Thursday, 24 June 2010

culinary activity in early summer: “ume-shu” making

It’s a pity that the Japanese young of these days became unlikely to enjoy alcohol. Aah, don’t get me wrong. Alcohol can cause hepatic and brain-related damages, or in worst cases, ruin our life at all, I know. It is, however, true as well that the moderate intake has been playing a part in keeping our body healthy.

Japanese loves to not only drink but also make “fruit liqueurs” (kajitsu-shu, 果実酒) at home, do you know? Although it’s a cinch to buy the ready-made version in cans and bottles, many households have still been taking over this tradition from our ancestors for centuries. Homemade liqueurs are very rich in minerals as well as acids, and under Japan’s Liquor Tax Act, we’re allowed to use every kind of fruits BUT grapes (and grains) at home, for domestic use only.

A wide range of seasonal fruits (and vegetables occasionally) are picked up to steep in alcohol, best of all, Japanese plum-like fruit called “ume” (梅) is the quintessential ingredient used for homemade liqueurs.

Ume fruit liqueur, aka “ume-shu” (梅酒) in Japanese, simply tastes delicious! The sweetness of the sugar perks up the sharp acidity of the ume, conjuring up that of green apples. Enjoy this syrupy liquid with ice in a smaller glass as an aperitif, or make fizz topped with soda water in a tall glass for alfresco. Being rather girly, both are great sipping drinks in summer, I promise.

The season of ume lasting from late May to June conflicts with the rainy season in Japan. This is why our rainy season is known as 梅雨 (tsuyu), these Chinese characters signifying “ume” and “rain” respectively. Around this time of year, all we need to make ume-shu are assembled in one corner or just around the entrance of every grocery and supermarket to appeal around.

So, just prepare the following items at hand:
  • Fresh Ume Fruits
    While there’re various ume fruits suitable for ume-shu, “nanko-bai” (南高梅) from Wakayama pref, West Japan is among the finest. Ume used for the liqueur has to be “unripened” (ao-ume, 青梅). Covered with the green thick skin, or with scarlet to amber patchly, it almost looks like a baby Granny Smith apple.
  • Rock Sugar
    Japanese calls this “kori-zato” (氷砂糖) to mean “ice sugar” in the literature. It seems the most highly-refined form of sugar which consumers can get hold of. Lumpy in shape, translucent in colour, and fun to chew on!
  • White Liquor (ホワイトリカー)
    This is a sort of “shochu” (焼酎), Japanese vodka especially for making fruit liqueurs. Available in paper cartons, with an alcohol content of 35% which is required to bring about the healthy maturation.
  • Glass Jar
    Imagine a huge jam bottle with the capacity of several litters. It’s always surmounted by a plastic cap coloured with Christmassy “red” though the reason is unknown.

Nothing complicated in the method either. First of all, wash the ume fruit and remove the black stem with a skewer. Sterilise the glass jar and leave to cool whilst all the ume are dried out naturally. In the jar, then, place alternate layers of the ume and rock sugar and gently pour the liquor over them. At last, seal the jar and store in a cool and dark place. It’s ready to drink in three months, but the more the liqueur gets aged, the better the flavour will be as more than two years is my taste.  You can also eat the tipsy flesh of ume on its own, make jam, or simply throw them away.

This year, my family tried a new take because my mum got a more palatable recipe from a Japanese fine dining restaurant chef on TV. The rough measurement of his concoction is something like 2kg of ume, 1kg of fruit sugar in place of rock sugar, 1.8L of white liquor plus 1.8L of “daiginjo” (大吟醸), that is highly-refined sake. Well, our choice for this is “Mansaku-no-Hana” (まんさくの花) on limited sale, brewed in Akita pref. of North Japan.

The freshly-made ume-shu is now settled in its bed room to ensure a long, deep sleep. I just remembered one Japanese proverb: “good sleep grows kids a lot”..... and ume-shu too!!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

"taste no 5” or “taste chicken tsukune”?

I’m a lot wondering since when early-summer gets full of festivals in Tokyo. Foreign cultural events have gradually been tempting the young lads, as Jamaica, Thai and Laos, these three festivals made a consecutive success at Yoyogi Park, followed by one of the most iconic Shinto festivals called “Sanja Matsuri” in downtown Asakusa. If you want endless cheers with decent beer, just stop by German-imported “Oktberfest” currently ongoing in the other urban oasis, Hibiya Park and more to come.

This time of year is hearty enough to offer sunshine days which are perfect for singing, dancing, eating and drinking outside. Perhaps, we need some alfresco rituals to expel the rainy blues on its way. Festival is better than the songs of birds in Japan? At least, Tokyo is like so.

Well, cooking inside... This recipe has been a regular dish of my family since I happened to find the original in “Lee” a Japanese women’s lifestyle magazine almost ten years ago. “Tsukune” is basically referred to as chicken “balls” in Japanese yakitori cuisine, however, a little change in shape and flavour gives more elegant impact at the table, especially when you have dinner guests around. Your mouth will be delighted with the contrasting texture between the tender meat and the crunchy rotus root. The recipe is also a good specimen to showcase that Japanese “kombu” (kelp) is usable not only to accompany boiled rice, but to season in cooking. Sweet, salty and something intensified in one dish... The taste is 100% guaranteed!


* To make 9 pieces
300g minced chicken
100g lotus root (available in an Asian grocery)
30g shredded shiofuki-kombu (salty kelp. Available in a Japanese grocery)
1-2 shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tbsp sake (or dry sherry)
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
25cm x 25cm non-stick baking paper

1. Peel the rotus root and soak in lightly-vinegered water for 10 minutes to stop colouring. Cut into a couple of chunks, and bash with a rolling pin in a freezer bag until they are teaspoonful bits. Some are totally crumbled, but it’s fine.

2. Using your hands, mix the minced chicken, root, shiitake, soy and sake together in a bowl until well-combined. Add the shiofuki-kombu, mix gently this time and leave for 10 minutes until the flavour is settled.

3. Shape the mixture into a large single square on baking paper to a thickness of 1.5cm. Love this labour...

4. Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Carefully, lay the mixture on the pan, papered side up so that the baking paper can work like a lid to steam the whole mixture. In 5 minutes, remove the paper and turn the mixture over to cook until browned and just cooked through.

5. Remve it from the pan and cut into 9 squares. Serve hot, warm or even cold, so ideal for bento boxed lunch!

1. In the shaping process of #3, don’t make it thinner to avoid cracks when cooked.
2. Help yourself to season with shichimi togarashi at the table if you prefer a spicy kick.

FYI, “kombu” (kelp seaweed), dried or fresh, has been consumed daily in various cookery forms such as dashi (broth), nimono (stewed dish) and tsukemono (pickles), but my favourite is “shiofuki-kombu” (salty kelp) on the photo. It’s a sort of semi-dried “tsukudani”, which is kelp, vegetable, fish or shellfish boiled down in soy sauce for a long time. If you see the whole surface of shiofuki-kombu is covered with salt-like fine powder, that’s exactly what we mean by “umami”, the Japanese sea-born savouriness. Ah, one more thing to share: nibble shiofuki-kombu on its own when sipping sake. Tasty, plus, it’s said amino acids in the kelp break down the alcohol component. Delicious science.

Japanese even has a fusion pasta recipe with shiofuki-kombu to toss. Hey, you don’t have to buy “Taste No 5”!!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

quick "wasabi-mole"

We’re just in the middle of an almost-one-week national holiday, traditionally called “Golden Week”. Delighted!! The premier day kicked off on 28 April in honour of the birthday of the late Showa Emperor, the first couple of days in May follow up as consecutive public holidays. Now, let’s try a small brainwork... this year, adding 3 paid leaves and 2 weekends, we get a total of up to 12 days to be freed from our workaholic life!

In Japan, new life starts in April, and May is a month to grow it. As the hue of trees, woods and mountains is deepening day by day, I’m inspired to cook something green as if St Patrick’s Day were belated on my calendar...

Well, everybody loves Mexican green guacamole (real or Tex-Mexy) and I’d rather say “without guacamole, no Mexican foods”. According to my cookery mantra, guacamole even meets the “easy” trinity; 1.easy to cook, 2.easy to adapt and 3.easy to eat! It’s worth remembering Nigella Lawson once introduced “roquamole”, her gorgeous twist mixing avocado with Roquefort and sour cream. Take this shortcut if you’d missed the program:

Among many variations of guacamole in the world, then “wasabimole” is my little creation - super-speedy to prepare, yet healthier and more pungent with a hint of “wasabi” paste, an acclaimed Japanese condiment. Coupled with peppery watercress in place of the coriander, it brings an early-summer impact to your sharpening taste!


* Serves 2
1 ripe avocado, peeled and stone removed
2 tbsp watercress, roughly chopped
1/2-3/4 tsp wasabi paste
1 tsp soy sauce
Salt, to taste

Shichimi togarashi (available in a Japanese grocery)

1. Mash the avocado flesh with a fork, add all the other ingredients.
2. Put the mixture into a bowl and serve immediately, sprinkled with the shichimi.

1. You don’t need to use fresh wasabi. Indeed, the paste in tube (or powder diluted with water) works better for the recipe.

As well as classic guacamole, this goes delicious with anything floury like wheat tortillas, corn tortilla chips, and crunchy toasts. Fresh vegetable sticks and greens will do too. Today, I made a version of quesadilla folded with grated cheddar. Be warned, this is so yum.

FYI, “shichimi togarashi” (or simply “shichimi”) is a Japanese chilli-based condiment. As the word of “shichimi” means “seven tastes”, its blend includes several spices like red chilli pepper, black sansho pepper, dried mikan orange peel, black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nori (dried seaweed) and hemp seeds. Being available at any grocery and supermarket, shichimi is used to spice up not only hot noodles, but yakitori and other savoury dishes. Also, it’s been a rising flavour for potato crisps/ rice crackers over recent years.

Friday, 9 April 2010

no sakura, no spring

My personal report on sakura (cherry blossoms). This weekend, it was chilly, cloudy and patchy-rainy... Tokyo was situated a bit miserable in weather, but sakura was finally in full bloom. Hooraaay!!!

In Japan, life starts in April; schools, companies, services and systems, all are renewed at this time of year. As the Japanese Met Office issues a formal statement for the first opening of sakura blossoms, the whole nation craves for sakura to flower as a sign of “new” and “promising”.

On the photo is a sakura view in “Aoyama-bochi” regarded as one of the best “hanami” (sakura-watching, or “o-hanami”, more politely) spots in the heart of the capital. The place is a huge cemetery on its own managed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the atmosphere is 24/7 civilised with less boozers. It may sound spooky to imagine hundreds of sakura trees running alongside roads across the grave complex. Stepping in the sacred boundary, however, you’ll find to walk through the pale-pink flowery tunnel is just a heavenly experience. Aah, it is where the dead is sleeping in peace, so that’s “heaven”, no less!

To be precise, “sakura” is a generic term for a whole variety of cherry trees, but generally referred to as “Somei-Yoshino”, the most popular variety rooted throughout the Japanese islands. Its peak-bloom period lasts as short as a week, or less than that due to the seasonal wind and rain. Please, please excuse us for being ridiculously fussy not to miss out the momentary glace.

Not prioritising the “quantity” of sakura blossoms, you can enjoy hanami everywhere in Japan: gardens, squares, playgrounds, pavements, riverbanks, et al. Plus, many TV adverts are switched to their sakura version too. My favourite is the one for “Iyemon” green tea bottle produced by a Japanese beverage giant, “Suntory”. Since 2004, this advert has been a series of daily scenes happening around Iyemon, who is a green tea brewer living in Kyoto with his wife hundreds of years ago. Here’s the 30-second piece to be worth a look:

And spring has come on sweets, of course. Japanese traditionally eats confectionery such as “sakura-mochi” (rice cake and sweet bean paste wrapped in a sakura leaf). To flavour, salted sakura flowers or preserved leaves are mixed with the sweet dough. It’s good that the family of sakura sweets is extending with a wide range from pastry, through cake and biscuit to ice cream. On the other hand, the second truth is it’s not necessarily admired by all of us because of the incense-ish taste. I asked my friend who was an excellent cook for a seasonal pudding. The result she made is a fake sakura roll substituting cherry fruits. Fabulous! (.. no photo, sorry. My old camera got unwell.)

Now the height of sakura is almost ending in Tokyo, its front is heading northwards. Spring comes after sakura, or sakura deserves spring itself.... I’ve come up with an idea; sakura is “umami” of Japanese culture, the unique beauty nurtured by our deep, deep terroir.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

winter, unwelcome back!

The Met Office finally announced the blossoming of Sakura (cherry) trees at Central Tokyo on 23 March. However... winter is back! The temperature is around 4˚C this afternoon and expected lowered as deepens into night. No more blues, pleeaaasee!!

My brain and tongue accordingly demand an autumnal or winter recipe to cook lots of mushrooms rich in flavour. And I’m a bit proud of Japanese “slurping-up” culture when eating this noodle dish, along with g-l-o-o-p-y, s-l-o-p-p-y and s-l-i-m-y YAM.

“Love it or hate it?” Well, don’t ask Marmite, but you.. decide.


* Serves 3
200g udon noodles
100-150g yamaimo yam, grated (should be available in a Japanese grocery)

30g shiitake mushrooms, finely sliced
30g oyster mushrooms, broken up
30g shimeji mushrooms, broken up
30g enoki mushrooms, broken up and cut in half lengthwise
200ml water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1&1/2 tbsp mirin (sweetened sake used for Japanese cooking)
1 tsp sugar
2/3 tsp dashi-no-moto (an instant powder to enable Japanese fish broth. Buy one like this “Hon-Dashi” at a Japanese grocery)

Spring onion, finely chopped (as an alternative of Japanese “banno-negi”)
Myoga ginger, finely sliced (if available)

1. To boil the noodles, bring a deep pan of water (unsalted!) to the boil. Add the noodles and cook until just tender according to the packet instructions. Drain, refresh under cold running water and set aside.

2. To make the sauce, add water, soy, mirin, sugar and dashi-no-moto in a sauce pan. Heat until boiling, then add all the mushrooms and simmer for a couple of minutes. If you find the sauce is too salty at this stage, that’s perfect to go with the noodles which hold its silky pureness.

3. Divide the noodles between three bowls, top with the grated yamaimo and spoon over the sauce with the mushrooms.

4. To serve, sprinkle with the spring onion and myoga. This is not a “soup” noodle filled with a plenty of broth. Simply enjoy the noodles together with some spoonfuls of the sauce.

1. Any kind of udon, thick or thin, will do. Soba buckwheat noodles are fine too.
2. For more detail on “yamaimo”, pls refer to my previous blog here.
3. If you can’t get hold of the fresh mushrooms listed above, try some Asian varieties. Button mushrooms are ok, but NO Italian porcini as it’s too sumptuous in flavour.
4. Though you can eat this dish hot or cold, be noted to spoon over the sauce immoderately before serving. Otherwise, the noodle will get oversoftened, losing al dente.

FYI, “Myoga” is a pinky flower bud belonging to the ginger family, yet, it has more distinctive fragrance than the ginger root or even coriander. In Japan, sliced fresh myoga is used as a popular garnish for soups and noodles.

Friday, 12 March 2010

sunday feast review

Nearly one month has gone since my last post. Apart from a couple of sunny days, it’s been cloudy, rainy and snowy in Tokyo. This is kinda typical weather in February and March, so we need a bit more time and patience to welcome the gloriously blossom season.

In the meantime, we had guests for Sunday dinner. Well, the cooking fuss of everyday is a nightmare, but spending almost half day in the kitchen with Mum once a month or so is a comfortable activity indeed. I also enjoy the heartwarming smell and familial conversation against cold raindrops outside. Dinner-making and feeding are, more importantly, our tangible hospitality to dearies.

There’s no category such as amuse-bouche, starter or main here, and no soup. Just go buffet! All the dishes (but puds) are served up together so that the relaxing mood can’t be cut off at the table. Have a closer look before my short memory has faded away...


- Yamaimo nuggets with karashi-mentaiko (pollack roe marinated with red chilli)
It’s ridiculously easy to cook, yet must be served hot. Pls refer to the basic recipe although this time I encased a pinch of the spicy roe originated in South Japan.

- Veg batons with kaki-joyu (oyster soy) mayo dip
Fancy a subtle sea breeze in a warm room? A few drops of this oyster-flavoured soy sauce works to upgrade high-street mayonnaise, and the outcome accompanies any sort of vegetables, fresh or boiled. On a tip from a Japanese lady cook, Miyako Wakabayashi.

- Velvety mashed potato salad with egg-yolk in guise of mimosa blossoms
... As it is.

- Petit vail goma-ae (mixed with sesame seeds)
"Goma-ae" is a classic Japanese dish to mix greens with half-ground sesame seeds, soy and sugar. (See the above large photo) This time, we used “petit vail”, which is a recent variety of vegetable in Japan. The crunchy, sweet texture is just beautiful.. unlike its father, Brussels sprouts!

- Turnip and smoked salmon salad with yuzu-kosho dressing
Being basically a local condiment of South Japan, “yuzu-kosho” is widely available throughout Japanese island these days. It’s a ripened paste mixed with green chilli, green yuzu citrus and lots of salt, thus, very hot and salty. The usage as a condiment is versatile, from yakitori and nabemono (hotpot) even to pasta. And adding a small amount of yuzu-kosho to French vinaigrette provides a prompt oriental kick.

- Simmered chicken with gobo (burdock) root
Mum has noted this recipe from a TV cookery show presented by Yoshihiro Murata of a Michelin-stared Japanese high-end restaurant, “Kikunoi”. The soy-oriented seasoning is rather homely. Good.

- Marinated gyu-sashi (seared beef)
If good quality of Japanese beef fillet is chosen, “gyu-sashi” is a straightforward festive dish. I’m sure meaties must fall in love with the meltingly tender and succulent slices. The process of marinating with soy, mirin (sweetened sake) and dashi (fish broth) gives an extra depth of flavour on your tongue. Worth a try.

- Spicy pork spareribs
I find soy is a good friend with garam masala. Uncomplicated to cook again as the recipe is not only pan-fried, but marinade-free, plus, tastes wonderful.

- Tonkatsu (deep-fried breaded pork) sushi rolls
Maybe, pork fillet is an unfamiliar filling for sushi roll, but tasty for sure. The key is to add a plenty of shredded “shiso” leaves when rolling up. Pungent shiso works as a liaison between the two different flavours: vinegared rice and meaty fry. Utterly delish!

- Chilli corn carne with cheesy tortilla
This is not so flamboyant as to pimp up the feast, but I wanted to cook something like tomato-intensified deep colour in freezing winter. My chilli of this day was South American style adding black beans.


- Grace Koshu (white, Japan)
That’s not all about “Grow local, Eat local”. The elegant, smooth and a little smoky texture matches the feathery weight of "washoku" (Japanese cuisine).

- Château Thil Comte Clary 2005 (white, France)
Full-bodied. An interesting contrast with the Japanese breed.

- Gosh... can’t remember (red, France)

.. No cheese.


- Strawberry roulade
This home-made pudding was brought by our guests. The simple trio: organic strawberry, fluffy sponge and cream indulges our palates.

- Earl Grey tea biscuits
In spite of the ready-made status, fine.

- Earl Grey tea & Green tea
To finish up our long eating... and chirping.

Well, sounds too much for six people? In several hours, all had gone to our greedy stomachs!!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

sweet, sugary... spring

February is the fag-end of winter? Nope. That’s the coldest in Japan although according to our Chinese calendar, 4 February marks “Risshun”, the beginning part of spring. The following months are, of course, getting milder and milder in temperature, but it still snows occasionally in March, in Tokyo.

I am beyond bearing today: sooo freezing, windy and almost snowing (again). Quivering!! Nothing can soothe me... but this sugary resort of French Canàsuc.

Here’s edible spring to share with you all!

Monday, 1 February 2010

10 things I fairly dislike in culinary delights

I feel like revealing my culinary weakness in one Sunday afternoon. This is my personal voice, but maybe, something to share with 9 out of 10 Japanese folks. Have a look.

* Alphabetically listed.

1. Bulky, photoless cookbook
Japanese cookbooks are slim and light in body, yet full of cookery photographs; easy to keep and easy to follow. I have discomfort on some aspects of “foreign” cookbooks, so let me ask you here... politely:

- How can you choose your fave dish from the encyclopaedic volume of recipes?
- Without cookery photos, how do you reconstruct a dish you’ve never tried?
- How do you keep a space for the bulky book opened on the kitchen table while cooking?
- How do you keep your cookbooks clean? Soy is all around my books!
- If you carelessly drop the book from the kitchen table, your foot will get a bruise, right?
- Is your kitchen shelf durable enough for a pile of the books?

PS. This is serious.

2. Elderflower cordial
Resistible for no other reasons but perfumy. This is an ultra-minor drink in Japan and we rarely have a chance to taste. Thus, no fuss.

PS. I love jasmine..... to drink.

3. Ginger biscuit
Recently, something gingery has been booming in Japan because it’s cheap, handy plus healthy when cash is tight in winter. Although ginger candy is the revival of Japanese retro sweets, our palate traditionally prefers the spice as a condiment for savoury dishes. See the fact that gingerbread man, ginger muffin, Lebkuchen and any other gingery or allspicy sweets are totally unpopular to taste. Boo?

To conclude, a marriage between spice and sugar will end up by a divorce in Japan. The current trend is... an illusion.

4. Liquorice candy
In Japanese, liquorice is called “kanzo”, better known as one of herbs concocted in Chinese medicine rather than flavouring confectionery. The taste is bitterly medicinal for us! While Haribos are attracting Japanese teens and ladies, their “Schnecken” is almost an invisible item in shops despite its awful colour and shape.

If I have an unsavoury boss, why not harass him or her by offering liquorice-flavoured “Drop Mentos” as their pick-me-up? That’s penalty sweets!!

PS. As long as Drop Mentos isn’t available in Japan, my small rebellion will be attempted.....

5. Lavender cupcake
Lavender sachet – dreaming
Lavender soap - refreshing
Lavender shampoo - calming
Lavender bath foam - heavenly relaxing
Lavender cupcake -- no thanks please!!

I fancy the velvety colour with a little sprig of lavender on top, but my brain circuit never recognises the flower-scented icing is “soap-free”. Meanwhile I’m always welcome to receive authentic lavender recipes from Provence.

... To be continued.

Monday, 18 January 2010

wintry letter to Nigel

Dear Nigel,

Freezing winter days urge me to eat something rich, filling, but not stodgy. So I decided to make cream pasta, following your cookery suggestions in the BBC TV series, “Simple Suppers”.

Well, I replaced chopped sausages with hand-rolled meatballs because to get hold of “good” quality sausages are not easy in my surrounding environment in Tokyo. Moulding plenty of edible balls is time-consuming, but the plain and repetitive action brings peace of mind in this floating world rather than causes a nervous breakdown... believe me.


* Serves 2
200g penne (or any other pastas as you like)

250g minced pork
1 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

200ml single cream
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
2 tsp Parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra to serve
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
A dash of white wine
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1. To make the meatballs, mix the minced pork, breadcrumbs, milk, Parmesan and rosemary together in a bowl until evenly combined. Season with salt and pepper, mixing with your hands.

2. Shape the dough into around 45 small balls (...phew!) and place on a tray.

3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the meatballs and fry for 5 minutes, swirling frequently. When browned all over, remove from the pan and lay on kitchen paper.

4. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Stir the onion until softened and add the meatballs, flat-leaf parsley, Parmesan, Dijon mustard and wine. Then, pour the single cream and simmer for 5 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Meanwhile, boil the penne. Bring a deep pan of salted water to the boil. Add the penne and cook until al dente according to the packet instructions.

6. Drain the penne, reserving a little of the cooking water, and toss with the sauce. Add a little of the cooking water if the consistency of the sauce is too thick.

7. Serve immediately, sprinkled with extra Parmesan and parsley.

1. The point of this recipe is to keep the meatballs almost “tiny” like a teaspoonful size to balance with the penne.
2. In the process of #4, you can add Dijon mustard as well as its grainy version as Nigel does. Yet, my personal palate is happy with only the former.

Nigel, I really fancy your honest, healthy and uncomplicated approach on daily food. Your latest book, “Tender: volume I”, which is my current read, is not just about growing, cooking and eating vegetables in a not-vegetarian-but-omnivorous way. Your writing style and photography heal my stressed soul, indeed!

Last but not least... Nigel Slater is the most successful food writer and cook in Britain.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

noodle salad, please!

In Japan, Chinese cuisine has been coexisting side by side with the Japanese counterpart. I know that they’re eaten around the globe, but our culinary relationship is a lot closer.

The number of Chinese restaurants is beyond your imagination just in Tokyo. (Most are Cantonese while Mandarin and Szechwan are minor.) They come in many ranges from swanky dinings situated in shopping precincts, through cheap chains such as “Bamiyan” and “Hidaka-ya” to local eateries run by Chinese descendants. Delis and food floors don’t exist without selling assorted Chinese savouries.

Chinese meals which have been long favoured by Japanese are diverse too, including "酢豚" (sweet sour pork), "麻婆豆腐" (mabo tofu), "乾焼明蝦" (bean curd Szechwan) and "青椒肉絲" (pepper steak). These recipes are modified to be less spicy (and less anisey) so as to cook easily in Japanese household as well as adapt for our palate. It’s no surprise to find that they are served together with Japanese dishes on a daily table.

Chuka-fu (Chinese-style) salad” is also one of popular recipes in Japan. My twist here is more japanised, as light in taste as possible.


* Serves 4
50g dried “green bean” vermicelli noodle (better use neither “potato” nor “rice” vermicellies, which are out of al dente when boiled)
70g carrot, thinly shredded
100g cucumber, thinly sliced
2 “fresh” shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tbsp chopped spring onion (as an alternative of Japanese “banno-negi”)
1 slice of hum, thinly shredded (unless you’re veggy)

2 tbsp soy sauce
1&1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2-1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 dried red chilli, deseeded and chopped

Small handful of coriander leaves

1. In two small bowls, place the carrot and cucumber respectively. Toss with a pinch of salt each, leave them until softened (approx. 10 min.) and drain under cold running water. In the meantime, parboil the shiitake mushroom for 10 seconds. Remove excess water from each vegetable with kitchen paper. Set aside.

2. Cook the vermicelli in a pan of boiling water for 3-5 minutes (or follow the instruction of your vermicelli) until just about tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water, cut in proper length and wipe up water with kitchen paper.

3. Combine all the ingredients of the dressing in a large bowl. Add the carrot, cucumber, shiitake, hum, spring onion and vermicelli, and mix together with the dressing.

4. Leave them for 15 minutes so that the vermicelli and other ingredients can absolve all the flavour.

5. Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve.

1. I recommend a mandoline to cut the carrot and cucumber. It gives the visual beauty to your dish, but, be careful of your finger!
2. In case your cucumber is too watery, scoop out the seedy part with a teaspoon.
3. You can also use wood-ear mushroom (dried or fresh) as an extra veg. The texture is really interesting!
4. If you prefer more Szechuan or powerful flavour, add a bit of garlic, Chinese chilli oil and huajiao (Szechuan pepper). Plus, try Chinese black vinegar in place of rice vinegar.

Being in tourist mode, I may visit “Chuka-gai” (Chinatown) in Yokohama. The one-hour train trip from Tokyo offers an opportunity to enjoy authentic dim sum, porridge or tea. Exotica! It however doesn’t really happen because there’re already enough food spots before reaching there...
Related Posts with Thumbnails