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.

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.

Ginza Hageten Kushiage

Hageten is a popular tempura and kushiage restaurant in Ginza. While many are familiar with tempura, kushiage is another great dish that is deep-fried, but covered with panko (Japanese bread crumbs) instead of a flour and egg batter.

Hageten’s “service lunch” starts at only 820 JPY for 6 skewers, salad, rice, miso soup, and pickles. Diners can get seconds on rice and miso soup. While I declined the generous offer, a salaryman at the counter was happy to get seconds on both.

The six skewers on a recent lunch were:

  1. kisu (sillago whitefish)
  2. kabocha squash
  3. pork and leeks
  4. tsukune (ground chicken) and celery
  5. tofu and cheese
  6. uzura (quail egg)

The miso soup was made with shijimi (Corbicula clams) and an awasemiso (blend of red and white miso). The rice, kuri gohan, was studded with fresh chestnuts which are in season now.

This is a great lunch if you are in Ginza. Hageten is several floors. The kushiage restaurant is in the basement. I loved my seat where I could see the chef’s mis en place including an egg batter and bread crumbs. The kushiage was lightly coated, delicate jacket of panko, and not oily.

Chef Takaishi-san was friendly and easy to chat with. He told me that he is off on Fridays, so I’ll try to come back on another day, not Friday.🙂

I asked him about sending my vegetarian friends there for skewers. He said it would be best if the hotel concierge could call ahead and request a vegetarian only skewers and that they would be able to accommodate that request. On the fly it may be difficult. And, not sure if they could change the miso soup.

I haven’t had kushiage in a  long time, but that’s about to change. With this central location and good price, it’s hard to beat.

Hageten ハゲ天

Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-4-6 中央区銀座3-4-6


Sweet Potato Chips

Fried as chips, sweet potatoes are a fun alternative to potato chips. The trick is to let the sliced sweet potatoes to dry a bit before deep-frying. The chips are very crispy and have a rich texture. Slightly sweet balanced with some salt call out for an ice cold beer.

Wash and dry the sweet potato. Do not peel. The chips on the left are cut with a vegetable peeler.  The chips on the right are simply sliced thin with a knife. Let the strips of sweet potato dry on cooking paper or newspaper until the flesh dries out.

Deep-fry in vegetable oil until golden brown and sprinkle with salt as soon it is removed from the oil. Eat immediately.

Japanese Eggplant

The simple step of roasting eggplants and peeling before adding to miso soup adds a rich and smoky dimension to our mornings. Japanese eggplants are thin with small seeds. When cooked the eggplant flesh becomes soft and juicy. Some Japanese eggplant can be eaten as sashimi, simply sliced and served raw with soy sauce. Growing up in the US I was not a big fan of eggplants. But in Japan I can’t get enough of them.

Japanese kitchens lack a big oven for roasting and baking, but often come with a small fish grill, perfect for grilling fish and vegetables. Simply peel off the leaves at the top of the plant exposing more of the skin. Prick the skin in a few spots with a toothpick or knife so that when it cooks the steam can be released. If not, it may explode while cooking. Put in the Japanese fish grill and roast until the skin blackens. If you don’t have a fish grill, you can blacken the skin directly over a gas flame. Be careful.

Put the roasted eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for a few minutes. Peel, cut into bite-size pieces, and add to miso soup.

We sometimes sauté in a pan with vegetable oil and dress with a sweet Kyūshū soy sauce. It can be stir-fried with ground meat and seasoned with miso, saké, and sesame oil for mabō nasu, which needs to be eaten with a big bowl of rice.

A classic Japanese dish is dengaku miso over roasted or deep-fried eggplant. Dengaku miso is a sweetened thick miso dressing. If you are not an eggplant fan and have access to Japanese eggplants, consider giving it a second chance.

茄子 nasu – eggplant

焼き茄子 yakinasu – roasted eggplant

賀茂茄子 Kamo nasu – Kyoto vegetable Kamo eggplant

田楽みそ dengaku miso – sweetened miso dressing for eggplant and tofu


Shiso Juice

I am enchanted with the minty aroma of shiso. Did you know there is a red shiso and a green shiso? The green shiso is often served as a garnish for sashimi. If you find it on your plate, often as a backdrop to sliced raw fish, then be sure to eat it. If not by wrapping a slice of sashimi with it, then by using it to pick up the julienned daikon and eat as a palate cleanser between sashimi bites.

Red shiso is used not for its flavor, but more for its color. Red umeboshi get their bright color from red shiso and the leaves can be dried, pulverized, and mixed with salt for a dark purple furikake called Yukari. I happen to love Yukari.

Shiso juice is made from red and green shiso. The green shiso helps to add the unmistakeable aromatic notes that is shiso, as the red provides color and is not rich on the nose. This colorful juice is sweet and tart and the perfect afternoon drink on a hot day or a refreshing aperitif before a meal. It’s a breeze to make and I only regret not making more of it.

Shiso Juice

300 grams shiso leaves (mix of red and green)

2.2 liters water

25 grams citric acid (kuensan クエン酸)

200 grams sugar

Remove the leaves from the stem of the plant. Rinse three to four times in water or until it is rid of dirt.

In a large pot, bring 2.2 liters water to a boil. Add a large amount of washed shiso leaves, about 1/3 of the batch, and cook for up to one minute. Any more than a minute and bitter notes will come from the leaves. Remove the leaves and set aside. This process will be repeated until all of the leaves have been cooked.

The red leaves will lose their color when it hits the hot water. This is normal.

Strain the hot shiso water through sarashi (cheesecloth) as there may be some more dirt.

Add the sugar to the mixture and stir until it dissolves completely.

Now, comes the fun part. Add the citric acid and watch the color change from a rusty red to an intense pink. Check out the colors in the photo above.

Allow the juice to cool to room temperature before putting it in bottles for storage. The juice will keep for up to one year in the refrigerator.

Serve over ice.

akajiso  赤じそ red shiso

shiso しそ shiso

kuensan クエン酸 citric acid

Yamagata Dashi

One of my go to side dishes this time of year is Yamagata Dashi, a classic kyōdo ryōri (regional dish) from where my family is from. I didn’t eat it growing up, and only came upon it once I lived in Japan. It’s the perfect dish for summer as the vegetables for Yamagata Dashi are at the peak of their season.

Yamagata Dashi smells like you are in the garden. It has a crunchy texture and depending on how much nattō kombu and okra you use, it can be very slippery. I love the aromatics from the shiso and myōga, the crunch from the cucumbers, and it took a while for me to get used to eating raw eggplant, but I love it now.

The main ingredients are cucumbers, eggplant, myōga (ginger buds), okra, and shiso. Nattō kombu, finely minced dried kombu, is another key ingredient. I picked up this pack of nattō kombu なっとう昆布 or 納豆昆布 at the Yamagata antenna shop in Ginza.

Soak a small amount of the nattō kombu in water while prepping the vegetables.

I like to blanch the okra and remove the seeds, but if you are in a hurry or don’t want to be bothered with turning on the stove, you could mince the okra while raw.

Finely chop the cucumbers, eggplant, and okra. Mince the myōga and shiso.

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and season with either soy sauce or tsuyu (seasoned soy sauce used for soba or udon noodles). Serve over rice. If you can’t be bothered cooking rice, use the precooked rice that only needs to be microwaved.

Serve immediately. Best to make only what you can eat as the texture changes if it sits overnight in the refrigerator.

Yamagata Dashi 山形だし

kyōdo ryōri 郷土料理

cucumbers – kyūri 胡瓜

eggplant – nasu 茄子

ginger buds – myōga 茗荷

okra オクラ

shiso しそ

nattō kombu 納豆昆布

Do let me know if you try making this dish. Curious what your reactions are.



Kyoto Yasai – Manganji Togarashi 万願寺唐辛子

Kyoto is famous for many locally grown vegetables, Kyo yasai, for short. This list includes mizuna greens that are now popular even in the US, Kyo takenoko (bamboo shoots), and  Kamo nasu (eggplant). Manganji are green peppers that are bigger than shishitō and the skin is a bit thicker. These are not spicy peppers and are easy to cook. The seeds are easy to remove.

This kinpira-style recipe includes dried baby sardines, but you could make it without the fish.

Manganji peppers

chirimenjako (dried baby sardines)

vegetable oil



soy sauce

Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds. Cut the pepper into bite-size pieces.

Sauté the chirimenjako in vegetable oil for about a minute or until it becomes a little crispy. Add the peppers and sauté for another minute.

Add some saké, sugar, and soy sauce and sauté for a minute. If you have mirin in the house, add a bit to give the peppers a glaze and a bit more sweetness.

This dish is good hot or at room temperature. It’s a great in a bentō.

Kyō yasai    Kyoto vegetables 京野菜

mizuna  みずな

Kyō takenoko   Kyoto bamboo shoot 京竹の子

Kamo nasu     Kamo eggplant  賀茂茄子

Manganji tōgarashi     Manganji pepper  万願寺唐辛子

Kamo and Manganji are both places in Kyoto, so they are capitalized.

Takenoko Bamboo Shoots

Takenoko bamboo shoots are in season at the moment. Many will go foraging in the mountains to harvest these. It is sad to report that recently four elderly have been killed by bears while collecting bamboo shoots in Akita prefecture. Here is an article from The Japan Times:

My father-in-law recently went to Yamanashi prefecture, just West of Tokyo, and came to our home with a large bag of bamboo shoots that he boiled at home. We have been feasting on tender bamboo.

I’ve harvested in the past with my family in Yamagata. It’s hard work so I am all the more appreciative to receive this.

One of our favorite preparations is takenoko gohan. Simply cook rice with dashi instead of water. We add roughly chopped bamboo shoots to the pot before cooking and then mixing it into the rice after it has steamed.

My favorite dish from our dinner was the simplest to make. Cucumbers and bamboo shoots topped with a dressing of taberu ra-yu, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Perfect with an ice cold beer. It will now be on our table every year when bamboo shoots are in season.

Bamboo shoots simmered in dashi and garnished with powdered katsuobushi is also easy to prepare.

The last dish we made for this was a Chinese-style of bamboo shoots, green peppers, and beef stir-fried with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, sake, and chicken stock.

Temakizushi Party

Temakizushi Party

A fun idea for entertaining at home is a temaki-zushi party. Hand rolls (手巻き寿司) are interactive and as each person makes their own rolls it can be a good way to keep everyone happy. Some supermarkets and department store seafood sections will sell the seafood already cut for the rolls, especially on weekends and holidays.

Ingredients are whatever you like. A pot of rice and nori cut in half, as these are easy to roll by hand. For fillings, you can see in the photo above, we have starting from the upper right going clockwise: salmon, tuna, imitation crab, boiled scallops.

mekabu kombu, canned corn with mayonnaise, canned tuna with mayonnaise, and hikiwari natto

shirasu (boiled sardines), avocado, julienned myoga (ginger buds), shiso, denbu (sweetened cod fish colored pink), and ikura

cucumbers, kaiware (daikon sprouts), mizuna greens, and carrots.

Other fillings you could include:

tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), Japanese pickles, seasoned kampyo gourd (sold at supermarket already cooked), roasted salted salmon, cream cheese, toasted sesame seeds, unagi, and more.

We also put out small plates with soy sauce for dipping the rolls and small bowls if anyone wants to make a salad.

When I visit my dear aunt in Osaka we usually have okonomiyaki one night, and the other night is usually temakizushi. It is festive, fun and also a great option for hot summers as they only thing you have to cook is the rice.