The more I learn about cooking and food culture, the more I’ve become fascinated with cultural concepts of portable foods. As I’ve written before, Japan’s main example is onigiri, rice balls, but in the Shinshû/Nagano region, it’s oyaki, the steamed buns often made with savory fillings and soba-flour dough. Combine oyaki with another one of my favorite foods, kabocha, and you have a delicious, healthy addition to your bento that is easy to make and transport.
ね、知っている？(Hey, did you know?)
These cupcakes may be the simplest of the geeky/nerdy (it varies…) birthday cakes I made this spring.
My husband loves Mameshiba, which is… well, as the song goes, they aren’t quite beans and they aren’t quite dogs; and everyday they bring you a bit of trivia–
You know what? This is like trying to explain Doctor Who to someone who’s never seen it. Just check out the videos (in Japanese with English subtitles) on the Mameshiba site. Problem solved.*
Curry nabe is combination of two of Japan’s great comfort foods: curry-rice (karê raisu, カレーライス) and nabe (鍋). Curry-rice is a Japanized version of Indian curries via Britain: served with rice, this dish is a thick, brown sauce, more sweet than spicy, combined with onions, carrots, potatoes, and chicken or beef, which are sauteed before boiling in the sauce. If mac ‘n’ cheese and spaghetti are the epitome of basic American home cooking, curry-rice tops Japan’s list.
Most curry roux in Japan contain meat extracts (beef, pork, or fish are the most common). I am found of Sokensha‘s vegan* curry “flake type” roux (植物素材の本格カレー), which is sold in health-food stores like Noppo-kun but can also be ordered online. I like the “spicy” one (辛口), even though it’s not all that spicy. This “Curry for Vegetarians” by Sakurai is also vegan, though I haven’t tried it. (Edit: Haiku Girl recommends S&B’s exported Torokeru (とろける) curry roux blocks, but the domestic varieties sold in Japan appear to contain chicken or beef bouillon [ブイヨン].)
Then, of course, is the staple of Japanese winter cuisine: nabe, from nabemono, which refers to foods cooked in a (clay) pot. Nabe, like curry-rice, is completely adaptable to taste: use whatever tofu, vegetables, and/or meat you like and boil them in a broth of your choice. It’s like non-committal soup, and it’s great for casual dinner parties. You can purchase broth in a variety of flavors from soymilk to kimchi at any grocery store, but I prefer to make my own, and it’s really quite simple. (How did you guess?)
Location: Nonoichi (near Kanazawa)
Type: Café, Lunch
Veg status: all vegetarian; vegan friendly
Language: Japanese (but most of the dishes are on display on the counter)
On my first Thanksgiving in Japan as an exchange student, I had cold tofu for lunch and felt exceptionally sad. After two years of not celebrating the holiday while I was in rural Japan, I decided to host a Thanksgiving potluck for my friends last year, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Everyone’s favorite dishes–even ones I really disliked as a child, like green bean casserole–were exceptionally good. The atmosphere was good, too–everyone seemed really excited to be there and to share their dish; plus, there was no weird gender segregation in the kitchen!
If you’re living in Japan, making your favorite holiday dishes can be somewhat difficult. Maybe there aren’t fresh green beans in late November at your store; maybe your moven is too small for a turkey. I’ve gathered up some of my recipes (and some from other blogs) that would work well for your fall/winter holiday parties below.
Finally, let me take the opportunity to express how thankful I am for all of you. Whether you’re a commenter, a twitter friend, or someone who has actually been in my kitchen, your support keeps me going on days when I’m down and out Darwin-style. You all push me to write more and try harder. So thank you. Really, truly.
On the themes of both autumn and non-chickpea hummus-adjacent spreads, I present kabocha hummus, one of the many fine uses for kabocha purée. As I stated in my baba ghanoush recipe, chickpeas/garbanzo beans (Japanese: hiyokomame, ひよこ豆) are relatively expensive in Japan, so I’ve been trying to less expensive chickpea alternatives. If chickpeas are cheap where you live, consider this recipe an interesting seasonal twist on a classic.
All systems are go on the new hosting! Or they seem to be–let me know if there are any links or pages that don’t load properly.
I’ve covered bread here, so let’s move on to sandwich fillings, specifically pita. Hummus or falafel seem like obvious choices and are very easy to make at home if you can get the ingredients. In Ishikawa, chickpeas are mostly relegated to the import stores (and are expensive), and my first blender was a cheap plastic thing that did not like anything with a consistency harder than melted butter. Hummus, therefore, was not a food I could make consistently while living out in the country.
Fortunately, I discovered baba ghanoush after yet another incident where I had too many eggplants. This magical food solves all of the making-hummus-in-Japan problems. This eggplant-based spread uses no chickpeas, which means no special trips to the import store; eggplants are plentiful and cheap; and the soft consistency of the vegetable base means you won’t murder your blender. Instead of tahini, which is also import-store-only, we’re going to use white nerigoma, Japanese sesame paste. Tahini is a paste made of roasted sesame seeds; nerigoma is paste made with sesame seeds that haven’t been roasted, so to get a smokier flavor, we’re going to add cumin.
Earth Café (アースカフェ)
Location: Kanazawa City, Ishikawa pref.
Type: Café, Lunch
Veg Status: Completely vegan
Languages: Japanese, English (bilingual menus and staff)
To put it simply, Earth Café gets vegan food right. Despite enjoying cooking vegan food at home, I am often wary of it in restaurants. Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy– particularly in light of some of the sugar/margarine bombs out there in the world of vegan desserts. (Readers may remember this sentiment from various iterations of “13 Things Your Barista Won’t Tell You,” which floated around the internet in the late ’00s.)
Earth Café, on the other hand, emphasizes healthy macrobiotic food and being good to the Earth and to your body. Continue reading
One thing I dislike about eating out in Japan is “secret meat.” For whatever reason, the Japanese concept of meat and the English one are quite different: if you chop up meat small enough, it’s no longer considered meat; fish/seafood aren’t meat; there’s fish-based dashi stock in miso soup; some shokupan (white bread) contains lard; and, even if you’re really good at Japanese, clearly labeled menus are a luxury. For example, if I order a pizza margherita, I expect it to be vegetarian, and yet some places will throw bacon on it. If I order a “vegetable soup,” there might be chicken in it that wasn’t listed on the menu.
Luckily for me, I’ve found a lot of great restaurants in Kanazawa that specialize in or offer vegetarian/vegan fare. In Kyoto and Tokyo, there are vegan and vegetarian guidebooks being published, but Kanazawa and Ishikawa don’t have their own yet. I can’t be the only one out there who hates secret meat, so I want to highlight my favorite veg* restaurants in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, and Japan here in addition to my other restaurant reviews. I’m including a quick overview to the restaurant (location, type, veg* type) before the longer review so you’ll know at a glance if this place is for you. If you have suggestions about the reviews or for more restaurants, please leave a comment!
I’d like to kick off this series with one of my favorite cafes in Kanazawa, Café Mojo.
Café Mojo (カフェモジョ)
Location: Kanazawa City, Ishikawa pref.
Type: Café, Lunch
Veg Status: Primarily vegetarian and vegan fare; meat options (bacon)
Languages: Japanese, English
This time on “why did I buy a whole box of this vegetable?”: what to do with six eggplants?
Cheruko is harvesting her eggplants–many, many eggplants. She brought eleven of them to dinner a couple weeks ago to distribute, and I took six. My go-to recipes when I am cooking for myself are Italian- and French-style dishes that pair the eggplants with tomatoes, basil, and parsley: ratatouille, gratin, vegetable lasagna. When I am alone in kitchen with an eggplant, these are the dishes I make. However, the texture of these dishes is, unfortunately, precisely what our spouses dislike about eggplants. (Though mine does like Summer Pasta with Eggplant Sauce because the eggplant is cooked down a lot.)
Instead of swapping dinner partners for the duration of the harvest, we brainstormed ways to eat eggplants that would change the texture and feature different flavor profiles than the standard eggplant-tomato-basil that I like so much. (It’s a standard for a reason!) In Japanese cooking, miso and eggplant and pickled eggplant are staples of the summer, but that didn’t fix the texture issue. However, one thing that the Indian restaurants of Kanazawa do exceedingly well is to make curries out of any local vegetable: kabocha, lotus root, eggplant–and if they could do it, why couldn’t I?