Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ikanago no Kugini

Tsukudani made with sand lances (ikanago, a tiny fish). いかなごのくぎ煮.

A type of tsukudani (salt-sweet preserve). Local food from the Kobe-Akashi area. The tiny sand lances are simmered in a broth of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger and other ingredients until they turn brown. In fact, they look like rusty, brown nails and that is what they are called - "kugini" means "simmered nails."

Ikanago no Kugini

The tasty product is eaten over rice. Usually eaten around the end of February - early March when the fish is about an inch long. The dish is therefore also a sort of harbinger of spring. The fishes are caught in the Seto Inland Sea. When the season is over, the sand lances delve into the sand where they stay until the next year.

Traditionally, this was a homemade dish, although now one buys it ready-made in the supermarket. It is also a success story of promotion by the fishing industry, for 30 years ago the sand lances were mostly sold cheaply as cattle feed. Since then it has been put on the gourmet map as a typical regional product and the price has soared for "Ikanago no Kunini" is not only eaten in the Kansai, but shipped around the country.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Amazake

Sweet rice drink. 甘酒

Not a type of sake, as is often wrongly thought, but rather a hot and sweet rice drink that contains no or very little alcohol. It is the perfect refreshment for a cold day.

The saccharification agent koji (a fungus) is set to work on steamed rice. In less than 48 hours, it turns part of the starch in the rice grains into natural sugars. To this, water is added.

An even easier way to make amazake is to use the lees from the sake brewing process (sakekasu). These however contain some small traces of alcohol. Usually sugar is also added.

Amazake is often drunk with a pinch of finely grated ginger. It is usually enjoyed piping hot. Amazake is quite nutritious.

Amazake is sold in winter at stalls, during temple festivals (often at New Year) and "ready to drink" in supermarkets.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sakekasu

Sake lees. 酒粕.

At the end of the fermentation process of sake, the moromi is squeezed through a fine mesh. The clear sake will flow out and leave a solid rice substance behind. These "dregs" can be as much as one fourth of total volume.

Happily, these sake lees are not wasted. They are used in the Japanese kitchen as a marinade for fish or meat, made into a sweet rice drink (amazake), or re-used for brewing table sake.

Sake kasu are also used as a pickling agent.

[Sakekasu from Daishichi]

In fact, sake kasu are rich in proteins and very nutritious. They take the form of a thick rice paste sold in plastic bags from which the fragrance of sake still wafts up. Another type is sold in dry form. A more expensive kind are sake lees made from Ginjo sake.

In Japan, you will especially find them in winter, when all breweries are operating. Sake kasu has a distinct umami taste.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tofu (3) - by-products and tofu dishes

The second part of our tofu post. Here are the first  installment and the second installmentWe look at some by-products of tofu plus a few tofu dishes.

Already during the production process of tofu, various other foodstuffs come into being:
  • Okara or soy pulp. A white pulp left over when soy milk is extracted from ground soaked soybeans. It looks a bit like sawdust. Although tasteless, okara contains fiber, protein, iron, calcium and riboflavin and is very nutritious. It is in the first place used as livestock feed, but also finds many applications in the Japanese kitchen. Recently, it has been discovered by vegetarians and is for example used as ingredient for vegetarian burgers, also in the West. Okara is also called poetically "unohana," "deutzia flowers." As Okara - like tofu - can't be kept long, it is often sold in dried form.
  • Tonyu or soy milk is a healthy replacement for cow milk. There is also soy milk based ice cream and soy yogurt.
  • Yuba or soy milk skin, a delicacy of Kyoto. Yuba forms on the surface when soy milk is heated. Can be eaten fresh or added to soups. Important ingredient in shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine)
Enjoy tofu in the following ways:
  • As-it-is: Hiyayakko or chilled tofu. Cold blocks of "cotton tofu" with soy sauce, grated ginger and finely sliced spring onions. Typical izakaya food. Summer dish.
  • As-it-is: Yudofu or "Tofu in warm water." Blocks of "cotton tofu" are put in a pot with water and kombu right on the table. After gently warming (never boiling!) the tofu is dipped in a sauce of soy, spring onions, grated ginger and bonito shavings before eating. Typical Kyoto dish. When cooking at home, you can vary it by adding shungiku, shiitake, Chinese cabbage and enokidake to the broth.
  • As-it-is: Shira-ae or vegetables dressed with tofu. Lit. "Salad with white dressing." Carrot, burdock root, green beans etc. are cooked, cooled off and then mixed with a dressing made from drained tofu and dashi, salt, sugar and soy sauce.
  • Grilled: Dengaku. Lightly grilled tofu flavored with various types of miso mixed with sugar and sake.
  • Sauteed: Iridofu. Tofu sauteed with shiitake mushrooms, carrots and snow peas and seasoned with sake, soy sauce, sugar and egg. Even without the addition of egg, this tofu dish reminds one of scrambled eggs!
  • Japanese-Chinese: Mabo tofu. Originally from Sichuan, but domesticated in the Japanese Chuka kitchen. Small squares of tofu in a soupy mixture containing ground pork, seasoned with leeks, ginger, sesame seed oil and soy sauce. Eaten over rice on a plate. Can be spicy, although less so in Japan than in Sichuan.
Traditionally, Kyoto is famous for its tofu, thanks to its excellent water and emphasis on vegetarian cuisine.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tofu (2) - various types

The second part of our tofu post. Here is the first installmentWe look at some tofu products made by, for example, deep frying tofu.

When tofu is deep-fried in oil, another variety is created, which comes in four forms (this type is of course never kept under water, but just in the refrigerator; will keep fresh there for one week):
  1. Atsu-age. Thick-sliced (2.5 cm) tofu broiled briefly in hot oil. The inside remains soft and white, while the outside is golden brown. Another name for this type of tofu is nama-age. Difference with aburage: aburage is thinner and fried through. Can be eaten as such in izakaya etc. with flavoring of soy sauce and ginger, used in oden, miso soup, etc. Pour hot water over the cake and lightly press in paper towels before using it to remove excess oil.
  2. Aburage. Deep-fried, thinly sliced tofu. An ingredient of udon dishes called kitsune (fox) udon, because legend tells that foxes are fond of deep fried tofu!  In small stripes, an ingredient of miso soup, and soups of mizuna, komatsuna etc. Also an ingredient in stir fries. Can also be sliced open and used as a wrapper ("tofu pouch") and filled with vinegared rice to make inarizushi - inari is a name for the fox deity. Also here, remove excess oil before using it.
  3. Agedashi-dofu. Deep-fried tofu breaded with potato starch. Eaten with a sauce of soy sauce, sake, dashi, sugar and salt en dressed with chopped green onions, grated daikon radish and red pepper.
  4. Ganmodoki or "mixed tofu balls." Tofu is mixed with crushed yam and chopped vegetables as carrot, burdock, shiitake mushrooms, as well as sesame seed. This mixture is kneaded into 4-cm balls and deep-fried. Used in oden and simmered dishes. "Ganmodoki" means "like a wild goose," the name was presumably given by a Buddhist priest who ate this instead of the real goose.
Two more varieties of tofu are:
  1. Flavored tofu includes the pale golden "egg tofu" (tamago tofu),  tofu flavored with green tea, pumpkin or sesame seed (gomadofu).
  2. Koya-dofu. Freeze-dried tofu, originating with the monks of Mt Koya. They reputedly discovered the process accidentally by leaving tofu outside on a winter night. Grayish. Soak in water to reconstitute it before eating. Solves the problem that tofu can't be kept for long.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tofu (1) - what it is and how it is made

"Tofu ("bean curd") is one of the most protean of all foods," says Donald Richie (in A Taste of Japan). You can do more things with it than with any other food and its delicate taste serves as a base for thousands of other flavors. Soy protein is of the highest quality, equal to that of meat and dairy products, but without the cholesterol and saturated fat.

Kinu-dofu
[Kinu-dofu]

On top of that, it is the perfect health food. It is incredibly easy for the body to metabolize this light food. Soy isoflavones possess a myriad of biological properties that can benefit the body. It helps against fatigue and a weak stomach and encourages a clear skin and healthy complexion. People in East Asia believe it also helps them live longer lives. It is not only nutritious (like the soy beans from which it is made), it is also cheap. Tofu is low in calories and rich in protein, calcium, iron and phosphorus.

Tofu originated in China and came to Japan in the 8th century - perhaps brought back by priests for whom it formed a valuable protein-rich addition to the vegetarian diet. There is a record that in 1183 it was offered to the Kasuga Shrine in Nara.

Tofu is made in the following way:
  • Soak soybeans overnight in water
  • Grind them, add water and then boil the mixture (this mixture is called go, soybean puree)
  • Strain it to remove the bean pulp (called okara) - what is left is delicious soy milk
  • Add a coagulating agent, bittern (made from crude salt, contains both magnesium chloride and calcium chloride) or calcium sulfate. This will transform the soymilk into curds and whey. The curds are finally poured into a mold and left to settle.
Depending on the finishing process there are three types of tofu:
  1. Momen(-goshi). "Cotton tofu." The soy milk curd is put into a mold lined with cotton cloth. The mold has holes in the sides and bottom so that the liquid can be pressed out. This leave a firm block of tofu into which the cotton weave has been impressed. This firm type of tofu is used in yudofu and hotpots. Also eaten by itself.
  2. Kinu(-goshi). "Silk tofu." The name is given not because a silk cloth is used instead of a cotton one, but because this type of tofu looks "silky smooth."  It is in fact not drained, so that a larger amount of coagulant remains; it is very soft and breaks easily. Used in soups as miso-shiru.
  3. Yakidofu. Lightly broiled tofu. There is a light brown mottling on the skin. It is firmer than momen and kinu tofu and most often used in hotpots - it is especially popular in sukiyaki.
All three types of tofu are fresh and must be kept under water (also the packs you buy in the supermarket contain water!) and refrigerated, otherwise it will not keep for more than a day. Under water and refrigerated, it should be used within 5 to 7 days of manufacturing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kuromame

Black soybeans. 黒豆、くろまめ。Glycine max.

Also called "kurodaizu." The black color is caused by  the presence of anthocyanin in the skin. For the rest, these beans are similar to ordinary soybeans, also as regards nutrition.

Sold in dry form, soaked, boiled and then sweetened.  Most supermarkets in Japan sell them boiled and seasoned packaged in pouches or plastic trays, in other words "ready to eat."

As "nimame," (sweetened) boiled beans, they are a side dish (okazu) with rice.

They are also an important ingredient of New Year O-sechi Ryori, because of the auspicious saying "mame ni ikiru", "to have a healthy life."

The most famous black soybeans, called Tanba-kuro, come from Tanba Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture.

Kuromame are also used (especially in the Tanba area) to make jam, coffee, tea and cocoa, as well as for flavoring ice cream.

Kuromame

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tsukemono

Japanese pickles. 漬物。

Pickling was an important way of preserving vegetables and get the necessary vitamins also in winter. In the past, Japanese families did their own pickling, as some farmers still do. There are many ways of making tsukemono, but as none of these involves the use of distilled vinegar or acetic acid, we should in fact call them "preserved vegetables", rather than pickles in the Western sense.

Tsukemono can be fermented, for example when the process involves rice bran, sake lees or koji, but other types made with for example salt or soy sauce are not fermented.

Tsukemono Moriawase
[Tsukemono Moriawase]

Tsukemono form a constant part of every Japanese meal that contains rice - they are usually combined into a set with the rice and miso soup (ichiju issai, "one soup and one vegetable").

Tsukemono are also eaten with chazuke ("green tea over rice"), or just with a cup of green tea after the meal. Last but not least, they also make an excellent companion to sake.

On menus, such as of the kaiseki cuisine, tsukemono are called "o-)shinko."

Here are the major types of pickling:
  • With salt (shiozuke). The easiest and most popular method.
  • With soy sauce (shoyuzuke). Mirin is usually added to the soy sauce.
  • With miso (misozuke). The miso is usually mixed with sake. This method is used for pickling whole vegetables, such as pumpkin.
  • With vinegar (suzuke). Japanese vinegar is low in acidity, so like the other types, this is also more a preserved vegetable than a real pickle.
  • With rice bran (nukazuke). Used with salt and chilies. The vegetables are buried in a bed of the rice bran (nukadoko) for a period of several months.
  • With sake lees (kasuzuke). Sake lees are mixed with shochu, sugar and salt. This method of pickling takes a very long time.
  • With koji (kojizuke). Koji is a mold that is cultivated on rice and that is responsible for the sugarification of the starch in the rice as well as the production of other enzymes. 
Not all tsukemono fit neatly into these categories. The famous senmaizuke from Kyoto consists of slices of turnip (kabu) pickled with salt plus konbu, mirin and chili pepper so that a distinctive umami flavor develops.

Tsukemono can be bought in supermarkets and other food stores, but there are also specialist shops, often set up by the makers. Kyoto and Nara have many such tsukemono shops and tsukemono from these cities form a popular omiyage (present brought home by travelers).

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pan

Bread. パン。

From the Portugese "pão." Although bread was initially also called "mugi-mochi," "mushi-mochi" or "mugi-men," "pan" has become the normal name.

In the last decades of the 16th century bread was brought to Japan by Portuguese missionaries. It was however not eaten by the Japanese, perhaps because the taste did not suit them, or because of its strong association with Christianity which was forbidden in Japan from the early 17th century. The Dutch in Nagasaki had bread baked locally, but again only for their own consumption, and the bread they gave as a present to the shogun when visiting Edo was seen as not more than a curiosity. One Edo-period cookbook contains a recipe for bread, but that turns out to be for Chinese-type mantou rather than European bread. In another book with recipes from 1718 there is mention of using yeast for making bread, but as the yeast appears to be amazake it is questionable whether that recipe worked at all or whether it was ever used.

Egawa Hidetatsu ("Tarozaemon"; 1801-1855), an official from Nirayama in Izu who also studied Western-style artillery and built the Odaiba fortifications in Tokyo Bay, was reputedly the first Japanese to bake European-style bread. But that was a special type of hard bread and it took until the Meiji period until bread became a little bit better known in Japan, due to two reasons: (1) the invention of anpan by Kimura Yasubei in 1875 and (2) the proposal by German army doctor Theodor Hoffmann to introduce bread as food for the army to fight beriberi in 1890.

The invention of Anpan was the most important event, as this became the template for all Japanese-style bread. After all, the Japanese already had rice as staple food and they liked rice better than the sour bread. Rice also fitted their whole food culture. So bread only could fit in as an extra, a snack. And this has basically continued until today, although in the last decades people also do eat toast for breakfast, or sandwiches for lunch. But that is an option, not a custom.

Most bread you find in Japanese bakeries and supermarkets strictly belongs in the category of "sweet bread" or "savory bread." In other words, most bread in Japan is a snack like confectionery. (Of course, there are exist good European-style bakeries making wholesome types of bread, but these are rare and limited to the big cities or some department stores).

So bread as a snack in Japan has followed its own course and flowered in unexpected ways. Here is a list Japanese snack breads, divided into "sweet" and "savory":

Written with information from the Japanese Wikipedia article on bread.

INDEX

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Korokke-pan

Bun with croquettes. コロッケパン。A type of sozai-pan, buns with savory fillings ("sozai" is the term for the side dishes eaten with rice).

Korokke (croquesttes) were introduced from the West in around 1900. They are a popular form of Yoshoku (Japanese-style western food).

A hot dog bun is sliced open and filled with one or more croquettes. The coquettes can be of various types. Most common are potato croquettes with some Japanese Worcester sauce. Sometimes shredded cabbage is added as well. Other types used are for example fish or meat croquettes.

Korokke-pan

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kayu

Rice gruel. (お)粥.

Kayu, also politely called o-kayu, or in the Kansai familiarly "okayusan."

Basically a porridge made with rice and water flavored with some salt. Cooked with a little bit more water than usual. Although some toppings as an umeboshi, or furikake, may be used, these should be sober and the rice should not be cooked with ingredients because then it becomes zosui.

Often eaten for breakfast instead of an ordinary bowl of rice, especially by the elderly or people who are ill. Soft and easily digestible. Also regularly served as part of the Japanese breakfast in hotels and ryokan.

Nanakusa-gayu or "seven herb porridge" is a dish  traditionally eaten on January 7. Small amounts of seven different herbs are added to the porridge. This custom is believed to invite good luck and longevity in the new year.

In supermarkets, kayu is sold "ready to eat" in retort pouches.

Kayu
[Kayu with shredded nori and a sunken umeboshi]

Kojizuke

Pickled with koji. 麹漬け。

Koji is a mold that is cultivated on rice and that is responsible for the sugarification of the starch in the rice as well as the production of other enzymes.

A pickling method for winter.

Best example: bettarazuke, using daikon. Has a sweet flavor and alcoholic aroma. The name derives from the "stickiness" of this type of pickle.

Bettarazuke in pouch

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kasuzuke

Pickled with sake lees (kasu). 粕漬け。

Kasu are sake lees, the residue of rice mixed with yeast, koji and sake, which is pressed out of the fermented sake to obtain a clear and transparent liquid. On average, a tank of sake contains about 30% of lees, more in the case of ginjo sake. These lees are of course not thrown away, but they play an important role in the Japanese kitchen. They still contain about 8% alcohol and the faint but agreeable fragrance of sake. Sakekasu is used for cooking, for example for marinating fish, or to make soup from. And they are used for pickling.

When used for pickling, sake lees are mixed with salt and some sugar to make a pickling bed. This method of pickling takes a long time.

Sakekasu as a method of preserving vegetables has already been recorded in a 10th century source.

Best example: narazuke, the representative pickle of Nara City, mostly made with pickling melon (shirouri).

A sub-type of kasuzuke is karashizuke where karashi, Japanese mustard, is mixed through the kasu bed. Best example: karashi-nasu, using eggplant.

Narazuke (pickles)
[Narazuke. PhotoAd Blankestijn]

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Suzuke

Pickled with vinegar. 酢漬け。

Japanese rice vinegar is low in acidity, so like the other types, this is also more a preserved vegetable than a real pickle.

Best examples: rakkyo, pickled scallions or gari, the pickled slices of ginger eaten to refresh the mouth between dishes of sushi.

[Gari. Photo Wikipedia]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shoyuzuke

Pickling with soy sauce. 醤油漬け。

Mirin or sugar is usually added to the soy sauce. This is a way of non-fermenting pickling. It is less common than, for example, shiozuke, and there is only one famous product where it is used: Fukujinzuke, the crunchy pickle that forms the fixed companion of curry dishes.

Fukujinzuke

Friday, March 9, 2012

Nukazuke

Pickles made with rice bran (nuka). ぬかずけ、糠漬け。

A typical sort of tsukemono, pickled vegetables ("preserved vegetables"). Vegetables are buried in a bed of ricebran (nukadoko) where they undergo lactic acid fermentation. Any vegetable may be used, but the most popular ones are radish, eggplant, cucumber and cabbage.

Nukazuke-kyuri

The nuka-bed is traditionally kept in a wooden barrel but today ceramic tubs or plastic buckets are more common. Rice bran (the white powder that is obtained when polishing rice; sometimes it is first roasted) is mixed in a barrel with saline water. Also konbu and miso as well as chilies may be added. The resulting mash, called nukadoko, looks like wet sand.

Starter vegetables and fruit peels are added to the nuka-doko. It is a good idea to "seed" a new nukadoko with some seasoned nuka from an older batch to get the fermenting culture of lactobacilli and yeast started. In the past, upon marriage, daughters used to take some of their mother's nukadoko to their new home (that was in the good old times that families still made their own pickles - now there are at most some farmers and hobbyists doing that).

Once fermentation has started and the nukadoko exudes a particular earthy or yeasty aroma, the starter vegetables are exchanged for the pickling vegetables. These are usually buried in the nukadoko for about a month, although periods of several months also are known if one wants to obtain a strong flavor. Pickling in a new bed also takes more time.

The nukadoko contains live organisms, so tastes vary considerably, depending on the season, the region, etc. When the pickles are ready, they are washed, sliced and eaten.

Once the bed has become active, new vegetables can be added at any time. To keep it in good order, and prevent it from becoming moldy, it has to be stirred every day; now and then, additional rice bran and salt have to be added.

The most famous type of nukazuke is takuan, pickled daikon radish (see photo below). The radish is colored yellow by adding turmeric (ukon; unfortunately, mass produced takuan rely on food coloring). Named after a famous priest of Daitokuji in Kyoto who purportedly invented this type of pickle.

Nukazuke are healthy when eaten with white rice as they have obtained Vitamin B1 from the rice bran, thereby reconstituting a vitamin that is lacking in the polished rice itself.

Takuan

Uses information from both the the English and Japanese Wikipedia articles on Nukazuke.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Misozuke

Miso pickles. みそずけ、味噌漬け。

A type of tsukemono, pickled vegetables ("preserved vegetables" would be a better translation). In the modular Japanese meal, pickles form a set with rice and miso soup.

Various kinds of vegetables (for example, radish, cucumber, carrot, gobo, ginger and eggplant) are pickled in a bed of miso, sometimes for as long as a whole month. This method is also used for pickling whole vegetables, such as pumpkin. The pickles acquire the pleasant taste of the miso. Usually red miso paste is used.

Miso is also used for pickling fish or meat, which afterwards is grilled (in that case, saikyo-miso is also used).

Miso-zuke
[Misozuke of cucumber and daikon]

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Shishamo

Japanese capelin, shishamo smelt. ししゃも, 柳葉魚。Spirinchus lanceolatus.

A fish originally caught in autumn in the mouths of the rivers in Hokkaido (it swims from the sea into the river mouths to lay its eggs). A slim fish, about 15 cm long, with a silver underside and darker backside. Usually dried and eaten grilled. At its tastiest when carrying roe (ko-mochi shishamo).

The characters with which the name traditionally is written literally mean "willow leaf fish," and that tallies with the meaning of the name which is originally from the Ainu language.

As the number of shishamo in Hokkaido has decreased, one today usually finds imported capelins from the northern Pacific on the Japanese dining table. The real shishamo now is a rare delicacy.


Shishamo

Monday, March 5, 2012

Shiozuke

Salt pickle. しおずけ、塩漬け。

The most common type of tsukemono, pickled vegetables (note that tsukemono are usually not spicy and therefore the translation "pickles" - though common - is in fact not the best. "Preserved vegetables" would be a better approximation). In the modular Japanese meal, pickles form a set with rice and miso soup.

Preserving vegetables with salt (shiozuke) is the easiest and most popular method. Sliced vegetables are salted and put under a weight in the pickling press (tsukemonoki). The pressure causes the vegetables to release their liquids which mixed with salt is turned into brine which preserves the vegetables. The salt is removed by washing before serving. Very light pickles can be made by just keeping them in the press for one night (ichiyazuke). [This is also called "asazuke", although asazuke are not only made with salt, but also with vinegar or rice bran. The original flavor of the vegetable is preserved in this way].

Any type of vegetable (or even sansai or mushrooms) can be used for shiozuke.

Some common examples of shiozuke are:

Hakusei-zuke - with Chinese cabbage, see photo below
Kyabetsu no shiozuke - with cabbage
Kyuri no shiozuke - Japanese cucumbers, either whole or cut in rings
Nasu no shiozuke - with Japanese eggplants
Umeboshi


Hakusai-zuke

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Onigiri

Rice ball. おにぎり。

A ball of rice with filling, meant to eaten with the hands as a quick snack or a convenient food when outside.

Fast foods existed in Japan long before McDonalds arrived with its fattening hamburgers. My favorite type of such a traditional fast food is at the same time the most simple: the plain, old-fashioned rice ball.

Apart from a bowl of white rice in its original form, rice balls are probably the simplest rice dish. The name comes from nigiru, the squeezing of the rice into a ball form. Another name is omusubi, from musubu, to bind together. The boiled rice is molded with the bare hands - which have been moistened to prevent the rice from sticking to the palms - into either triangular (sankaku), round (maru) or cylindrical (tawara, in the form of a traditional straw rice bag) balls.

Onigiri
[Onigiri from the supermarket]

The simplest and probably oldest form was where only the palm of the hand was lightly covered with salt to give taste to the rice ball - but this is a form you don't see much anymore - although salt may still be added in this way, there usually is a filling as well. A sheet of toasted laver (nori) is wrapped around the ball; alternatively, it may be sprinkled with sesame seed. Onigiri can also be covered with miso and then grilled.

As fillings usually ingredients with a strong salty or sour taste are used. Examples are:
  • umeboshi (a pickled plum) or bainiku (the sieved flesh of the pickled plum, without the pit);
  • sake or shiojake (fried, salted salmon);
  • katsuo (dried and smoked bonito);
  • tarako (salted cod's roe)
  • mentaiko (cod's roe seasoned with chili-pepper);
  • maguro (tuna)
  • konbu (kelp)
  • ebi mayo (shrimp and mayonaise)
  • ikura (salmon eggs)
  • chirimenjako (tiny young sardines)
  • yakiniku (grilled meat)
  • natto (fermented soy beans)
  • takana (the rice mixed with pickled takana)
There is tendency for more "Westernized" onigiri to appear on the market: shrimp or tuna flavored with mayonnaise, balls with chicken meat, and even beef! You also find other non-traditional nigiri without nori, so just consisting of the pressed rice: chahan (Chinese fried rice), ome-raisu (boiled rice flavored with tomato sauce wrapped in a thin omelet), gomoku (boiled rice flavored with vegetables and small pieces of meat).

Originally, onigiri were typical home cooking, made from the left-over rice of the previous day. Elderly Japanese still wax sentimental when thinking about the rice balls made with tender and loving care by their mothers, and acquiring a special taste from the amino acids in her hand palms.

It goes without saying that onigiri are eaten with the hands, and not with chopsticks. Rice balls are the perfect food for picnics or to take along on a hike - and even for a quick office lunch.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Miso-shiru

Miso soup. 味噌汁、みそ汁。

Miso soup is made from miso paste and dashi. A wide variety of other ingredients can be added - all cut in small cubes or finely shredded:
  • tofu
  • abura-age, deep-fried tofu
  • wakame, seaweed
  • daikon, white radish
  • negi, welsh onions
  • asari, short-necked clams
  • shijimi, freshwater clams
Miso soup is part of a set with rice and tsukemono (pickles), and therefore can be had at all meals. Miso warms the body and enhances the appetite.

Instead of making the soup with miso paste, people living alone or in a hurry can also buy packages of dry, instant miso soup. There are even Styrofoam cups which besides the miso soup also contains various ingredients. You only have to add boiling water.

A warm bowl of miso is the best way to start the day!


Miso soup