Nabe

Chilly weather in Japan means nabe (pronounced nah-bay)—that is, hot pot dinners. (Nabe or 鍋 just means ‘pot’ generically.)

Like most people, we have a little gas stove, like a camping stove, that sits right on the table for nabe meals. As the pot (donabe or 土鍋) simmers away, everyone serves themselves as they wish. Nabe evokes warmth and togetherness—plus it’s a very easy meal to prepare.

There are no particular rules for nabe, but we usually include: big green onions; mizuna; hakusai (aka napa aka Chinese cabbage); maitake, enoki, and sometimes other mushrooms; and tofu.

Nabe simmering

Other typical ingredients include shiitake mushrooms, white fish or oysters, meatballs (pork or chicken), fried tofu, ganmodoki (tofu balls with vegetables), etc. One famous kind of nabe is chanko nabe, the primary meal of sumo wrestlers. It includes chicken, veggies, and various tofu products. And of course, they eat tons of rice alongside.

One typical way to finish off a nabe meal is to use the remaining stock for 雑炊 (zosui). You re-heat the stock that remains in the pot and stir in beaten eggs and rice or noodles to make a sort of porridge.

You can also buy very handy packages of stock for nabe at the grocery store, in all types of flavours: sesame + soy milk, various kinds of dashi, kimchi, tomato, soy sauce, etc.

 

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Happy New Year! 2018, year of the dog

I customarily blog about New Year’s food, although I’m a little tardy this year.

We had, of course, toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve to bridge the old year and the new. We went with a simple (and sticky) mix of okra, grated nagaimo (a sticky yam/potato), nori seaweed, nameko mushrooms, and green onions.

Soba!

On January 1st, we had osechi, lots of lucky food in the traditional box format. This year’s selection had Japanese, Chinese, and ‘Western’ style items.

Osechi
New Year’s food

See also last year’s post for more New Year’s food info.

And, we went to mochi-making. Very tasty, as per usual!

Mochi

KFC and cake

Christmas in Japan means Santa Claus and Christmas tree-themed everything, Christmas music blasting everywhere from November, and on the day itself, KFC and “Christmas cake.” It’s mostly a romantic holiday for couples, a fun time for kids, and a massive shopping season for everyone, leading up to New Year’s, which is the main holiday of the season (and the year).

As the Gaijinpot blog puts it:

“It’s a question that many Westerners ask every year around this time, when the iconic red, white and green marketing campaigns go up across the nation: How did Christmas in Japan become synonymous with a fast food joint?” Essentially, it’s due to an extremely successful marketing campaign in the 70s. Read the blog post for more details.

KFC is indeed enormously popular for Christmas lunches and dinners, and it’s necessary to order your fried chicken well in advance.

A sampling of KFC ads:

We skip the KFC craziness, but we do tend to partake in “Christmas cake.” According to this NPR article, Christmas cake became a tradition in post-war times, where American-style cake came to be associated with a decadent American Christmas.

Japanese Christmas cake is typically white sponge cake with white icing and decorated with strawberries and the like, plus various Santa and winter-themed decorations. But there are many different variations, including our raspberry mouse shown below. See also last year’s chocolate.

Christmas cakes aren’t just sold in bakeries, but also supermarkets, department stores, and even convenience stores. But in most cases, pre-ordering is absolutely essential!

Most Japanese I’ve spoken with assume that fried chicken and cake is typical Christmas fare in America and other Western countries and are surprised when I tell them, well, it’s not!

Takoyaki

Takoyaki is a much-beloved Japanese food, particularly enjoyed at summer festivals and most famous in Osaka. It consists of a piece of octopus surrounded by a pancakey batter that’s formed into a ball shape while grilled. Hubby came across (and bought) a make-your-own kit for enjoying the joys of takoyaki at home.

The kit came with all the necessary tools: a bucket for mixing and pouring the batter, a whisk, a turner, a tool for spreading oil in the pan, and most importantly, the takoyaki pan that’s designed for grilling perfectly formed balls.

Oil spreading tool and turner

The batter consists of flour, eggs, water, and soy sauce and/or dashi.

Mixing the batter

Oil is spreading into each of the holes in the pan, and then a piece of octopus is placed in each. The batter is poured in, and then green onions added. Usually pickled ginger is also added here, but we didn’t have any.

Pouring the batter
Cooking

The exciting part comes when it’s time to turn the takoyaki and form the batter into balls while it’s being grilled.

Turning the takoyaki

Takoyaki is typically dressed with takoyaki sauce (similar, or the same?, as okonomi sauce), mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and powdered nori.

Ready to eat
With salad!

Takoyaki professionals have amazing turning technique. Mesmerizing!

Nice cream

This has nothing to do with Japan in particular, except in relation to the super-humid weather. But anyway, I finally tried making “nice cream”, that is, an ice cream-like substance made from just bananas.

I followed the basic instructions from Oh My Veggies. Essentially, you blend frozen bananas until they get creamy. I used a regular blender, which took awhile; I reckon a food processor might be easier, at least to get it started. I added just a bit of unsweetened cocoa powder and cinnamon. It came out very lovely, although maybe a bit too sweet. Next time, I plan to try adding a bit of 飲むおから (nomu okara) or smooth okara for cooking / drinking. Okara is a powdery by-product of tofu-making, and it’s delicious. I’m hoping it will make the nice cream a bit creamier and less sweet. We’ll see!

 

New Year’s food

The last three days have pretty much been filled with eating. Because, New Year’s food.

正月 (Oshogatsu) — the Japanese New Year — is the biggest holiday of the year, and of course there are rituals, traditions, and special food.  The holiday generally runs from December 31st to January 3rd, with most people spending time with family and often visiting shrines/temples.

On New Year’s Eve, it’s traditional to eat toshikoshi (New Year’s) soba (buckwheat noodles) for health and long life. We had ours with tsuyu (dashi stock), nagaimo (grated sticky yam/potato), and green onions.

Red/orange/yellow/gold foods are central to New Year’s cuisine, as shown in the photos below, all for good luck! Osechi refers to traditional New Year’s food served in stacked boxes. The style of food dates back more than 1000 years, with the idea being to preserve food to avoid cooking over the turn of the year (which I fully support). We’ve been in Japan for New Year’s before and have eaten many of the traditional dishes, but this was the first time we ordered osechi. I really enjoyed many of the items, but by design, much of it is pretty sweet or salty, so it’s definitely possible to stray into excess. We rather regretted having so much despite sharing it with family, so we’ll have to find some more people to share with next year, plus plan to eat more salad alongside.

For more descriptions of the specific food and their meanings, see Savvy Tokyo or Wikipedia.

Mochi, or sticky rice pounded into little cakes, is also central to New Year’s cuisine. There are several mochi items in the osechi boxes seen above. We also went to a mochi-tsuki, or mochi-making, in Yokohama. It was fun to see the rice being steamed and then pounded with huge mallets. Kids also got to line up and have a go with the mallet. And of course, eating it was the best!

Cooking the rice
Cooking the rice
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Mochi with kinako (soy bean powder) and anko (sweet red bean paste) respectively

(With the sounds of the kids’ mochi-making in the background)

Random grocery store pics

So yeah, sometimes I like taking photos at the grocery store. Here are a few.