Food: Asia


Food and Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan28 Apr 2013 02:34 pm

Although the Bow Valley has a large population of Japanese working and traveling through the area, the one place you can get a bowl of ramen at in Banff (Chaya) is just kind of ho-hum. It’ll do in a pinch, but it’s also a good 20 minute drive from Canmore.

Since coming home from my whirlwind trip to Japan in March (oh, I haven’t blogged about that, have I? Well, soon) I’ve been kind of obsessed with home cooking Japanese food. (And juicing, but more on that later.)  I had to explain to a US customs officer on my trip home why I had 5 pounds of Japanese rice on me. “Can’t you just use Minute Rice?” he asked.

SHUDDER

I’ve been making taco rice, Japanese curry, yakiudon and okonomiyaki and all sorts of stuff, trying to fill the void. Experimenting with different condiments, flavours, techniques.

However, the thing I am most proud of is my from scratch ramen which I made this week. Everything except the noodles and kamaboko or fish cake was made by hand. 5 pounds of chicken, turkey and pig parts were boiled for 18 hours to reduce into a creamy tonkotsu soup base.

I broiled then braised pork belly for three hours to replicate Okinawan rafute, a super tender, kind of sweet pork. It’s marinaded and slow cooked in mirin, awamori and soy, along with kokuto or Okinawan sugar cane brown sugar. I soft boiled then bathed eggs in a marinade to get ajitsuke tamago, the runny delicious eggs that accompany steaming bowls of ramen – that is, if you are eating it at any respectable place.

If I’m being honest, I’ll say that the broth had an excellent jellylike thick texture, but I really underseasoned it. But I think the thing that turned out the best was the rafute. It’s something that’s hard to find outside of Okinawa – not just in other parts of the world, also in Japan. I guess it’s similar to char siu pork that often tops bowls of ramen, but yet it’s not.

You should come by and try it sometime. I promise you’ll like it.

IMG_20130424_102252

The broth at the start, in our biggest of big pots.

IMG_20130425_092010

Bowl of bones, fat and other assorted parts after I was done boiling.

ramen

The delicious finished product.

Food: Asia and Food: Edmonton07 May 2012 12:51 pm

I think I heard about this event via Twitter, and I was immediately intrigued. I haven’t had ramen (outside of prepackaged broth bought in Fukuoka) since leaving Japan in January…and I’ve been craving it.

The idea was for a one night only affair with two kinds of ramen. (That’s the “pop up” part.) The noodles would be handmade and the space would be in the where the old Duchess once stood. Chael MacDonald and Clayton Kozak did a great job conceiving and running the event.

We arrived just before 6pm, and there was quite a line of people waiting for one of the 32 seats. After about an hour, we finally made it in. Time passed surprisingly quickly. After that point, there was no real line to speak of. The plan for the pop up was to go until they sold out or it became 8pm, whatever came first.

It was simply, but nicely, decorated with paper streamers. We received steaming cups of genmaicha, and ordered a few bowls of the chicken and pork ramen and one bowl of the miso dashi with tuna. Beer was available, too.

The menu is pretty tiny in this picture, but the two offerings were:

Choice 1: dashi miso broth with albacore tuna, egg, mushroom, wakame and nori seaweed $10

Choice 2: chicken broth, pork belly and shoulder, egg, pickled shiitake, napa cabbage, nori $10

The pork belly chicken ramen. The noodles were perfection. Absolute perfection. The broth was deep in flavour but not overly salty, and the additions of pickled mushrooms and negi (green onions) were great. While I enjoyed the chicken, the pork belly itself was a little dry and tough. But that was the only misstep – I was, quite honestly, blown away. Even the egg rivaled those I’ve had in Japan. Boiled in broth, it had a gentle brown exterior and a creamy, just underdone center. Well underdone to some.

I considered it perfect.

The miso dashi broth with tuna was savoury and delicious as well. I was never really a fan of miso ramen, but this might convince me otherwise. (I loved shio, or salt, and tonkotsu, or pork, ramen best) The wakame and nori seaweed were also nice touches. The tuna was all right as well. But I think the group favourite was the chicken pork ramen.

All in all, a fun event and worth the wait and a great way to satisfy a craving. I’m hoping this means there might be a great ramen restaurant in the future for Edmonton… but that might also mean Duchess loses its full time croissant pâtissier and Elm Cafe would lose Mr MacDonald. Sacrifices!

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan04 Jan 2012 10:19 am

One of my Christmas feast wishes was to eat sashimi for one of our meals. Candy cane striped salmon and Christmas red toro – what could be better? I picked some up from one of the most local places I know.


I bought my fish from the fish market inside the Kochinda Agrihouse farmer’s market. It was early in the morning on Christmas Eve and it was pretty quiet, still. The selection of fish was not so broad – some salmon, toro tuna, squid, octopus and tai.

The salmon and toro were both 500 yen for fairly large portions. I bought the saba, or mackerel, at the local supermarket for about 300 yen.

I also got a root of real wasabi. The taste is a lot more subtle than horseradish faux wasabi. It’s still peppery and zingy, but less sinus clearing and overwhelming. These roots normally cost 900 yen or so, but I got one for 350 yen. A Christmas miracle!

(I recently saw a picture of single roots for sale in Tokyo for $200 and up!)

It was a delicious snack! The next day we seared the toro tuna and made it into tacos.

メリークリスマス!

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan09 Nov 2011 05:02 pm

Taco rice! Sounds like a weird combination, right? Well it is a super Okinawan dish, influenced by the unique relationship the American military has had with Okinawa. It is a perennial favorite here on Okinawa with locals, expats and tourists alike. Although it is a kind of fast food here, it is still kind of healthy. The keys to delicious taco rice are the meat sauce and the dense, moist Japanese rice.

I spent over a year in Okinawa before I tried taco rice. BLASPHEMY!

After eating it, I immediately became obsessed and ate it a few times this summer. However, I grew tired of buying it at the supermarket premade and wondered if I could make it better at home myself…without the prepackaged spice kits they sell. So, I tried.

This is the best recipe I found, based on one from America’s Test Kitchen. Good taco rice meat has to be saucy enough to soak into the rice, and meaty enough to be satisfying. I think this recipe fits the bill.

—-

Okinawan Taco Rice Meat

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (I used a mix of ancho and cayenne pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce or sake (Okinawan taco rice meat typically uses soy or sake here, but cider vinegar works just fine.)
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar


Directions:

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the beef and pork and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, soy/sake/vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about 10 minutes. Be sure to leave the meat a little moist, not crumbly and dry. Season with salt to taste.

The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

—-

Make your rice (dense, Japanese rice hopefully), and cover with the taco meat. Then the toppings! The classics are fresh crisp shredded lettuce, plump juicy fresh tomatoes and yellow cheddar cheese, with some salsa or hot sauce for good measure.

Personally, I scatter shredded lettuce, diced fresh tomatoes, avocado, pickled jalapenos and spoon salsa fresh or jarred over top, along with a thick yogurt or sour cream. Sprinkle with grated cheese…and you are done. It is seriously one of the most satisfying dishes you might have.

Some variations on the theme might include rolling the meat up in maki sushi rolls or using it as a nacho topping. God, is it good.

{originally published on my other blog, Eating Okinawa}

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan26 Sep 2011 09:41 am

I know I have been neglecting this blog a little bit this month, but that is because I am working so hard on Eating Okinawa. But finally, a post I feel fits over here on Crazy White Girl with a Kitchen! This entry is all about a strange little fruit with a lot of bite: shikwasa. It was probably my favorite blog entry to conceive, photograph and research from this year.

Recently at the supermarket I have noticed shikwasas available in large amounts, for a very low price (compared to lemons and limes). However, I was confounded; how are they used in such large amounts? They are so small and hard to handle I could not imagine juicing any more than five at a time. Additionally they can be so sour, would I even want juice anyhow?

First however – what ARE they? シークヮーサー are very small citrus fruits, about the size of a key lime, 4-5 centimeters in diameter. Their thin rind is green, they are packed with seeds and very very tart, but with an orangey flavour instead of lemon or lime. They originally came to Okinawa from the nearby country of Taiwan. They are said to be high in vitamin C and in nobiletin, which is thought to help control blood glucose levels and thereby keep blood pressure low.

When I cut into them and smell the citrus scent I am almost immediately transported to the streets of Bangkok. You know – where they juice those green oranges at little carts for the sweet nam som or orange juice sold in bottles for a pittance. Smelling shikwasa early in the day makes my mornings a little easier to swallow when I get to think about Bangkok.

I went about making an effort in thinking up seven different ways to use shikwasa. Some ranged from exceedingly simple to somewhat complicated. Most are just reimaginations of other recipes, so nothing too out there. Just enough to get you thinking about using this special Okinawan ingredient in different ways.

I made five out of these seven recipes, and hope to try the remaining two soon.

1: Shikwasa mint syrup for fruit salad

When a food blogging friend of mine from back home Tweeted one morning he was making fruit salad, it got me thinking about a lime based dressing I used to make for my fruit salad. However, limes and lemons can be really expensive here, so I looked to the shikwasas as an alternative, and made my favorite citrus based syrup for the fruit salad.

  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 2 tablespoons of shikwasa juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh mint

Combine sugar and water in a small pot, bringing it to a boil on the stove. Turn off once sugar has dissolved. In a small bowl combine shikwasa and mint, pouring sugar mixture over mint and citrus juice mix. Makes approximately 10 tablespoons of “dressing.” Pour by the tablespoon over freshly cut fruit to taste.

This makes enough syrup to keep in the fridge for a few batches of fruit salad.

 

2: Shikwasa water

I really do not like drinking water. But living in Okinawa, you have to due to the heat. I have some packets of Crystal Light to help me get the water down in the amounts I need, but the artificial sweetener can give me a headache. So in the morning I squeezed one of the leftover shikwasas from making the fruit salad dressing into my water and it made it refreshing and crisp and easier to get down. Shikwasa juice is said to help control blood sugar and is credited with keeping aged Okinawans healthy.

3: Grilled salmon with maple-shikwasa glaze

  • 2 tablespoons fresh shikwasa juice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • salmon fillets
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Brush over salmon and grill.

Since we got our little patio grill, The Stache has been a gem and grills at least once a week. I cannot wait to try this glaze out on some of the delicious salmon available at the local farmer’s market.

4: Shikwasa ceviche

Citrus and fish just go together, and shikwasa works wonders in a ceviche.

  • 1 lb of whitefish – we used a mix of tai (red snapper) and hamachi or yellowtail. It was already sliced thinly as it was sashimi.
  • Juice of 6 shikwasas
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 hot pepper, chopped finely (I used the Korean kochu pepper since that is all my supermarket routinely carries)
  • half of an onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro/coriander
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

Place fish in a non metal platter with a slight lip. Place onions on the fish. Add remaining ingredients, and cover with the juices. Allow to sit in refrigerator atleast 30 minutes, up to 4 if you can.

I served it with a black bean salad for additional South American flavor. (recipe here, via Fine Cooking)

5: Shikwasa Watermelon mint daquiri

This recipe was born after my fridge froze a very expensive slice of watermelon.

  • 4 cups peeled, seeded and cubed watermelon (about 1/6 of a watermelon)
  • 1/2 cup rum (I used dark, most people use light)
  • 1/4 cup shikwasa juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar syrup (You can also use 1/4 cup triple sec)
  • two ice cubes
  • 2 tablespoons mint

Blend ingredients together. Serve immediately. Makes 5 cups.

 

6: Shikwasa blueberry muffins

I have yet to make this but I think it would be good. I baked a lot back home but in Japan I find my tiny oven a real inconvenience and prefer not to waste time and money experimenting with temperatures and baking times.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons shikwasa juice (about 2 shikwasas)
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, tossed in 2 tablespoons flour

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl beat the egg, milk and oil. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Fold in the blueberries and shikwasa juice. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full and bake at 400 for 18-20 minutes. This makes one dozen muffins. You could also turn it in mini loaves.

 

7: Shikwasa pie parfait / Shikwasa curd

This is the most time intensive recipe for using shikwasas, but I thought it was the best use.

  • 1/2 – 3/4 cups orange juice from approximately 20 shikwasas
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
  • pinch of salt

Pour the shikwasa juice into a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring the juice to a rapid simmer and let it reduce down to approximately 1/4 cup. This should take 2-4 minutes.

Transfer the juice to a measuring cup to cool. Stir in the lemon juice.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, yolks, and sugar. When the juice has cooled to room temperature, whisk it into the egg mixture in a steady stream.

Pour the egg and juice mixture back into your small sauce pan and set it over medium heat. Stir slowly but constantly until the mixture has thickened to a pudding-like consistency – about 6-8 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a clean bowl. Stir in the butter and the pinch of salt while the curd is still warm. Store the curd in a clean jar with a lid. It will keep refrigerated for about a week.

I served this curd over pancakes, and layered with freshly whipped cream and graham cracker crumbs as a sort of “pie.” It would be great on toast, in tart cups…all sorts of situations.

 

In closing, shikwasas are wonderful. They have a load of seeds so straining is almost necessary, but the juice to size pay off is pretty good. Try using a shikwasa instead of a lime or lemon in your favorite recipe – you might be pleasantly surprised.

Food and Food: Asia and japan and Travels09 Aug 2011 11:33 am

We left Okinawa at 3am or some other ungodly hour. Everyone in Japan travels at three times of the year – Silver Week in September, Golden Week in May, and July/August. So my choices for cheap flights were really cut down and our options were leave at 3am or pay $300 one way for a flight to Tokyo.

Arriving at 7am, we hit the ground running and were on a train and headed into downtown Tokyo in no time from Haneda. This is the beauty of Japan.  We grabbed a snack, stored our stuff in a handy locker (they make them big enough for a standard rolling suitcase and a backcountry backpack) and went to pick up the bikes we had reserved with Neil at Tokyo Rent A Bike.  Despite being exhausted, I was elated to have our bikes and be on pedal power the rest of the day. It was exhilarating, and I will absolutely do this again and recommend it to anyone who is traveling to Tokyo.

With a general route mapped out, our first stop was the Tsukiji Fish Market. After visiting Sushi Dai three years ago, Mike had another place (Sushi Bun) in mind, but it was unfortunately closed. No worries – have bike, smartphone and back up plans – and will travel. We biked a short distance to a street in the outer ring of the market and tried to find a restaurant called Uogashi Senryo just after lunch rush.

It is not known for sushi (although they do serve it), but for chirashisushi bowls. It is behind a dried fish shop and kind of blends in with the other shops. The quality is not the best you can get in the area, but it is popular for a reason. I think my two kinds of tuna bowl was excellent, and Mike’s uni ikura bowl was salty, creamy and hit the spot. Just what we needed after an early morning of travel and bike riding, and just what we needed to power us up the rest of the day.

Uogashi Senryo from the street. They do have an English menu.

 

Recharged we rode around east Tokyo, circling back to the bike rental office while hitting a few big sights and neighbourhoods along the way. Again – I cannot emphasize this enough; renting a bike was insanely easy, relatively cheap and very safe. They come with wheel locks so you can park and lock wherever you are, there are bells to ring and let people know you are coming at them on the fancy shopping Ginza shopping street and 6 gears to make climbing hills in Roppongi easier. Most people ride on the sidewalk, and this is accepted and perhaps even expected (pedestrians beware!) Many many people in Tokyo have bicycles, if only to get them to the nearest train station. It is insane to think that the world’s largest megacity is bike friendly to even the lowly tourist, but it is. If the Neil the bike guy had not been going on holiday I would have totally rented for a few more days. Next time, Tokyo. Next time.

Food: Asia and Travels08 Aug 2011 10:32 am

I have been wanting to visit Another Hound for years. I remember strolling around Siam Paragon a few years ago with my brother and seeing the cafe and wanting to go in so badly – but I was intimidated for some reason. This time, I finally made it happen with my mom for a quick lunch on my last day in Bangkok.

Greyhound is a Thai fashion design house who happen to make clothes I really like. I actually thought that their cafe might be kind of crap they were so good at fashion, but I was wrong. The concept here is Italian bistro x Thai spice, and although that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it works here. Prices are good and the atmosphere is classy. A lot of black, crystal and silver, and a nice view of Siam from the windows.

The restaurant was full of lunching ladies and HiSo (the Bangkok term for high society) kids with too many shopping bags. Service was brisk, and they were sold out of a few things, but we still managed.

“Complicated noodle” Noodle sheets + fresh lettuce leaves + minced pork + chili garlic sauce + cilantro. No really easy way to eat these, but they are great, and judging by a quick look around the restaurants tables, very popular. I want to try recreating them at home sometime! 130 baht, or about $4.50

Watermelon mint shake.

My mom’s delicious ham and cheese grill, with a mound of fries. For something so basic sounding she was worried it was going to be a sad greasy tasteless mess, but it was crispy and fresh and they used high quality cheese and ham. About $5.50

 

Another Hound Cafe is a great stop if you are shopping in the Siam area and want to eat at something other than a food hall. The food is imaginative but well done, and the menu varied to all tastes.

Another Hound, Siam Paragon

 

Food and Food: Asia and Travels07 Aug 2011 09:49 am

After a sad high tea in Hong Kong, I was eager to get back on the horse in Bangkok, this time having an enjoyable experience. My mom and I strolled down the street to the Sukhothai hotel one day to take in high tea.

The Sukhothai is one of most serene boutique hotels in Bangkok. The grounds and architecture are stunning, and although it is being dwarfed by some nearby skyscrapers, it still retains a feeling of exclusivity and privacy.

We decided on the classic Sukhothai tea set. I got a Mariage Frères Earl Grey French Blue tea and my mom got a coffee. We also ordered extra scones.

The tower came out quickly, but not TOO quickly as to suggest they were sitting in the back ready to go out.

Delicious sannies. There was a smoked salmon croissant, pate sausage baguette, an italian job with prosciutto and provolone and then a few little fingers with various more classic high tea fillings. Everything was fresh and not cold like some high tea rooms.

The pastries were fantastic, with nothing overly sweet, and a good mix of melting, crunchy, chocolatey and fruity. Berry tartlet, orange almond mini cake, fruit cake, truffles and matcha shortbread.

The fig scones! It was kind of a mistake to get an extra order – although they WERE excellent and so were the preserves and slightly untraditional mascarpone. Just too much.

My favourite was the eclair. I still miss the ones I would get from Duchess in Edmonton.

Vanilla creme brulee. Neither my mom or I wanted it at first – we were too full. But then I cracked it and inside was silken filling I could not stop eating.

And then, to finish, “Green Goddess” dragonfruit lime sorbet. Surprisingly light.

Afterwards we strolled around the complex a little bit more. They seem to be doing a lot of refurbishing. There was also a wedding being set up, for a Japanese couple!

 

High tea is in the main hotel lobby Monday through Thursday from 2-6pm. The Sukhothai also does a weekend chocolate buffet for those looking for more sweets and less tea and sandwiches. Both are around 800 baht.

Food: Asia and Travels06 Aug 2011 12:47 am

I had originally planned just to do an entry on Soi Convent in Bangkok, but we have been stuck in the house for over 36 hours now because of a typhoon and I need something to do. So this is just a round up of some of the little bits of food we had.

 

Eating at the cafe of the extended stay apartment my parents have a place at.

Margaritas and more at La Monita.

Early morning Caesar and live UFC fight at Home Run Bar.

Lamb kebabs and phad thai at “The Fifth” Food Hall at MBK Center.

2 for 1 margaritas at Coyotes while we waiting for Isao, a Japanese restaurant to open

Bug & Bee is a great 24 hour cafe with a few locations scattered over Bangkok.

 

Food and Food: Asia and Travels23 Jul 2011 05:16 pm

Going to visit my mom in Bangkok this May was a game changer for me. Not everyday has been a party this first year in Okinawa, and I was in a pretty low place when I went on a last minute, parent-funded trip to Bangkok over “Golden Week” here in Japan. Mike was very kind and held the fort down alone as rainy season started.

Bangkok is kind of my home base in the east, and comforting in its chaos. I had no particular plans – do some shopping, hang out with my mom, work out, take some photos, sit in the sun … and eat, of course.

My parents have chosen a place near to one of the most famous food streets in Bangkok as their home the past two years – Soi Convent. It is not a long stroll to go up and down as it is just one long city block, and takes about 10 minutes to walk. But you can get a little bit of everything on or around this street at all hours of the day – in actual restaurants or carts that appear.

You can get breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. From Starbucks coffee, Mexican, Japanese and Irish food to baked goods, fruits, noodles, spicy som tam salad … it was so inspiring I wanted to do a post just dedicated to the sights along it.

Carts sleeping during the day

Taxis and tuk tuks whir up and down 24 hours a day, security guards for the hospitals and schools laze in the shade. Street sweepers work up and down with their oddly useless but effective wood brooms. Clientele ranging from ancient grannies to young school kids and nuns, expats living in near by skyscrapers and neatly dressed Thai office workers mix with the late night party crowd.

It is god damned magical.

Durian cart

Mangosteens were also in season

Hand squeezed nam som, or orange juice.

I made a point to walk up and down it at all hours and reveled in the different vendors and people. Early morning, with the blenders somehow plugged in somewhere to make fruit shakes, fried banana stands, coffee and Thai iced tea vendors.

 

Afternoon brings noodle carts, and fruit selllers with their icey sweet pineapple, crunchy green mango with spicy salt sugar mix and deep orange papaya.

 

As the blazing sun falls out of the sky, seafood platter makers appear, as do ka-nom producers with their hot pans for making sweet coconut and banana desserts or roti.

People drink, talk and eat sitting on plastic stools as tourists and Bangkok residents walk through the kitchen of the “restaurant” they eat at. I am certain if you sat here for long enough, you might see everything. Just like this guy, who I saw every day and is a fixture on Convent, with his big beer belly and, well, beer in a wine glass. Breakfast of champions.

My personal favourite stand is the southern Thai fried chicken lady that I have been visiting for over a decade. It has expanded from one lady who used to marvel I knew how to say simple phrases in Thai, to a fully staffed family operation with an English sign. Here they are, just setting up at about 4 in the afternoon.

In motion while arriving…

…in operation…

…in digestion.

Incredible.

I implore you to visit Convent when you are in Bangkok.

Nearest BTS station: Sala Daeng.

Food: Asia and Food: Home Cookin' and japan and simple japanese pleasures16 Jul 2011 01:16 pm

 

The words “wagyu” and “Kobe” incite many reactions in people. For some, it is the epitome of fine food. Expensive protein that is hand massaged, fed beer and lives a life of luxury so that it has the highest fat marble content around, all to make it better to melt in your mouth. For yet others, it is a waste of time and money – moment on the lips, forever on the credit card slips?

Diners are cautious because the high prices of this cattle have spawned many imitators and expensive but not legit knock-offs. Luckily, this does not happen as much in Japan. The Japanese dining crowd is extremely discerning and demanding, and there are a series of pieces of evidence that can be used to show a piece of wagyu’s legitimacy, including chips and barcodes.

Wagyu is a name applied to a wide range of about 130+ breeds of cattle, most of them named after the area they come from, such as Kobe wagyu. Wagyu just translates to “beef from Japan” but it is a title that is only bestowed upon cows that are 100% born from wagyu cattle and raised in Japan. That is why some beef in the States is “wagyu style” or “Kobe style” – it may be from a Japanese breed and raised in the same style, but it was raised outside of Japan. Very little of this beef is actual proper wagyu shipped from Japan. There are a number of other breeds that are not as well marketed in the west that some people say are better than Kobe. One of them comes from a little island not far from where we live, very close to Taiwan. It is called Ishigaki, and it looks idyllic.


{source}

Here, the cattle eat very mineral rich grass (Ishigaki is very famous for salt, as well) and live lives of beachy luxury until their number comes up and they are served to mainland Japanese tourists eager to try some fine beef. I cannot state enough how huge food tourism is in Japan. Every area has a famous sweet, famous noodle style, even a very specific food item. So it is big business…a cash cow, if you will.

Mike had been craving a big old steak for a week or two now. We recently bought a grill to do chicken sticks and veggies on but he was eager to give beef a try. Normally I would think it ridiculous to home grill a piece of meat of wagyu caliber at home, but here it is actually feasible because the prices are okay instead of insane. However, the biggest problem was finding it. Most super markets sell very fine beef in very thin slices suitable for beef bowls, sukiyaki or at home yakiniku grilling, but very little is available in big American sized chunks. And if you do find it, it is most likely going to be Australian.

So I took to Google to find a butcher willing to help us out, and found a video posted on YouTube of a local butcher in a very touristy market in downtown Naha, Okinawa.

This gave me pause, since we had eaten at this market and it was, unfortunately, a real tourist trap. But, the meat looked like what we wanted and I had no other leads, so we gave it a try.

Maruichi turned out to be intimidating. They had huge chunks of meat that looked like they might be able to be cut to order, but we still lack the language skills to ask for that. Dejected, we wandered to the nearby Makishi Market to see what they had. Makishi is kind of a place people go to take photos at. They eat upstairs at the terrible restaurants, take a photo with a pickled pigs head and go back to their hotel.

Things seemed over priced and it just was not the same as other Asian markets I have been to. When we arrived most of the fish stalls were cleaning up for the day, but in the corner we found a meat stall. There, pre wrapped hunks of well marbled meat labeled with prices and Ishigaki tags. Cha-CHING!

I am not sure if the meat was frozen or not, and we did not ask on this trip. Chances of it being frozen are about 50/50…Japanese transport companies are amazing, and able to ship both frozen and chilled items to arrive the same day, so it could also have just been chilled since Ishigaki is a short plane ride away from mainland Okinawa. It came from a supplier called Yaeyama / 八重山 and they seem to be a big supplier of beef from Ishigaki.

We picked out some steaks and the guy shot the shit with us the best we could in our Japanese. He said he was surprised we were taking the steak home – most people eat it upstairs (at the restaurants who cook items from the market) he said.

We paid about $30 for 200g, and took our carefully cold packed meat home with us after stopping at a grocery store for some vegetables. On the label you can see the code used to identify the company and perhaps even the very cow the cut came from. They take this stuff seriously.

Mike did all the prep and grilling, which I appreciate. Perhaps he will chime in on his technique in the comments.

He coated the steak in salt using a new method he read about online. Luckily the butcher had given us some omiyage, or a gift, of Ishigaki salt. It was very fine and powdery.

Ishigaki salt

After the grilling came the hard part – the resting. Finally, I sliced into the steak with a butter knife and sat and savoured in silence. I could barely speak. It was tender, buttery, meaty… wonderful. I found the fat rind around the edge a bit overwhelming, but I did eat most of it in a gluttonous way.

The veins of fat throughout the meat had dissolved into the protein, and it was light and buttery, not heavy and greasy. I have found Kobe to be overwhelmingly fatty sometimes, but not so with Ishigaki. Maybe it is Okinawa pride speaking, but I do think it is the superior meat. I have had it at restaurants and at home now, and it is wonderful.

Looks kind of grainy and maybe even tough in this shot, huh? It wasn’t. The fat rind is closest to the camera in this photo.

Sauteed some mushrooms and grilled some zucchini, okra and eggplant on the grill after.

Here is a video cut I made of us slicing through the meat. Meat porn!

We grilled some of the remaining fat up on the grill afterwards to char it a bit more. Fat popsicle, anyone?

 

 

Food: Asia and japan and simple japanese pleasures15 Jul 2011 12:48 pm

Japan, especially Okinawa, has a strong drinking culture. There are countless pubs, bars and restaurants in any neighbourhood to cater to work groups, friends and family looking to gather together and be social while drinking and eating. But, sometimes drinking out can be expensive. Hell, even beer at the grocery stores in Japan is quite pricey because of the taxes imposed on the higher malt content of the beverage. So what to do when you just want to have a drink after work, but not think too hard about it, or spend too much money?

My friend, the chu hai/chu hi is waiting for you at your corner store.

Chu hais are a kind of cocktail that get their name from combining shochu and high ball. Shochu is a kind of Japanese distilled alcohol. It is not quite as strong as vodka and has a bit more flavour, but is similar in many ways. You can drink these cocktails in many flavours at izakayas, but much easier and faster is the canned version.

Keeping to the high ball formula, chu hais come in many flavours and are mostly carbonated and fruity. Their alcohol content ranges from 3 to 9 percent (STRONG varieties feature higher booze numbers) and can be night destroying if you drink too many of them, especially from supercans. There are sugar free versions, those combined with favourite sodas, seasonal kinds… the flavour possibilities are endless.

In the photo, a variety of chu hais including two only in Okinawa summer limited edition flavours, pineapple shikwasa (a kind of citrus found on Okinawa) and acerola pineapple (acerola is a tart berry.) Back in the white can is a white soda chuhai, one of my favourites. It is a kind of tangy milky yogurty flavour. All very refreshing on a hot day.

Click here for more simple Japanese pleasures.

Next Page »