Edible Japan

Well Paperdoll followers…it has been a long 2 months between posts, I apologise. As most of you are probably aware, I sat for the N4 JLPT test at the start of December, which made for 3 months of grueling study, post summer holidays. As you can imagine, this somewhat skewed my view of this country for a brief while as I sacrificed onsen visits, apple picking and momiji (Autumn leaf viewing) in favour of cramming my brain full of kanji and Japanese grammar rules.

But now, a month post-exam and into 2011, I am back to loving Japanese life again. As such, to reflect my mood about Japan currently, this post is dedicated to all the special food I have come to love in this country. Taking a leaf out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ this entry is about one of the things in Japan that brings me joy. You have all heard me rant about the pitfalls of living in Japan, but I think it’s time you heard about some of the good stuff…and there is a lot of it…especially when it comes to food!

Inari Zushi



I was first introduced to this special form of sushi by my adopted Japanese mother, Mieko. We were all at Mieko’s house, not long after my arrival in Japan, and she had us helping to make these (let’s face it) very unattractive, but apparently edible blobs. Explaining to me that it was cooked vinegar rice in pockets of sweetened, deep fried tofu pouches really didn’t help sell it to me, even if I could get past the look! But, in the interest of trying all new things Japanese, I did eat one and what has followed can only be described as pure addiction. If I don’t get my fix of inari zushi at least once a week now it’s not pretty.

Since then, I have come to love the selection of vego-type sushi at Hamazushi here in Omiya. Despite JJ and Jay’s best efforts to introduce me to the world of sashimi (raw fish), I still prefer my vego sushi options of tamago (egg), corn/mayo, cucumber rolls and of course, inari zushi…

Onigiri


Onigiri is basically lucky dip in the food world for anyone who can’t read Japanese. The equivalent of the Western World’s common sandwich here in Japan, your experience of onigiri can range from fantastic to downright disgusting. These little parcels consist of a seaweed outer, then a layer of cooked, sticky rice and then a filling of your choice (if you can read Japanese). The fillings vary from tame options (i.e. the ones I eat) such as tuna and chicken to anything like salmon, fish eggs, sour plum and who knows what else!

After you brave the process of deciding on which one you might take from the shelf, the next challenge is trying to unwrap the meal from it’s 3 step pull away wrapper without sacrificing half of it to the ground.

Ramen


Ok, so this is technically not a Japanese dish. Ramen originates from China, but boy, can the Japanese make a good one! I hear that Hokkaido has some of the best varieties, so I can’t wait to sample some of the local specialties when I visit next month.

Ramen is a kind of noodle/soup and comes in lots of varieties. The most common are shyoyu (soy sauce) and miso based ramen…but these are not my favourite. The other ALT’s and I have another favourite…Tan Tan Men, which is a sesame based ramen…with kick! In a country of people that abhor spicy food, this dish is a rare gift for us. We gladly rock up at our local ‘Denmaru’ at least once a week and order this same dish every time. The staff there are going to start calling us by name soon and will give up taking our order I’m sure of it…

Takenoko



Words cannot describe the love affair I have with these lovely pieces of biscuity joy! Tiny little biscuits in the shape of bamboo roots, dipped in chocolate for my eating pleasure. Enough said.

Edamame


In a country where finding decent fruit and veg at a reasonable price is, well, virtually impossible, these little green beans rock my world! For those of you who have not had the pleasure of the edamame experience, let me describe it for you. These little soy beans have been boiled and dusted in salt and will be presented to you, still in their shell. It is your job to suck the little parcels of yumminess out of their shell with some of the salt and munch away happily, discarding the shell when you are done.

Sadly for me, edamame is seasonal and only appears in summer. They serve them up here with beer in place of peanuts to enjoy in the summer sun. That’s my idea of bliss, bring on summer again!

Umeshu


In a land known for sake, I have taken on another Japanese alcoholic beverage as my favourite…umeshu (plum wine). Being somewhat of a sweet tooth (slight understatement there, I know), umeshu is perfect for me as some varieties are as sweet as dessert wine. The Japanese are welcome to their sake…because no matter how you try and disguise it for me, it still tastes like paint thinner.

I look forward to summer this year when I intend to make my own batch of umeshu for personal consumption.

Aquarius


This beverage appears in vending machines all across Japan, pretending to be a sporting drink full of vitamins and goodness. So far as I can tell, it’s just great tasting sugary water. For what it is, I love it. Though after forming a slightly unhealthy addiction to it shortly after arrival in Japan I have gradually weaned myself off the stuff for my general health and well being.

Just for the record, if you ever come to Japan and care to try an Aquarius, be careful not to fall for it’s poor cousin, Pocari Sweat. If the name doesn’t put you off, then the taste will…it has nothing on Aquarius, trust me.

Macha Ice cream


I love everything macha (green tea) flavoured, I don’t discriminate. However, Macha Icecream is hands down the best. A strange combination of sweet and savoury, it’s part vanilla icecream, but with the after taste of green tea. You can find it in Baskin & Robbins here and even in the frozen section of the supermarket. But my favourite is at the green tea shop at Uchihara Jusco…it was there I popped my ‘Macha Ice Cherry’ and I will remember that moment forever…

Kit Kats


Not just Kit Kats…every flavour of Kit Kat you could possibly ever imagine. Each prefecture has different flavours and each season brings another round of new flavours. This ever changing rotation brings me such indescribable joy. I liked Kit Kats before I moved to Japan…now I love them.

The flavours I have sampled are: macha, almond, creme brule, maple syrup, salt caramel (my personal favourite), fruit salad, strawberry cake, apple, wasabi, lemonade, cola, caramel pudding and blueberry. There are others out there that I have seen, but have yet to try…either because they just don’t sound so great (soy sauce, really?!) or because I have yet to discover them. But rest assured, I will…


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