Gotta Get – Tomizawa’s Deep-Fried Okra

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We came across these deep-fried okra at Tomizawa. The okra are deep-fried until light and crispy. Not at all oily. Surely they must be better for you than potato chips, right? Well, that is what we tell ourselves. We are seeing lots of fried vegetables sold at the markets, but most of them are non-memorable. These are different. We can’t get enough. The okra are not always in stock, so call ahead before you go. Just wanted to put this on everyone’s radar. We will stock up on some as hanami, cherry-blossom viewing season, is just around the corner. This will be great for any picnic.

Tomizawa is a chain of shops that specialize in dried goods. We go to our local Tomizawa when looking for spices or ingredients for baking. There is a big shop in Machida. Not necessarily worth a big trip to Machida, but worth checking out if you are in the area.

Tokyo shops can be found at: B1 of Yurakucho Lumine, 8F of Shinjuku Keio, B2 of Ikebukuro Seibu, and Shibuya Seibu.

Tomizawa homepage:

http://www.tomizawa.co.jp/shopguide/

 

 

Gotta Get – Sansai Mountain Vegetables

 

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Today at lunch I was reminded of what a special time of year this is. This gorgeous katakuchi bowl was presented with simmered octopus, fava beans, and fukiFuki is the stem of a bog rhubarb. It is no relation to the rhubarb I grew up with in Minnesota. It looks like a thin celery and has a somewhat similar texture, although more refined and elegant.

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This time of year when sansai (mountain vegetables), like kogomi ferns, spring up from under the leaves that have covered the ground over winter. Angelica trees start to bud and the tender greens, tara no me, are harvested. And one of my favorites is the bitter butterbur, fuki no to, that is best when served as tempura. Some of these can be blanched and served with a splash of soy sauce.

If you are visiting Japan this spring, be sure to have a meal at a tempura restaurant that serves sansai. If you go out to an izakaya, ask them if they have any dishes with sansai. Some sansai are only around for a few weeks, so carpe diem.

Gotta Get – Taberu Togarashi Furikake

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Furikake are toppings that are sprinkled over rice. Most of the times at home we are eating a bowl of white rice. But once in a while we’ll sprinkle on some furikake just to spice things up. This Taberu Tōgarashi is in the genre of the taberu rayū, which we also like to have from time to time. We try to keep this Taberu Tōgarashi in the back of the pantry and not on the table. Why? Because when we do use it we end up eating two to three bowls of rice at a time. It’s that delicious.

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We came across this at Tsukiji Market and picked one up to try about a year ago and now it is a staple in our pantry. Ingredients include dried red chili peppers, black sesame seeds, yukari (dried purple shiso), apricot, smoked and dried fish flakes from skipjack tuna and Pacific mackerel, salt, nori, and salt.

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On the palate you get the heat from the dried red chili peppers, some tartness from the red shiso and apricot, and nutty from the sesame seeds. The capsaicin in the peppers is what makes this so addictive. The package suggests serving it with noodles, fried rice, onigiri, or as ochazuké. I have yet to try it on pizza, but I imagine most dishes that use Tabasco would also do well with this Taberu Tōgarashi.

Taberu Tōgarashi is sold at some shops at Tsukiji Market. We buy ours at a great little shop called Karaimonya, which specializes in chili peppers and all things spicy.

Karaimonya

Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #9

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Gotta Gets – Okra Crisps

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When it comes to crispy snacks in Japan, I tend to pick up Calbee potato chips. Calbee changes up its line-up frequently and it gives me a good excuse to buy something to snack on.  When we saw these okra crisps at our local Tomizawa Shōten shop we were so curious. What would okra, which is so slippery and slimy when cooked, be like when fried up? It was a hit in our house. We went back to the store and bought several more packs the next day. They are crispy, the seeds inside the pods are crunchy, and it is well seasoned with salt. Great with beer, sake, or shōchū. Something so good for you must still be good for you, even when deep-fried, right?

Tomizawa Shōten has shops throughout the city including Shinjuku Keio, Yurakucho Lumine, and Shibuya Seibu.

Gotta Get? Pepsi Salty Watermelon

 

Having just indulged in a shaved watermelon ice with rum syrup at Toraya Cafe in Omotesando, watermelon was on my mind. We ran across this sparkling Pepsi Salty Watermelon at our local supermarket. The packaging is great with blue skies, sandy beach, and watermelon which looks like many a blow-up ball you’ll see at Japan’s crowded beaches.

Pepsi Salty Watermelon appeals to the Japanese consumers on several points. It’s a seasonal product only offered for a limited time. Watermelon is in season and is often eaten at family gatherings and festivals so it brings with it positive connotations. Finally, the “shio sweets” or salted sweets trend has been here for five years already; from macaroons, caramels, puddings, chocolate, ice cream, and more.

So, how was it? “Where’s the salt?” was the first thing I said to Shinji when I tasted it. To me that was the whole reason for picking up the bottle, was to enjoy the sweet and salty combination. It should be sold as a watermelon soda. Would I buy another bottle? No. Would I try another seasonal limited edition drink from Pepsi? You bet. Shiso Pepsi was exactly that – and I, like many Japanese, am a sucker for anything available for a limited time only.

Gotta Get – Nama Shichimi 生七味

My latest craving is this great shichimi paste from the Kubara Honke Group. This nama shichimi is a paste of shichimi or seven spice. A little bit in miso soup for breakfast adds just the right spice to the savory soup. I also like it with some roasted chicken or yakitori.

It is a thick paste of red chili pepper, yuzu peel, sea salt, sansho, black sesame seed, ginger, and aonori.

A girlfriend introduced me to the product line. At her house she had some dashi-jio or dashi salt. She uses it for omusubi rice balls. She speaks very highly of everything she has tried from the company. We love the nama shichimi and will definitely try other products.

Gotta Get – Yuzusco Yuzu Tabasco

I am a condiment addict. I need to get things in order as our fridge is overflowing with tubes and jars. When working for a travel company I remember having lunch with an automotive executive on our way to the airport. This well-dressed, worldly man pulled out a small bottle of Tobasco from his briefcase. I couldn’t believe it. He was probably on the road 2-3 weeks a month and he said he always carried Tobasco with him. I am not that committed to my condiments, but here is one to put on your radar. Yuzusco, think Tobasco with the citrusy aromatics and bite of yuzu.

It was so good the bottle went quickly. It went with everything I paired it with. Grilled chicken, grilled fish, gyoza, steamed vegetables, pizza, and pasta. Too hot now to make nabe (hot pots) but I am sure it would have been perfect for that as well.

The Yuzusco website (in English) has the perfect tagline: Once you use it, you won’t want to stop – it’ll become a habit. So true. The company also makes a red yuzu sauce as well as a ginger sauce. I haven’t seen it around much.

I found it at our local depachika in a Tokyo suburb. And, a reader wrote in to say that they found it at Ginza Mitsukoshi‘s depachika. Check the sundries department that sells basic pantry items. The company website is in several languages so I imagine they are working hard to export this.

Tokyo Sky Tree Solamachi Food Shop Highlights

Tokyo Sky Tree is the city’s most popular tourist destination. The world’s tallest tower (for the time being) the communication tower replaces the landmark Tokyo Tower.

Solamachi, at the base of Tokyo Sky Tree, is very exciting mall to visit with so many shops it’s hard to come up with a short list. It has over 300 shops including Eataly, as well as Niki no Kashi and a dagashiya for old-time Japanese sweets. If you do visit, here are my gotta go shops:

1. Lupicia for its amazing teas. I first came to know Lupicia from chef Seiji Yamamoto at Nihonryori Ryugin. The restaurant served a cherry flavored green tea (sakurambo vert) that was delicious and I have been a fan ever since. 1F-EastYard-44

2. A store that specializes in salt, Ma-suya, from Okinawa. Over 70 salts from Okinawa and 300 salts from throughout Japan. A salt sommelier can advise which salts are best suited to certain dishes. 4F-EastYard-34

3. Hasegawa Saketen is one of my favorite sake shops in Tokyo. The collection is great, staff are knowledgeable and approachable.  And this branch has a standing bar.  1F-EastYard-47

4. Tobu Department Store. This department store is said to have 70 original “Sky Tree goods” that can only be purchased at this store.  4F-EastYard-48

5. Qu’il fait bon specializes in seasonal fresh fruit pies and tarts. 2F-EastYard-48

6. We are big fans of Uoriki for good sushi at a great price. 2F-WestYard-19

7. The original branch of Mamegen is in Azabu-Juban. If you go, be sure to pick up a bag of the “shio kaki” salted and deep-fried rice crackers. And be sure to check out the wide variety of flavored beans and rice crackers. 4F-EastYard-32

photo is from Solamachi website

8. Who can resist the great packaging at Mameya Bankyu? Inside find roasted beans in flavors like cheese pepper, wasabi, or curry. 4F-EastYard-44

9. The original shop of Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin in the basement of Tokyo Station almost always has a long line. Known for its karintou, a sweet cracker that comes in great flavors like kinpira gobo, sumi charcoal, and black pepper. 2F-TowerYard-33

photo is from Nenrinya website

10. Chiisana Baum Tsuri- by Nenrinya gets my vote for one of the best original sweets. This baumkuchen shop, Nenrinya, has created mini baumkuchen on a stick. Must take me back to my youth and the Minnesota State Fair. 2F-TowerYard-41

Gotta Get – Taberu Rayu Two

Taberu Rayu is at every supermarket I visit in Japan. What started as one product by one company has exploded to many variations. One of the most interesting ones I have come across is the basic taberu rayu without the oil.

As you can see by looking inside the jar, it’s very different from the original version. The SB Foods website says that it is 20% less calories and 40% less fat than the original version. There is a lot of crunch from the fried garlic and almonds.

Here it is simply on rice. We love it. Much better than the oily version which makes the rice greasy and hard to eat. The SB Foods website offers many recipe ideas for this product. Even if you don’t read Japanese you’ll be able to sort out several of the recipes just from the photos.

And, I don’t care for wasabi much, but I imagine this okazu wasabi would be a big hit back in the States.

Also see:

Taberu Rayu

Gotta Get – Taberu Shoyu

The popularity of taberu rayu has been a great food trend to observe. First was to see all of the copycat versions imitating the original taberu rayu. Now, there are many new products that are similar in style but made from totally different ingredients. One of our new favorites is this Saku Saku Taberu Kobashi Shoyu from Kikkoman.

The oil based condiment is made with freeze-dried soy sauce flakes, fried garlic, fried onions, sesame seeds, almonds, and more spices. Over rice it was good but we found it a bit oily. The bottle suggests putting it over boiled vegetables or stir-fries. We also had it over steamed greens which was better than the rice. However, our favorite is over sake-steamed fish. The contrast of the crunchy condiment and the juicy, flakey cod was perfect. Seasoning also a perfect match.

Kikkoman has two other similar products. Taberu Shoyu Yuzu-fumi which is seasoned with yuzu and a Taberu Shoyu Torigara Su-pu Aji that is flavored with chicken soup.

It is sold in a glass jar. 105 grams for 350 JPY.