I guess a food blogger shouldn’t say this, but it’s a fact: I’m a big fan of junk food. Of course I don’t eat greasy snacks every day but, sometimes, I do get these cravings for some things you’ve heard of (potato chips, fried chicken) and others you probably haven’t, like Gobou Fries.
Of course, I’m aware that fried snacks have an image problem, but I go by Michael Pollan’s Food Rule #39: you get a free pass on any junk food you make at home, from scratch. When you make your own junk food, it becomes what it should be: a rare treat, rather than a health destroying habit. Plus gobou is full of fibre, so even when fried it’s much healthier than potato chips.
In case you’re wondering, Gobou is the taproot of the Burdock plant – you know, the one with the bulbs that stick to your socks when you walk in the woods. The roots have a highly distinctive appearance: brown and earthy just like an ordinary root, but very thin and very long. In Montreal you can always find gobou at Kim Phat. Elsewhere, many Asian Stores carry it, so don’t be afraid to ask.
I often serve Gobou Fries to guests as a snack to go with beers before dinner, sort of the way you serve peanuts. In my experience, most Western people are totally unfamiliar with it, but once they taste it, then they keep picking at it until it’s gone. Delish.
The concept of Konbu Tsukudani is a little hard to explain, since it’s a food category that doesn’t really exist in the West: a topping for white rice. As you may know, in Japan rice is usually cooked entirely plain, without even salt. Instead of flavoring rice as you cook it, as is done in the West, we usually add flavor to plain white rice by topping it with something intensely flavorful (or, if we’re making Onigiri, by stuffing it inside).
Intense certainly describes the taste of Konbu Tsukudani – a powerful mix of sweet, salty and umami. Usually I buy the ready-made kind in Japan and bring it, but I recently ran out. So, I decided to make some from scratch. Turns out, if you can get dried sea kelp, it’s easy.
In fact, Konbu Tsukudani is delicious even without rice. Probably the simplest way to enjoy tsukudani is to just eat it on its own, as an accompaniment to green tea: something intensely sweet and salty to heighten the flavor of the tea.
Today, to celebrate my friend’s birthday, I made a very simple pound cake with Azuki – Japanese sweet red bean. Maybe this is not one of the most typical Japanese deserts, but this is one of the best way to eat Azuki paste (Anko).
If you were a real fanatic, you could make the paste yourself, but here we use store bought.
Pay no attention. Analogies are only confusing. Okonomiyaki isn’t “like” anything else you’ve tried before. It’s better.
This recipe is for Osaka-style okonomiyaki, the city’s signature dish. I’ve seen fancy London restaurants serve it as an exotic delicacy (and charge upwards of 12 pounds for one!) but, in Osaka, there’s nothing fancy about it: it’s a cheap, filling, flavorful meal young people adore.
I’m a Kansai girl, so Okonomiyaki is definitely “home cooking” for me. Regionalism aside, though, Okonomiyaki travels well. This is the one Japanese dish that just about every western person enjoys. Even Canadian children, who wouldn’t think of eating most of the weird things I put on this blog, seem to love okonomiyaki.
Truth is, okonomiyaki is “B-Grade cuisine” – which is a polite way of saying it’s junk food. And yet Osaka people take their okonomiyaki pretty seriously. Because, while making mediocre okonomiyaki is easy enough, making blockbuster okonomiyaki is the subject of much oneupmanship.
If you find this recipe a little involved, that’s because it’s designed to wow the locals. It shares a lot of little tips and tricks (marked in bold) I’ve learned over the years. Put in the time to follow them, and you’ll make Okonomiyaki better than any foreigner is supposed to be able to!
I love potato chips, but sometimes I find them too salty and oily, so they fail to satisfy. Jagaimo-mochi is a good alternative at times like that, a snack for when you’re a bit hungry and want something salty.
At heart, jagaimo mochi is an oyatsu – a mid-afternoon snack – the kind of thing moms make to welcome their hungry kids home from school, and so it’s tied to all kinds of childhood memories for me. But the recipe also works well as a light meal, or as a tasty grown-up nibble with beers.
At the end of the day, jagaimo mochi are potato pancakes, but not as you know them!
Roasted sweet potatoes are probably the most popular snack in Japan in the autumn. It’s simple, really: you just roast a sweet potato over dry heat. Nothing more. It’s certainly comfort food but…can something this simple be counted as Japanese home cooking?
Based on this snack’s popularity, I think the answer is a definite yes.
Actually, the word “snack” gives the wrong idea. When you hear “snack” you picture someone munching junk food mindlessly out of a bag while watching TV. The word I was looking for is おやつ – “oyatsu” – which isn’t like that at all.
Oyatsu is a concept that doesn’t really seem to exist in North America. It’s more like “afternoon tea” is for the English, or “merienda” in Spain and Latin America: a very light, mid-afternoon meal mothers feed their kids when they come home from school. Oyatsu-eating comes complete with its little rules, rituals and repetitions. In a way, it’s a real shame that there’s no oyatsu culture out here.