Friday, November 29, 2013

Nojo restaurant in San Francisco 農場レストラン

 Yakitori 焼き鳥 or grilled chicken (plus pork and vegetables) on a skewer is one of our favorite Izakaya-style food. When we visited New York, we went to "Torishin" 鳥心 which tried to reproduce an authentic (albeit cleaned-up or up-scale) Japanese Yakitori place or Yakitori-ya 焼き鳥屋 in New York. In contrast, "Nojo" 農場 (meaning "farm") in the Mission district of San Francisco is not trying to be an authentic Yakitori-ya but more of an American eatery which serves Yakitori (very authentic and good) as well as Japanese-inspired dishes not served on a stick. The story of how chef/owner Greg Dunmore decided to open a Yakitori restaurant is posted on their web site.
When we arrived, the restaurant was quite busy and noisy. There were a number of tables as well as a counter along the front of an open kitchen (main kitchen behind the wall). In the center of the open kitchen, was the grilling station or "Yakidai" 焼き台 which appears to be using gas rather than charcoal or electricity as a heat source. As you can see in the picture below the decor had some Japanese touches but over all the atmosphere was that of an American neighborhood eatery. The clientele did not appear to be Japanese (while we were there I was the only representative of that group). They were mostly young, local residents.

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The tables for two were very close together. We had to be careful when being seated to not knock something over on the table next to us.  Conversation was almost impossible because of the high noise level. We sat for quite some time before someone acknowledged our existence. (It is torture to sit, hungry, in a restaurant and watch delicious looking food being delivered to other tables). Once we got on the wait staff’s radar screen, however, service improved. We started by choosing sake. They had a short but decent sake list (and beer, wine and chochu) and we settled for Wakatake Onigoroshi Junmai ginjo 若竹鬼殺し純米吟醸 from Shizuoka 静岡 (a safe choice). Because the service appeared slow, we decided to order most of what we wanted to try all at once and up front to avoid long waits between deliveries. Although we ordered everything in a jumble, we were impressed by how they sorted out the meal by grouping our orders. They did not serve everything at once. Dishes came out in an orderly progression that showed careful consideration to combining tastes and textures that went well together.
First came blackened Brussels sprouts. We have tried many recipes for Brussels sprouts and until we stumbled on blackened sprouts my wife was the only Brussels sprouts fan in the family.  So, among the salads and vegetable dishes they offered, we chose this dish. It was a nice size for us to share. It had a nice sauce (soy sauce and balsamic vinegar?) and some heat (Japanese Ichimi tougarashi 一味唐辛子?) with thin strips of what appeared to be cabbage but later we realized it was "Yuba" 湯葉.  We both liked this dish and it was a perfect starter.

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We love Yakitori chicken wings but the yakitori menu did not contain wings. Instead, we found "crispy deep fried wings" on the not-on-a-stick menu and decided to try them. They served a generous amount (probably 6 wings and drummets)  but we started eating before we remembered to take a picture. So the below  picture shows just one each of wing and drummet. This was also a big hit. Very nice crispy skin and seasoning was just great. It was marinated first and deep dried with flour (rice flour?) and additional seasoning (some kind of flavored salt?).

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Then the Yakitori started appearing. We had, neck meat ("seseri" せせり), skin ("kawa", かわ), and pork jowl ("kashira" かしら). Neck and Skin were rather small skewers but were excellent.  Pork jowl is fatty meat from the head/neck areas of the pig(I learned that bacon made from jowl was very popular in the South). It is also delectably “deadly” as our favorite pork belly (picture below).

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Then came what was probably the best dish of the evening--candied duck liver (picture below). It was a good sized portion; perfect for us to share (again we had eaten most of it before the picture was taken), deep fried coated in some type of batter and then seasoned in sweet sticky sauce served on the bed of lettuce and radons of bacon.
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The duck liver was not gamy and had a nice texture (especially if you like the texture of cooked liver). The lettuce was a good cool contract to this rich liver dish.
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We ordered few more items which were "tsukune" つくね with egg yolk sauce, bacon wrapped mochi 餅のベーコン巻き and "automnal tsukemono" 漬物. Tsukune was good, served with a soy sauce based sauce and a raw egg yolk (hope the egg came from a near-by "farm" and was safe). We loved the bacon wrapped mochi (it instantly converted my wife to an ardent mochi fan. How can you go wrong with bacon wrapped anything?) We’d like to try something similar at home later. The only disappointment of the evening was  the "Tsukemono". They tasted almost like regular pickles out of a jar and did not have the subtle taste and crunch we would expect from such a dish.

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Although we were quite full,  my wife wanted to try "Black sesame ice cream"as a desert.  It was quite good and interesting. For some reason, they gave us the dessert gratis (Thank you). We liked this place and will come again if we have a chance. After eating there we can see why it is so popular and forgive them the initial lapse in service. Next time, we will try the counter which will be easier for us to talk, although I am not sue if we can make a reservation at the counter.

Information on "Nojo"
Nojo restaurant 農場レストラン

231 Franklin Street, San Francisco


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Restaurant Kappa in San Francisco 小料理屋河童

I learned about this restaurant sometime ago on a previous trip to San Francisco. On that visit we stayed at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco Japan town and tried to go to this restaurant but we could not get a reservation. Instead, we went to Ino sushi 井乃鮨. Later we learned our substitute choice was a “Sushi bullies” place (aka sushi Nazi) which we did not know at that time but had a good dinner nonetheless. This time I planned ahead and made a reservation via email way ahead of time. This place must rely on a regular clientel or "Jouren" 常連客 or word-of-mouth for most of their business. It is an “if you don’t know exactly where you are going you will never get there” type of place. Even with the specific instruction that it is located on the second floor of the building at the corner of Post and Buchanan* (picture below left) you will not find it. This is because prior to opening at 6pm, the front of the restaurant (picture below right) is totally hidden behind locked, nondescript, unmarked double doors with absolutely no signage. On our previous visit, even though we did not have a reservation and would be eating elsewhere, I just wanted to see where it was located. We wandered around for quite some time but never found it. This time, luckily we arrived a 6:00 PM and there was a small hand written cardboard sign with “Kappa” on it. Behind the double door we found a small vestibule and a nice black Japanese style sliding door with a lantern with “koryouri Kappa” 小料理 かっぱ on it (picture below right).

*The first floor of this building has a family style Japanese restaurant called "Sanppo" 三宝. When we lived in the Bay area many years ago, we used to stop by for a late supper after driving back from all-day skiing at Lake Tahoe.
outside comp
We opened the sliding door, and were welcomed by a smiling kimono-clad proprietor (wife) into a small but nice space. The restaurant's decor was dominated by a white wood counter which probably seats 10 people (picture below left) and a small separate room which seats 3 more at a table. The husband was the chef behind the counter and no other helpers were in sight. In the small triangular space behind our seats was a flower arrangement displayed (picture below right) which was a very nice touch. It was very quiet (there was only one other couple in the separate room).
Kappa interior
They had quite an extensive sake list. For the first round, I had Kikusui 菊水 and my wife kamotusru arabashiri 加茂鶴あらばしり. After some conversation with the couple, we found out that both were from Hokkaido like myself; the “Mrs.” was from Asahikawa 旭川and the “Mr.” from Akabira 赤平. Since we established the Hokkaido connection, I next chose Otokoyama 男山 which is brewed in Asahikawa (unfortunately this was not a particularly great sake).  We also had Dassai 獺祭 and Born 梵 to accompany other dishes.
We had asked to have an omakase tasting course お任せ. So, we did not have to order. Everything just came, one after the other in a well timed fashion.

The first dish was clear soup with seared scallop and kaiware カイワレ大根 and yuzu ゆず. To me, this is a bit unusual for an opening since we usually start with sashimi at an izakaya but this is not an izakaya it was more like a small ryoutei.料亭 or traditional Japanese course only restaurant. The soup had a lot of umami (or “dashi ga kiiteiru” 出汁がきている).
The next was crab in vinegar dressing or Kani no sunomono カニの酢の物. Good sized Dungeness crab and snow crab meat was dressed in sweet vinegar with sesame and cucumber.
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The third dish was “tuna no nuta” マグロのぬた, yubiki tuna 湯引き鮪 with blanched scallion and wakame seaweed were dressed in miso vinegar dressing..
And then came the assortment of 15 (no mistake, fifteen) small dishes called “Hassun” 八寸. Traditionally, many small items are placed in an 8-sun square plate (“sun” 寸 is an old Japanese measurement unit which is about 3cm, so 8-sun is 24cm or about 10inch square). As far as I can remember, the left row from the bottom are hamachi teriyaki はまちの照り焼き, roasted duck breast 鴨胸肉のロースト, karashi-mentaiko wrapped in squid 辛子明太子のイカ巻き, dashi-maki omelet 出汁巻き. The right row from the top are corn kakiage トウモロコシのかき揚げ, fried scallop ホタテのフライ, tuna kakuni マグロの角煮, simmered gan-modoki がんもどきの煮つけ, and simmered kabocha かぼちゃの煮つけ. In the center 6 items from the left bottom are smoked salmon with mountain yam 燻製サーモンの山芋載せ (in the small dish), asparagus in sesame dressing アスパラの胡麻和え, senmai zuke of radish 千枚漬け, simmered small scallop ひも付きホタテの煮もの, boiled “Kuruma” prawn 茹でクルマエビ and eggplant with dengaku sauce 茄子の田楽. All these were presented on top of a fresh wasabi plant leaf. This was indeed our nirvana; small morsels of different tastes between sips of sake.
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At the wife's advice, we nibbled on the stalk of fresh wasabi plant which had a nice fresh taste but was not as hot as wasabi itself. We had consumed quite a bit of sake to finish these dishes.

Now came the otsukuri お造り or sashimi 刺身. From the left to right; a nice piece of hamachi はまち, maguro 鮪, kanpachi カンパチ, and California Uni (we were told was from off the coast of Santa Barbara, and is said to be the very best and indeed it was). Everything was great but the uni was particularly great and we asked for an additional serving to go with more sake.
The shime  〆 course was three good pieces of nigiri にぎり; eel, smoked salmon and tuna. The rice was not as well seasoned as it could have been and the rice balls appeared to be made in a mold rather than done by hand.

At this point, we had drunk enough and were quite satiated.  But here came the dessert. From left to right in the picture below; mizu-yokan水羊羹, ripe pineapple, strawberry, mango and kinako-coated warabi mochi わらび餅.
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This was not the end of the desert and we also had strawberry/raspberry sorbet.
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This was quite an extraordinary experience. We felt like we were back in Japan. The place was quiet and we enjoyed interesting conversations with the chef and his wife. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Information on Kappa.

Restaurant Kappa 小料理かっぱ
1700 Post St., Suite K
San Francisco, CA 94115
(On the 2nd floor of the building located at the corner of Buchanan St. and Post St.)
(415) 673-6004 - Call for reservations after 4:30pm

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Izakaya Yuzuki in San Francisco 居酒屋癒月

We visited the San Francisco Bay area recently to attend a wine tasting and dinner held in honor of my former mentor. My friend, who organized the event, did a great job of putting together a wonderful great quality wine tasting of old vintages of California and Bordeaux wines emulating the judgment of the Paris in 1976. Afterwards, we decided to stay in San Francisco and visit a few Izakaya style restaurants. One evening, I chose Yuzuki 癒月 from the information I gather on the Internet and it happened to be a great choice.

The restaurant is in the Mission district. The building is old and could have previously been a neighborhood eatery. “Yuzuki” is a created word meaning “healing moon”. The picture below shows a framed calligraphy of the restaurant's name. In the old style, the letters are read right to left.
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All the wait staff appeared to be Japanese and the two chefs busily preparing food could be seen through the pass-through opening in the back. The Sake sommelier  was also at hand to explain the sakes they were serving. The atmosphere was informal and very pleasant. For a more realistic Izakaya atmosphere, however, I would have preferred more counter seating. They have a bar counter (leftover from the previous restaurant?) but it is not quite the same as an Izakaya counter.
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The table at which we sat was dark; darker than other tables which made picture taking a bit difficult. We started with a flight of four different sakes. The sake sommelier (a young man) served the flight and explained the types of sake, breweries, brew masters, flavor profiles etc. It was accompanied with a piece of paper with the name and short description of the sake. This is a much better way to experience a sake flight than the one we had at Sakamai 酒舞 in New Yolk because all the relevant information was available right in front of us.The Dewazuru junmai 出羽鶴 純米酒 was served at room temperature and the rest were chilled. From right to left, Takatenjin, Diaginjo 高天神大吟醸, Shizuoka; Fukucho “Suigetsu”, Junmai Ginjo 富久長 水月 純米吟醸酒, Hiroshima, Dewazuru Kimoto junmai 出羽鶴きもと純米, Akita; Yukino bosha, Nigori, Junmai ginjo, 雪の茅舎にごり純米吟醸酒 Akita.
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We really enjoyed this flight. After the tasting, we chose a bottle of Fukuchou Suigetsu from Hiroshima as our drinking sake for the evening. The brew master for this sake is a female which is very unusual. We liked this one because of its nice clean taste yet it had some depth with a distinctive fennel after taste which was pleasantly surprising.

I forgot to take a picture of the first dish which was three Kyoto and home style vegetable dishes called “obansai” おばんさい presented very nicely in three small bowls set in a wooden compartmentalized box. There were three  specials on the menu that evening; 1) Hokkaido white squid sashimi, 2) raw oysters on a half-shell, and 3) anago 穴子 or sea eel tempura. We asked for the squid sashimi and anago tempura. In addition we ordered squid shiokara イカの塩辛 or “squid and guts”.
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The picture above shows the squid sashimi. A portion of it was prepared in “naruto-maki” 鳴門巻き style with the nori seaweed. The legs were lightly boiled which was a bit chewy. This was very nice.
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For the shiokara, we were well into it when I realized I had not taken a picture. We stopped eating long enough for me to quickly snap the pic. This was the best dish of the evening especially for my wife who is a shiokara connoisseur. This was home made by the chef rather than store bought and tasted of every bit of his skill.
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The anago tempura was huge. The entire anago was served with other items such as egg plant, mizuna, and sweet potato. The entire length of the bone was also deep fried and served (a portion of it is visible in the picture above as “U” shaped item in the back). We also had shrimp kakiage かき揚げ and a very good chwanmushi 茶碗蒸し with uni (it was very good but the uni looked and tasted like it was from Maine).
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As a shime 〆 or ending dish, we had grilled uni rice balls うにの焼きおにぎり. Four small wedges of rice topped with soy sauce-butter seasoning, uni, green (water cress), thin strips of nori. These were perfect for the two of us. This combination of uni and water cress sautéed in butter and soy sauce appears to have started out by the teppan-yaki 鉄板焼き place called "Nakachan" 中ちゃん in Hiroshima 広島 and was popularized by the new-trend sake bar "Buchi" in Shibuya. This was very good with a crunchy crust and nice uni taste. 

Although Yuzuki has the atmosphere of a small restaurant rather than an Izakaya, the food and sake were all excellent. If we were living in San Francisco, we would frequent this place often.

Information of Yuzuki:
Izakaya Yuzuki 居酒屋癒月
500 Guerrero Avenue, San Francisco
(415) 556-9898

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tarako Canapé 鱈子のカナッペ

Since I thawed frozen tarako たらこ (salted Japanese cod roe) and there was an extra eggs sack left, I made this dish just on a whim as an appetizer. It was simple and quick but quite good

First, I mixed mayonnaise and tarako (1 tbs each) with a small amount of lemon juice (#1). Meanwhile I lightly toasted four “cocktail” pumpernickel bread squares and placed them on a small aluminum foil lined cookie tray (#2). I thinly spread the tarako-mayo mixture on the bread (#3). For good measure, I also added slices of Gruyere cheese  (#4). I grilled them in the toaster oven until the cheese melted.
I garnished them with small dab of tarako on  top. A perfect small dish to start the evening with wine or sake.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Chestnut kakiage 栗のかき揚げ

One more dish made from North American chestnuts. This time I made “Kakiage” かき揚げ with onions and chestnuts.

Chestnuts: I prepared the chestnuts the same way as before. In brief, I boiled them and removed the outer and inner skins while they were still hot. For kakiage, you can use fragmented chestnuts.
Onion: Since I did not have any other vegetables such as carrot or gobou (burdock root), I just used sliced onion (halved first and then thinly sliced. The amount is totally arbitrary. You could add other items.
Batter: I lightly salted the sliced onion first and then sprinkled on cake flour and let it sit for 30 minutes so that the moisture from the onion came out.  To make this kakiage a bit richer I added one egg yolk (optional) and more cake flour and cold water and mixed. I tried to make a rather thin tempura batter.

In a deep frying pan, I added fresh vegetable oil and heated it to 350F on medium flame. When the oil was hot, I placed a flat disk of onion and chestnuts mixture using a slotted spoon (below). To make kakiage crispy, I fried it longer than I would usually fry tempura (5 minutes) and turned them over and kept frying for another 4-5 minutes until the edges of the onion were brown and crispy.

This is a good autumnal dish. The sweetness of the onion and chestnuts enhance each other with different textures. As usual, I served this with green tea salt and wedges of lemon.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Miso flavored omelet 味噌卵

I tried to make this once before. This time I properly used scallop shells to cook the dish. This one is better than the first attempt but still not as good as I remembered. (My mother's side grandfather used to make this dish in a large scollop shell when I was just a little kid).

The recipe is still evolving but essentially a mixture of  eggs and miso cooked in a scallop shell.
The two servings as you see below is made with one egg.

Miso: I used Saikyo miso 西京味噌 (1 tbs) and loosened the consistency by adding a small amount of mirin which also added more sweetness.

Egg: Since I was planning to serve the dish with the center not fully cooked, I used one pasteurized egg.

I beat the egg and added the miso mixture and also added finely chopped scallion.

On low flame, I started cooking the mixture (left) and stopped when the peripheral portions started cooking (right).

This was much better than my first attempt but the edges got cooked too much while the center was still liquid. I have to try further to perfect this.

Monday, November 11, 2013

G-sake Fifty and G-sake

A few years ago, we came across a good US brewed sake called G-sake "Joy" from SakeOne. Some time later we tasted a new batch of  "Momokawa" Silver and Diamond sake also from SakeOne. Recently we came across a new variation of G-sake called "G-sake fifty", so we had a mini tasting to compare G-Sake fifty with regular G-sake (they have apparently dropped "Joy" from the name).

To start the sake tasting, we needed "Otoushi" お通し. I could not come up with 6 otoushi like Suiko  酔香 or Shuhai 酒杯 so I settled for three (see below).

From left to right; Kinpira gobou きんぴらごぼう, Pork belly "Kakuni" 豚の角煮 and Chicken skin, pickled myouga and cucumber in Ponzu 雛皮,蛇腹胡瓜,茗荷のポン酢和え.

Here is a picture of the two G-sakes. Left is the original G-sake(yellow "G") and the right is G-sake fifty (Green "G").

The picture below shows what is written on the back of the of the G-sake Fifty bottle.

Again, what kind of rice they are using is a bit of a mystery but if I had to hazard a guess I would say that they must be using a combination of imported "Saka-mai" 酒米 from Japan and probably  "CalRose" rice from California. Since it has an affiliation with Momokawa shuzou 桃川酒造, it is possible the imported rice may be from Aomori prefecture 青森県.

We were quite excited about this tasting. We poured both G-sakes into clear glass sake cups (to see the colors of sake better); surprisingly G-sake was slightly turbid (see below right). (Yes the sake cup was clean so the turbidity is indeed the sake not the cup).  The G-sake fifty, as you can see in the picture was clear (below left). Both had a very similar flavor profile which is not unlike Momokawa Diamond but not as sweet and a bit more refined, especially "Fifty". It is a more savory sake with a slight sweetness In contrast the regular G-Sake was a bit sweeter.

Being "Genshu" 原酒 (or undiluted sake), the alcohol content was 18% which, (believe it or not) we felt, was a bit too high for our tastes. So, in conclusion, we were not as impressed as before when we tasted G-Sake "joy" 2 years ago. Of the two we tasted we liked G-Sake Fifty better but if you like this flavor profile, Momokawa Diamond is more readily available and less expensive, albeit sweeter.

Of course, more food is needed when tasting sake. Again, we had sashimi from Catalina Offshore. This batch was quite good. Especially the blue fin tuna; very nice "Chu-toro" 中トロ (left lower) and "Ko-toro" 小トロ (upper center). Hamachi ハマチ could have had more fat (Center lower) but had a nice texture and Uni ウニ was superb.

Since, as usual, I removed the almost pure fat layer which was closest to the skin, I made a dish which is a cross between "Negi-toro" ネギトロ and ”Namerou" なめろう (Dressed in Karashi-sumiso からし酢味噌 and finely chopped scallion) preparation. I used a small container we newly acquired from the pottery store in Nishiki Market.

Although both G-Sakes are quite drinkable, we still prefer "fruity" and "clean" as oppose to "savory" and "sweet" tastes in sake. We  still prefer our house-sake "Mu" over either G-Sake.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Uni-Ikura donburi うにいくら丼

When I posted Eki-ben 駅弁 or station bento box, I mentioned my wife was disappointed because she could not get her favorite eki-ben from Hakodate; they are "Ikura bento" イクラ弁当 and "Uni-Ikura bento" ウニイクラ弁当 because our train connection to Sapporo was very tight due to the delay of our train to Hakodate. We did not have a time to buy eki-ben in Hakodate 函館.  After we came back to the U.S., she lamented the fact that she could not have  "Ikura and Uni bento". So, to appease her, I got uni (fresh) and ikura (frozen) from Catalina offshore products and made her Uni-ikura donburi.

The picture below is what she could have gotten in Hakodate but she did not.


This is what she got after coming home.

Since this was after eating some other goodies including toro sashimi トロ刺身 also from Catalina, I made a small donburi.

Ikura: I first thaw Ikura in the refrigerator over night. I then added a mixture of sake and soy sauce (equal amount), mixed and let it sit in the refrigerator over night in a sealed plastic container. The ikura swelled up absorbing the seasoning by the next day.

Uni: This is straight from the tray of California Gold uni from Catalina.

I first put the "sushi meshi" 寿司飯 on the bottom of the bowl, I then scattered thin strips of nori. I then topped the rice with uni and seasoned ikura. I could have added golden thread omelet or "kinshiran" 金糸卵.

As a consolation prize, this was not too bad. My wife said she was quite thrilled and satisfied to finally get her Uni-ikura donburi.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

“Eki Ben” 駅弁

When we go to Japan, there are several things we really enjoy (beside going places and seeing our friends and family, of course). The first is visiting Izakaya and tasting all the good food and sake. The second is riding trains (we always get Japan rail passes). The third is eating “bento” 弁当 or more specifically "Eki-Ben" 駅弁 "station bento" boxes while riding trains. We did not do as many bentos as we would have liked but here the ones we tried.

One kind of bento which is rather universal either at the train station or the basement floor of department stores (“Depa-chika” デパ地下) called “Makunouchi Bento” 幕の内弁当 which originated from a bento boxes served at the Kabuki theater between performances. Now, among the bento boxes sold at train stations, makunouchi bento is very common and popular. It is offered at different prices and sizes but, essentially, it consists of many small compartments that include cooked fish, meat, vegetables, and rice.

This is the one we had while riding the shikansen 新幹線 train from Tokyo 東京 to Kyoto 京都. This was one of the small makunouchi. The left side is molded rice which is very common in makunouchi which makes picking up rice with chopsticks easy.

Below is an example of a much larger makunouchi bento which we had when we were riding from Kyoto to Tokyo. There are many more compartments than the previous example and the rice in different preparations was in five of the compartments including Inari いなり寿司 (left middle compartment).

Of course, train riding is thirsty work so some libation goes well with bento. I was a bit disappointed that many kiosks carried different kinds of beer, shochu cocktails, or whisky but sake was either not available or the selection was very limited. Obviously the preference of Japanese people has changed.

At a kiosk on the shinkansen platform in Tokyo, however, I found some fairly good sake (left) from Nada 灘 (near Kobe 神戸). We think the ultimate is riding a train in comfortable seats, watching the scenery go by, while tasting so many different food items from the bento box and sipping good sake. (one of the reasons we don’t ride the nozomi, even if we could using our Japan rail pass, is because the scenery flashes by so fast we cant watch it without getting dizzy.) The only problem is that the train rides seem to end too soon.

To fix this problem, we rode a scenic well-appointed tourist train which runs from Akita 秋田 to either Hirosaki 弘前 or Aomori 青森 via a local track called "Gonou-sen" 五能線 along the beautiful coast line facing the Sea of Japan north of Akita called “Resort Shirakami” リゾート白神. While the same trip (between Akita and Hirosaki using Oou line 奥羽本線) can be made by conventional train in 2 hours, this tourist train took over 5 hours from Akita to Hirosaki,

The below was the bento we had during the ride. This came in an imitation “Wappa” わっぱ bento box which, in original form, is  made of thin Japanese cedar bent into the shape of a bento box. Of course, this was made of plastic (below right).


The content was “seasoned rice” with a specific local chicken from the Akita area called “Hinai” ji-dori. 比内地鶏.

The last bento boxes shown below were ones that we had while riding the train from Hakodate 函館 to Sapporo 札幌. Our train from Aomori 青森 to Hakodate was delayed for no apparent reason (very unusual for Japanese trains) and the train from Hakodate to Sapporo actually had to wait for the connecting passengers (Us!). Although we usually have time to buy Eki-ben at Hakodate station (my wife really likes their “ikura-uni” bento), we had just enough time to transfer from one train to the other at a dead run dragging our luggage behind us--so shopping for bentos was out of the question. (That was the first time we almost missed a connection in Japan due to delays). So we had to get bento on the train.

We knew from past experience that we could make a reservation from the train for a “Kanimeshi-bento” かにめし弁当 or "crab rice bento" from Oshiamanbe 長万部 station. This is a rather famous bento and we wanted to try it. The idea is to make a reservation while  the train is heading to Oshiamanbe station. The reserved bento boxes are made just in time to meet the train when it stops. 

During this train ride we were attended by a very pleasant lady concierge. (Even though she had the responsibility of checking tickets she still had to serve tea.) She brought us a cold drink and paper slippers as soon as we boarded. She then took orders for lunch including the reservation of “Kanimeshi”. As the train left Oshamanbe station she delivered the bentos to our seats; Americans just don’t know the meaning of service until they’ve experienced it in Japan.

In any case, we had this famous crab rice bento (below). It was a bit disappointing. After all the hype we were expecting a luscious box with big chunks of crab. Instead, the crab meat was very finely ground and dry. It was seasoned sort of sweet and salty. The rice was still warm indicating that it had just been packed but this was not worth the effort and the price. The meat had very little crab flavor; it could have been any dry tasteless fish meat. It was certainly not the best bento we had on the trip—the other bento box we got along with the crab box was much better.


We also got an ekiben which was apparently originated in Hakodate station (below) called “San-kai iro-iro gohan” 山海いろいろごはん meaning “Items from mountains and the sea rice bento”

As you can see, items from mountains (small bamboo shoot, shiitake, “fuki”) and from the sea (scallop, salmon roe, kelp roll, fish cake) and other items topped the seasoned rice. For us, this was much better choice.

We knew that the JR Hokkaido and Hakodate line 函館本線 had been plagued with problems. During our ride to Sapporo 札幌, we were concerned about the way the train frequently lurched violently from side to side. My wife actually turned to me and said, “ If this doesn’t let up we could de-rail.” Two days later there was a derailment of a freight train on the same line (no one was hurt). The Hokodate line was closed for several days. My wife’s prognosis apparently was correct. We feel we were lucky. We hope things improve for JR Hokkaido.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

New small containers and Walnut "shira-ae" tofu 新しい珍味入れとクルミの白和え

Every time we visit Japan, we shop in Kappabashi 合羽橋 in Tokyo and Nishiki market 錦市場 in Kyoto and buy some kitchen and table wares. The below is one such a purchase at Nishiki market. We bought similar items before from the same store called "Kawazen pottery" 河善陶器. They are tiny covered vessels in which "rare" tastes or "Chin-mi" 珍味 can be served. This time the proprietor suggested we get larger base (the little black tray divided into square compartments. He said that make everything a bit more "luxurious" (and we tend to agree with him.)

So, one evening after we came back to the U.S., I made a few small dishes and served them in these newly acquired containers.

From left to right; Daikon Namsu with "Jako" 大根なます雑魚添え, Shira-ae with cantaloupe and walnuts メロンとクルミの白和え, and "Komochi megabu" 子持ちめかぶ.

This is my attempt at reproducing one of the otoshi items at Suiko. I promised my wife that I would make a similar dish. Since Persimmon was not yet available around here, I used cantaloupe instead.

Tofu: I used silken tofu (1/4). I placed it on a paper towel lined plate and microwaved it for 30 seconds to remove excess water and let it cool down to room temperature.

White sesame seeds and white sesame seed paste: I used the combination. I first dry roasted white sesame seeds (1/2 tbs, this one was already roasted but I briefly re-roasted using a small dry frying pan). Do not over do it since it will give the seeds color making shira-ae (literally means "white" dressing) not white. I ground the roasted sesame seeds in a Japanese mortar (suribachi すり鉢) until pasty and then added store-bought sesame paste (1/2 tbs). I then added miso (2/3 tbs, or to you taste) and the tofu and mixed it until it became a nicely smooth paste. I tasted and adjust the seasoning by adding more miso if needed.

Cantaloupe and walnut: Since I did not have a persimmon, I cut up a cantaloupe melon in to small cubes (amount arbitrary) and coarsely chopped roasted walnuts. I garnished with larger pieces of walnut pieces on the top.

Although, persimmon shira-ar is rather standard, the addition of walnuts really added to the taste and contrast in texture and this was a good variation of this dish.

This was my "sokuseki" 即席 or "instant or quick" version of "daikon namasu" 大根なます .

This was a packaged and frozen product. "Mekabu" めかぶ is a portion of "wakame" 若布 seaweed closed to the attachment. The eggs are Capelin eggs.

The tofu and cantaloupe was a good facsimile of the one we had in Japan. These containers look nice and we enjoyed our house sake "Mu" with these small drinking snacks.