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.
We’re pleased to announce that, from today, Kanako will be contributing a regular column on Japanese cuisine for Menuism.com – a growing Social Networking Site for restaurant fans. Check out her intro interview here.
And if you’ve just come from Menuism, welcome! We already have 72 detailed Japanese recipes up on this blog – each with step-by-step illustrations – and we add new ones all the time. So there’s plenty to choose from for the aspiring Japanese home cook: just get yourself a good, sharp knife, make friends with the clerk at your nearest Asian grocery store, and get started!
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.
As you may have noticed, chilled noodles are a summertime favorite in Japan: an understandable reaction to the oppressive heat that falls over the country at this time of year. This version is not too different from Hiyashi somen, but you make it with thick Udon noodles instead of those thin Somen. The other difference is that the noodles, together with all the toppings, are put into each diner’s bowl from the start, rather than being taken little by little from common dishes at the table.
As toppings, you have some leeway to choose your favorite: a lot of people are fans of a Natto and Okra topping, others prefer roast pork, salad, grated daikon and so on. Me? I go for that soft-boiled egg…
Today, we made Hiyashi Udon because we were in a bit of a hurry and didn’t want to spend too long cooking. Another plus: here’s a dish you can make in 20 minutes flat. To save even more time, you could even use the same sauce you made for Somen on your Hiyashi Udon, but I prepared a slightly different sauce today.
August is when ginger is at its best. At this time of year, prices are low and you can find the fresh, fragrant roots everywhere.
If you read this blog regularly, you already know that Japanese home cooking is seasonal cooking. So, at this time of year, we make lots of deeply ginger-perfumed recipes – in part because of an old folk belief that this root helps fight off the sluggishness and lethargy you get when the weather gets really hot.
Here’s a flavored rice that puts ginger to good use. This spicy and refreshing ginger-scented rice goes great alongside fish. Best yet, it’s very easy to make: you just add some sliced ginger and a little bit of simple sauce, and cook it as you would plain white rice.
I have a vivid memory of the instant I realized that Nanohana Ohitashi – a dish made by seasoning the young green shoots of the plant we get Canola oil from – is one of the most delicious and refined side dishes in the Japanese repertoire. I was still a university student. That day, I went to a restaurant in Kyoto with my parents, but without my sisters. I remember it clearly, perhaps because it was rare for us to go out without them. It was a classic Japanese restaurant: very sober, very refined.
The Nanohana Ohitashi was served to us in a big bowl to be shared. We were a little taken a back, at first, by the size of the portion. It was really a lot; actually, it seemed a little bit too much for three people. But as we started in on it, we quickly understood that finishing it wouldn’t be a problem: it was just so fragrant, so elegant, so stylish. Slightly piquant due to the mustard, and bitter but also sweet thanks to the contribution of the rapini. It was perfection in a side dish.
By the end, there was none left.
You’ll have noticed that Kanako has never added a Ramen recipe to this blog. This scene, from the hilarious 80s Ramen cult comedy Tampopo, pretty much explains why:
A seemingly simple noodle soup with pork and a couple of vegetables, it turns out the intricacies of making a perfect bowl of Ramen contain multitudes. As the dish’s sprawling Internet following suggests, Ramen is the focus of some decidedly weird fetishism in Japan (and beyond). Particularly in Tokyo, Ramen draws a level of obsessive attention-to-detail that all but bars amateurs from even attempting it.
To make a long story short, Ramen is not home cooking. Unless you’re a pro, this is a dish best reserved for when you’re dining out.
Tampopo, by the way, is great fun. Though the way-over-the-top Ramen stuff is front and center, the film really is a must-see for Japanese foodies of all stripes – scenes lovingly send up everything from Rice omelette making to Beijing duck skin pancakes to Europeans’ incomprehensible aversion to making a slurping noise as they eat pasta.
Do rent it if you get a chance. But do be warned, while most of it is quite good natured, some of the sexier scenes stray over from merely offbeat to downright disturbing.