup dish are catching on in the US. Food and Wine has a profile of Ivan Orkin (with recipes) about how he and other chefs are reclaiming ramen’s good name. There are ramen shops popping up all over NYC and Chicago, and Serious Eats Chicago ranked suburban Mount Prospect’s Misoya as the top ramen in the area.

Ramen in Kyoto

Ramen in Kyoto by Claire Yuki

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Merry Christmas 2013!

Happy winter wishes from the miniature snow-covered Sphinx in Tobu World Square Theme Park in Japan.

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Mujin Hanbai: Stores without staff

JapanPingmag has a fascinating article about mujin hanbai, or “honor stores,” a type of farmstand in Japan that relies on the honor system. The simplest of these just has a locked cashbox, while others more resemble vending machines. They are popular nationwide, even in Tokyo. I’ve seen a few honor roadside farmstands before (one even boasting “self-serve rocks”), but nothing so elaborate as those found in Japan. Have you ever encountered something like an a honor store?

Mujin Hanbai from Pingmag

Mujin Hanbai from Pingmag

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Tsunami: Sushi with a view in Baton Rouge

Tsunami
100 Lafayette Street
Baton Rouge, LA

JapanIf you’re looking for scenery with your sushi, Tsunami definitely impresses. Located on top of the Shaw Center for the Arts, Tsunami is an upscale sushi restaurant with a bar and a terrace with a panoramic view of Baton Rouge and the Mississippi river. We had a very pleasant dinner at Tsunami with M’s dad and his friend Chuck, who are both experts on Baton Rouge restaurants and nightlife. M’s Dad knew we are always looking for good local restaurants, so he wisely picked Tsunami as an upscale option.

Tsunami

Tsunami’s  dining room and view

Though there are Japanese entrees available including Japanese dishes like Tonkatsu ($15) and Chicken Teriyaki ($16), Tsunami’s focus is sushi. Tsunami serves a variety of innovative rolls, with a few Cajun touches sprinkled in, which we appreciated! For example, check out the Ragin’ Cajun Roll ($8) – only in Louisiana! – with panko fried alligator and avocado. We also ordered the Jazz Roll ($10), which includes snow crab, asparagus, boiled shrimp in a soy paper; and the 412 Roll ($16), with cream cheese, asparagus, tuna, avocado and crunchy shrimp topped with tuna and avocado. There are also Nigiri (for $5 to 8 each) which would appeal more to the sushi purist with varieties like Yellowtail, Tuna and Salmon Roe.

Tsunami Sushi

Tsunami Sushi

While we were waiting for the sushi to arrive we snapped some pictures of the river and the town, and on a more temperate night, it certainly would have been a great place to eat (it was 95 degrees when we dined!). Our sushi arrived, and we were immediately impressed by the presentation (and a little by the prodigious portion size as well). We also ordered a special roll with tempura shrimp that was particularly tasty though the portion was gigantic. The fish was very fresh, and we appreciated the special Cajun touches that you could not get at a sushi restaurant “up north.” To finish off our meal we enjoyed chocolate cake, elegantly served with ice cream and Pocky Sticks in a bento box. Though we enjoyed the food, the view was the true superstar. Tsunami is a perfect place for a date night (we witnessed a few) or for a group of friends. It was a wonderful suggestion!

View of Baton Rouge from Tsunami

View of Baton Rouge from Tsunami terrace

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Japanese recipe site Cookpad, now in English

Japan[Via MetaFilter] I recently learned that the huge Japanese user-contributed recipe site Cookpad, which has over 20 million users and 1.5 million recipes, now has an English version. Cookpad seems similar to Food.com, and you can browse recipes by category or ingredient. Over 1,500 recipes have been translated into English so far, with more planned (the translations are not by a machine, though there are a few errors anyway). There are a ton of cool-looking recipes including Taro Root Croquettes, Somen noodlesUdon with Yuzu and Tofu with dashi sauce. Any fans of Japanese food should definitely explore. Did you find any favorite recipes?

Tonkotsu Ramen Style Somen Noodles via Cookpad

Tonkotsu Ramen Style Somen Noodles via Cookpad

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Baking Bread with the Tangzhong method

JapanOur previous attempts at making bread were not terribly successful, but we’d love to give bread making another try. One of the techniques we recently learned about was the Japanese Tangzhong bead-making method, which involves making a roux (called the Tangzhong) and incorporating it into the dough. Apparently this addition results in a very soft, tender loaf of bread. There are countless different breads you can make with the Tangzhong method, and many recipes we found are for various types of Hokkaido Milk Bread (here’s a cinnamon and chocolate chip version and a Nutella version). We had a favorite milk bread back at our local fruteria in Chicago, and we are mourning the fact that they don’t carry it any more. Maybe some of these Japanese milk breads are worth a try to fill our cravings. You can also try your hand at hot cross buns and 10 grain milk bread made with the Tangzhong method.

Hokkaido Milk Bread

Hokkaido Milk Bread by Divya Kudua

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