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smallworld

eG Foodblog: smallworld - Spring in Tokyo

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Today I went shopping by bus, to Oizumigakuen station.

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No, this is not an attempt to be sexy. I literally can't fit in the seat, unless I splay my legs like this. It's not so bad while I'm sitting (unless I have a restless type sitting in front, and then it's no fun at all having by knees banged around) but getting in and out is a challenge.

Speaking of sexy, here's a little treat for the fellas:

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This lovely young thing has no trouble fitting into her seat, because she is sitting in the courtesy seats (reserved for the elderly, pregnant and physically impaired). Luckily no elderly, pregnant or physically impaired riders boarded but if one did I can guarantee you she wouldn't have budged. She is applying her make-up, and when she got off the bus she marched straight into the middle of the sidewalk, almost knocking over an old man. She shot him a dirty look as she passed.

Kids these days...

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I walked back from the station, hitting a few more shops on the way. It mostly a straight walk up a long shotengai (shopping street) which is lined its entire 4km length with cherry trees. It will be beautiful around the end of the month but is not much to look at right now.

Above is a newly opened Okinawan restaurant that we've been meaning to go to. I love Okinawan food, and Okinawa itself, having been three times.

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This is Bikkuri Donkey, which serves hambaagu (Japanese style hamburg steaks). It is a chain, but all the shops have different exteriors, usually crazy like this one. The food is pretty good and the price is right, so we go occasionally. Bikkuri Donkey literally means Surprised Donkey. I'd rather not know why the donkey is surprised.

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The shop in the middle is called Kantarou and I'm hoping to show you a bit more of it on the weekend. It didn't used to have all the signs out front so I'm a bit worried that it's not doing well. I hope the food hasn't changed.

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This little side street is where the salarymen go on the way home from work. It is a collection of tiny restaurants and bars, including ramen, yakitori, various nomiya (drinking establishments) and snack. Snack are wee bars presided over by a Mama-san, usually middle-aged. Sometimes there is a younger hostess or two, sometimes it's just Mama-san. The customers are men only the entertainment consists of drinking, karaoke and banter.

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Umakamon is a takoyaki/monjayaki/okonomiyaki/teppanyaki restaurant. It's closed right now but we've been before and it's pretty good. I love the octopus on the shutter.

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Some cashiers are so fast that before I can smile and say "Fukuro wa iranai desu" (no bag, please) my purchases have been wrapped and double-bagged. It happened twice today. Each wagashi (Japanese sweet) on the left is individually wrapped in plastic, then taped up in a plastic tray, then taped up in a paper bag, then put in a plastic bag. The bread on the right was put in a paper bag, the pastry in a plastic bag, and they were put into a bigger paper bag along with another plastic bag and twist tie for to put the bread into later.

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This kare-pan (deep-fried curry bun) was my afternoon snack.

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... nattou, an extremely stinky and slimy form of fermented beans.

Can you offer any insight, please, into what makes nattou an attractive prospect, or even a plausible acquired taste? It always seems to be mentioned in the same breath as words like 'stinky' and 'slimy'. As a big cheese-fan I can relate to stinky, I suppose, but slimy isn't my favourite texture...

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Here are today's groceries. I forgot to mention that last night's class was my last of the week, so my weekend is already underway. And when my husband gets home in a few hours the fun will begin. So far, some of you may be under the impression that we eat very healthily. Well, some of you are about to be proven wrong. The weekend is when we do our real eating.

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... nattou, an extremely stinky and slimy form of fermented beans.

Can you offer any insight, please, into what makes nattou an attractive prospect, or even a plausible acquired taste? It always seems to be mentioned in the same breath as words like 'stinky' and 'slimy'. As a big cheese-fan I can relate to stinky, I suppose, but slimy isn't my favourite texture...

Yes, it's just like strong smelling and tasting foods like blue cheese or anchovies. The smell and flavour is an acquired taste. As for the sliminess, the Japanese have a special affection for slimy foods like mountain yam and okra. It's just another texture here.

Nattou is an attractive prospect because it's healthy, cheap and, if you can get over the smell and slime, tasty. If you can't it's no big deal, and plenty of Japanese don't like nattou.

I didn't like nattou until I had it deep-fried. Now there's a cooking technique that will make anything taste good.

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Beef was on sale today and I went a bit nuts. Here we have two kinds of Iwate-gyu, a "brand" of beef from Iwate in northern Japan: kata-rosu (shoulder roast?) and sankaku-bara (not sure what this cut is in English, but it's the coral coloured triangle in this diagram). The pork is kurobuta-bara (Berkshire pork belly), my favourite meat in the world.

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A closer at the sankaku-bara. I usually use pork for shabushabu because it's much cheaper than beef, which we only eat a few times a year. I also prefer the flavour of pork, but I certainly don't mind good wagyu once in a while, and this blog was a good excuse to buy it.

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This is udo, a kind of sansai (wild mountain vegetable) and a sign of spring. It is often described in English as similar to asparagus or fennel. I've never tried fennel and I don't think udo tastes like asparagus; to me udo is like very fresh celery dipped in honey.

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It is tender, crisp and quite nice looking. It is all edible but as the skin is course and strong and a bit bitter the skin is usually cooked separately.

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Here the inside and top has been parboiled and dressed with soy sauce and katsuobushi while the skin was made into kimpira (saute flavoured with soy sauce, sake and mirin).

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The table is set with a konro (tabletop gas grill) and condiments for shabushabu.

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Aside from the meat there are kuzukiri noodles, which are clear noodles traditionally made from kudzu starch (don't know if a different starch is used now or not), tofu (not shown), and vegetables: hakusai (napa or Chinese cabbage); shiitake; mizuna greens; negi (long onion); maitake mushrooms; enoki mushrooms.

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The traditional shabushabe pot is modeled on the Mongolian hotpot. It is beautiful to look at but not at all necessary, and I think most people just use a regular pot.

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The tofu, vegetables and kuzukiri are placed in kombu dashi (kelp stock) and left until cooked. The meat is held with chopsticks and swished around in the hot stock for a few seconds until done. The swishing sound is described as "shabu shabu" in Japanese, giving this dish its name.

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The beef is best a little undercooked. This piece of kata-rosu is dipped in gomadare (sesame sauce).

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Pork must be fully cooked of course.

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Tofu in gomadare topped with thinly sliced negi.

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This piece of sankaku-bara is dipped in ponzu oroshi, grated daikon mixed with ponzu.

When the shabushabu ingredients are all used up the meal ends with udon noodles cooked in the remaining broth, but we were too stuffed to finish the shabushabu ingredients, so the udon will make a quick meal tomorrow.

And now if you'll excuse me, I've got some serious digesting to do.

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So far, some of you may be under the impression that we eat very healthily. Well, some of you are about to be proven wrong.

Whew! :biggrin:

I was getting worried there for a second...

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The shabushabu is just beautiful! Thank you so much for posting that! Everything looks gorgeous and delicious! The udo is so pretty. I'd love to try that!

I wanted to say how much I am enjoying my trip to Japan! The blogs are my favorite part of eGullet, I think!

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The kare-pan looks delicious. I hope it was. I would like to taste udo sometime but the nearest Japanese market is 70 miles away and I don't remember ever seeing it there.

I usually order my Japanese goods from a store in San Francisco area.

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aaaah, kare pan, warm from the Sogo oven, slightly crunchy and a teeny bit oily on the outside, fluffy and soft on the inside with that gorgeous mild curry filling......miss it...crave it.....no idea how to duplicate it??...any ideas?

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So far, some of you may be under the impression that we eat very healthily. Well, some of you are about to be proven wrong. The weekend is when we do our real eating.

I thought you you were going to show us some junk food. Your shabushabu still looks healthy.

I like udo, too, but I like real, wild ones much better.

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Beef was on sale today and I went a bit nuts. Here we have two kinds of Iwate-gyu, a "brand" of beef from Iwate in northern Japan: kata-rosu (shoulder roast?)

I believe the English (North American) equivalent for kata-roosu is "chuck." I'm not a huge meat eater, but I associate "roast" with a large cut that is used for roasting (prime rib, etc.). I think it would be called "thin-sliced" or "stir-fry" chuck here.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation has a good chart showing US cuts (in katakana) here. I also found this chart of equivalents to be useful.

According to the latter chart, sankaku-bara would be "chuck rib."


Edited by sanrensho (log)

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This morning I took out the moeru gomi (burnable garbage, meant for the incinerator). Garbage is collected five days a week in my area, in the mornings. Garbage is not put in front of every house but instead each block has a central collection area-- usually in front of someone's house. Some areas have a garbage committee of housewives who keep the area clean and make sure people throw away their garbage correctly, in other areas it's up to the family (or more correctly, the lady of the house: garbage disposal is usually the wife's job) who lives at the garbage collection site.

Garbage should be disposed of in the morning before 8:30. Night time disposal is frowned upon or outright banned because cats and other night time creatures will get at it and cause a huge mess. Luckily my apartment building has a covered disposal area and nobody bothers us if we occasionally throw stuff away the night before, and the garbage trucks don't actually come until late morning, so I don't have to hurry out with the garbage every morning. At my last apartment the rules were strictly enforced and the garbage trucks came right at 8:30.

The garbage schedule is as follows:

Tuesday: paper recycling, plastics (only plastics stamped with the correct mark)

Wednesday: burnable garbage (kitchen scraps, fabric, leather, rubber, and unidentifiable plastics)

Thursday: non burnable garbage (metal, broken glass and ceramics, small electronics, light bulbs)

Friday: plastic bottle, glass bottle and can recycling (each gets a separate bin)

Saturday: burnable garbage.

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My area is became a test area for a new category of garbage, plastics. Apparently Tokyo's landfill will only last another 30 years so the government needs to divert some of the non burnable garbage elsewhere, and plastics were the sensible solution: fully recyclable and also burnable in modern incinerators.

Above is the new guide to throwing away garbage. I have a few students in my area who are complaining loudly about the new rules, as before they just threw the plastic away in the burnable garbage (which was a mistake anyway, as plastic was supposed to go out with the non burnable garbage). I'm not crazy about having to find a place in the house to store a new category of garbage but I think the new rules are good, especially if the plastic actually does get recycled. Who knows though. On the back of the guide is a Q&A with one of the questions asking what the plastic will be recycled into (couldn't understand the answer). The next question asks if plastic is safe to incinerate (the answer is yes, of course). So I have a feeling that the latter will happen more often than the former.

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Here is a guide to properly disposing of instant ramen packaging and yogurt drinks. Complicated stuff. Hopefully complicated enough to discourage people from buying that crap.

We haven't bought regular instant ramen in years, since discovering the "non cup noodle". It is the same as regular instant ramen except that it comes in a little pouch instead of a big styrofoam bowl. You just open the noodles and broth into your own bowl and pour in hot water as usual. It stuff is only available at the health food store, sadly. Regular supermarkets and convenience stores usually have an entire aisle dedicated to instant ramen in styrofoam bowls.

We were excited last year to see this product: Cup Noodle Refill(Japanese link). Here is a short video showing how it works (it's in Japanese but the visuals are so thouroughly easy to understand that it's almost spoof-like). A local supermarket started selling the refill pouches of noodles and we bought a few, assuming the cups were just sold out and we could buy them afterward. When we still couldn't find them days later we asked a clerk and were informed that the store doesn't sell the cups! Unsuprisingly the refill pouches eventually disappeared from the shelves and I have never seen this product again. The website is still up though so it must be sold somewhere. I really hope it eventually catches on.

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So far, some of you may be under the impression that we eat very healthily. Well, some of you are about to be proven wrong. The weekend is when we do our real eating.

I thought you you were going to show us some junk food. Your shabushabu still looks healthy.

I like udo, too, but I like real, wild ones much better.

I was, but we were too full after dinner and ended up going to bed early. Happens often. Don't worry though, the weekend is just getting started!

To answer and earlier question, I have no plans to make onsen tamago but who knows. I haven't fully mastered the technique and I never what I'm going to get when I crack open the egg. Sometimes it's a hard-boiled egg, sometimes raw, and occasionally it's an onsen tamago!

The regular stove-top directions are not hard to follow but the problem is I'm trying to find a low energy way to do it, like in a rice cooker already on warm or in a thermos.

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... nattou, an extremely stinky and slimy form of fermented beans.

Can you offer any insight, please, into what makes nattou an attractive prospect, or even a plausible acquired taste? It always seems to be mentioned in the same breath as words like 'stinky' and 'slimy'. As a big cheese-fan I can relate to stinky, I suppose, but slimy isn't my favourite texture...

Yes, it's just like strong smelling and tasting foods like blue cheese or anchovies. The smell and flavour is an acquired taste. As for the sliminess, the Japanese have a special affection for slimy foods like mountain yam and okra. It's just another texture here.

Nattou is an attractive prospect because it's healthy, cheap and, if you can get over the smell and slime, tasty. If you can't it's no big deal, and plenty of Japanese don't like nattou.

I didn't like nattou until I had it deep-fried. Now there's a cooking technique that will make anything taste good.

I am also intrigued about Nattou - I have never heard of it before (not surprised thou, since i live in chicago and have never been too far from the United States (I cannot wait when I have the means to travel - some day...)

Can you describe the taste a little but more?

And - what I really want to know - what makes Nattou so healthy? The fact that it is beans )fiber, protein, etc) or the fact that it is fermented? And, anyhow - what about fermentation makes it healthy????

Signed, Bewildered and perplexed in Chi-town (lol)

P.S. I too, am LOVING your blog....I may not 'chime in' or 'comment' often, but boy am I following along :)

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Thank you so much for your lovely blog. I can't add much to what others have said so well. Do have to ask- is there a real parrot?- (former Mollucan cockatoo owner here)

No parrot, our building doesn't allow pets. I've always thought I'd get a cat if allowed, despite heavy allergies, but after playing with some parrots and other birds at a bird park last summer I want a bird! They're wonderful little creatures.

aaaah, kare pan, warm from the Sogo oven, slightly crunchy and a teeny bit oily on the outside, fluffy and soft on the inside with that gorgeous mild curry filling......miss it...crave it.....no idea how to duplicate it??...any ideas?

No idea, I'm not a baker at all. But kare pan has always struck me as being very similar to piroshki (or at least Japan's version of piroshki). Maybe you could find a recipe for piroshki dough and stuff it with a thick mild curry?

Edit to add question:  Is your level of environmental consciousness common in Japan?  Because it sure isn't (unfortunately......  :hmmm: ) in the US, at least not in my circle.

No, but concern for the environment is growing slowly. And the Japanese still have a big frugal streak, consuming far less waste and energy than North Americans. Despite my complaints about over packaging, the average family's garbage output is quite small. I remember feeling great shame at the huge bags of garbage I was lugging out while the neighborhood housewives were carrying these tiny little bags. Still don't know how they do it. People here are also in the habit of heating or cooling only the rooms being currently used (and even then not very much) and central heating is still rare. I hate being cold in the winter and am still trying to get used to it, but I have to admit it's admirable.

It's just amazing watching people cook here. And the pros are even better. If you ever come to Japan, get yourself to a "fruit bar" or "fruit parlour" and sit at the counter where you can watch the chef (fruit cutter?) do his stuff.

Now, THAT I would LOVE! I occasionally go with Chris to his favorite sushi place, and love watching that ballet betwixt fish and knife and all the garnishes and fillings. I do not eat there, but with the fruit bar, it would be the entire experience. Is it possible to have pictures from one?

I'm afraid not, and to get pictures I'd have to go into central Tokyo, which I didn't have time for this week. So do you not eat sushi?

I think it's funny you have soap there.  I used to, but my Japanese friends laughed at me, so I took it out.  During winter it's way too cold to wash my hands with the toilet water, anyway! :biggrin:

Do you think you and your husband (I have actually seen a picture of him ages ago on your blog--which you forgot to mention was recently nominated for an award!) might ever move back to Canada, or elsewhere in the world?

I've heard that soap can gunk up the innards of the toilet but I have seen soap used with this type, usually ancient toilets in old izakaya and restaurants. I'd rather wash right there with soap and cold water than just rinse in the water or go elsewhere to wash properly.

The longer I live in Japan the more I want to move back to Canada. I really miss my family and the place itself. I do love Japan and still find the daily challenges of living here extremely stimulating but I also sometimes feel that I just want to, well, live. I no longer need constant adventure, and I certainly can't picture growing old here. My husband likes Canada in the summer but hates winter and also worries about finding a job. He really likes Southern California and would settle there in a second if work and visas weren't a problem.

No matter where we live, one of us will be away from the family, friends and culture we grew up with. This is a dilemma faced by every international couple and I'm not sure how things will end up.

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Breakfast:

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Green tea and wagashi (Japanese sweets). This was supposed to be dessert last night but we were too stuffed, and since wagashi doesn't keep long we had to finish it up quick. On the left is mame daifuku, which is anko (sweet azuki bean paste) wrapped with mochi (sticky rice cake) with whole beans (don't know what type). Beside it is kusamochi, which is the same bean paste wrapped in mochi flavoured with yomogi (mugwort, a springtime herb). On the other plate is kohaku doumyouji, a springtime wagashi similar to sakura mochi. It consists of two seperate pieces of anko-stuffed sticky rice, wrapped with a preserved cherry leave and garnished with a preserved cherry blossom.

The contrasting textures (slightly chewy mochi, soft anko, firm beans) and flavours (sweet anko, slightly bitter yomogi, salty cherry leaf and blossom) are very nice.

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I didn't like nattou until I had it deep-fried. Now there's a cooking technique that will make anything taste good.

Okay, inquiring minds want to know: how does one get nattou into a deep-fryable form? Make little balls and coat them in panko, like a dumpling or croquette? (I understand that korokke are big in Japan ... )

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I wonder if the yunomi (tea cup) on the right of the photo (the one with a female face) is one of meoto jawan (tea cups for a married couple). I think I used to have the same one as you have.

As for deep-fried natto, I think she meant natto tempura. My son liked it (probably still likes it), and my wife used to make it for him. I like natto, but not the smell that filled the whole condo unit when natto was deep-fried!

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The first jinchouge (sweet daphne) blossoms popped open this week in front of our building. I smelled them before I could see them and just the fragrance brought happiness and relief: spring is really here. There are a few early spring flowers that bloom before this but only jinchouge truly indicates that winter is finally over.

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On the way to lunch we saw this old man walking his cat. Certainly not something you see every day around here!

We ate at Kantarou-zushi, our favourite sushi restaurant. We're not exactly regulars (the last time we were there was for my birthday a year and a half ago) but have been going occasionally for years. It is quite near our current apartment but before we moved we would happily come by bike, the 40 minute ride being well worth it. I showed a picture of the exterior yesterday and wanted to get a some shots of the interior and the chef, but today when I asked he declined to give permission. He has very strong opinions on every subject (and is not afraid to air them-- he even dissed Jiro and Kyube, two of the most famous sushi restaurants in Tokyo) and went on a bit of a tirade about how the food was the main event and he as the chef is not important at all. He is very friendly and extremely good at what he does, but man he does he ever like to talk. That's the only thing wrong with this place though so we don't mind very much. We were also quite please that the chef and his wife (who works just as hard as her husband, doing all the non sushi making work) remembered us. There are only two places, including this one, where we are greeted with "Maido!" which literally means "every time" and is a welcome for regulars only. It feels nice.

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My husband threw all caution to the wind and decided to drink, so we started with a large bottle of Kirin Ichiban shibori-- I prefer Ebisu but am not picky about beer at all. The chopsticks are my own, and they are resting on their chopstick wrap. "My hashi" ("my chopsticks", or portable, reusable chopsticks) are used by a very small but growing number of people who have realized how wasteful disposable chopsticks are. I'd like to see "my hashi" used by everyone but I don't think they will truly take off until Louis Vuitton comes out with a designer chopstick holder.

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This is our otoshi, an appetizer that is automatically served when you order alcohol. Sometimes it is free but at this place and most others you have to pay for it, despite not asking for it. I don't like the custom but when I tried this maguro (tuna) and toro (tuna belly) lightly marinated in soy sauce, I had no complaints at all. Perfect fish, perfectly seasoned.

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A better look at the toro. Normally I can't eat it by itself, preferring it as sushi since the the seasonings in the sushi rice seem to help cut the grease. But this wasn't overly greasy at all, just sweet and rich and delicious.

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This plate of sushi was omakase (chef's choice) and cost 2000 yen (there are cheaper options including a 1200 yen lunch on weekdays). From back left: ikura (salmon roe), tobiko (flying fish roe, not really visible), tamagoyaki (thick omelete), tekkamaki (cucumber and tuna roll). Front: o-toro (the fattiest and best grade of toro), hirame (flounder), ama-ebi (sweet shrimp, raw), chuu-toro (medium grade toro), unagi no shirayaki (salt-grilled eel), kani (crab, cooked).

Ama-ebi is another thing I can't normally eat as it is too sweet and rich and can leave an unpleasant aftertaste. This was totally delicious though. The unagi was a nice treat too, as it is usually grilled with a thick sweet sauce which I don't really think matches sushi well. This sauce-free version really let the flavour of the unagi come through, and it was surprisingly nice with the sushi rice.

The hirame was amazingly soft, the result of the chef's "shigoto". Literally "work", shigoto refers to the preparation of the fish, and there's more of it than you'd think. He dismisses most sushi today, saying "it's just raw fish on rice!", and is very proud that he takes the time to do things like marinate the fish with kombu (kelp) and other seasonings, or cook it, or even age it when necessary. The hirame is a great example, because I've had sushi elsewhere made of extremely fresh hirame-- the fish was plucked from a tank and butchered right before my eyes-- and although it tasted fresh it was unpleasantly firm and chewy. At Kantarou-zushi mere freshness isn't enough, and the hirame had a wonderfully subtle yet deep flavour that the fresh version lacks, and was so soft it almost melted on my tongue.

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The toro, both types, were also really good, but that's kind of a given. I think these also had some kind of "shigoto" done to them, but am not sure what. I actually eat tuna of any form very rarely, at first because of overfishing but now the apparently high mercury levels recently discovered in some tuna is a big concern. I know eating it in small amounts once in a while won't hurt me, but as a food that is already expensive and close to being fished out of existence it's an easy choice to avoid it. However, an occasional indulgence is quite nice.

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We were given this o-suimono (clear soup) free. It is ara-jiru (soup made of fish scraps), maybe made with buri (yellowtail) or a similar fish. It was full-flavoured but in an amazinly refined and elegant way for something made of scraps (does that even make sense? some of this stuff is just so hard to describe properly). I like ara-jiru and often make it at home, but I can only dream of cooking something like this myself.

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We were happy with what sushi the chef had served but really wanted two of our favourites from this place: tako no yawaraka-ni (soft-braised octopus) and kohada (gizzard shad). The octopus is so amazingly soft I can't even believe it's octopus, but the flavour confirms that it is (and that's a good thing if you are a cephalopod lover). The kohada is one of the things that my husband can only eat here, as the amount of vinegar used to marinade it is much less than usual.

Everything was excellent but if forced to choose favourites I'd say the hirame, o-toro and kohada were best, with the unagi and tako no yawaraki-ni coming close.

The total bill was 6410 yen, a little more than I'd wanted to pay but very good value nonetheless.

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Some ingredients for tomorrow's lunch:

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Strawberries. I eat them as much as I can when they're in season (which is winter and spring since most of them are from greenhouses) even though I don't think they are nearly as good as the strawberries from back home. They are plenty sweet, at least the good ones, but I find that the sweetness comes at the expense of actual strawberry flavour and fragrance. They are also hard, sometimes almost crunchy, which is good in that they don't bruise easily and keep very well, but bad in that STRAWBERRIES AREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE CRUNCHY! Sorry for all-caps but this is something I feel strongly about. I realize that not everyone agrees and Japanese strawberries have plenty of fans, and I could be guilty of looking back at Canadian strawberries with rose-tinted glasses. I do admit that the strawberries I had on a visit home last summer weren't as good as I remembered, but then again it was late July and the very tail end of the season.

I could go on and on about the strawberries but this blog is plenty long as it is so I'll spare you the rant. I will admit that when strawberries here are good they are really, really good. It's just a bit different from how I think a strawberry should be.

These cost 298 yen which is quite cheap (400 or 500 yen is the norm, and I've seen a box of half a dozen or so very large perfect strawberries sold for 5000 yen).

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Soramame (fresh fava beans). These are sold in the pod, which is lined with a soft and cushiony fuzz that I'd love to make a mattress out of. Soramame are a spring vegetable, and this is the first time I've seen them. The pods are a little small-- at their peak there will be three or four beans in each one.

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Fuki (butterbur), another spring vegetable. These came cut up but I was hoping to find these whole, as they come as a long stock with a lily-pad like leaf. It looks pretty and also the leaves are edible. They are similar in looks to rubarb or celery, but have are hollow at the centre like a straw.

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They are extremely stringy and like many spring vegetables have aku (bitterness) that needs to be removed. To do that you rub them well with salt (in the process giving your hands a nice exfoliation), boil them briefly, then shock them in ice water.

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After that the remaining strings are peeled off. I just put the cutting board up on top of an old drying rack, as suggested by you lovely readers. My back is singing with joy and I feel like such an idiot for not trying this earlier. Thank you!

I think all the preparation involved in fuki and other sansai (mountain vegetables) is the main reason why many western cuisines have largely stopped using wild vegetables. They are a lot more work than yasai (cultivated vegetables) but have such fresh, delicate flavours and give such a sense of season that it's very that nobody knows what they are anymore.

I actually found fuki growing wild when I went home a few years ago, but no amount of salt-rubbing and boiling could make them edible. Probably far too late in the season (June) but maybe the type was a little different.

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Time for cake, which we eat cake every few months or so. Any more often and we'd get too used to it, and cake is not a habit we need. The cakes and pastries here are just so amazingly good compared to those in North America. I didn't even like cake before I came here. I'm still really picky but have, for good or bad, found plenty to like here.

These ones are from Planetes, which sells its wares in top-class depachika (department store food basements) but makes it all right here in my neighborhood. I normally avoid any kind of sweet gooey stuff like custard and whipped cream, but everything I've had here is amazing and has just the right level of sweetness and goo.

My cake has strawberries, whipped cream, flaky pastry, strawberry jelly, custard cream and more pastry. His is some kind of chocolate mousse stuff filled with cream, with chestnut glace and walnuts. He reports his cake was excellent, as was mine.

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Our basic weekend snacks are popcorn, popped on my whirly-pop thingie which at first I thought was the silliest thing in the world but is totally worth the cupboard space it takes up, and pretzels, from a giant Costco bag which will apparently last us the rest of our lives. Those staples are supplemented with the occasional package of sembei (rice crackers), potato chips and the like. I'd love to describe them all but it's 9:15 for god's sake, and I need to get off the computer. Will take pictures of anything we open, and try to get them posted tomorrow. Can't believe there's just one day left of this!

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The hirame is a great example, because I've had sushi elsewhere made of extremely fresh hirame-- the fish was plucked from a tank and butchered right before my eyes-- and although it tasted fresh it was unpleasantly firm and chewy. At Kantarou-zushi mere freshness isn't enough, and the hirame had a wonderfully subtle yet deep flavour that the fresh version lacks, and was so soft it almost melted on my tongue.

Thanks for your description of that sushi restaurant. I remember the thread on the restaurant that you started in the Japan Forum years ago. I want to say something about hirame and other white fish and ama ebi. No offense intended to the chef. I think it's more appropriate to say that you can enjoy the chewy texture of white fish and ama ebi when they are fresh and then you can enjoy their taste the next day, when the protein is decomposed into amino acids. And, I hear that Korean people prefer the chewy texture of hirame (correct me if I'm wrong).

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I have enjoyed your foodblog very much and will be sorry to see it end. I love your writing style, and you give a wonderful sense of your slice of the world. That sushi looked amazing and I would love to have those choices available around here. Since we don't, I usually get mostly unagi, which is delicious and harder to mess up.

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I just put the cutting board up on top of an old drying rack, as suggested by you lovely readers. My back is singing with joy and I feel like such an idiot for not trying this earlier. Thank you!

That sounds like a good solution. Another possibility (a pricier one, unfortunately), is a thick end-grain cutting board on rubber legs. Chinese round cutting boards (the ones that look like a thick slice from a tree) are another possibility, but may be prone to splitting.

Great job, and I look forward to your last day!

ETA: Um, that didn't come out right. I look forward to today, not to the ending of the blog. You know what I mean.


Edited by C. sapidus (log)

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The longer I live in Japan the more I want to move back to Canada. I really miss my family and the place itself. I do love Japan and still find the daily challenges of living here extremely stimulating but I also sometimes feel that I just want to, well, live. I no longer need constant adventure, and I certainly can't picture growing old here. My husband likes Canada in the summer but hates winter and also worries about finding a job. He really likes Southern California and would settle there in a second if work and visas weren't a problem.

No matter where we live, one of us will be away from the family, friends and culture we grew up with. This is a dilemma faced by every international couple and I'm not sure how things will end up.

Nicely put, Amy. The balance of work, family, and being where you want to be is the eternal frustration for expatriates.

For must of us, we either choose what our work will be, or where we will live. It's a lucky person that gets both of those criteria to match.

Peter

P.S. - and thanks again for this blog! You've answered a number of questions that were nagging me, like shooting pictures in stores.

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What a weekend!

When you buy good ingredients and make something like shabu-shabu at home, exactly as you like it, do you think it makes you more reluctant to spend money on dining out?

I'm also surprised to find that somebody else thinks that otoro can be TOO fatty!

And your broad beans were a great find - certainly haven't seen any in the shops yet.

So how did you eat the fuki/ butterbur in the end? I agree with how much work they are - as much time to prepare the fuki as to prepare a whole separate meal, I'd guess :biggrin: .

I see you've got those "France-pan koubou" snacks (top left) in your photo. Did you like them?

By the way, you can find "over-the-sink" chopping boards, but one that doesn't cover the entire sink is more useful - because you can sweep trimmings straight into one of those triangular waste-catchers.

About personal chopsticks - do you just toss the little bag in the laundry when you come home? I keep wondering if the INSIDE of my little chopstick bag is really clean!

As for the dilemma of the international couple...sigh.

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As for the dilemma of the international couple...sigh.

double sigh!!

Btw, I used to think I loved California Strawberries, but Ontario strawberries rock!! They're so juicy and sweet( but a bit small). I made the most kick arse strawberry jam last year, I wish I could remember the recipe. I'll take an Ontario strawberry over a US strawberry any day!!

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