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Posts Tagged ‘bamboo shoots’

I have to apologize to the environment as well as my physical well-being. There was no Meatless Monday last night. Cafe Hoang is sending all proceeds from yesterday’s take, including tips, to Haiti in order to help feed those who need. For my part I figured the least I could do was to eat some tasty food for charity. From what their website states, they’re doing it again next Monday, the 8th. I encourage you all to take part and keep my boy Jason Tran busy as hell cooking his ass off.

So, instead of a Meatless Monday post I’m going to tell you about a dinner we had at Yuki’s sister’s condo in Tokyo with her family last November. As you can see, it was family-style with some authentic Japanese flavors and some not-so-Japanese.

We had some shrimp tempura. Pretty simple, just fresh juicy shrimp deep fried in panko. Yuki’s mom scattered some cherry tomatoes, parsley, and little pieces of lemon around the plate. A squeeze of citrus, a dip in soy, some herb….makes me a happy man.

There was some Kuri Gohan, chestnut rice. This is a common dish throughout Japan. A favorite as chestnuts add a great flavor as well as nutrition to rice. Simply add the chestnuts to the rice while it’s cooking and then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

This is a Raw Tuna Salad that Yuki’s brother-in-law Jun made. Chunks of fresh tuna, avocado, and thinly sliced onion that’s been soaked in cold water to remove the rawness tossed in a vinaigrette. I forget exactly what he put in the vinaigrette, but it was something like sesame oil, soy oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and pepper. He lined the serving dish with some lettuce leaves and dumped it on top.

This one is a classic Japanese home cooked dish. Not sure what it’s called, maybe Yuki will leave a comment and let us all know. Yuki’s mom simmered some lotus root, bamboo shoots, green beans, shiitake, konnyaku, carrots, and chicken. Again, I’m not completely sure what the simmering liquid was, I think it was a mix of soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Maybe some dashi. Always delicious (at least when Tamiko makes it)!

We drank it all down with some Prosecco and some fantastic sake that we picked up on the way to the condo. After we ate we took turns kicking each others asses in Wii.

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It seems like every other program on Japanese TV has something to do with food. One program that I watched featured the biography of Nobu Matsuhisa, he of the restaurant Nobu. One of the dishes he showed on TV piqued the interest of Yuki’s mom, so the next night we set out to try and replicate it…Fluke sashimi.

It’s really quite simple. Slice a piece of fluke as thinly as possible and arrange on the plate without overlapping each slice of sashimi. Mash some garlic and lightly brush a little over each slice. On top of that lay down thin sticks of ginger and chives. In a small pot heat up equal parts soy oil and sesame oil until smoking hot. With a metal spoon dish some of the hot oil on top of the fish so that it sizzles a little. Then, drizzle with some ponzu and toasted sesame seeds.

To go with it Uichiro made his special harumaki, spring rolls. He “took the two best recipes and combined them into his own which is now the best.” I won’t give you measurements so I don’t spoil his secret, but the harumaki contain shiitake, bamboo shoots, leek, pork, ginger, oil, sake, chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, pepper, starch, and spring roll skins. Cook it all together, roll them up, then deep fry them to golden perfection and serve with Chinese Mustard.

There was also some clear broth soup with shredded green onion and wakame.

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We spent an afternoon at Himeji Castle before exploring some of the Nara Prefecture. If you only see one castle in Japan, you’d better make it Himeji. It is absolutely pristine. Easily the best preserved structure built in the 1300’s that I’ve ever been to. It is the quintessential Japanese Castle.

At any rate, it’s located about a 10 minute walk down the main street from the Shinkansen. We arrived about lunch time figuring that there’d be plenty fo food options along that 10 minute walk. Right we were. We decided to veer off onto a side street where a retail arcade was as there’s always cheap delicious food options a plenty in retail arcades. Instead of eating at one of those establishments we wandered into a typical hole-in-the-wall Japanese staple, their alter-ego of Chicago’s taquerias. We filled ourselves with Ramen Noodles.

This was a very typical ma and pa ramen shop that you find everywhere in Japan. You walk in and are greeted by ma and pa themselves, “Irrashaemase!” There’s a vending-like machine near the door with the menu on it. It basically consists of a few different Ramen broths with a handful of different additions to choose if you so desire. Put your money in, press the buttons for what you want, and out comes your little order ticket.

Then, you walk in to see that there’s only 8-10 chairs along the bar. Grab a seat. Every few seats are trays of condiments, things like soy sauce, togarashi, toothpicks, boxes of tissue for the runny nose the hot ramen will give you. There’s also little spickets of hot water with tea cups and green tea for you to make as you like along with a cold water dispenser. Hand the ticket across the bar and ma and pa make your food.

I ordered the Bakabuta Ramen and Yuki got the Miso Ramen with mushrooms. Both were miso broth with loads of bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, green onions, and black woodear mushrooms. Both came with a slice of roasted pork. “Buta” in Japanese means pig, so mine had extra pork. Two big pieces of fall off the bone sweet fatty pork. Each bite coated your lips with fatty goodness. Yuki’s had extra woodear mushrooms as well as what I think were eryngii mushrooms. If I’m wrong Yuki will correct me after she reads this and I’ll correct the blog.

Since we both love pork and mushrooms we arranged a deal. I gave her some pork, she gave me a few more mushrooms. A fair trade I think.

It’s too bad that 25 cent packages of dried ramen noodles killed the idea here in America. A nice big bowl of fresh ramen like this is fast, cheap, filling but not overly heavy, and healthy. In fact, just thinking about it makes me crave some ramen. I think I’ll make some for dinner tonight.

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There’s this really cool outdoor “museum” of sorts in Kawasaki City, the town where Yuki was born. I say town, it actually has about 1.4 million residents making it Japan’s 9th most populated city. For this museum they took old houses from various areas in Japan and rebuilt them the way an old Japanese village would be oriented. By old I mean houses from the 1600’s to 1800’s. So you’re walking around an old village in essence. If you’re into old architecture, you’d be fascinated. If not, you could still find excitement in the Soba restaurant they put into one of the restored buildings.

This wasn’t the same Soba you buy dried in a grocery stores Asian isle. This was top quality, fresh, hand-made Soba. The buckwheat was ground on site, the water is brought in from nearby Mt. Fuji, and everything is made right there. Some of the healthiest noodles you can get.

I ordered the hot Soba soup since it was a little chilly out. The broth was a soy-based dashi. Besides Soba noodles there were ferns, onions, bamboo shoots, shiitake, and shimeji mushrooms. It was unbelievable! Extremely delicious. Too bad you can’t find hand-made Soba like that here in Chicago, maybe we wouldn’t be so damn fat and unhealthy!

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chen

Friday night Yuki’s mom went to a concert with a friend, so it was up to me to decide where we went for dinner with her dad. In my quest to eat at every Iron Chef’s restaurants I was able to convince him that we should head out to one of Chen Kenichi’s joints. It wasn’t a hard sell. So, the three of us hopped on the train to Roppongi where Chen has one of his four places.

There were a handful of pre fix options, but none of them really had what we wanted, so we ordered a bunch of dishes in typical Chinese family-style dining.

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First up was a trio of cold appetizers. On the top were Scallops cooked with chili peppers. Not too spicy, just a nice, slow, gentle burn on the back of the throat. Bottom right was shredded chicken with a sweet miso sauce. Bottom left jellyfish in a light soy. All three were very complimentary of each other and made for a great start to the meal.

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Next up was Shark Fin Soup. Not the most politically correct dish, but hey, a little shark fin never hurt anything. A lot does, but a little doesn’t. The broth was a thick soy flavor and it had thin slices of pork in it alongside the shark fin.

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Then came Abalone, one of the sea’s finest of all creatures! Served with shiitake and bamboo shoots it was truly delicious. Judging by Uichiro’s (Yuki’s dad) reaction when he first bit into it, I’d say it was his favorite part of the meal, next to the beer.

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After that we had mixed seafood served on rice cakes. The restaurant manager poured the hot seafood on the rice cakes making it sizzle, much like the classic sizzling rice soup commonly found in American Chinatown restaurants. I need make a correction, I think Uichiro liked this dish more than the abalone. Hard to argue, the shrimp, scallops, and squid were cooked to perfection with all of the natural sweetness brought out.

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Next was probably my favorite dish of the meal, beef with mushrooms and lilies in a thick ginger soy sauce. The beef was so tender it almost melted in my mouth. The mushrooms and lilies were nice counterpoints to the salty soy. The only thing missing was white rice to balance a little more of the salt. This was definitely more of what Americans are used to than Japanese. Give me this dish and a cold beer and I’m a happy man!

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Here we go, the dish that brought me to Chen’s restaurant and the one that will make my brothers very envious, his famous mapotofu! There were two choices on the menu, Kenichi’s and Kenmei’s. Kenmei was Kenichi’s father, the one who brought true Szechuan cooking to Japan. It was a tough choice, but we opted for Kenichi’s since it was his restaurant and not his father’s. It wasn’t quite as hot as I expected, but it was definitely a hot and spicy dish! Packed with Szechuan peppercorns it gives an initial citrusy spice followed by a mouth-numbing burn. Yuki and I added some extra peppercorns to get the full experience, while Uichiro only ate a few pieces of tofu. I think it’s a little spicy for him. It was a little oily as it was douced in chili oil, but that’s what makes it so delicious. The funny thing is that in the middle of the night Tokyo experienced what it thinks was a small earthquake. It wasn’t an earthquake at all though, it was the effects of my trying to digest Chen’s mapotofu! I’m still not quite sure exactly what that dish did to my intestines, but it made a city of 16 million rumble a little. And somehow my chest got a little harrier.

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We followed the mapotofu with a mild pork and egg noodle dish. It had shiitake, green onions, chinese cabbage, sprouts, and bamboo shoots. It took a few bites to get the burn out of our mouths, but once it was gone this dish’s wonderful flavor stood out. It’s just too bad I couldn’t finish it all because we ordered one too many dishes I think. Oh well, what can you do?

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We thought we were finished when the manager brought us some complimentary dessert, Annin Tofu. Annin Tofu is a popular Chinese dessert. It’s basically just almond jelly. Very smooth, light, and creamy. It’s the perfect way to finish off a meal.

All in all, I have to say that I was a little dissapointed. After watching countless episodes of Chen creating some of the most amazing looking dishes anyone could ever think up, this meal was a very straight forward Chinese meal. Every dish was a classic that you can get at just about any Chinese restaurant. Granted, everything was perfectly balanced, but nothing was off the wall. I was kind of hoping for some Chen originals. This restaurant wasn’t the right format for him to create Iron Chef dishes. I have no regrets, but I wasn’t blown away like I was at other Iron Chef restaurants.

I have now been to three Iron Chef restaurants (4 if you count Bobby Flay, but I don’t consider him an Iron Chef and I never wanted to go to his place). I have done Sakai, Michiba, and now Chen. Next up….Kobe Masahiko.

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