Ok, let’s talk about something interesting. Food. Not Sushi, that’s boring, ‘cause you already know it. If you don’t: Where the heck have you been the past century?
Let’s just start with nattou. Most people hate it. It’s fermented soybeans and like most fermented foods it has quite a… unique flavour and smell. It’s also REALLY slimy. But it’s supposed to be super healthy and it’s quite cheap over here. ‘Though if you’d like to have a try outside Japan be prepared to pay at least ~2€/ 2.7$ which is about three times of what a pack costs here. I have it every morning with a bit of soy sauce and a bowl of rice. Which is apparently a traditional breakfast. Other popular ways of eating include with mustard (most versions actually come with a tiny bag of soy sauce and mustard), raw egg (‘cause why not make it more slimy and gross?), mayonnaise, kimchi (a Korean dish: spicy, pickled cabbage), as nattou sushi (the only kind of sushi widely available that doesn’t contain fish or egg), in soup or as a sauce for pasta, just to name a few. Wanna see more? Watch this video.
Probably one of the least repelling pictures of nattou on the whole wide web.
Next soybean thing on my list is koya dofu which is dried tofu. Because it’s dry it doesn’t need to be cooled and takes up less space. Just throw it in some hot water, preferably with some flavour and it’s good to eat. It’s more spongy than regular tofu and has a little more intense soy flavour. By the way: regular tofu here is what is considered silken tofu in many parts of the world other than Asia.
It’s tofu. Doesn’t taste interesting without flavouring, doesn’t look interesting without filter.
Another tofu product is aburaage. Slices of tofu being deep fried and you can cut them open and they’re a pocket and they’re awesome. They’re great in soup but personally I like to stuff them with loads of things to take to school. The skin is extremely thin and durable so you really can fit a lot in there.
Bigger on the inside.
Made from this is inari sushi. Aburaage filled with sushi rice. Available at any supermarket or convenience store and super delicious!
They also come in smaller sizes or combined with other sushi.
And while we’re on the soy things I’d just like to mention the crazy amount of soy milk flavours there are. I’d guess about 20. My favourites are black tea (which doesn’t really taste like black tea), macha (fancy green tea powder) and sakura (cherry blossom). ‘Though I’m sure the cherry blossom one is just called like that ‘cause it sounds cool, it doesn’t really taste like flower if you ask me. All the flavours are quite sweet which is sweeet ^.^ There are some types which are just natural in one way or the other at least not sweet. There is even one kind made to taste like cow’s milk and I think it seems to be quite popular. At least it’s the only kind I’ve seen at every konbini so far and it’s also the only kind that comes in a 0.5l pack. As far as I can judge it’s quite accurate except a hint of soy taste. Also now I’m sure that I’ll never drink milk again and it makes me wonder why I ever did. Bleurgh.
Onto some more beans, azuki beans to be specific. They’re usually prepared as a sweet paste –anko- which is used for everything. Well, everything sweet. You can find it stuffed into bread and cookies and of course as one of the many soy milk flavours.
Pancake with anko. Delicious.
It’s also eaten as soup -oshiruko- especially during winter time. On one of my curious trips to the supermarket I came across a round waver like thing filled with slightly purple sugar stuff. Judging from the picture it was supposed to be turned into soup but I’m not quite sure whether I interpreted that correctly… Thankfully azuki soup also comes in powder form, as a pressed block, in a can or you can just make it yourself.
The whole sugary thing on it’s own wasn’t that bad, just kinda dry. But the water made it… well very watery. And it wasn’t a lot.
But it’s mostly prominent in traditional Japanese candy -wagashi- which you can admire and attempt to recreate here: Wagashi Maniac. One type of wagashi is daifuku, mochi stuffed with anko.
This is the plain type, ‘though there’s many more.
Now what’s mochi? It’s a dough made from sticky rice or sticky rice flour. Some people call it rice cake but I think it’s kinda misleading. While it is cooked (or steamed or microwaved) it’s still very chewy similar to pizza dough. It is in fact so chewy that every New Year when it’s traditionally eaten with oshiruko some people die by choking on it. So please try it if you get the chance, but don’t give it to toddlers. Mochi comes in many shapes and flavours and it isn’t necessarily sweet. You’ll find it for example in soup, maybe stuffed into a pocket of aburaage.
Dango: Mochi on a stick. These are with matcha and roasted sweet soy flour (kinako).
Another thing made from rice which I love is amasake. Maybe you’ve heard of sake, rice wine. Amasake translates to sweet sake and is only halfway fermented so pretty much alcohol free. Of course you can buy it in liquid form but it also comes as instant powder or in a pressed block.
Just pour hot water over it.
Let’s start talking about fruits. Umeboshi –according to Wikipedia- is a dried, pickled fruit similar to apricot (‘thoug often translated to plum) and tastes “extremely sour and salty”. Umezuke is the non dried version. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried the latter since it was refrigerated. Definitely agree on the “extremely sour and salty” bit and won’t buy again but it’s not the worst thing ever.
Most umezuke and definitely umeboshi are more brown than this kind.
Talking about fruits, did I mention that fruit and vegetables are freaking expensive over here? At least at the normal supermarket. There are little shops that offer cheaper stuff, but unfortunately not exactly near me. (Though it’s a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, strolling ‘round the town, getting food and at the same time saving a few yen.) The cheapest apple I’ve come across was 50¥ but it’s not hard to find one for 300¥.
A pleasant exception to this are persimmon or kaki. I’m sure they aren’t exclusively Japanese but they are quite popular. There used to be one of those fruit-shelf-islands-thingies full of them during autumn but now they’re getting less and less, being substituted by tangerines in 10kg boxes. They’re super sweet and juicy and I love them. (Both kaki and tangerines.)
Size of a medium apple and you can eat the whole thing. Even the peel ‘though it’s not that pleasant.
Myouga is the beautiful bud of Japanese ginger and it tastes like a flower. Not in a good way. The only reason I would use it is as decoration but apparently it’s usually shredded and put on top of things.
If only they tasted better I’d have that every day. Just look at it!
Okura again is a thing that’s not unique to Japan. Even the name comes from the English okra. But I’ve never seen it before and it is quite popular over here. I tastes kind of “green”, if you get what I mean and very mild. It also has hairy skin and is really slimy inside. Yay for textures!
The seeds contain a lot of oil wich is supposed to be healthy.
And once again sweet potato isn’t a native Japanese thing. But it is very popular, making up quite a section of the vegetable aisle. They’re even sold on the streets from a van which plays a fried sweet potato song that made me think there was a mosque in front of my house. And they taste an incredible lot like chestnut which are equally popular.
Things like this make me want to study chemistry.
Lotus roots are a thing all over Asia I think. Harder than carrots and taste like nothing but they’re cheap. And they look nice.
Featuring aburaage filled with mochi. Also soy sauce, lotus roots are naturally white.
Curry is Indian, I know, but I couldn’t not mention it because it’s just so popular. There is just as much instant curry as there is instant noodle soup which means a freaking lot (like a whole aisle in an average supermarket). Read this whole article about Japanese karee.
Usually eaten with rice, but Soup Curry is a thing up here in Sapporo.
This of course isn’t everything. I will surely discover more delicious treats and write about them, but in the mean time I’ll leave you with this:
Check out runnyrunny and The Tofu Guru’s channel, they do some interesting cooking over there!