Sweet! Potatoes in Kawagoe, Japan

Kawagoe (川越), a roughly 30-60 minute ride from major train stations throughout Tokyo, is also known affectionately known as Koedo (小江戸/Little Edo), whereas Edo refers to Tokyo’s former name.  As Kawagoe made it through World War II only receiving minor damage, many of its most famous structures, the 蔵造り (くらくり/koora-zukoori), or warehouses, survived:

For that reason, it is one of the gems of Saitama prefecture, and also one of the reasons I visited.

Alas, there was another motivating factor for the short haul north– the 芋 (いも/eemo) , or sweet potato.

That freaky fella above is called いもグラ (ee-mo gu-ra).  It is one of hundreds (seriously) of ゆるキャラ (yooroo kyara), or mascots designed to haunt visitors for companies/tourism departments throughout Japan.  There are annual competitions among said mascots; if you want to forego nightmares for some time, don’t click this link (in Japanese).

Kawagoe is one of the sweet potato centers of Japan; this was particularly important for the region during the war, as other foods were quite scarce, and more susceptible to pests/extremes in weather.

Although I referred to the character 芋 to refer in Japanese to sweet potatoes, as that character can also mean potato, or country bumpkin, it’s a bit of a gray area.  How gray?  Charcoal.  You see, the other part of Japan best known for sweet potatoes is present-day Kagoshima prefecture, on Kyushu island.  A section of that prefecture used to be called Satsuma, which begets another way to say sweet potato, 薩摩芋 (さつま・いも/satsuma eemo).  English-language cheaters might like the term スイートポテト , which literally reads “suii-to poteyto.  Even more linguistic fun?  Visit this page.

Stroll through Kawagoe, and you’re bound to come across numerous food shops and souvenir stores vending this hardy tuber; sweet potato noodles, a sweet potato-centric set menu, desserts, ice cream, candies, and who knows what else?  One of my favorite sweet potato snacks is the college potato, written in Japanese above, and photographed below:

Although my time in Kawagoe was rather limited, judging by all of the food I didn’t get to try, it’ll be worth revisiting.  However, here are a couple more delights sampled on that day:

Grilled sweet potato-coated karintou (花林糖・かりんとう).  Karintou are sweet, deep-fried  snacks made of flour, yeast, and often brown sugar.  Though they often look like things you’d find crawling across the floor, to me, they’re delicious.

Termites!  No, no.  Actually, these いもかりんとう饅頭/まんじゅう (ee-mo karintoh-man-juu) were excellent.  Manjuu are typically made with rice powder, flour, buckwheat, and red beans (adzuki), but these used burdock and carrot powder for the outside, and sweet potatoes inside.

Fancy a visit to Kawagoe?  Hungry for some vitamin A?

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan, Languages, pop culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Nostalgic Meal in Tokyo, Japan

My first visit to Japan was nearly seventeen years ago.  Before that time, I had only eaten Japanese food once, at a then up-and-coming Manhattan restaurant called Nobu.  Truth be told, the memories of that meal are not good…

The purpose of my visit to Japan was to live with a host family in Kanazawa, a centuries-old former castle town located in Ishikawa prefecture in the Hokuriku region.  It’s a delightful city, bordering the Sea of Japan, and best known for lacquerware, Kenrokuen (a nationally famous garden), and snow crab.

For one reason or another, I haven’t been back since 2000.  However, that particular summer is always on my mind, in spite of the fact that at the time, I had no Japanese language knowledge, let alone knew that Nintendo started off as a playing card company.

Fast forward to a few years ago.  I was in Tokyo, somewhat reeling from my 2nd lunch, but already preparing for my 3rd lunch.  It was time to throw chance to the wind, and wander around the upper floors of department stores.  Indeed, in most countries, that would be excruciatingly boring and a non-starters.  In Japan, though, those are often event floors.

Event floors could mean nearly anything; shoes, jewelry, flower arranging, FOOD, et. al.  Not just food from Tokyo, but from various places throughout Japan.  Sure enough, that day I had stumbled upon an Ishikawa food fair, with booths hawking Kanazawa snow crab and ikura, straight from Kanazawa’s most famous food hall, Omicho Market.

A while back, I briefly mentioned the presence of antenna shops/satellite shops throughout Japan’s largest cities.  These are government-run food/crafts stores selling specialties of that prefecture/region.  Very cool…maybe even you could try the same delectable seafood that I did at Ishikawa’s Tokyo branch.

Have you been to Kanazawa?

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Product Review: Matcha (抹茶)from the Mizuba Tea Company

Disclaimer: In exchange for a few samples of matcha from the Mizuba Tea Company, I am writing this review.

In essence, Matcha (抹茶・まっちゃ) refers to finely ground (powdered), high-quality Camellia sinensis, the species best known for producing all types of tea.  Though there are certainly differences as to how green, black, and other types of teas are processed, matcha is the only one that uses the whole leaf.  Thus, all of those nutritious words – such as the anti-inflammatory chlorophyll, and the anti-cancer catechin – that you may not be able to pronounce, are always present in a serving of matcha.

To be entirely candid, I wasn’t always a matcha fan.  I used to think I could have gotten the same (and more cost-effective results) if I had just scooped up some grassy earth.  It’s bitter,  though not quite as bitter as US airport immigration, and furthermore, as in the more than 800 year-old tea ceremony, is best paired with something sweet.  Try it with wagashi, traditional Japanese desserts that aren’t too sweet, or with a Kit-Kat.

As noted above, Mizuba Tea Company sent me a few of their house blends.  I followed the instructions, though preferred to have my matcha in a slightly diluted fashion.  Still, I found each mix palatable, refreshing, and to have warped me to a damp, secluded forest somewhere in the Japanese Alps.

This time, it was a good thing.

If a trip to Uji, Japan, the epicenter of matcha, isn’t on your to-do list,  but you’re eager to try matcha with the appropriate utensils, Mizuba Tea Company can help you out. Although I find the Mizuba Tea Company website to be quite comprehensive, regarding the company’s backstory, a backgrounder on matcha, and locations in which to buy their products, it was a bit unusual to see pop-up in the lower left corner, the name and location of someone who recently made a purchase on the site.

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Guest Post: 5 Heavenly Spots in India To Treat Your Taste Buds

There are only a few things better than satiating one’s taste buds with palatable dishes. If you have been thinking of making a trip to those places in India that offer one of a kind food experience, then this article can help you decide. The diverse traditions, cultures, and places in India put together a wide variety of cuisines, each different, exceptional and distinct in taste. Consider it an injustice to your appetite, if you haven’t visited and tasted the cuisine of the following places listed here.

  1. Old Delhi’s Kebabs

Tandoori Chicken at Chandni Chowk, Photo by Architpuri94, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you are yet to bite into this culinary wonder, especially in Old Delhi, then you are missing out on a lot. Succulent, perfectly grilled, soft andpiquant aptly sum up the kebabs (grilled meat) found in Old Delhi. Karim’s, Majeed’s, Kale Baba ke Kebabs, LaluKebabee, Ghalib Kebab Corner, Qureshi Kebab Corner and many, many more eateries offer a variety ofmouth-watering kebabs.  The varieties of kebabs prepared by these food joints are Seekh Kebabs (prepared in skewer), Shami Kebabs (includes minced meat and other ingredients), and so on. Do not forget to get a taste of these divine grubs, the next time you are in Delhi.

  1. Kolkata’s Sweetshops

Photo by Dipanker Dutta, CC BY 2.0

A Bengali’s love for sweets is not a secret. You will find a sweet shop at almost every street corner, and the array of sweets displayed on trays makes them irresistible. From those amazingly soft rasgullas (syrupy dessert) to the appetizing sandesh (dessert made of milk and sugar), the taste and flavour of the sweets in the sweet shops of Kolkata are unlike any to be found anywhere. BalaramMullick and RadharamanMullick, Dwarik’s, Nalin Chandra Das and Sons, and Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy are some of the most celebrated sweetshops of the city. If you are anepicurean with a major sweet tooth, then sweet shops should be one of your destinations in Kolkata.

  1. Hyderabad’s Shadab

Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani, Photo by Garrett Ziegler, CC BY 2.0

To savour some delicious Hyderabadi Biryani, kebabs, Haleem (a kind of stew), and other delectable dishes. Situated near Char Minar, Hotel Shadab is as popular as any other tourist attractions in Hyderabad. This place is an integral part of the old city and exudes a quaint charm. Other than their legendary delicacies, they also serve Iranian Chai (tea) and Osmania biscuits. The next time you are in Hyderabad; don’t miss out on this place and its biryani and kebabs.

  1. Lucknow’s Tunday Kabab

Photo by ShashwatNagpal, CC BY 2.0

It should not come as a surprise that Lucknow’s TundayKababi finds a place in this list. The kebabs dished out by them are renowned far and near. The scrumptious and mouth-watering kebabs, which are a result of age-old recipes,are not to be missed by any food-lover. Prepared with an assortment of spices, the soft and luscious kebabs will melt in your mouth and leave you asking for more. Your trip to Lucknow won’t be deemed complete without stopping by this place and savouring their specialities.

  1. Mumbai’s Café Gulshan

Kheem pav, Photo byVidurmayor, CC BY-SA 4.0

Palatable food and the city of Mumbai go hand-in-hand. Café Gulshan, located at Matunga in Mumbai, lives up to the city’s reputation of being a foodie’s delight. Good food blended with an old-world charm makes this place a favourite with the crowd. From Kheema Pav (minced meat served with bread) to Persian dishes, one can find a range of food items to choose from at this eatery. An ideal food joint for food connoisseurs, who love good food with a lively crowd and ambience.

Starters, main courses, snacks and desserts have all been covered here, which makes it easy for you to choose what you would want to taste and where. Indulge in the tastes and tangs of the food joints mentioned here to satiate the craving of your appetite.

Author’s Bio:

Rohit is an out-and-out foodie, who does not restrict himself to the palates of any one place. He travels to different corners of the country to relish the cuisines they have to offer. He is a traveller and food explorer.

Posted in Food & Drink, Guest Post, South Asia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Japanese Onigiri Month, Part Six: Nothin’ But Eel

Oof, that’s a lot of rice.  No, it’s not slang for money; rather, it’s an obvious conclusion.  Eat onigiri, spike your blood sugar levels.  And if you don’t want all of those carbohydrates, have fun making a spectacle of yourself by trying to single out the best part of the Japanese snack (I know I have had fun made a spectacle of myself).

Take this omusubi as an example:

Eel (うなぎ・鰻・oo-na-gi).  Anguilla japonicaSuch a silly country, Japan can be…the う is even in the shape of an eel (this is also a giveaway when you’re looking to eat in an eel-specialty restaurant).

It quickly became one of my favorite Japanese foods; whether it be atop a narrow clump of rice (as nigiri sushi), or or as a kebab, or minced on a skewer, or as a juice – maybe not, my only request to the chef is to “よく焼いてください (yo-koo yai-tay koo-da-sai),” or “please grill it well/make it well-done.”

Although this month’s theme is onigiri, today, the prospect of eating eel will supersede it.

おひつまぶし (o-hitsu-ma-booshe).  This whopper of a meal takes chopped eel, broiled in sweet soy sauce (たれ/tah-ray), and sprinkles it over たれ-mixed rice.

For myself and many others, that’s a dish of gluttonous beauty.  To everyone – I hope – it’s a food model.  Bring the waiter outside, point to it – but don’t drool too much – and then you’re set.

The Japanese sign in the middle mentions that, although the display is intended for three people, you can also order a solo diner-version.  As you like.  I’ll be ordering it as advertised.

Have you tried eel?  Are you eating it now?

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Onigiri Month, Part Five: The Korean Edition

After a whirlwind tour of various Japanese onigiri, let’s take a gander at culinary influences from the Korean peninsula, the insular country’s western neighbors across the Sea of Japan:

Bulgogi (ブルコギ/bu ru kogi/불고기).  Literally “fire meat,” bulgogi consists of thin, marinated and barbecued strips of beef or pork.

The Japanese on the right column mentions that Korean seaweed (海苔・のり/nori) is used, and on the left column, that chili peppers (唐辛子・とうがらし・tow-gara-shee) are present.

This was my favorite of the three choices today, with the lightly salted seaweed being a good reason for that.  (OK, don’t tell anyone, but I prefer snacking on Korean 김, or gim.)

(Apologies for the blurriness, as this was in my iphone 1 days.)

Super spicy squid kimchi with chili oil (激辛いかキムチラー油/げきから いか キムチ ラーゆ/geki kara eeka kimuchi raayu).

As alluring at it sounded to me, it was disappointing.  That’s likely because chili oil in Japan means as spicy as a bell pepper, or a throw pillow.

(Apologies for the blurriness, as this was in my iphone 1 days.)

Bibimbap grilled onigiri (ビビンバ 焼きおにぎり・ビビンバ やき おにぎり・bibimba yahkee oh-nee-gee-ri).

Too sweet.  Yes, besides the occasional shishito pepper and wasabi, you may find that Japanese food is not piquant in the least.  No matter, sometimes you need to give your stomach lining a rest.

How do these three Korean omusubi sound to you?  Have another flavor in mind?

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Onigiri Month, Part Four

After a brief pause in Japanese Onigiri Month, let’s see what’s in store for this pre-snowstorm Monday…

Salmon broiled in white miso and mirin (さけ味噌漬焼/ sa-kay mi-so tska yahkee).

A couple of words to assist while in Japan

-mirin (みりん・味醂), similar to sake – the liquor – but with lower alcohol and higher sugar content.  A common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, apparently it can also be used to remove fishy odors.
-in the picture above, 贅沢 (ぜいたく/zeitaku).  Luxuriant/very rich (in this case, in flavor).
also in the above photo, 切り口 (きりぐち/kiri guchi).  Though it may seem obvious, the kiri means “cut,” and the guchi character – the one that looks like a square – is “mouth.”

Salmon braised with sweet white miso (さけ 西京焼/さいきょうやき ・ sakay saikyo yahkey).
The 西京 means “west capital,” and refers to Kyoto, where this dish originated.

What’s miso, might you ask?  It’s a paste formed by fermenting soy beans, rice, barley, and wheat.  Depending on the quantity of each of those four ingredients that you use, it might be white, yellow, red, or another type of miso.

Stayed tuned for next time, as we’ll be having Korean-influenced onigiri.

Posted in East & Southeast Asia, Food & Drink, Japan, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment