Random Japanese Factoid: Plastic Food

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Ever wonder who and how the infamous plastic foods of Japan came to be? Well, 121 years ago on September 12th, 1895, Iwasaki Takizō was born. Though he didn’t invent plastic food, he was the first one to bring to plastic food to mass market, when only high-end department stores made and displayed them.

The very first plastic food sample he made was an omelette and following the success, he opened up a factory with the help of his wife in 1932. Thus, saturating Japan with plastic food in all shop window fronts.

Plastic food became such a global phenom, in 2016, there are now plastic food tchotchkes like plastic food fridge magnets, cell phone straps, keychains, etc.

You can find plastic food for purchase in the following locations (industry plastic food cost A LOT. Like thousands of dollars)

Tokyu Hands
Tokyu Hands is like a Target, Spencers (random junk store that used to be in every single shopping mall in the US back in the 90’s that sold lava lamps, edible underwear, gag gifts, etc.), Bed Bath and Beyond, Container Store, Home Depot and Ikea all in one!)
Find the nearest location here: http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/en/shoplist.html

Kappabashi aka Kitchen Town
It’s the area in Tokyo where restaurant supplies and such are sold. Just Google Kappabashi.

Shin Ika #Sushi

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Shin Ika so smooth it looks like a dolphin’s tummy! Shin-ika, like shinko (baby kohada) is a baby squid and are accessible only towards the end of summer. It’s so smooth and sweet and melts in your mouth!! It was so pretty I just had to share.

Of course this is at Takahashi, my favorite sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Takahashi-san is so talented — I only eat his sushi now. I know, I know, I need to get out more. But I can’t help it. I’m now treated as a regular and as a regular’s advantage, I get special dishes like this ↓ (points below)

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I mentioned in passing the other day I loved his aji tsumami (appetizer). It’s aji with the Saito pesto, egg yolk and sesame seeds. It wasn’t included in this menu but he made one just for me!! It was, as always, super delicious and one of my favorites of all time. Love him!!

Also, he served tako (octopus) which I hadn’t had in a while. But the ceramic (kozara) was one I’ve never seen before. Even more amazing is that it’s shaped like the Bat symbol (from Batman!!)

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Highlights:
– steamed awabi, this time with kimo (liver) sauce that was AMAZING
– lightly charred anago with three condiments: wasabi, tōgarashi (red pepper) dipping sauce, salt and his raw shichimi (he shared the recipe with me this time!!!)
– aka mutusu a.k.a. nodo guro a.k.a. sea bream sakamushi (steamed with a sake base) with ponzu and some sort of sea vegetable OMG this was delicious
– tai (snapper) that was kissed with a touch of smoke

…and who am I kidding. Everything was super delicious. Takahashi-san makes me so happy.

By the way it’s almost time for fall foods. I love fall foods in Japan. SOOOOOO pumped!

Imitation Crab

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I am not a violent person but sometimes, I wish we could actually fist fight foods because I have major beef with the grossness that is imitation crab. Pun not intended.

Imitation crab in Japan is semi edible.

The imitation crab in the States are these tasteless, rubbery, hideous things, usually stuffed into grocery store California Rolls. I firmly believe the sole purpose of its existence is to trick unsuspecting people into buying nasty pre-made ‘sushi’. I’m telling you, don’t let the bright red and glowing white cylinders distract you from seeing what these things hibernating in deli cases really are: browning slivers of old avocado wrapped in cold, dry rice with the cheap, sorry excuses for crab. Or should I say krab.

These things – stay far away ↓

Sidenote: if you insist on eating supermarket sushi, look for the California Rolls where the crab is at least shredded like this – the mayo mixed in with the crab makes the dried out rolls tastier. I promise.

I am not the only one who has issues with imitation crab. Aside from the top search, according to Google auto-complete, where people are asking why imitation crab isn’t gluten-free (which is an odd thing to wonder in the first place. Does gluten-free food taste so bad, imitation crab actually tastes… good?), the people have spoken. Two out of the top five results are asking why imitation crab meat is so bad, why it even exists in the first place and apparently they even glow in the dark (!!!!!)

Take a look↓

I’M RIGHT THERE WITH YOU PEOPLE ASKING THOSE QUESTIONS. I don’t know why they exist either.

The Wikipedia for this abomination states:

 

Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) from the North Pacific is commonly the main ingredient, often mixed with fillers such as wheat, and egg white (albumen)[1] or other binding ingredient, such as the enzyme transglutaminase.[3] Crab flavoring is added (either artificial or crab-derived), and a layer of red food coloring is applied to the outside.

…wait a sec. Imitation crab is not even crab! It’s pulverized pollack (white fish), mixed with ingredients like wheat, egg white and some scientific thing I can’t even pronounce. The stuff that makes up imitation crab, aren’t even from the ocean! Inappropriate ingredients aside, for imitation crab to be named ‘imitation crab’ in the first place is simply wrong. Why anyone would even think to consume ‘food’ labeled as a fake is beyond me!

I read the many reasons and theories behind why this bootleg seafood has a place in the store’s frozen section. Some people say it’s for kosher crab. Others say it’s to cut restaurant costs and someone even thinks it’s to preserve the ocean. But listen. Imitation crab is 1. not crab 2. disgusting and 3. glows in the dark. Things humans put in our mouths and consume should not glow in the dark.

I’m really tempted to start a petition for people to stop eating these putrid things. Only we, the people, can diminish demand. Without demand, production is unnecessary, and without a need, it will forcefully extinct these turd logs.

Ugh. I feel sick to my stomach.

Summer Sashimi

In kaiseki, the fourth course is usually a fish. Sometimes a grilled fish – typically ayu – is served but more often times than not, it will be sashimi. Japanese cuisine is seasonal and plating reflects the seasons as well.

via my Insta

From a summer sashimi, a breakdown of the fish and garnishes:

The fish

The fish from left to right: Katsuo bonito, suzuki Japanese sea bass, aji mackerel. 

The garnishes

— The katsuo is resting on a green shiso leaf.
— The net like transparent piece on top of the suzuki is a thinly sliced pretty daikon.
— A piece of carrot and radish are hanging out on top of the aji.
— The white mound is grated shouga ginger. The green mound is grated wasabi.
— The flower in the middle is hana hojiso perilla blossom. Perilla is shiso. Or lovingly nicknamed the cilantro of Japan as it has a distinct fragrance.

How to eat

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Baked Alaska and Citizen Cake

Strange timing. Just when I was talking about how I can’t recall the last time I saw a Baked Alaska, I stumbled onto one on Instagram. I asked if it was a Baked Alaska, to which they kindly responded it’s a Baked Hawaiian.

Baked Hawaiian is a variation of a Baked Alaska, where it’s the same hot and cold concept of cake and ice cream with meringue. In a Baked Hawaiian, pineapple (passion fruit or any tropical fruit) is used.

Here are several recipes I found:

Citizen Cake by the way, was a fantastic dessert place in San Francisco. I still remember the akamiso chocolate ginger soufflé with house made yuzu ice cream, rose petal crème brûlée with saffron pistachio cookies and a grapefruit campari cocktail I had back in 2008 (Thank you, journal!). The bakery nextdoor: Citizen Cupcake had incredible carrot cake. And I’m not a dessert person.

I looked up Chef Falkner to see what she’s up to after Citizen Cake. Apparently she moved to NY and is now a consulting chef after short stints making pizza and cooking in the UWS of Manhattan. She’s also a contributor to Food and Wine Mag, where I found several recipes for juices. Citizen Cake’s cocktails were so delicious, I’m definitely making this juice when apples are back in season (Granny Smith is tough to find in Japan).

Fresh Apple-Celery Juice with Ginger and Parsley

2 celery ribs, cut into 3-inch lengths
One Granny Smith apple—halved, cored and cut into large chunks
One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 medium bunch of parsley with stems
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Mix above ingredients in a juicer. Recipe via here.

Tamago Tofu

 

Tamago tofu 卵豆腐 is a small dish that makes appearances in kaiseki Japanese haute cuisine meals. Tamago tofu translates to egg tofu but it isn’t actually tofu – there are no soy beans. It’s dashi and egg, steamed in a square, making it more a unsweetened custard than tofu. The color and consistency resembles tofu, which is where it got its name.

It is said in ancient Japan, poultry and their byproducts (ex: eggs) used for consumption was against Buddhist beliefs and weren’t incorporated into Japanese cooking until 1333. The first recorded recipe of tamago tofu was in a cooking essay published in 1785, thus considered a newer dish.

I guess in a country with recorded history dating back to year 787 (Heian period), 1785 can be perceived as… new 0_0 Sometimes I forget how old Japan is.

Anyway, the other night I had an exquisite dinner at one of my favorite places and tamago tofu was one of our dishes. My dining companion (non-Japanese) asked about the dish and I couldn’t answer all his questions. So of course I asked one of the chefs who overloaded me with information I translated. He was so intrigued by this dish, I thought I’d share here too.

 

(Pardon the messy photo — I forgot to snap a picture until we served ourselves)

The green vegetable that looks like a skinny green bean is junsai. The English translation is Brasenia schreberi or water shield. Google images pulled up photos of flat, round green clusters floating in water reminiscent of lily pads. That caught me a bit off guard since I was expecting a thin pipe like vegetable. Further googling taught me junsai is an aquatic plant commonly found in Hangzhou, China and Japan. This was probably more information than you wanted to know about an obscure green.

The white squares are yamaimo (mountain potato — the yam with the texture of okra) and the tamago tofu was topped with thin coils of crisp cucumber in a dashi broth. Oh and shrimp, of course.

Tamago tofu is served at room temperature, as was this dish. The silky tamago tofu with the vivid and crunchy vegetables and smooth dashi broth was so refreshing. It was like an elegant summer day.

Wish everyone could experience this once in their lives.

 

Ayu

Kanda’s ayu courtesy of here.

Kaiseki is Japanese haute cuisine and with all haute cuisines, there is an order, a pattern if you will, of dishes that are served. First course is zensai, a small bite of seasonal foods, usually vegetable based. Second course is usually a fish, most of the time sashimi of a white fish, followed by a broth or soup of some kind.

In the spring and fall, ayu makes an appearance during the second course. Usually lightly salted and grilled.

The ideal size of an ayu is 6 inches, or 15cm which makes it edible in three bites.

According to Chef Kanda of Nihonryori Kanda, the proper way to eat ayu is:
First bite = from the head to right above the stomach
*sip beer*
Second bite = the stomach
*sip beer*
Third bite = the crispy tail
*sip beer and feel sad the ayu is gone*

Ayu is a very particular fish.

Its characteristics are a sweet fish with a bit of bitterness in its fins and head. When eaten with beer, it draws out the sweetness and balances the bitter.

Ayu also needs to be cooked while still alive. Otherwise, the muscles tighten and the meat wraps around the bone. When that happens, it is likely the bones prick the customer’s mouths so it’s best prepared while alive. Another reason it needs to be cooked while living is the meat flattens and it doesn’t end up deliciously plump on the plate. When grilled fresh, ayu’s fins firm to allow the fish to stand on its own fins.

I’m not really a stickler on etiquette but because I learned such incredible facts on ayu, I thought I would share.

Most of this knowledge I obtained from Chef Kanda.
Kanda-san’s Kanda has been awarded three Michelin stars for seven consecutive years (in case your food barometer is solely based on ratings).

I wouldn’t recommend Kanda to first time kaiseki eaters. His food is subtle and unless one really knows Japanese food, it might be challenging to appreciate — some may even feel ripped off. For what it’s worth though, Kanda is easily in my top ten meals of all time.

Nihonryori no Kanda
http://nihonryori-kanda.com/english/information/
*bookings should be made at least three months in advance

PS: The above photo is not mine. I do not take photos at Kanda, as Kanda-san is extremely particular with his food and has a deep thought process that surrounds all aspects of the foods he serves. Kanda, is built around optimal servings of ingredients ex: he only seats 16-18 people a day because that is the best portion of meats and fish, for example. His kitchen is tiny on purpose, because Japanese food is extremely reliant on timing, even adding a bit of soy sauce a millisecond too early or too late can throw the entire dish off. Knowing what I know about his ethos, I do not want to disrespect his food and the experience fiddling with my phone taking photos.