Features (articles)

satsumaimo1.jpg

My general 'simple is better' attitude to food has continued into the fall. At the moment I'm not cooking much per se, but I am enjoying the foods that are so good at this time of the year. A lot of these foods share a similar quality, for which I can't think of an appropriate word in English to describe. There's a perfect word in Japanese though - hoku hoku. Hoku hoku is the word that is used for a starchy, dense, sweet flavor and texture. Think of roasted sweet chestnuts, winter squash, and sweet potatoes. Baked white potatoes can be hoku hoku too.

My favorite hoku hoku food is sweet potato - though I do mean the kind we get in Japan (called satsuma-imo), not the kind that's most commonly seen in the U.S. (and here in Europe too). The U.S. kind of sweet potato has an orange skin and bright orange-yellow flesh, but the Japanese kind that I grew up with has a pale cream-white flesh and pink-purple skin. It's less fibrous and sweeter than the orange-flesh kind, which I feel needs added sweeteners most of the time (which is why it's so great in sweet potato pie and the like).

Filed under:  japanese fall

In the last few years, there seems to have been a resurgence in the interest in macrobiotics in Japan. At least it does seem so judging from the magazine articles and cookbooks devoted to the subject.

If you're unfamiliar with macrobiotics, it's a form of almost-veganism (macrobiotics does allow for some fish) with quite idiosyncratic theories. It originated in Japan, was exported to the West, and gained popularity in some circles, especially the ones devoted to alternative lifestyles (like hippies and such). There's a tendency in Japan to get overly impressed by anything (or anyone) in Japanese culture that gets popular in other countries, which I think accounts for at least part of the renewed popularity of macrobiotics - or makurobi as it's abbreviated to - there. The macrobiotic diet has a lot of similarities to the traditional, or pre-WWII, diet, but isn't quite the same. It's also not the same as sho-jin cooking - elegant vegan cuisine that was originated by Zen Buddhist monks.

I've been generally trying to increase my repertoire of vegetable and grain based dishes this year (though I'm not a vegetarian), so I've done quite a lot of research into makurobi these past few months. There are plenty of very appetizing looking cookbooks coming out regularly, and I've collected quite a stack of them.

Yet it's quite unlikely that I'll be turning into a full-fledged macrobiotic convert any time soon. The main reason is that I can't fully buy into one of the central philosophies of the religion - I mean, theory - that of yin and yang foods. Basically the theory is that all foods have yin (dark or cold) and yang (light or warm) energies, and we are better off eating close to the center of the yin and yang scale. Foods that are at the center are generally things like whole grains, beans and other pulses, root vegetables (but not potatoes), and so on. Since macrobiotics did originate in Japan, brown rice is the king of grains.

Filed under:  essays japanese nutrition

ratatouille-movie.jpgYesterday, we finally got to see Ratatouille (the movie that is, not the dish), when it opened in western or French-speaking Switzerland. The movie theater in Lausanne was only sparsely filled, though since the weather was so glorious, and it was Swiss National Day (sort of like Independence Day in the U.S. in terms of the way in which people celebrate it, with barbeques and fireworks) I guess that was sort of understandable. Anyway, my review, with many spoilers, follows after the jump.

Filed under:  books and media movies

cherries1.jpg

At the moment, cherries are everywhere here in Switzerland. Roadside signs proclaim "Kirschen" or "Chriesli" (the Swiss-German dialect for cherries), luring you to farms and fruit groves and farm stores. They're on sale at the Migros supermarket too, for the busy person to pick up in a hurry.

When I get started on cherries, I can't seem to stop until I've had my fill, and I do mean fill, of that sweet, dark juice with a hint of sourness. Fresh cherries are so good that I just can't bring myself to do anything more than pop them in my mouth one after another, methodically spitting out the pits. I know there are numerous cherry recipes out there, but as delicious as things like cherry pie and cherry clafouti are, there's really nothing to beat the naked, unadorned cherry.

Filed under:  fruit vegetables produce

monsegur-lostsign.jpgThe sign that is no more.

As we approached the tiny hilltop village of Montsegur-sur-Lauzon in northern Provence, my mouth was already watering in anticipation of the bread at the one and only boulangerie (bakery) there. I'd been looking forward to this for months, ever since last November, when we'd made one last stopover to load up on bread to sustain us for the long drive back home and a couple of days beyond.

I've written about my love for this boulangerie before. The bread there was the best I've ever had - bursting with flavor and character. Even when the loaves turned a bit stale after a couple of days, they were still so good. I was convinced that if the baker, Monsieur Metaud, was in Paris, he'd be world famous.

It was a Sunday, and there was a small queue of people waiting for their bread in the tiny store. Neither of the two people behind the counter, a young man and a middle aged woman, were Madame or Monsieur Metaud, but that didn't concern us - they had other people selling bread there before, especially on weekends. But as we shuffled closer to the front of the line, something seemed a bit off. The collection of exotic teas that used to line the wall shelves were gone. The pretty display of confections was quite pared down.

Filed under:  bread essays food travel provence france

ap_peanutbrittle.jpg

One of the (many) food obsessions I have is nut brittles. Peanut brittle, macademia nut brittle, almond brittle (which, when pulverized, turns into praline). I love that combination of caramel and nut flavor. Peanut brittle is the most handy kind to get a hold of, and make. I make it as often as my teeth and waistline allow.

But, I realized yesterday that I have never had truly good peanut brittle.

Filed under:  snack sweet shopping favorites

cadburysad.jpg

BBC Four is running a series of program(me)s about the Edwardians, and two of those are about the food of the era. They have already aired but will be repeated several times as most BBC Four shows are. Both are well worth watching for anyone interested in food and history.

Edwardian Supersize Me is the showier of the two. Giles Coren, food critic for The Times, and TV presenter Sue Perkins lived the life of well-off Edwardians for a week, and ate like the Edwardians of the upper-middle class did - in Sue's case while wearing a corset. Their in-house meals were cooked by famed food writer Sophie Grigson, from an Edwardian housekeeping book, and they also ate out frequently since this was the era when restaurant dining became popular in England.

Filed under:  books and media tv bbc uk

guinnessmarmite4jars.sidebar.jpg

Back in February I reported on the new limited edition Guinness Marmite. Since then, the salty yeast spread connoisseur in me yearned to taste this mysterious combination. Parts of me panicked at the thought of it selling out before I had a chance at it.

Enter my friend Mimi to the rescue. She kindly procured not one, but four, yes 4, 250 gram jars of Guinness Marmite for me, which arrived in the mail today. My first reaction: "ZOMG, a kilo of Marmite!" (That's about 2.2 lb for the metrically challenged.)

Calming down, I proceeded to inspect it in detail.

Filed under:  ingredients offbeat uk marmite

kamome1_nigiru.jpg

Whenever I am feeling blue, one of the foods that I crave is onigiri. You could just chalk that up to the fact that it's mostly rice = carbs and I'm just craving a carb fix. But it really goes beyond that. It's tied to memories of my aunts making row upon row of perfectly shaped onigiri for a family gathering, and the salty tinge on my lips from the giant onigiri my mother made for me for a school outing.

Two of the most popular articles here on Just Hungry are the ones about onigiri. It's great to see so many people from around the world enjoying this quintessential Japanese comfort food.

There are two very interesting Japanese movies where onigiri play a starring role, in quite different ways; Kamome Diner (Kamome Shokudoh) and Supermarket Woman (Suupaa no Onna). Although neither seems to be available on DVD in English speaking countries yet, I thought I'd talk about them a bit.

Filed under:  books and media japanese onigiri memories movies

In Japan, tsukemono or pickles are used as hashi-yasume, literally "chopstick resters", side dishes that have a totally different texture and flavor. So for instance if you had some grilled meat with a sweet-savory sauce as the main course, you might have some simple, crunchy pickled cucumber slices to go with it.

This week I'll be posting some quick Japanese vegetable pickle recipes. Japanese pickles can be very loosely divided into three kinds: the kind that take some time to 'ripen', but then last indefinitely, rather like Western style pickles; the kind that is ready in a few days, but which require a pickling bed that takes time to make and to maintain; and finally, the quick and easy kind that can be made and eaten within a day. The last two kinds do not keep well - just like fresh vegetables, they must be eaten within a short time.

Quick pickles, called sokusekizuke (instant pickles) or ichiya-zuke (overnight pickles) depending on how long they take to come to full flavor, are very easy to make as their names suggest. They are a great way to prepare vegetables without having to add any additional fat, though a few recipes do call for some oil.

Filed under:  japanese lighter preserves and pickles vegetables vegan salad tsukemono

Pages