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:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/06/13/national/japan-bamboo-pickers-defy-bear-attack-warning-despite-deaths/#.V2SQS-Z97uQ

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.

 

Gobo Burdock Root

Our cooking school has opened up. While we continue our food tours in Tokyo, we are starting to put more energy into teaching Japanese cuisine. Our blog will include more recipes going forward. We will also continue to share restaurants and food shops in Japan as well as the occasional travelogue.

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Shin gobo 新牛蒡

In season now is the earthy root vegetable, gobo, or burdock root. This time of year it is called shin gobo, or new gobo.

Burdock root can be dense in texture, but in early summer the fibers are very tender. Burdock root is often sold with earth clinging to the skin. After washing it off it can be peeled. Many cookbooks will suggest soaking it in water so the burdock root doesn’t turn brown. My vegetarian cooking teachers says that it is better not to soak in water and to just cook with it immediately. She also suggests scrubbing the long root vegetable thoroughly with a scrubber (Japanese tawashi) and not peeling it.

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Burdock Root and Chicken

This dish is simple to pull together. Carefully wash the burdock root and cut at an angle into small pieces. Cut chicken thigh into bitesize pieces. In a pot saute some garlic and burdock root in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Add the chicken and continue to saute until the color of the chicken changes. Add dashi to cover the mixture and then some soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot or at room temperature.

kinpira gobo

Kinpira Gobo

Mastering kinpira will add a wonderful dish to your kitchen repertoire. I usually make it with gobo (burdock root) and carrots, but it can be made with a variety of vegetables including renkon (lots root), celery, and even potatoes. The vegetables should be julienned, or if making from renkon, sliced thinly. Better yet, learn how to do the “sasagaki” cut, which results in vegetable shards that look like bamboo leaves (sasa).

Gobo should be soaked in water immediately after it is cut or it turns brown.

Cut your vegetables (julienne or sasagaki).

In a saute pan, stir-fry the vegetables in a bit of oil until the vegetables start to soften. Then season with sugar, soy sauce, sake and sesame oil. I do it all to taste but if you are looking for rough amounts:

1 burdock root
1 carrot
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons sake
1 Tablespoon sesame oil

If you like a bit of spice feel free to add either dried chili sliced thinly or seven spice shichimi togarashi. Toasted sesame seeds are also a nice compliment.

This dish can be eaten hot or cold, so is perfect for adding to a bento. For a vegetarian sandwich, toss with some mayonnaise and serve with bread.

Aoyama Cicada

At Cicada in Aoyama, near Omotesando, I always order the mezze plate. I love the variety of small bites, often with lots of vegetables. If you have allergies, or prefer for an all vegetable mezze, the kitchen is great to substitute something.

I sometimes come by myself and sit at the bar.  In New York City I found it very easy to start up conversations with complete strangers, but that is much harder to do here in Japan. However, I’ve met some interesting people here, including a designer. In our conversation we realized that we both worked on the same food project, at different stages. Cicada is that type of restaurant that draws in an international crowd, but also internationally-minded locals. There is always a buzz in the restaurant and the staff speak English.

The draft beer is from T.Y. Harbor, their sister shop. The wine list is reasonably priced and there is a nice selection of wines-by-the-glass that match the Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

There is outdoor seating, but that seems to book up quickly, so plan ahead if you want to dine al fresco.

Cicada

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-7-28 港区南青山5-7-28

https://www.tysons.jp/cicada/en/

Takenoko Gohan

Bamboo shoots are in season at the moment. They are also in season in the fall. But I associate the delicate flavor and aroma with spring. I was at a friend’s house on the weekend. Her mother, who is an excllent cook, had just cleaned and boiled a bamboo shoot and had brought half to my friend’s house. My dear friend then gave us half of that. We brought it home and made takenoko gohan. When you cook the rice in the pot with added ingredients it is called takikomigohan.

Shinji cut up the tender bamboo shoots and put it in the donabe with dashi, sake, soy sauce, and deep-fried tofu. It is garnished with sanshō leaves which we plucked from grandpa’s sanshō bush in his rooftop garden. It was so good I ate three bowls.

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In the supermarkets in Tokyo, you can find both fresh bamboo shoots, complete with the skin on it. Or you can find already boiled and peeled of the hard skin.

Some more inspiration from these recipes:

http://tokyostation-yukari.blogspot.jp/2011/06/easy-bamboo-shoot-recipes.html

take bamboo 竹

takenoko 竹の子

takenoko 筍

 

Japanese Spring Vegetable – Udo

Spring is an exciting time for vegetable lovers in Japan. Udo (Aralia cordata) is spikenard. It is grown here in Tokyo in the area where we live. It is grown underground and the spears are white or with a hint of green. There is even a character, Udora, for udo in Tachikawa. While most characters strive to be kawaii (cute), Udora is far from kawaii.

Udo reminds me of the white asparagus I had while living in Belgium, just with a bit of bitterness to it. It is lovely as tempura, as served at Nihonbashi Tenmatsu.

Two of my other favorite dishes are kinpira (top photo), sautéed with oil, sake, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar. The bottom photo is boiled udo dressed with mayonnaise and umeboshi.

Udo is one of Japan’s spring vegetables that is very easy to cook at home.

 

Shibuya Shunju 春秋 – Colorful Vegetable Salad Bar

Buffet lunches abound around the city. Some of my favorites include the New York Grill at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and Motif at the Four Seasons Marunouchi, but these gorgeous buffets deserve a leisurely long lunch so that you can enjoy all that is offered. I was meeting a girlfriend for a casual lunch in Shibuya and wanted somewhere that offered a vegetable-friendly meal.

Shunju, just across the street from Bunkamura music hall and museum, was exactly what I was looking for. There is a small, but thoughtfully assembled organic salad bar and diners choose a main course. I opted for a simple onigiri as my main course. The other options included fish grilled over sumi charcoal, chicken, and pork. The buffet lunch with onigiri starts at about 900 JPY ($9 USD). For a supplemental 500 JPY you can add a protein main course to the meal.

Yellow and orange carrots, red cabbage, simmered lotus root, tempura eggplant, and a creamed cabbage were some of my favorites. The carrot juice at the salad bar was sweet enough to stand in for dessert. The only meat product on the buffet was some ground meat in the miso, an umami-rich dip for the vegetables.

The restaurant was busy at the noon hour. Mostly young girls making several rounds to the salad bar. Shunju has a few other branches around the city, and I imagine that they also offer a similar lunch.

Note that the buffet is on weekdays only. On the weekends the restaurant is course lunches only. Arigato to David Richards for sending this helpful information via the blog. Arigato and thankful for your notes.

Shunju 春秋

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-23-12, Fontis Bldg. 1F

渋谷区道玄坂2-23-12フォンティスビル1F

http://shunju.com/

Kyobashi Domenica Soup Curry

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Hokkaido’s soup curry is a great change-up on the regular Japanese curry. I remember the first time a girlfriend served this to me. I thought she had messed up the recipe as the curry was so watery, but she explained to me that this is what soup curry is. Once I got over the mind shift that I should not compare this to the thick Japanese curry we are most familiar with, I could enjoy it for what it is.

Domenica, a soup curry shop in Sapporo, has a branch in Kyobashi, just between Ginza and Tokyo Station. The Special Vegetable Curry (Tokusen Yasai Curry 特選野菜カレー) comes with a dozen vegetables and half of a boiled egg. The vegetables are about 300 grams, and in Japan it is said that 350 grams is what your body needs daily, so pretty good for one bowl. The vegetables here are deep-fried and then put into the soup curry. It was a colorful selection including kabocha squash, carrot, young corn, and much more. Chicken can be added to the soup curry.

There are four soups to choose from:

original – kombu, Japanese-style dashi, chicken and pork

tonkotsu – thick pork

tomato – tomato

tonyu soup – soymilk

The original was a nice combination of meat and seafood. When picking your spiciness you tell them a number from 1 to 10. I think I did four and it had a nice heat, but not unbearable.

I asked if the soups were vegetarian and was told that it wasn’t. Sadly, this wouldn’t be good for strict vegetarians, but a good place for those craving vegetables.

Domenica

Chuo-ku, Kyobashi 3-4-1, TM Ginza Bldg. 2F

中央区京橋3-4-1TM銀座ビル2F

www.s-curry-dominica.com/

There is also a branch near Tokyo Station’s Yaesu exit.

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 2-2-21, Nihonbashi 2-Chome Bldg. B1

中央区日本橋2-2-21日本橋2丁目ビルB1F

Shibuya Tare Katsu Don

The signboard outside of this small shop near Shibuya station caught my eye. Vegetables and thin slices of pork dressed in panko bread crumbs, deep-fried, and dipped in a sweet and savory soy sauce over a bowl of rice. Donburi are large bowls of rice with toppings. Tare refers to the sauce that clings to the vegetables and pork. Tare katsu don is a regional dish from Niigata prefecture, which is just north of Tokyo.

This shop uses organic soy sauce. The pork is Waton Mochibuta. The rice is koshi ibuki, from Niigata, famous for its rice.

I had walked by the shop several times but it was always full. Recently I spotted a single seat at the counter and swooped in. I ordered the yasai hire katsu don, vegetable and pork donburi (930 JPY). There is also a vegetable only donburi for 830 JPY.

It takes a while for the food to come, which is a good sign at fast food shops. You can see the chef deep-frying the vegetables and pork and dipping it into the sauce.

On this day the vegetables included sweet potato, eggplant, baby corn, and broccoli. There was a cherry tomato, but it was only deep-fried, not breaded. The pork was cut thin. If you were in the mood for meat you could do pork only.

The shop is only one minute from the Keio Inokashira line exit, or 3 minutes from the Shibuya JR station.

Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 1-5-9 渋谷区道玄坂1-5-9

Map:

http://www.tarekatsu.jp/map.html#shibuya

 

Shibuya Ore no Hamba-gu Yamamoto 俺のハンバーグ山本

Ore no Hamba-gu

Ore no Hamba-gu

There is a chain of restaurants that specialize in a certain cuisine or a dish. The “Ore no” series includes French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, yakitori, kappō, soba, oden, and yakiniku. There are all in the Oreno Corporation and are casual restaurants, many of them standing only spots, that offer reasonable priced cuisine in a casual environment.

The other day on the bus I passed a restaurant called Ore no Hamba-gu near Shibuya station. I got off the bus and got in line. A good sign that there were people standing in line. Hamba-gu is different from hamburger. Hamba-gu are more like a juicy meatloaf that is served with rice instead of a bun. Hamba-gu is a staple of yōshoku, Western-style cuisine adapted for the Japanese palate. The lunch set is 1,750 JPY and comes with a salad, rice, and miso soup along with the burger.

The Ore no Hamba-gu seems to be not affiliated with the Oreno Corporation, but I could be wrong.

Ore no Hamba-gu has a handful of shops around the city including Ebisu, Kichijōji, and Jiyugaoka. The interior at Shibuya is like being at home with a living room feel in the back of the restaurant.

The menu offers about a dozen different types of toppings for the hamba-gu. I went with the most popular, which was Gorgonzola. The cheese sauce on top was nothing special, but the hamba-gu was stuffed with a rich serving of cheese. The hamba-gu is served in a hot bowl, the type you find at Korean restaurants. The meat is very, very hot. I should have known that looking at the sauce bubbling, but I wish they would have warned me.:-)

The restaurant has its own farm. The small salad that came with the lunch set is made with flavorful vegetables. I can still taste the sweet red bell peppers. I may go back and just ask for a big salad. The lunch set includes a small juice made from seven vegetables and fruit, including cilantro and shikuwasa, a tart citrus.

There is a nice server who speaks English. So even though the menu is in Japanese, there is someone to help you order. I highly recommend a glass of juice and getting a salad along with the hamba-gu.

Ore no Hamba-gu is a great example of a restaurant focusing on one thing, hamba-gu, and doing it very well.

Ore no Hamba-gu Yamamoto 俺のハンバーグ山本

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 3-18-5, Wada Bldg. 1F 渋谷区渋谷3-18-5和田ビル1F

www.orehan.com/shoplist/shibuya.html

twitter.com/orenohamburg