Oh, how I love the konbini (コンビニ: it’s short for “convenience store” in English). Whether it’s Lawson, 7 Eleven, AM/PM, or Family Mart, they’re a reliable place in Japan for late night snacks, booze, and even a full meal. Plus you can also pay your bills there! Items are packed just so, and potentially embarasing hygiene items are double and even triple-bagged using opaque brown paper so that no one will be the wiser. I now present to you a brief rundown of some of my favorite konbini foods. There are tons more, but these are some of the first things that popped into my head.
Special dishes known as osechi-ryouri (御節料理 or お節料理) are served on New Year’s in Japan. Large stackable boxes known as juubako (重箱) hold the food, and the dishes can stay good for several days since osechi are traditionally eaten through January 3rd. Cooking was finished by New Year’s Eve since long ago it was forbidden to cook during the first three days of the new year. These days, many people purchase osechi in stores since the cooking process is long and difficult, and waiting lists for some of the most popular or well-made kinds begin in October. Each osechi dish has a special meaning for the new year, whether it be for long life or a good harvest. More information can be found here.
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for junk food. Since living in New York, my consumption of fast food has gone up dramatically, despite the wide array of quality food here. Now I’m not advocating that you visit McDonald’s or any of these other restaurants while in Japan, but sometimes you just gotta eat. Here is a list of some of the major differences you’ll find between your US fast food place and that same burger joint in Japan.
One of the most obvious differences between American and Japanese fast food is the size of the portions. Burgers tend to be much smaller, and though you can still order a quarter-pounder or Big Mac in Japan, they aren’t first and foremost on the menu.
Pictured on the left here is my favorite type of fast food burger in Japan – the teriyaki burger (here, the Teriyaki Mac Burger – てりやきマックバーガー). The sweet sauce works well with the meat, though I could do without the huge blob of mayonnaise on top. Japanese mayonnaise, made with apple cider or rice vinegar instead of distilled vinegar, will become a common theme in this post. It’s an extremely popular condiment in Japan, appearing on everything from salad (as a dressing all by itself) to french fries to pizza. On the right is the Filet-o-Shrimp (えびフィレオ), which is shrimp formed into a breaded patty, then fried.
Here we have a concept similar to the McSalad Shaker, but in chicken nugget form. It’s called Shaka-Shaka Chicken (シャカシャカチキン), and the idea is you pour the flavoring packet into a bag with the large nugget, shake, and then eat. Flavors include lemon (pictured here), black pepper, and cheese.
McDonald’s in Japan used to have the Mega Mac, which was a Big Mac with 4 patties. Also included in the promotion was the Mega Tamago (3 patties, 1 fried egg) and the Mega Tomato (3 patties, 1 large tomato slice). Though popular, they don’t seem to be on the menu at the moment. In addition to fries, you can also order a side of sweet corn or a bacon and potato pie (which sounds pretty tasty, actually). I also got a kick out of a little listing at the very bottom of the menu that says, “Smile: Free of charge.” While reading the menu in Japanese in Kyoto, I muttered that out loud to myself, and the cashier flashed me a HUGE smile as a demonstration. Somehow I can’t imagine that happening in NYC.
Burger King in Japan honestly seems pretty similar to the US version, though they do have a Teriyaki Whopper. Well, and there’s also the alcohol prominently advertised on their website.
Fries, onion rings, or chicken fingers with a Heineken for 500 yen? Well, okay then! You can also substitute any soft drink included with a meal with a Heineken for 150 yen. I know that beer at fast food places isn’t a big deal in most of the world, but it’s still pretty unusual for America (well, except for Chipotle and their Coronas).
Ah, and here is my favorite fast food burger place in Japan, though it isn’t American in the slightest. MOS Burger has slightly smaller portions and is more expensive, but the higher-quality ingredients make their food taste much better. Not only do they have teriyaki burgers, but you can also get them topped with sauteed vegetables, mushrooms, and melted cheese. Their milkshakes are also really good, though some of their more unusual items are the MOS Rice Burgers.
Pictured here is the MOS Rice Seafood Burger (海鮮かきあげ) which has a thick, taco-like shell made from a grilled rice patty. The filling is a mixture of shrimp, squid, scallops, onions, carrots, and edamame.
And this here is Melon Soda, which can be found at any fast food restaurant in Japan, including MOS Burger. It is bright green, insanely sweet, and 100% delicious.
KFC is the place to be in Japan on Christmas. No, seriously. Christmas has few if any religious connotations in Japan, and it’s often a time to celebrate with your friends rather than family. For one reason or another, perhaps because of the Colonel’s resemblance to Santa, a bucket of fried chicken has become the preferred holiday meal for families nation-wide. In fact, you probably need to make reservations to eat there. In front of every Japanese KFC is a life-sized statue of the Colonel which is frequently dressed up depending on the season, including Christmas. Menu items are fairly similar to the US version, though there is also a selection of fried fish such as the new Pink Salmon Sandwich.
Well, I could frankly have a post just on Japanese pizza alone. Common toppings include mayo (in place of tomato sauce), corn, shrimp, squid, and even seaweed. At Pizza Hut in Japan, crusts stuffed with cheese are still all the rage, though they’ve upped the ante by making crusts out of hot dogs. Seen above is a particularly crazy one with hamburgers as toppings, and a half hot dog, half cheese-stuffed roll crust.
Subway in Japan has some of the familiar sandwiches, but also some interesting ones like shrimp and avocado, and hot dog subs. Sandwich toppings also include basil mayonnaise and a kind of wasabi dressing. I see no evidence of 500 yen footlongs on their website, though.
(For more information on where these recipes came from and more Japanese cooking vocabulary, check out my previous posts for Yellowtail Teriyaki, Cashew Chicken, Roast Chinjao, Tonkatsu, and Sweet Potatoes!)
The last recipe featured a dish you could make with ingredients found in any American grocery store, but this one would probably require a trip to a Japanese grocery store or other specialty Asian market. But it might be worth it to make your own homemade, nutritious miso soup! The Nintendo DS game this was translated from had a few varieties of miso soup, but this seemed like one of the most classic. Enjoy!
豆腐となめこのもそ汁 – Miso Soup with Tofu and Mushrooms
Yield: 4 servings
|120 g momen tofu (coarse-grained tofu) (4.23 oz)||木綿どうふ １２０ｇ|
|100 g nameko mushrooms (3.53 oz)||なめこ １００ｇ|
|1 bunch scallions||細ねぎ １本|
|4 cups dashi-jiru (bonito and kelp stock, sold in pouches in Japanese food stores)||だし汁 ４カップ|
|2 and 2/3 Tbsp shinshu miso (yellow miso paste)||信州みそ 大さじ２と２/３|
Mince the scallions finely, then set aside. Drain the tofu, then cut into 1.5 cm cubes.
Boil some water in a small saucepan, then add the nameko mushrooms. Allow them to steam for only a short time (the Japanese recipe says “until moistened with steam”), then quickly drain the water in a collander. Divide the mushrooms among four soup bowls and set aside.
In a large pot, add 4 cups dashi-jiru and the cubed tofu, then turn on the heat and boil until the tofu cubes begin to float and bob on the surface. Add the shinshu miso, then lower the heat to a simmer. Add the scallions, then remove from heat.
Pour the dashi and tofu soup over the mushrooms in each bowl, then serve.
|なめこ||nameko||Japanese nameko mushrooms. Can be found in specialty Asian grocery stores.|
|細ねぎ||hosonegi||Scallions (literally “thin onions”). I’ve also seen this translated as “thin leeks.” The images on the recipe show mostly the green parts being used.|
|だし汁||dashi-jiru||Concentrated kelp and bonito stock that can be bought as a powder, or as a paste in a pouch in Japanese grocery stores. The recipe is referring to 4 cups of the broth made from this mix.|
|信州みそ||shinshu miso||Shinshu miso paste, also known as yellow miso paste. It is light brown in color and salty, and is usually sold in small plastic tubs.|
|ふっとうする||futtou suru||To boil|
|沸く||waku||To boil; grow hot|
|湯通しする||yudooshi suru||To moisten with steam|
|浮く||uku||To float; rise to the surface|
After 11 people were poisoned by pufferfish in Toyama last week, I thought I would take some time to talk about the full fugu (河豚 – blowfish, pufferfish) dinner in Japan.
My host mother just recently returned from such a meal, thankfully unharmed. What can you expect at such a pricey dinner? The full fugu experience can cost upwards of $200, so here is a guide to make sure you know what you’re getting into.
|Tessa (てっさ): Fugu sashimi
Raw fugu sashimi (刺身) is a delicacy, and is displayed like a work of art. The meat is sliced so thin that you can see the plate underneath.
|Karaage (空揚げ): Fried
Karaage is a term for all manner of fried foods, but here we have fried fugu. The taste of fugu has been compared to frog’s legs, so frying doesn’t seem like a bad match!
|Yaki-fugu (焼き河豚): Grilled fugu
Nothing like fugu over an open flame. As long as it isn’t full of deadly neurotoxin.
|Nabe (なべ): Stew or hotpot
As covered in my nabemono post, many different kinds of foods can be served in a hotpot, and fugu is no exception. This is the dish that did people in last week, by the way. At the end when there is only broth left, you can add cooked rice (gohan – ご飯) and egg (tamago – 卵) to make a kind of fugu risotto. Tasty!
|Hire (ひれ): Fin
In one of the more bizarre ways to eat fugu, you can make a flavored sake known as hire-zake (ひれ酒) with the grilled fin of a fugu. It is all served hot, and after drinking the sake, eating the fin is optional.
|Shirako (白子): Fish sperm
And here we have the only kind of fugu that I have personally sampled. Shirako (literally, “white children”) is the soft roe or milt of various fish, though pictured here is that of fugu. I’ve also seen it translated as “sperm sack.” Charming. The taste was actually not terrible, though I had no idea what I was eating at the time. I can still hear my host father trying to explain to me what it was in English while dining at a very fancy restaurant. His cries of “It’s SPERM!” echoed off the walls. Slightly embarassing.
Did you read about Fall foods in Japan yet? If you have, you’ll notice that the first food listed is sweet potatoes. Have you ever wondered how to make them into a dessert, Japanese style? Read on and learn how!
スイートポテト – Sweet Potatoes
Yield: 4 servings
|400 g sweet potatoes (0.88 lb or 14.1 oz)||さつまいも ４００ｇ|
|32 g butter (about 2.5 Tbsp)||バター ３２ｇ|
|60 g granulated sugar (about 1/3 cup)||グラニュー糖 ６０ｇ|
|4 Tbsp whole milk||牛乳 大さじ４|
|Dash of salt||塩 少々|
|2 egg yolks (divided)||卵黄 １個分＋１個分|
|1 Tbsp dark rum||ラム酒 大さじ１|
|A little bit of water||水 少々|
Preheat oven to 180°C (356°F). Peel the sweet potatoes, then cut into rounds 3 cm in width. Place the sliced potatoes into a bowl of water as you cut them, then drain when ready to proceed to the next step.
Fill a saucepan with plenty of water, then put in the potatoes and heat until the water is boiling. When they can be easily pierced with a chopstick or fork, remove from heat and drain the hot water.
While the potatoes are still hot in the drained saucepan, quickly crush them until they are broken up into small pieces. Add the 32 g of butter and mix well. Then add the 4 Tbsp of milk, 60 g granulated sugar, and salt, then heat on low heat. While stirring constantly, let the moisture evaporate, and mash until the potatoes become smooth.
Quickly cool the potatoes by placing the hot saucepan into a bowl of ice water. When they have cooled a bit, add one of the egg yolks and 1 Tbsp rum, then mix well.
Lay down some parchment paper on a flat surface like a counter or table. Divide the sweet potato dough into four equal sections and place on the paper. Form each into a football-like shape by wrapping them in the parchment, then using a dish towel on the outside of the wrapper to manipulate the hot dough.
In a small bowl, put in the other egg yolk and add a little water, then mix. Place the football-shaped sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then lightly brush the tops with the egg mixture.
Put the baking sheet on the top rack in the oven, which should be between 180-200°C (356-392°F). For two potato shapes, bake for 15-20 minutes. For 4, bake for 20-25 minutes. When the tops dry out after baking, take the potatoes out of the oven and brush with the egg mixture once more. Then put them back in the oven for 2-3 minutes. When the tops have browned, they are ready to be taken out of the oven and served.
(Note: Japanese dessert sweet potatoes are often served with a bit of honey on top.)
|はかり||hakari||Scale (ie. Cooking scale)|
|オーブンシート||oobun shiito||Parchment paper|
|ふきん||fukin||Dish towel; dish rag|
|ハケ||hake||Brush (here, refers to a cooking or pastry brush)|
|たっぷり||tappuri||Fully; amply; generously|
|つぶす||tsubusu||To crush; smash; mash|
|氷水||koori mizu||Ice water|
|敷く||shiku||To spread; lay out|
|溶きほぐす||toki-hogusu||To scramble (an egg)|
|表面||hyoumen||The surface; face; ouside; exterior|
|上段||joudan||The upper row, tier, step, or rack|
Sushi is a delicacy in Japan, and probably the most famous Japanese food in America. Whenever anyone hears sushi, they think of raw fish, and how adventurous (and healthy) it must be to eat fish uncooked. No one ever thinks it might be dangerous.
The one exception to this is blowfish. To anyone who’s ever lived in Japan or thought about going there, blowfish is famous for its borderline poisonous properties. All restaurants that carry blowfish need special chefs to prepare the fish just right, and if it’s not prepared correctly it can potentially be poisonous. Everyone tries blowfish because of the potential danger and of course unique taste, but no expects to actually get poisoned.
Both the Yomiuri and the Asahi reported on the Blowfish (fugu in Japanese) poisoning incident:
Asahi: “Toyama: poisoned while eating blowfish nabe, 2 people in critical condition” On the evening of the 23rd, 11 people were eating blowfish nabe at Kozushi, a sushi restaurant in Toyama Prefecture. 9 of those people exhibited symptoms of poison and were rushed to the hospital, and 2 people were rendered unconscious.
According to the Asahi, there were about 21 people eating blowfish nabe that night. 11 people were admitted to a nearby medical facility, with symptoms such as having trouble breathing. The cause of people’s sickness was that the part of the blowfish that is poisonous was not completely removed, according to the poison control center at the facility. The sushi chef who prepared the blowfish did have his sushi license.
Yomiuri: “Toyama: 2 people rendered unconscious by poisonous blowfish nabe” Compared with the Asahi, the Yomiuri dramatized the incident of the poisoning blowfish. They said the 11 people emitting symptoms of poison were rushed to 3 nearby hospitals. The symptoms of poison were not only shortness of breath, but also people’s mouths and faces going numb.
The Yomiuri also mentioned that the blowfish prepared that morning was from a different fish market than what is usually purchased. The Yomiuri, along with the Asahi, pointed out that the sushi chef who prepared the blowfish did have his license.
Nikkei: Swine Flu’s dismal statistics The Nikkei did not report on the poison blowfish incident this morning but instead ran a headline about the swine flu in Japan and its dismal statistics. According to the Nikkei, when looking at the ministry of Health and Human Welfare’s website, “1 in 14 people in Japan have been infected with the swine flu.” In regards to deaths, they said “1 in 14,000 will be killed by the swine flu.”
Nabe (or nabemono 鍋物, なべ物), is a type of Japanese one-pot dish where a big pot is heated in the middle of the table, and the diners cook the food themselves. Nabe is usually served during the colder fall and winter months when families and friends gather together and share a big stew.
There are several different varieties depending on the ingredients added, and where in Japan the recipe originated. One of the most well-known types in the US is sukiyaki (すき焼き), which consists of thinly sliced beef along with many vegetables and tofu and is boiled in a teriyaki-like sauce of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. The ingredients are then dipped in beaten raw eggs before being eaten. At the end, udon or soba noodles can be added to soak up the flavorful broth.
Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ, literally meaning “swish swish”) is very similar to sukiyaki, though the broth is more savory than sweet. The broth may just be water, or else lightly flavored with konbu (seaweed). Ingredients are then dipped in ponzu (see below) or sesame sauce.
Oden (おでん) is another variety where food can be added at any time instead of only at the beginning. Ingredients in addition to the ones below may include boiled eggs, carrots, potatoes, green onions, and more.
Common Nabemono Ingredients:
A large, mild radish native to East Asia. It can be eaten raw, cooked, pickled, or grated.
A tart, citrus-based sauce used for dipping ingredients in shabu-shabu or other dishes. It is made with mirin, rice vinegar, katsuobushi, konbu, and citrus juice (such as yuzu [like a grapefruit], sudachi, daidai [a bitter orange], kabosu, or lemon).
Dried, fermented, and smoked flakes of skipjack tuna, also known as bonito. It’s often used to make dashi (fish stock), and as a topping for many Japanese foods.
Edible kelp seaweed often used to make dashi soup stock in Japan. It can be pickled, dried, and even made into tea (which tastes like the ocean to me).
Fish or meat balls (if meat, usually chicken). The fish balls I’ve had have been gray and sometimes disturbingly crunchy (bones, fins, and eyes are all included). They are often featured in some miso soups as well.
Often seared or grilled, but sometimes just boiled raw in the pot.
Edible crysanthemum greens. It’s often used in Cantonese cuisine, but is popular in Japan as well.
Common Japanese mushroom used in many dishes. Can be dried, sauteed, or boiled. Usually only the caps are used.
Also known as enoki, these are available fresh or canned.
A type of thin buckwheat-flour noodle. They are often served chilled in summer and hot in winter. Can be made into many different kinds of soup.
A type of thick wheat-flour noodle. Like soba, these are often served cold in summer and hot in winter. Can be a part of many kinds of soup dishes, depending on the toppings.
Processed fish cakes made from varieties of whitefish and additives like MSG. Spiral-shaped loaves are often called “naruto” after the Japanese city which has a well-known whirlpool. The white fish paste is called surimi (擂り身), and is also present in fake crab in the US.
Another surimi product made with salt, sugar, starch, and egg whites along with the fish.
A mottled gray, firm gelatin-like substance which is mostly flavorless. The blocks can be cut into thin noodles and used in oden or sukiyaki. The gel itself is made from plants.
More Nintendo cooking, and once again we have a rather Chinese dish, but it’s very well-known in Japan. Next time I will feature something more traditionally Japanese. Any requests? We’ve gotten through a lot of cooking words with the past two recipes, so if you see words here you don’t recognize, check back in the links posted above. With that said, let’s get cooking!
チンジャオロース – Roast Chinjao
Yield: 4 servings
|200 g thinly sliced beef||牛肉（網焼き用） ２００ｇ|
|2 tsp + 1 Tbsp soy sauce||しょうゆ 小さじ２＋大さじ１|
|1 tsp + 1 Tbsp sake||酒 小さじ１＋大さじ１|
|2 tsp potato starch (corn starch is fine)||片栗粉 小さじ２|
|1 tsp + 1/2 tsp sesame oil||ゴマ油 小さじ１＋小さじ１/２|
|4 green bell peppers||ピーマン ４個|
|4 cm green onion||白ねぎ ４ｃｍ長さ|
|1 1/3 cm fresh ginger||しょうが ２/３片|
|2 cloves garlic||にんにく ２片|
|1 Tbsp oyster sauce||オイスターソース 大さじ１/４|
|1/2 Tbsp sugar||砂糖 大さじ１/２|
|Dash of pepper||こしょう 少々|
|1 Tbsp water||水 大さじ１|
|4 tsp salad oil||サラダ油 小さじ４|
De-seed and core the bell pepper, then slice lengthwise into thin strips. Mince the 4 cm green onion finely. Peel the 1 1/3 cm fresh ginger, then mince finely. Peel the 2 cloves of garlic, then mince finely. Set aside.
Cut the 200 g thinly sliced beef into narrow strips. Place the beef in a bowl, then cover with 2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sake, and 2 tsp potato starch. Mix well. Pour 1 tsp sesame oil into the center of the meat, then set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together 1 Tbsp sake, 1 Tbsp oyster sauce, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1/2 Tbsp sugar, dash of pepper, 1/2 tsp sesame oil, and 1 Tbsp water. Set aside.
Add 2 tsp salad oil to a frying pan and set on high heat. Add the beef and stir until it’s color changes to brown. Place on a plate and set aside.
Add 2 tsp salad oil to a frying pan and set on medium heat. Add the green onion, ginger, and garlic, then cook until they begin to smell strongly. Add the bell pepper and stir, then add the beef again. Add the soy sauce mixture from before, then turn the heat to high. Stir until most of the sauce is gone, then transfer to a plate and enjoy.
|片栗粉||katakuriko||Potato starch (very much like corn starch)|
|白ねぎ||shironegi||Green onion (though literally “white onion” in Japanese)|
|こしょう||koshou||Pepper (can refer to black or white, but is usually black)|
|みじん切りにする||mijin kiri ni suru||To cut finely; mince|
|さいばし||saibashi||Long chopsticks for cooking and serving food|
|手早くほぐす||tebayaku hogusu||To quickly loosen or separate (here, used to decribe quickly stirring the meat in the pan)|
|香り||kaori||Smell; scent; aroma; fragrance|
America has some favorite fall foods like pumpkins and candy apples, and Japan is no different with certain dishes and ingredients strongly associated with autumn. How many have you tried?
|Satsuma-imo (薩摩芋): Sweet potato
These are very similar to yams, though the flesh is softer and the inside is more yellow than orange. The outside is often purplish in color, and satsuma-imo are often used in tempura or candied as a dessert (pictured). In Kyoto, I often heard the loud, broadcasted voice of the yaki-imo (焼芋 – baked sweet potato) man as his truck passed down the street during the fall evenings. A recipe for a sweet potato dessert can be found here.
|Kuri (栗): Chestnuts
Though more associated with winter in the US, in Japan chestnuts are very much an autumn food. They can be roasted, boiled, or cooked with rice to make kuri-gohan. The related maron (マロン) chestnuts are mostly used in desserts.
|Matsutake (松茸): Matsutake mushrooms
Matsutake are a type of very expensive pine mushroom in Japan. They usually grow under the fallen leaves of certain varieties of pine tree, which makes harvesting a very painstaking process. As such, these mushrooms, like truffles, are quite pricey. The cost has gone up even more due to a pine nematode decimating the population of the necessary domestic trees in the past 50 years or so. High-grade matsutake grown in Japan can be up to $909/lb, though imported mushrooms average at $41/lb. In comparison, black truffles are usually $127-383/lb and white truffles are $2200-1000/lb (according to Wikipedia). Matsutake can be cooked with rice, put in soup, steamed, fried in tempura, and much more.
|Kaki (柿): Persimmon
Japanese kaki are most widely cultivated persimmons in the world. The sweet fruit can be eaten raw once ripe, or dried for later.