How do you usually eat Tofu? In the Japanese repertoire, there are plenty of recipes to choose from, from Yu-dofu and Nabe to Miso soup, Kenchin-jiru, Agedashi tofu and Hiya-yakko, a popular fresh tofu recipe that I’ve not yet presented here.
In this recipe, I show you how to make a kind of fancied-up hiya-yakko using sesame oil rather than soy sauce. Why the need to fancy it up? Because, while simple Hiya-yakko sure is delicious, it’s just a little bit too plain a dish to serve guests. If you want to make a fresh tofu dish that’s sure to impress, this recipe is the solution for you.
A note of caution: these uncooked tofu recipes will turn out impossibly light and delicious if you use the right kind of tofu. Really, they live or die on the quality of the tofu you manage to get. In Kyoto, where silken tofu is a prized artesanal specialty made fresh each morning by traditional craftsmen, it’s hard to go wrong. Here in Montreal, where the tofu is ok but not necessarily fantastic, results can vary. Wherever you are, you should only try these using the best quality, softest silken tofu you can find.
And a tip: in North America, some quite decent Korean brands market this type of tofu as “extra silken”. That’s the kind you want.
It’s probably not the first thing you think of, but if you ask me Japan’s true national dish is curry. Japanese people are crazy for the stuff: it’s served constantly, both at home and in restaurants. I think it has a good claim to be Japan’s best-loved dish.
Of course, curry isn’t from Japan. As everybody knows, curry is originally Indian, but the dish came to Japan in the late 19th century through the colonial route, via Britain. This may explain why compared to Indian curry, Japanese curry is usually quite mild, sweet even, and certainly never very spicy.
I’ve met some Canadians who are really into Japanese culture, and they all complained that whenever Japanese people invited them for dinner, they made curry! It’s easy to understand why they run into it so often at parties: this dish scales up very well, so it’s ideal for big gatherings, parties, and the like. And since everyone in Japan loves the stuff, it’s very often served to guests. (In honor of this, the recipe below is for 20 people!)
I’ll admit it: Westerners sometimes fail to see the point of Japanese curry. I can see why. If you’re used to Indian food, our way of making it could strike you as a little unexciting. I’ve come to the conclusion this is one of those dishes that divides cultures more than it brings them together: almost everyone in Japan loves Japanese style curry but reactions abroad are more mixed.
Here’s a recipe that doubles as a communal activity: Gyoza are labor-intensive little packets of flavor that you can make together with your friends and family.
You’ve probably already run into Gyoza: they’re commonly available as an appetizer in sushi places these days. Turns out you can make those at home! While they’re certainly a bit of work, you can also save a lot of money if you skip the restaurant bit.
Kids love Gyoza, and as a kid I used to love making Gyoza as well. So consider pressing your little ones into service here: their gyoza may not be the most symmetrical but they’ll love it, and gyoza-making is a skill they’ll be glad to have for the rest of their lives.
This is another dish of slightly questionable Japaneseness: Gyoza are strongly rooted in Chinese cooking. But that’s a historical footnote: Gyoza are so firmly established in the Japanese Kitchen these days, it’s absurd to think of them as “foreign” anymore.
You can find ready-made Gyoza pastry shells in most Asian stores. Buy a packet and then all you have to do is mix the filling and start folding…it’s fun!