During My Last Visit to Japan, I Had Poisonous Fish

⊂I decided to keep the title simple this time in honor of imagination.  Am I talking about a recent vacation, or am I predicting the future?⊃


When we first traveled to Shimonoseki, Japan, we learned that locals took issue with those invaluable – unless you’re in the middle of a hurricane/typhoon, or hate carrying things or are in Seattle – objects known as umbrellas.

This time though, we’ll be having our last supper:

Shimonoseki - Sewer Cover

Blowfish.  Pufferfish.  Swellfish.  Delicacy.  Jimmy.  No matter what you call it, there are still…plenty of other words to call it.

River pig (河豚).   鰒/フグ, pronounced fuguふく fuku, which means “good fortune” and which serves as a pun on fugu, the official name for the venomous fish.


Hire me to remove the eyes, ovaries, and in particular the liver, and you won’t be around to read my next post.  Nor will I.  I’ll be in jail.  You really need to find the right chef at the right time.  Or, cower out and try the poison-free version.

Shimonoseki isn’t shy about its most famous resident.  I had never tried fugu before visiting that city, but a visit to one of Japan’s ubiquitous convenience stores changed all of that:

Shimonoseki - Konbini Fugu (Fuku)

There really was a slight tingling sensation after taking a bite

Do Japanese convenience stores keep humans in mind? Fugu, bread stuffed with chocolate and margarine and pocket-sized cans of sake really make you wonder if we are their main source of revenue.  Then again, have you ever had the displeasure of breathing in at a 7-11 in the US?  Those must be one of the many layers of Buddhist hell.


Hi, my name is Jonathan and I’ll be your unoriginal guidebook for today.

Shimonoseki - Karato Market 1

Japan’s most famous fish/wholesale market is undoubtedly Tsukiji Ichiba (市場/いちば market), located in Tokyo.  For a much more relaxing yet equally delicious market visit, check out Karato Ichiba in Shimonoseki.

For what marine product are they most famous?

Take a wild guess.

Shimonoseki - Karato Market 2 (Fugu-Fuku)

Is that a float? Imagine that during Mardi Gras

That’s English for fugu, and Japanese for fugu.


Shimonoseki - Fugu (Fuku) Meals

Someone went a little overboard here.  Fugu (Japanese-style) curry, boiled fugu in a can, raw fugu in a can, even whale curry tags along…who says Japan and China aren’t alike?

Would you try fugu?  What if it was a birthday gift?

Kidneys, Who Needs Those? PART TWO

In our last issue of The Daily Dialysis, we pondered over mysterious circumstances surrounding the presence of salt dishes in outside of some Japanese restaurantsHealth!  No, but you could say I wrote it only to fit another keyword into this blog post.

This time though, we’re entering the US, and it’s not going to be pretty..

I wouldn’t call Honolulu a great city in which to wander, as much of it has that everything-after-5pm-will-be-closed feel, but there are some redeeming factors.  One, if you’re originally from a place with more than two seasons, year-round t-shirting might be particularly welcoming.  Two, if you’re there on vacation, Hawai’i has some foods that you may not be able to find in much of the rest of the mainland, save for California and that one restaurant in Manhattan that I really should try one time.  Come to think of it, Japan might have more Hawaiian restaurants than Hawai’i, but…no.  That’s not bloody likely.

Three, this:

Honolulu - Salty, Salty Fish
Fermented mudfish, a specialty in Vietnam, South China and, considering the brand, Thailand.  Never mind the spelling error and the fact that it looks like someone drew in the word “Trans” next to “fat,” but does nutrition always take a backseat in Southeast Asian markets?  It’s interesting, because the US gets repeatedly ridiculed for harvesting and exporting obesity – I’ll save this argument for another day (possibly) – but have you seen the nutrition labels on ramen soups, juices, teas, wafers, and jarred flotsam in a Chinatown near you?

In any case, I have a challenge for you.  Find an item in any market that has a higher sodium content per serving than this fermented mudfish, and if you’d like I’ll mention you and your specimen in an update.


Under-cover Nirvana in Osaka, Japan

Have you heard about the latest trend in Japan?  That being, to not have kids?

Forget I said that, but stay on the same wavelength for a moment.

Osaka - Daigo (Nirvana) Love Hotel

Oh look, it’s Osaka Castle~

Tokyo might be my favorite city in the world (thus far), and part of the reason is due to the sprawling randomness that can be found on just about every block.  It could be a sampling of dyed tapestries in the middle of an unlit alley (can’t recall where exactly, but it was near Nihombashi), a Statue of Liberty near Odaiba or a love hotel built as an affront to the word architecture.

Yes, that last one is a Japanese mainstay, and although the Tokyo area has plenty to choose from, I might have to give Osaka the point for collection of zanier architectural styles.  Come to think of it, “love hotelism” should be a neologism in an architect’s vocabulary.

However, today’s emphasis is not on the exterior of the hotel.  We’re going to have a brief look at the meaning of the word on the sign; Warning- this language lesson might be slightly off-color.

The two characters that make up 醍醐 (だいご “dye-go”) refer to cream in its purest form.  Thank you, you’ve been a great audience.

If you’ve heard of the Indian staple food ghee, – which may also be known as the greatest flavor of all – that’s one definition.  Staying in the same region of the world, 醍醐 has adopted another, more transcendent meaning- nirvana.

Never thought Buddhism would pay a visit to BuildingMyBento, but here we are.  Though, if nirvana is supposed to be the point where one’s sufferings and desires are extinguished, what kind of name is that for an Osaka love hotel?

Then again, if the owner was going for the unattainable goal definition, perhaps it’s surrounded by a moat?

I didn’t go in for a closer look, so maybe it’s a Buddhist temple built by a love hotel aficionado?  Weirder things do happen.

Coffee Ramen (Japan)


I’m shifting the focus of Collateral Lettuce to BuildingMyBento, and no other post better represents this than “Coffee Ramen.” Don’t fret, for this self-reblogging is a one-time deal.

Originally posted on Collateral Lettuce:

Ten ingredients you wouldn’t like to see in the same bowl of ramen:

  1. Coffee beans
  2. Coffee noodles
  3. Eggs (and their yolks)
  4. Vanilla ice cream
  5. Bananas
  6. Gouda (inexorably processed, that is)
  7. Kamaboko (processed fish cake with mind-numbing preservatives)
  8. Kiwi
  9. Salami
  10. Ham

with a generous sprinkling of Japanese parmesan cheese, because that’s what you were missing.  Listverse, here I come.

Is this the antithesis of Tampopo, the Japanese movie about a woman trying to create the perfect bowl of ramen?  Probably.  But in a country where using Colonel Sanders as a buoy is soyesterday‘s news, I cautiously introduce you to coffee ramen.

Ohanajaya - Aroma Coffee Ramen1

Your guide to caffeinated calamity

I was tipped off to this unusual feast on the travel site FlyerTalk.  The restaurant’s name is 亜呂摩, or Aroma, and it’s located in Ohanajaya, Katsushika district, in the endless sea of black- and graham cracker-tinted…

View original 440 more words

A Smattering of Food in Chinatown, China

At last count, there are three “official” Chinatowns in New York City- the oldest, Cantonese-heavy one in Manhattan centered around Canal St.; Flushing, Queens by Main Street station on the 7 train and the Fujianese-dominated branch in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  You could argue that the newest one is 5th Ave. in the 50s, but let’s not go there right now…

Thus, you can just imagine my disappointment when weaving through wet markets and supermarkets in China.  The food that you can find there, they’ve introduced to this part of this world too.  Almost.  But this concept isn’t new by any means.  Did you ever stop to think in which country/region your food originates?  We’ve got pineapples from Paraguay, potatoes from the Andes, fava beans in North Africa, and melamine in China.  A relatively common menu item in Chinese holes-in-the-wall is a dish simply comprised of tomatoes and eggs.  Think that was being eaten hundreds of years ago?

So, what’s my point?  Even though we’ve been able to find many of these products in Chinatowns throughout New York and the world since many decades ago, there’s still a vast assortment of ingredients and tinctures that haven’t quite been given a proper introduction to the mainstream.  Let’s have a look at a few of these sideshows:

Changsha - Red Dates
Jujubes/Red Dates (红枣/hóng​zǎo)- I can’t get enough of them…the dried version, that is.  In fact, I rarely saw the fresh kind, but the dried is a nice snack, not so much if you forget that there’s a pit inside.  In China, jujubes can also be found in soups, milk and yoghurt, the latter two stylesbeing frequent cravings of mine.  They often hail from the wild west region of Xinjiang.  And you thought this was a picture of red-tinged termite queens.  Slightly smoky, somewhat sweet and nothing like the popular Iftar snack.

Changsha - Jellyfish

Jellyfish (海蜇/hǎi​zhé)- This is the edible variety.  Steer clear of the 水母 (shuǐ​mǔ), uh, as if this was news?  I’ve only eaten jellyfish a couple of times, with the first being somewhere in Manhattan in the late 90s.  It was colored orange, and you could slurp the tentacles much more skillfully than spaghetti.  Unusual texture to be sure…salty lanyard, maybe?

Changsha - Salted Duck Egg

Salted Duck Eggs (咸蛋/xiándàn)- Looks like I was taken to one of those scam-riddled gem shops, doesn’t it?  Probably not.  Even worse, it’s a bunch of preserved duck eggs packed in moist, salted charcoal.  Because that’s a thing now.  If this hasn’t already whetted your appetite, you’ll find that the egg has become gelatinous and holds a firm, bright yolk, perfect for representing the moon.  In mooncakes.  Nasty, but only when when a salted duck egg rears its unwelcome self in the middle of one filled with taro or coconut.  Which reminds me, I’ve eaten a slew of possibly unusual foods, but a durian mooncake stuffed with a salted duck egg sounds like the edible equivalent of eating sashimi on the banks of the Ganges.

Changsha - Kelp

Kelp/Brown Algae (海藻/hǎi​zǎo)- more and more, I’m seeing this in health food stores, and it’s likely due to kelp’s high iodine content.  In other words, it’s possibly beneficial to your thyroid.  In other words, good for metabolism, hair and skin.  Which is to say, in ten years, this will probably be disproved, but most importantly, kelp wouldn’t know that.

Yueyang - Turtles

Turtles (龟/guī)- A symbol of longevity, but that’s history.  Just like the turtles that used to be in those shells.  So it could then be a picture of a 鳖 (biē), a soft-shelled turtle.  Maybe it’s a pet store?  If nothing else, they are organic, so Whole Foods might come a knockin’ soon.

Wuhan - Lotus Pods & Seeds

Lotus seeds (莲子/lián​zǐ)- it’s a bonus photo, because I only found these on the street.  Seasonal yet plentiful, lackluster yet crunchy and generally not worth the small effort needed to be enjoyed.  Cheap though, and could tide you over until your next kelp turtle sandwich.  All you have to do is visit a city park and start picking away at the lotus pods.

See anything you like?


Are They Related? Window Shopping in China

My apologies for the lack of posting over the past month.  I was in China where non-mainland blogs are none too welcome.  Speaking of which, this time I chose to visit Hunan province, source of arguably (with myself?) my favorite regional Chinese food.

Though I can’t help but notice that, no matter where I choose to walk for hours and hours, whether by the pedestrian plazas, “gourmet streets” or in the hinterlands, I always end up in the Jerome Ave. part of town.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with that street in the Bronx (a borough of New York City), it’s heavy on the auto repair stores and not much else.

Enter Zhuzhou (株洲), China.  It’s relatively close to Hunan’s provincial capital, Changsha, and might be best known within China for the development of military technology.  In any event, it’s another city of a few million people that most of the world hasn’t heard of- that was all the invitation I needed.

I’ll probably reference it again soon, since it was quite relaxing for a Chinese metropolis, but there was one neighborhood that really stood out.  It’s by the Zhuzhou Bridge over the Xiang River that you can find…

Zhuzhou - Karaoke & Auto Repair

An auto repair shop adjacent to a karaoke parlor.  Not unusual for China, bizarre pairings.  Budget hotels are regularly located in between saunas and fried chicken restaurants, or karaoke parlors and bowling alleys.  You know, because sleep actually isn’t the point.

But this particular area had a few karaoke places and car workshops.  That’s it.  However, it’s not uncommon to sing in the car.  Maybe that’s the new trend in mainland vehicles, having a microphone installed next to the cigarette lighter.  Anything to make driving in the mainland less safe, right?  Well, taxi drivers in Kaohsiung (err, Gaoxiong), Taiwan have tvs installed on the driver’s side, so…I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson in futility.


2014 New York Fancy Food Show

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (1)

I first went to the New York Fancy Food Show in 1999. At that time, I had never eaten so many of the foods -Japanese, Turkish, mushroom stems, undercooked animal parts – which these days, are frequent guests on my plate.  Also, I remember Italy being the dominant source of exhibitors, East Asia barely was a blip on the event space floor and some guy named Bobby Flay was whipping up mango salsa for the billionth time.  Additionally, I completely forgot to go to the convention on a hungry stomach.

Lesson learned.

Skip forward a mere fifteen years, and I’ll give you a crash course on the goings-on of the 2014 New York Fancy Food Show:

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (5)

Oh hey, we’re starting off with one of my favorites from the show- Tunisian lablabi.  It’s a chickpea stew with olive oil, stale bread, eggs, and cumin, as well as olives and pickles on the side.

Lots of countries had booths this time – ones that stood out to me included Tunisia, Italy, France, Indonesia, the R of Korea, and China (fortunately, no stinky tofu or cement-filled eggs this time) – but the US sections were by far the largest.

Speaking of China…

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (7)

This wasn’t an anomaly.  Not much traffic at this end of the event, but judging by the mainland Chinese thirst for anything not “made in China,” it shouldn’t be a surprise.  Nevertheless, I had some good conversations with a few folks, mainly from Hainan Island and sellers of local coconut-based products.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (9)

What?  Baltimore-Washington International Airport had a booth?

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (6)

Buffalo mozzarella, care of a few Italian-Californians.  It was creamy, but lacked depth.  The subtle textures provided an agreeable mouth feel…uhh, from where’d I pull those words?  It’s food, not a study in Dadaism.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (8)

Cool.  One of the spice vendors had this as its main display.  I asked one of the folks if that was real saffron in the lower-left corner, to which he replied “YES.”

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (4)


Indonesia had a presence, which was nice.  Though, the snacks on offer were mostly fructose and peanuts where the shells had more flavor than the legumes themselves, but this booth had mango, rambutan and soursop honeys.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (10)

I really like these.  But they’re sold all over the place, including many duty-free shops, so nothing happened here.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (12)

I grew up with these Italian crackers, known as taralli.  Had no idea that sweet versions existed, and still don’t.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (3)

Maple shaved from cubes.  One lick and your child will be awake for years.  They served it alone and with bacon and bleu cheese.  Good stuff, me thinks.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (2)

Hatch chiles from New Mexico.  One of the employees was nice enough to start my souvenir sample collection with a jar.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (11)

You know you’re in a fancy food show bathroom when mint leaves make an appearance.  Also, c’mon guys, don’t treat this bathroom like you would those at JFK.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (13)

You’re not supposed to take samples home.  So I took them to an apartment instead.

Special mention goes to the extremely suspicious bag of Chinese dried vegetables in the lower-left, and to the “sample” of Korean toppokki sauce in the middle.  Otherwise, the foods with labels were mostly agreeable and are almost all welcome to raid my wallet once again.

New York Summer Fancy Food Show, 29-30 June 2014 (14)

There’s more.  Marzipan, cherries, Brazil nuts, lemon juice, pickled peppers, a guide to French cheeses, and olive oil?  This set was made for me.  JetBlue, I like the Terra products, but take a hint from here too.


Have you ever attended a food convention or trade show?  If it was in New York, care to leave a detailed reply below?