Tag Archives: Japanese food

Okinawa Part 2: Riding with Matayoshi-San

To enjoy the island of Okinawa, you really need a car, but neither of us were interested in driving so Naoto hired a driver, Matayoshi-San, to drive us around to our Orion brewery tour and to see some other sites on the island. We spent the morning at Orion, which will get its own post because I took a ton of pictures and videos for Naoto. Okinawa is known for Orion beer, salt, glass, and pottery (among other things.) We stopped at a glass shop where they were blowing glass on site. I spent way too long choosing a single dish to bring home. Everything was so beautiful. Okinawan pottery is also really different from some of the other pottery in Japan. The designs and the shapes were so great.Matayoshi-san picked us a couple of shikuwasa which we enjoyed in our hotel room in some sparkling water. What a treat! Aside from the Orion tour, the best part of the day was visiting the sea and breathing in some fresh ocean air. These craggly rocks were formed over centuries of wear and it was such a perfect day weather-wise for enjoying the views. All over Okinawa, you will find Shisa, usually in pairs. They are meant to protect the home or business–one keeping in the good, the other keeping out the bad. We weren’t tempted to buy one for our own home, but it’s a really popular souvenir. In the middle of the day, we stopped at a roadside stand for sata andagi, Okinawan donuts. They were fresh and delicious! (You know how I love a donut!)We also stopped at an artisan shop where they hand paint fabric for obi (the sash for kimono) and other accessories. Everything was so gorgeous and the amount of work that went into each inch of fabric was incredible!
Naoto really enjoyed Matayoshi-San’s humor and his stories about the island. It was fun spending the day with a local and being carted around like a celebrity!

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Okinawa Part 1: Tourists & Taco Rice

hasegawa happy hour, okinawa We always take a little side trip away from Tokyo when we visit Japan and this year, our trip was to Okinawa. Okinawa is a small island in southern Japan. It really felt so much like Hawaii to me! We stayed in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. It really felt like Honolulu to me. It was beachy and carefree, with a huge strip of shopping and restaurants and lots of tourists. Our first night, we checked out the strip and ate at a little Okinawan izakaya that had Orion beer and taco rice, Naoto’s favorites. We started with drinks. Naoto had an Orion beer and I had a shikuwasa cocktail. Shikuwasa is native to Okinawa and Taiwan and it’s a citrus that is kind of bitter and really sour. It makes a really good cocktail with shochu and soda. We ordered gyoza (shown above) which really hit the spot. Next we had a salad with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, scallions, pork, and a citrusy dressing. Then we had Okinawan sweet potato fries dipped in honey. Seriously, honey is under-utilized as a dipping sauce in America! We should take a break from ranch dressing and eat more honey!And the main dish: taco rice! It’s basically a taco salad but on a bed of rice. We’ve made it at home before and it’s really good and comforting. I told Naoto we should make it this week and share the recipe so I’ll keep you posted. The version we usually make doesn’t have cheese, but let’s be honest–everything is better with a little shredded cheddar!  After dinner, we strolled around the tourist area and I picked up some stationery (surprise, surprise) and we got some salt. Okinawan salt is a “thing” so we bought some shikuwasa salt and onion salt to bring home. I really loved the paper onigiri in the store display. 

 

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Dried Persimmons

persimmons drying Norio and Hisae gave us the best omiyage–dried persimmons!

Norio’s dad air dries persimmons every year and I can’t believe we are the lucky recipients of some of these little gems. Norio sent me some pictures so I could show you how it happens–doesn’t tying each one up look so time-intensive? He starts by peeling the persimmons and then he dips them in shochu. Then he ties them up outside for a few weeks. The actual amount of time varies, depending on the weather. He kneads the persimmons periodically to soften them and bring out the sweetness.After a few weeks, they get nice and shriveled. And their color darkens, too. After about a month or so, this is what they look like when they’re ready. The white dust is not mold, it’s sugar! We brought some home with us and broke into them a few weeks ago and made a little cheese board to eat while we watched ParasiteLook at all of that delicious sugar! Hisae recommended eating them with a cheese like manchego so that’s what we did. We just sliced one up and added it to cheese and a cracker. It was a perfect match!

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Niigata Dinner

Hisae and Norio (Naoto’s sister and her husband) took us out to dinner in Shibuya while we were in Japan. They live in Mie, which is quite a bit away from Tokyo, but they took the shinkansen to spend an evening with us. It was really fun to hang out with them. Hisae is so sweet and Norio is kind and funny. We haven’t seen them both together since their wedding many years ago! We have seen Hisae on all of our other trips to Japan, but we haven’t seen Norio in years because he is so busy working. The izakaya, Takumi, specializes in Niigata food. You may remember that Niigata is where they grew up. My favorite thing about izakaya eating is that you can order tons of small plates and try a bunch of different things. We had kaarage (fried chicken,) shrimp tempura, amazing sushi, and pickled eggplant. And smoked fish, cartilage and sperm sac…just kidding, I did not eat the cartilage or sperm sac. Then there was noppe, a vegetable stew, and tomago (egg) with herbs. Our last dish was this fried tofu with scallions which was really good, but really oily and rich…a good dish for drinking. At the end of the meal, they brought out a huge tray of noodles and we each had our choice of dipping sauce. I got the tomato dipping sauce which was really unusual, like nothing I’ve had in Japan before. It was a rich red and super concentrated with tomato flavor. I ate soooo many noodles because I liked it so much. I haven’t been able to find a good recipe like this online but I’m sure trying!

Let’s do it again soon, Hisae and Norio!

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Hasegawa Tanabata 2019

Hasegawa Tanabata was a low-key affair this year. We didn’t invite any guests and I didn’t decorate (gasp!) but it was such an amazing summer night for enjoying a light meal on the lanai. And of course Naoto is my favorite “guest” anyway! We had a busy day at the community garden so it all kind of fell together at the last minute, thanks to some Tensuke Market sushi and some easy Japanese recipes. I thought Naoto was going to get a sushi tray, but he really held back at the sushi counter, only bringing home two rolls and six pieces of sushi. (For the record, this is barely enough sushi for HIM!) Thankfully we had other things on the menu…Japanese potato salad and ham & egg salad sandwiches. We were going to make somen, but we ended up feeling full with what we had and some Japanese snacks.I made yuzu cocktails and they were so good, I think we need to share the recipe. We bought this yuzu liqueur at Mitsuwa a few weeks ago and we really like it! It’s good on its own and with soda water and it worked really nicely in the yuzu cocktail, too. The rest of the night, we shared some sparkling wine.It was so unseasonably chilly, we both ended up in jackets but no regrets at all…it was perfect…maybe not blog post perfect, but perfect for us. 🙂

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Cocktail Perfected: Tanabata Cocktail

Naoto and I have been working on our menu for our 4th annual Hasegawa Tanabata. We are going all out this year again with a sushi tray and lots of homemade recipes we’ve been perfecting all year. It really is my favorite night of the summer…well, next to fireworks…but the food is better. (Sorry, grilled American food.) Last year I made a batch of spumonis and we’ve also had yuzu liqueur and sake, but this year, I wanted a fancy cocktail and I found this one on Reddit. It tastes like something you’d drink at a suburban sushi restaurant, though it’s not Japanese. Still, I think the purple is fitting with the spirit of Tanabata and it’s very delicious.

Empress Cocktail 

2oz gin

0.75oz fresh lemon juice

0.75oz lychee liqueur

0.5oz creme de violette

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until very chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Serve on the lanai with some sushi and gyoza on a hot summer night.

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Naoberly’s Noodle Tour: Ramen Takeya

The day we went to the taping of the Very Serious Crafts Podcast was cold and snowy, so we decided to stop in the West Loop for some ramen. We went to Ramen Takeya, a sister restaurant of one of the best rated ramen shops in the city, Wasabi. We haven’t been able to get up to Wasabi yet, but Ramen Takeya specializes in chicken broth ramen, which seemed interesting. Plus we have quite a few friends who don’t eat pork, so we figured we’d do some ramen research for them!

We got to the restaurant a little before they opened, so we had a chance to scope out the menu outside in the snow. When we got inside, we were barely greeted and I just had a bad feeling about the whole thing. (Basically, the host–who also was our server–tossed our menus on a table and walked away while we were still at the front of the restaurant.) The shop was decorated with old metal Japanese signs and advertisements, including an old Japan Post sign. I just loved the “old Japan” feeling of the place! We ordered drinks, a beer for Naoto and a lychee cocktail for me. The drinks were good, and so were the buns (pictured above.) But the service continued to be…cold. I got the Osaka Shio ramen, which has both pork and chicken broth. It was good. I enjoyed most of the toppings and the noodles, but I felt like the pork was extra fatty (which I know some people love, I’m just not one of them.) I also got buttered corn as an add-on, which would have been delicious if it didn’t come freezing cold. Naoto ordered the Chicken Paitan Ramen with fried garlic as an add-on topping. He really enjoyed his bowl (and half of mine!)

At the end of our meal, we weren’t offered another cocktail, or water, or dessert, or any sort of friendliness, so we just paid our check and left…which seems like all they wanted anyway. I feel bad writing a negative post, but man, customer service is important…especially when there are so many ramen restaurants in Chicago. And I think our experience was just so shocking for us because the West Loop has so many great places to eat and we’ve always had stellar service in that neighborhood.  On the way home, I checked Yelp and all of the negative reviews mentioned the service and most of those people had our server, so…apparently no one at Ramen Takeya cares enough to give this dude some feedback. So, all-in-all, we’re glad we tried it, but a second visit isn’t in our plans. (Sorry to be a Debbie Downer today!)

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Yuzu No Komachi

On our first night back in Tokyo, we stopped in to see the new Wrapple store (more on that later) and Naoto surprised me with the best dinner of our trip. He found an izakaya right in Shibuya that specializes in yuzu dishes. It’s called Yuzu no Komachi, which means “beautiful girl with yuzu.” Since yuzu is my absolute favorite thing, I was over the moon excited for dinner. And, they had private dining rooms (koshitsu) which are so cozy. I love being able to eat alone with Naoto and avoid the smokiness of most izakaya in Japan. When you walk in the door, you take off your shoes and walk along tatami mats to your “room” where you dine in peace with the door closed. You push a button as you are ready to order each course. It’s so perfect for an intimate dinner for two, or even a big party of people because you set your own pace and can enjoy the conversation with out constant interruptions.  They had tons of yuzu liqueurs from all over Japan. So each time we got a round of drinks, we tried a new liqueur with soda. Everything was perfectly tart and refreshing. Some of the liqueurs were more cloudy than others, as you can see from above, and some were sweeter than others. They were all from different regions in Japan and it was such a great way to taste a variety of them. We’ve brought several yuzu liqueurs home over the years and none are ever as good as ones we’ve tried in restaurants.

We ordered a ton of small plates, each dish just as tasty as the next, starting with fresh cucumber with yuzu pepper……and tuna tartare with ponzu and yuzu pepper…and yuzu fried rice…and yuzu marinated steak…and prosciutto, tomato, and arugula salad with yuzu jam…and yuzu miso with cabbage leaves…and french fries with yuzu mayonnaise……and we ended with yuzu sorbet. This was one of my favorite meals of all time in Japan. I’m always up for a good theme, especially when my favorite citrus is the star. 

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Okinawan-Style Izakaya

Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanFor our last meal in Osaka, we ate at an Okinawan-style izakaya near our apartment. It was so warm in Japan that we were able to eat pretty much outside during a late October night. The restaurant was so tiny and our table was right inside that wooden door on the right. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, Japan Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanThere were a few seats at the bar and two other tiny tables which were full all night. People seemed to be regulars, chatting with the woman working alone behind the bar. Every space of the restaurant was used, including the ceiling where a huge bottle of whiskey lived for easy dispensing. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanOur table was about one and a half by one and a half feet square and we sat on tiny, low stools. It was very cozy. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanI had a shiikwaasa (an Okinawan citrus) sour and Naoto had beer. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanWe ate at a late lunch, so I was dining more for the snacks and moral support. We ordered a bunch of little plates, starting with edamame, and moving on to potato salad and buttered corn. The buttered corn was sooo delicious I got a second bowl for myself. I also forced myself to eat it with chopsticks, which was tedious but good practice. Okinawan style izakaya, Osaka, JapanOkinawa cooking has been influenced by American soldiers stationed there in World War II. American GIs shared their Spam with Okinawan residents after the war when meat was scarce. The offerings are right up Naoto’s alley, and he ordered Spam while I munched on french fries. And he ate locomoco, a Hawaiian-style hamburger with egg and ketchup on top. In spite of all that, on the way home, Naoto stopped and got some takoyaki (an Osaka specialty) to snack on. It was a delightful way to end our stay in Osaka.

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Mister Donut Museum

Kimberly AH at Mister Donut MuseumOne of the sillier things we did on this trip to Osaka was visit the Mister Donut Museum. It was…odd, but a lot of fun.  Mister Donut Museum, Osaka, JapanLocated on the first floor of the Duskin* office building in the suburbs of Osaka, the Mister Donut Museum is not easy to find. Naoto and I left the train station and walked and walked and walked and ended up in what reminded me of an American industrial park but there were also houses and other office buildings. When we got there, we were all, “This is it?” It reminded me of the McDonald’s Museum at Hamburger University in Oakbrook…it’s really offices with a mini-museum of the company. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut MuseumThe museum covers Mister Donut from its American roots all the way to modern-day shops in Japan. Nothing in the museum is in English so Naoto patiently translated all of the displays for me. I love learning about the history of my favorite companies and seeing the way the menus and logos and shop designs have changed over the years. In the last two pictures above, we are standing underneath photographs of every single Mister Donut in Japan. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut MuseumAfter you see the history of Misdo, there’s an area to make your own donut holes. (It was me and children doing this activity…I should tell you that we were the only grown-ups without children in the museum…which gave me flashbacks of the Crayola Factory!) There wasn’t a gift shop, which was the biggest disappointment for me. I was so looking forward to sending some Mister Donut postcards! They did sell Mister Donut mugs and cleaning things like sponges and dust cloths. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut Museum The highlight of the museum is that the Mister Donut in the building has allllll the donuts. They even had some Halloween donuts that I hadn’t seen in our other shops. We tried a créme brûlée donut and just a regular honey pon de ring. Mister Donut Museum Mister Donut MuseumThe crusty sugar top of the creme brûlée donut was amazing. Mister Donut Museum, ramune ice creamJust as we were leaving, I noticed the very obvious ice cream freezer at the Mister Donut counter. We have never seen a Mister Donut with ice cream in our travels in Japan, so this was new to us. I spied ramune** ice cream and even though I was pretty full, I HAD to try it. It was so refreshing, like a creamy sorbet. The ramune flavor was perfect and there were little bits of…something fizzy in each bite. I spent the rest of our trip looking out for this ice cream, but sadly, I didn’t see any again.

I don’t know that I would recommend the Mister Donut museum to the average tourist to Japan. For me, it was worth the trip out to the suburbs to see some history of my favorite Japanese hangout. But seriously, Mister Donut/Duskin…invest in some good postcards for your gift shop.

 

*Duskin is Mister Donut’s parent company. They started out as a cleaning company and expanded their portfolio over the years. The first floor of the museum was devoted to Mister Donut. The second floor was devoted to cleaning tools.

** I talk about ramune in this blog post. I should do a blog post about the original ramune soda with the marble…

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