Gotta Get – Sesame Seed Paste and Oil


Kyoto Yamada Seiyu sesame products

Who doesn’t love sesame? Everyone I’ve spoken to on our tours all go crazy for this (and for yuzu). I first came across

Here are three of my favorite sesame products for the Japanese pantry.

The nerigoma sesame paste on the left is what I use the most. Mix simply with some sugar and soy sauce and then dress cooked vegetables like broccoli, green beans, or spinach with it. If the dressing is thick, add some dashi or water to thin it out. The paste is similar to tahini, but the sesame seeds have been roasted (not raw like in tahini) for a nutty aroma and flavor.

The rayu chili oil in the middle we use for gyōza potstickers. Chili oil, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce dipping sauce.

The toasted sesame oil is used for stir-fries and salad dressings. (English)

4 Katsura Tatsumi-cho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto


9:00-19:00 (shop) (Japanese homepage)

Chef Bruno Menard at Imperial Hotel

Aiste Miseviciute of Luxeat is a friend who put chef Bruno Menard on my radar. My first time to try chef’s cuisine was at a wine dinner at the Imperial Hotel with Don Melchor wines. I was taken in with not only the cuisine, but chef’s fine touches on the dishes to pair them with the lovely Don Melchor wines.

Chef Bruno is in Tokyo this week for a pop-up at the Imperial Hotel’s Les Saisons. He is collaborating with chef Thierry Voisin of Les Saisons. It was a treat to try his dishes once more.

What do I love of his cuisine? The small touches of Japanese ingredients, the rich flavors that are light and not too heavy.

Some of the highlights include a crab dish that includes yuzu kosho, a salty and spicy paste made with yuzu rind, but just the right amount of it so as not to outshine to crab. The presentation is fun, with the 3 Michelin stars on the package.

Truffles are in season at the moment and chef came to the table to shave the white truffles over his onion soup with chestnuts. Light on top, creamy at the bottom, and the rich aromatics and texture of the white truffles pulling it all together.

The yin yang dish above is scallop sashimi and beet sashimi. The dots were of Japanese shiso (perilla leaf) and umeboshi (pickled apricots) with raspberries, there was some kabosu (citrus) with the scallops.

Hokkaido scallop is sauteed in butter and set upon a spinach sauce with gnocchi and white truffles.

The lemon tart dessert is topped with a gin fizz sorbet, with mango powder and passionfruit crisps. The soft sable dough is topped with a sugar tuile.

The baba au rhum was finished table side by chef, and topped with a 2001 Diplimatico Single Vintage Rum aged in sherry casks. The cake is finished with a passionfruit apricot glaze with a fresh acidity. The syrup is steeped with star anise, lemon, lives, and cloves. White chocolate ice cream is nestled in the cake. The Diplimatico rum was crazy. Smooth, hints of coffee and vanilla, and no harsh alcohol flavors that can overtake this dish. Chef was proud to share that this recipe came from his father.

I had the pleasure of speaking with chef and loved hearing him talk about his regular customers from his L’Osier days coming back with their family to see him and eat his cuisine once more. He said that this is what the business of being a chef is all about. You could see he loved talking to the guests, but moreover, that the guests were so happy to be talking with him.

He did talk about the quality of ingredients in Japan and how good they are. That some are so great they should be served raw, while others can be transformed.

Chef Bruno is based in Singapore. I am hoping that someday he can open up a restaurant in Tokyo.

Meruhenk Sandwiches

Japanese sandwiches are my go-to meal when I am on the run, even before onigiri rice balls. Meruhen is my favorite sandwich shop and if I am not near one, then some of the convenience stores like 7-11, Lawson, or Family Mart, also has great sandwiches.

The sandwiches are built on crustless pain de mie (white bread). Savory fillings can be egg salad, tonkatsu, ham and cheese, kabocha with mayonnaise, and more. The sweet sandwiches are fresh fruit with whipped cream, which I have a hard time swallowing. My favorite is the simple julienned carrots with a bit of mayonnaise, but you have to go early. It’s popular and is often sold out by the time I get there. The sandwiches are in the 300 JPY range.

Meruhenk branches in popular areas (there are many more):

Tokyo Station eCute 1st floor (inside the station) – with limited seating in the area.

Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi

Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shinjuku Odakyu

Ginza Matsuya

Daimaru Tokyo Station

and many more!

Nagano Gotta Eat – Oyaki

While traveling in Japan it is essential to try the local cuisine. Nagano is famous for soba, Nozawana (a pickled leafy green), basashi (horse sashimi), some insect dishes like inago (grasshoppers) and hachinoko (bee larva), and my favorite oyaki.

Oyaki are stuffed dumplings. The dough can be made from flour or buckwheat. It is stuffed with a variety of ingredients like mushrooms, kabocha squash, kiriboshi daikon (dried daikon strips), eggplant, walnuts, azuki sweet red beans, or my favorite, the local pickle Nozawana – a leafy green (photo above left).

We bought these handmade oyaki at a local supermarket. At home we fry them up in a pan with a little bit of oil. A great snack or side dish to a meal.

Nagato Cheese – Nagano

There are a handful of Japanese cheese producers that I am a big fan of and one of them is Nagato from Nagano. It’s on the top of the mountains, the air is clean and crisp and there are cows. For this Minnesota girl, it was like visiting a friend’s home growing up, but with cheese, and a big selection to choose from. And, the area is filled with birch trees (shirakaba), another nice nod to home.

There is the farm, a retail shop, and a restaurant.

My favorite is the tezukuri gouda miso cheese. Cubes of gouda cheese mixed with Shinshu miso. We love this with wine or saké. There is also ice cream, yogurt, and milk. The restaurant serves pizza, cheese and sausage plates, curry, and  cheesecake.

Nagato Farm Bokujo 長門牧場


Nagano-ken, Chiisagata-gun, Nagawa-machi, Daimon 3539-2

Access by train and car (in Japanese):

If you can’t make it to Nagato, then look for the cheese at the Nagano antenna shop in Ginza.

Marutaka Miso – Suwa, Nagano

In Suwa, Nagano we came across this lovely Marutaka Miso shop. The shop celebrates its 100th anniversary for making miso since 1916. The area is famous for Shinshu miso, made from soybeans and rice. There is also a kome kōji miso, made with extra kōji (aspergillus oryzae) that is aged for a longer time resulting in a sweet and mild miso.

Marutaka also has many other pantry staples including soy sauce, vinegar, sake, and more. It’s a fun shop to visit and there are plenty of products to bring home for yourself and for omiyage for friends.

One of the miso we brought home is this miso mixed simply with green chili peppers. A spicy dip for crudite of daikon, cucumbers, and carrots. We don’t think of heat in the Japanese palate, so this is a fun way to add spice to your table.

Marutaka Kura 丸高蔵

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Takashima 1-8-30 長野県諏訪市高島1-8-30

10 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday

closed Monday. If Monday is a national holiday, it is open and then closed Tuesday.



Nunohan Ryokan – Suwa, Nagano

When deciding where to stay while traveling in Japan there are many considerations for type of stay. When we can, we try to stay at local ryokan inns with onsen hot springs. Nunohan was put on my radar by a friend who lives in Suwa, Nagano.

We loved it. The ryokan is kid-friendly, had lovely cuisine, and my requirement for any stay a rotenburo, outdoor onsen. For dinner we included a flight of local saké with the full course kaiseki. Breakfast (photo on left) included freshly made tofu, grilled salmon, and much more. The rotenburo and onsen was big and spacious.

Nunohan is on the banks of Lake Suwa. Here is the view from our room. We loved taking a walk on the lake, kind of reminded me of being back in Minneapolis, but this lake is much bigger than the ones in the Cities and here we have mountains.

Nunohan has been in operation for 160 years.

ぬのはん Nunohan

〒392-0027  長野県諏訪市湖岸通り3-2-9

Tel:0266-52-5500(代) Fax:0266-52-5636

Suwa, Nagano Sake Breweries

A short trip from Tokyo is Suwa in Nagano. The city of about 50,000 people sits on the shore of lake Suwa and has mountains nearby. We love coming here as it is one train from Tokyo, as the air is refreshing, and Nagano is known for good sake and food, particularly soba.

We are big fans of Masumi sake, which has a lovely tasting room in Suwa. Nearby are four other sake breweries with tasting rooms worth visiting. You can make an afternoon of tasting and exploring sake. Then spend the rest of the day soaking in an onsen hot spring and dining in a ryokan.

Here are the five breweries, all within a few minutes of each other, and walking distance from the city center.

Maihime 舞姫

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-9-25 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-9-25

Reijin 麗人

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-9-21 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-9-21


Honkin 本金

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-8-21 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-8-21


Yokobue 横笛

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Suwa 2-3-6 長野県諏訪市諏訪2-3-6


Masumi Miyasaka Brewing Company 真澄 宮坂酒造

Nagano-ken, Suwa-shi, Motomachi 1-16 長野県諏訪市元町1-16

More information on Suwa City in Nagano in English:

More information on sake breweries in Nagano:

Tsukiji Wonderland

Tsukiji Wonderland is a documentary on the world’s largest fish market. As Tsukiji Market was scheduled to move to Toyosu on November 7th this year, this movie was a chance for the director to capture the market to share with the world.

The movie currently being shown in Tokyo is only in Japanese with a little bit of English. But, even if you don’t speak Japanese, if you love sushi, seafood, or Tsukiji Market, I highly recommend seeing it. The visuals are beautiful.

Well, the move to Toyosu has been put on hold. A mountain of issues with the new site make this movie all the more precious.

We go to Tsukiji several times a week as we take clients through the market. This movie captures more than I imagined it would. It went back into parts of the market that many will never enter, including the uni auction and the super-freezers housing frozen tuna. I loved seeing where the large blocks of ice are being made. Having seen the large pieces of ice hundreds of time, I never imagined how they are made.

But what really makes this movie special is seeing the interactions between all of the people who make this market work. 19,000 people work at Tsukiji. Another 28,000 come in to buy seafood for restaurants and retail shops.

We see many of the intermediate wholesalers (nakaoroshi), wholesalers, and some of the most famous chefs from top restaurants in Tokyo: Sukiyabashi Jiro, Sushi Sho, Kizushi, Sushi Saito, Daisan Harumi, Mikawa Zezankyo, Ginza Koju, Ishikawa, Higuchi, Ginza Rokusantei, Fugu Ryori Asakusa Miyoshi, as well as foreign chefs Rene Redzepi of Noma and Lionel Beccat of Esquisse. There are seafood retailers, food writers, culinary educators, and Harvard professor Ted Bestor, author of the best book written about Tsukiji in English.

I was moved to tears many times throughout the movie for so many reasons. The most moving part of the movie is the relationships of those interacting at Tsukiji. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, you can see how strong these relationships are.

There are gorgeous displays of sushi and prepared dishes. Viewers can see the many different parts of the market, many that are off limit to visitors. We see the market over 24 hours and over four seasons

I love seeing the intermediate wholesalers interacting with their customers, as well as bidding against each other in the morning auction.

The director has done an outstanding job of capturing and documenting this world famous market. This is a movie that I would like to go back to again and again.

If you love seafood, sushi, Tsukiji, or Japanese food, I hope that you can see this movie. There is no better tribute to the market and those who work and shop there.

Kinukatsugi Satoimo – Boiled Taro Root


Kinukatsugi sato imo – boiled taro root

Kinukatsugi are small taro root. All of these fit in my hands. I had been served this in the past and wanted to try them at home. There is a lot of dirt on the skin, so they need to be washed and scrubbed thoroughly. Then a slice is made on the top 1/5 to 1/4 and placed in a steamer. Steam for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Garnish with sea salt and serve with saké.

These are fun to eat. Pick up and squeeze into your mouth. The meat falls out of the skins. The texture is thick and a bit slippery, which I love. I know its not for everyone. This slippery texture is one that many have a hard time with. I grew up with it. It reminds me a bit of nattō. Kinkukatsugi are only in season for about two months.