Features (articles)

Japanese Cooking 101: Final thoughts, or what was the point?

I'm still getting reactions to the recently completed Japanese Cooking 101 course (if you missed it, here's the complete list of lessons.) While the reactions have been overwhelming positive, I've gotten a couple of negative comments too.

One I wanted to address in particular is the accusation, if you will, that the lessons do not represent that way most people cook in Japan anymore. One person even opined that I was not a 'real Japanese' because I didn't cook like 'the Japanese people I know in Tokyo' or something like that.

Well you know what, that person is right one one thing: Many (not all!) people in Japan don't take the time to make their own dashi from scratch, or grow their own shiso or other herbs. Some rely on prewashed rice called musenmai (無洗米) so they don't have to bother with rinsing rice either. A lot of recipes on various Japanese cooking sites call for the use of mentsuyu (めんつゆ), bottled noodle sauce concentrate, a readymade combination of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi. It saves time having to pull out each individual ingredient and adding it one by one, for sure. There are just as many convenience foods and ready-made foods in Japan as there are anywhere else - not to mention tons of restaurants, fast food places, and the like. You can easily avoid having to cook, ever. And sadly, a lot of people are like that. Japan is after all one of those so-called developed countries where such a thing is possible.

I have plenty of quick and easy recipes on JustHungry, and many more on JustBento - although I do try to stick as much as possible to real ingredients. (Some of my Japanese recipes call for the use of dashi stock granules, especially when they're used as an underlying flavor rather than the main flavor. They're too convenient, plus I've heard from many readers that they're easier to get a hold of than bonito flakes and konbu seaweed.)

HOWEVER!

maki-crankybw.png

The whole point of the Japanese Cooking 101 course was to show how things are done for the best possible results, using traditional methods.

Most of the readers of my sites do not live in Japan. I'm not writing for a Japanese audience obviously, since I'm writing in English. I'm not even writing for an audience of English speaking residents of Japan - although I know there are some who've been following along for years (hi guys!). (My column in The Japan Times on the other hand is aimed at English speakers in Japan, so has a rather different focus.) Unless you live in a city with proper Japanese groceries, it can be very hard to get a hold of the right ingredients. Things like mentsuyu are often too expensive to rely on all the time.

Let's face it, most Japanese ingredients are expensive outside of Japan, if you can even get a hold of them. If you're going to try to make proper tasting Japanese food under those circumstances, I would much rather you spend your precious money on basic, fundamental, real ingredients rather than manufactured convenience products. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store you can get things like mentsuyu, or the Japanese equivalents of Hamburger Helper and the like. But they're expensive - too expensive for everday use. On the other hand, although soy sauce, mirin, sake, konbu seaweed and bonito flakes to make dashi, plain old miso and so on are not cheap either, they're a much better investment of your money if you want to create many authentic tasting dishes.

The point is, I want to be able to teach a little bit about how to cook Japanese food the proper way, through my sites, my book and my other writings. Cooking from scratch is, in my opinion, a fundamental skill, and I'm fighting the battle to keep that skill alive. Even if that notion is laughably old fashioned for some people.

Filed under:  philosophy washoku japanesecooking101

topcheffrance2013.jpg

By now you have probably at least heard about the brouhaha over the owners of a restaurant/bakery that appeared on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares show (U.S. version). If not, you can read about it here and many, many other places.

There was a big to-do surrounding a TV food show here in France too. The show in question: Top Chef. (Yes there's one of those in France.)

Food packaging labeling for allergy-causing substances in Japan

shokusamuraiosaka.png

Last year I uploaded a series of printable cards for communicating dietary restrictions in Japan. This is a follow-up of sorts to this, with some information about food package labelling and allergy-causing products.

There are 7 substances that must, by law, be indicated as being present on packaged foods that contain them in Japan. I've listed them below in this order: English: kanji: hiragana or katakana: roma-ji.

  • Eggs : 卵 : たまご : tamago
  • Dairy : 乳 : にゅう : nyuu (For dairy products, look for that character 乳 since it's usually used together with other kanji, e.g.乳製品 for 'dairy products'.
  • Wheat : 小麦 : こむぎ : komugi. Again look for the 小麦 part. Wheat flour for instance is 小麦粉.
  • Shrimp : 海老 : えび (sometimes エビ) : ebi
  • Crab : 蟹 : かに or カニ : kani
  • Soba (buckwheat) : 蕎麦 : そば : soba
  • Peanuts : 落花生 : らっかせい : rakkasei. Also called peanuts - ピーナッツ

Then there are 18 other food substances that are recommended to be indicated if they're present.

  • Abalone : 鮑 : あわび : awabi
  • Squid : (the kanji is rarely used) : いか or イカ : ika
  • Oranges : (no kanji since it's a loan word - see notes) : オレンジ : orenji
  • Kiwi : (no kanji since it's a loan word) : キウイ : kiwi
  • Beef : 牛肉 : ぎゅうにく : gyuuniku
  • Walnuts : 胡桃 : くるみ or クルミ : kurumi
  • Salmon : 鮭 : さけ or しゃけ or じゃけ : sake or shake (pronounced sha-keh) or jake (ja-keh)
  • Mackerel : 鯖 : さば : saba
  • Salmon roe or salmon caviar : (no kanji since it's a loan word) : いくら or イクラ : ikura
  • Soybeans : 大豆 : だいず : daizu
  • Chicken : 鶏肉 : とりにく : toriniku. (Also called chicken - チキン)
  • Banana : (no kanji since it's a loan word) : バナナ : banana
  • Pork : 豚肉 : ぶたにく : butaniku
  • Matsutake mushrooms : 松茸 : まつたけ : matsutake
  • Peaches : 桃 : もも : momo
  • Yamaimo (a type of yam) : 山芋 : やまいも : yamaimo
  • Apples : 林檎 : りんご or リンゴ : ringo
  • Gelatin : (no kanji since it's a loan word) : ゼラチン : zerachin

About oranges - I do wonder if it includes satsuma and clementines and mandarins and such, which are called oranges in the west but are called 蜜柑 - mikan - in Japan. I guess logically it should. Anyway, if you are allergic to oranges including the 'mikan' kind watch out for the オレンジ label.

Here are two examples of allergy-food labels. This one just shows the 7 must-show substances, with a black dot under the ones that are in the food. (Remember that Japanese can be written horizontally left to right or vertically.)

allergy-label1.jpg

The one below shows all 25 substances in a grid, with the ones that are in the product indicated in black. I think this one makes more sense and would like to see it standardized.

allergy-label2.jpg

The point is to always look for the words that indicate whatever you are allergic to, even if your personal Kryptonite is not included in the substances listed above. And when in doubt, pull out one of your allergy-communicator cards and ask someone. Just pointing to a package, then showing your card, and saying, "OK?" with a helpless look on your face will be enough, I promise. Many people in Japan are quite happy with helping hapless visitors.

If you can read Japanese, there's an informative PDF on the Japanese government's Consumer Affairs Agency (消費者庁) site about allergy-causing food labeling: link to PDF.

See also: my related Quora answer here for a couple more labels.

The cute samurai warrior cat(?) character up top is the mascot of a non-profit food safety consumer hotline (Japanese only I'm afraid). Of course they have a cute mascot - it's Japan, what do you expect? ^_^

Filed under:  japanese japan allergies packaging

shisonome1.jpg

I posted a photo of my sprouted shiso seeds on Instagram this morning, which led to several people asking how to grow it. Although I've written about growing shiso a couple of times before, I have never described the procedure. So, here it is!

Filed under: 

Japanese Cooking 101: Lesson 5 theme and ingredients revised to - Fish!

I have been re-thinking the last cooking lesson for Japanese Cooking 101. Originally I was going to do a mixed fish and meat lesson, but I think I will concentrate on fish since I really haven't covered fish cooking much over the years on Just Hungry. The problem I've always run into is that the availability of fish is very spotty around the world, so I'm never sure if the readers of the site can get their hands on the fish I'm talking about.

But the truth is, fish is central to washoku or traditional Japanese cooking. It's a bit hard to be a vegetarian in Japan, but being a pescatarian is very easy. While modern Japanese people do eat a lot of meat dishes, up until about 150 years ago eating meat was actively discouraged by the government, so meals were centered on vegetable proteins like tofu, and fish. And in Japan the array of fish available is rather bewildering.

jc101-fishdisplay.jpg

So in the spirit of showing you the real fundamentals of traditional Japanese cooking, for Lesson 5 we'll be tackling fish! If you can get a hold of the fish in question please do try following along. If not, I hope the information will be interesting at least.

Note that I'm able to get all of these fish in my small village in southern France because we have an excellent fishmonger (poissonnerie) even though we're about a 2 hour drive away from the nearest fishing port. So please take a look around to see if you have a good fish seller in your town. A good fish shop should not smell 'fishy' at all; it should smell like the fresh sea air, and be impeccably clean, with lots of shiny, bright and clear-eyed fish.

The fish to get if you can

I've arranged these in order from "probably easy to get for most people" to "maybe be very hard to get".

  • A precut piece (filet) of salmon - preferably with the skin on. (this is what I listed originally previously. I'll show you a chicken variation for what I'm going to do with the salmon too.)
  • Fresh,whole sardines (have the fishmonger remove the heads if you're squeamish about fish eyes)
  • A flat white fish like haddock or plaice or sole (again, have the head removed if you want, but don't have the fishmonger filet the fish)

And, this last one might be very hard to get:

  • a whole piece of tuna or bonito - a section of the body part, not the whole fish obviously (that would be rather unwieldly). I will show you how to break down a piece of fish to turn into pieces cut for sashimi or sushi. That's right, you don't have to restrict yourself to pre-trimmed, expensive pieces of sashimi-fish from Japanese grocery stores or expensive fishmongers to make sashimi and sushi, as long as you have good fresh fish.

I do not expect you to get all the fish by any means, but perhaps you can file the lessons away for later.

Since I've revised the lesson plans, I'll be posting the first part early next week. (I'll be posting some non-lesson stuff in the meantime though.) I hope you'll enjoy the fish lessons!

Filed under:  ingredients fish japanesecooking101

Japanese Cooking 101: List of fresh ingredients for Lessons 3 and 4

I hope that you have enjoyed the first two lessons plus bonus lessons of Lessons 1 and 2 of Japanese Cooking 101. I'm going to have to take a few days break because I'm feeling a bit under the weather, but Lesson 3 will come next week and possibly Lesson 4 also. So this is the shopping list for both lessons. As usual, this is in addition to the basic pantry ingredients required for the course.

Lesson 3 list

For lesson 3 we will be tackling nimono (煮物) or stewed dishes.

  • Carrots
  • Boiling type potatoes (new potatoes are great)
  • Medium onions
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms. If you can't get dried, fresh will be ok. If you can't get shiitake mushrooms button mushrooms are ok (but will taste very different).
  • Snap peas, mange-tout or other bright green vegetable (for garnish)

Lesson 4 list

We will be doing _sunomono__ (酢の物)or a mixed vinegar flavored side dish.

  • Broccoli (Tip: we'll be using the stalks, so you can use the florets as the green garnish for the nimono)
  • Wakame seaweed (optional), dried or fresh (in salt)

And that's it! I'll see you back here next week for the next lesson.

(If you are just joining us, please start at the Japanese Cooking 101 course announcement and work your way through the linked pages at the bottom.)

Filed under:  ingredients japanesecooking101

Today, March 11, is the 2nd year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the north-eastern coast of Honshu, the main island of Japan. I would write many things about it, but I'd like to focus on some ways you can help the victims of the earthquake, besides the usual places such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, that you may not have been aware of.

Filed under: 

Japanese Cooking 101: Ingredients and equipment list for Lesson 2

For Lesson 2, we are going to cover the all-important subject of cooking rice. So, from the list of pantry ingredients for the course, you'll need:

  • Japanese type rice (uncooked) - this is your one and only critical ingredient for the week. Please read the instructions on the <a href="http://www.justhungry.com/handbook/cooking-courses/>pantry list post carefully for exactly what to get.
  • A packet of microwave rice - as a baseline for what Japanese rice should look, feel and taste like

You'll also need the following equipment:

  • A fine-mesh sieve, as described on the pantry list post
  • A bowl
  • A rice paddle is not critical, but handy to have
  • A cooking implement for cooking the rice, which can be one of the following:
    • A rice cooker
    • A heavy bottomed pot, like a cast iron pot, with a tight fitting lid _ A large (at least 10 inches or 25cm diameter) frying pan, with a tight fitting lid

If you'd like to try the bonus how-to, how to prepare proper sushi rice, you will also need:

  • rice vinegar
  • salt and sugar
  • dashi as prepared in Lesson 1, or dashi granules, or kombu
  • Equipment: a sushioke or handai (a large, wooden bowl for mixing sushi rice) is ideal, but a large bowl will do too. Plus a rice paddle and a handheld fan or a hairdryer.
  • Plus toppings of your choice, such as smoked salmon and cucumber, or some sashimi-grade tuna or other sashimi-grade fish.

And that's it! It should be a very interesting lesson!

Filed under:  japanesecooking101

Pages