Archive for the ‘Food & drink’ Category

Next stop: French toast?

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

So what is it with Japanese and “konamono sweets” (sweets made out of flour)?  Be it crepes, doughnuts, waffles or honey toast, they seem to move up and down the trend chart on a fairly regular basis.

French Toast

Prosciutto and pickles top this French toast at Yocco’s in Nakano.

Over the past few years, upmarket and imported pancakes have been a booming food trend in Japan. Some of the more famous outlets, such as the chic Australian chain bills or the more down-to-earth Hawaiian Eggs ’n Things, are still attracting long lines of pancake lovers. Perhaps the best illustration of pancake mania came this past May in the form of a mobile app called Minna no Pankeiki-bu (Everybody’s Pancake Club), which allowed users to locate the closest flapjack cafe.

While the usual syrup-and-butter variety is still a mainstay, variations far off that theme are emerging. Anyone up for pancakes covered in hiyashi chūka (cold Chinese noodles) or shirasu (baby fish and radish)? Anyone at all?

Keep in mind, there is a precedent here for this flour power: okonomiyaki, the savory pancake-like dish made popular in Kansai, has its origins in  an Edo Period item called sukesoyaki, which consisted on a pancakes and a sweet bean (anko) paste.

While it’s hard to say whether the days of the pancake renaissance are numbered, we couldn’t help but notice the rising popularity of another Western breakfast favorite: French toast.

The new trend is all about shokuji French toast —  it’s a meal, not a dessert.  While French toast isn’t new to Japan, “Haru and Haru” called itself  Tokyo’s first french toast cafe when it opened in May last year. Not long after that came Sarabeth’s, a breakfast restaurant from New York,  famous for “fat and fluffy” French toast.” A 30-minute wait to get in isn’t uncommon.

Lobros relaunched its cafes this past March as Yocco’s French Toast Café, with locations in Jiyugaoka, Kichijoiji and Nakano. Yocco’s serves both a sweet and savory versions, with emphasis on the latter. If you’re adventuresome, you might want to try with a tall glass of cauliflower juice.

In Tokyo’s Yurakucho, the Cafe Chou Chou serves daily non-sweet “pain perdu” (French toast in French). If you’re looking for savory French toast for less than ¥1,000, try Pain Petit Pas in Harajuku. For lunch it serves French toast topped with cured bacon and smoked salmon.

Will shokuji French toast rise the heights of the pancakes and crepes? It’s hard to say. We’ll keep our eye out for an app called Minna no furenchi-tosuto-bu . .  .  hope no one decides to combine them with hiyashi chūka?

The last of the McDonald’s Jewelry

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Since we enjoy finishing what we start, here is our report on the third Jewelry Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s, the Ruby Spark…

My favorite number!

My favorite number!

Given our past experiences getting the Gold Ring and the Black Diamond,  I figured I could saunter down to the neighborhood McD’s around 10:30 and pick up this new one-day-only premium burger, no sweat. In reality, it required a lot of sweat, because when I showed up an employee came and said if I was hoping to get the ¥1,000 burger that the line cut off with the guy directly in front of me.

Shock and despair clouded my mind as I raced for the nearest subway station. I could think of any number of McDonald’s locations, but which one would be sure to have the goods? If my local and not-terribly-major location was sold out, could the entire country have run out? In less than 10 minutes?

If I felt a little silly getting off the train after one stop, I felt even sillier sprinting through the station; just imagine what people would think of me if they knew I was rushing in order to buy a McDonald’s hamburger!

The humiliation paid off. I received a number in a rather convoluted line (some people had cups with numbers written on them, others had plastic cards like me; numbers were not necessarily called in order), while anyone who showed up even a few minutes later was out of luck.

Continue reading about the Ruby Spark →

Tweet Beat: #孤独のグルメ

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The Twitter Japan blog releases a list of top hashtags for each week. Tweet Beat investigates the buzz behind the hashtag.

With eel, I don’t really feel like I want to eat it all that often, but sure enough, when I see Goro eating it, I get a bizarre craving.

The #夜食テロ (“late-night eating terror,” a nickname lovingly applied by those who fear for their metabolisms, and embraced by the show) is back! The third season of manga-turned-drama #孤独のグルメ (“The Solitary Gourmand”) premiered July 10 and got more buzz on Twitter than #ショムニ (“‘Shomuni’ 2013″), a manga-based sitcom about office ladies, returning after a 10-year hiatus. However, Goro’s enjoyment of various eel dishes in this episode did not engage Twitter users quite as much as either the Friday Roadshow broadcast of Studio Ghibli’s #平 狸合戦ぽんぽこ (aka #ぽんぽこ, “Pom Poko” as it’s known in English) or the premieres of summer anime #watamote (“No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular”) and #kaminomi (“The World Only God Knows: Goddesses).

As in Masayuki Kusumi and Jiro Taniguchi’s manga, Goro Inogashira (played by Yutaka Matsushige on TV) takes himself out for quiet meals when he’s not working and just eats whatever he feels like.

My wife seems to equate Yutaka Matsushige with yakuza or murderer roles, so while we’re watching “The Solitary Gourmand” she’s sitting next to me saying stuff like, “He must be hungry since he killed about three people today on no breakfast,” or “There must be a weapon built in to the tip of that umbrella and any minute now he’s gonna . . . ” So obnoxious.

The fun thing about the show is that Goro eats at real restaurants. Fans like eating along.

They’re lining up outside the Akabane eel restaurant that Goro went to yesterday.

Apparently, this week’s destination, Kawaei, was overrun after the episode aired. It was quickly booked up and has been selling out of its signature dishes quickly.

This is when it’s cool to be the other kind of “solitary gourmand” — the kind who cooks along.

これでいいのか、鰻のオムレツ。 #鰻 #うなぎ #孤独のグルメ

Is this good enough? Eel omelet. — @kojuroko

Pulsations (07.19.13)

Friday, July 19th, 2013

What’s in a Japanese Woman’s Purse? Let’s Look Inside! (from Tofugu): Phone, check. Day planner, check. Face-blotting paper, check. Shout-out to Tofogu’s intern, Rachel, for a great read on what lies in the depths of a Japanese woman’s bag.

On Getting by in Japan (Without Speaking Japanese) (from This Japanese Life): The author of this post wishes he could have read this upon arriving in Japan two months back. Plenty of helpful tips for the less fluent among us gaijin.

Japanese Tattoo Stockings (from Spoon & Tamago): Tattoo taboo is notrious in Japan, so several companies have rolled out a new variety of temporary ink. Designs of origami cranes, mirror frames and other images can give you the edgy look without the all the pain and shame.

Is Sushi ‘Healthy’? (from Just Hungry): A lunch set from your favorite sushi joint could cost you ¥1,000 and nearly as many calories.

Shigeru Ban Wins Competition to Design ‘Cite Musicale’ in Paris (from DesignBoom): Japanese architect Shigeru Ban just won the design competition for a revitalization project in southwest Paris. The compelling design is slated for completion in 2016.

SDF: Looking for a Few Good Women — to Date (from Japan Real Time): The nation’s Self-Defense Force has plenty of bachelors who are single and ready to mingle. Finding that man in uniform may not be so tough, after all.

Google Tour of Hashima Island (from Google Street View): A coal-mining facility for nearly a century, the haunting haikyo of Hashima was made famous with the release of last year’s mega-hit “Skyfall,” which used the island as locational inspiration for several scenes.

Visual Pulse

This vibrant music video for pop artist Cuushe’s “Airy Me” comes to life through 3,000 hand-drawn sketches. (Don’t watch if you’re disturbed by illustrated entrails.)

Konbini Raiders: The lesser-known cousins of Popin’ Cookin’ Sushi

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Japan is known as one of the culinary capitals of the world, but at the opposite end of Michelin stars you get dagashi (da: low quality, gashi: candy). Dagashi has been around since Edo times as an alternative to fancy delicacies and ranging from the traditional (dried persimmon) to modern (fizzy cotton candy), and is marketed directly to children who have a few pennies to burn. The kiddier, the better.

Kracie, a company that produces food, as well as toiletry, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, excels at creating what they call “Educational Candy,” the just-add-water type creations that tickle children and adults alike. The line boasts the YouTube-infamous candy sushi and many other creepy concoctions.

In March this year they renewed one such candy, Dodotto Tsubupyon, a jelly-ball candy that’s dispensed from an octopus-shaped device, complete with a fizzing dipping foam. The climax of the process, documented in the video above, was the creation of the jelly balls, which looked a bit like pink frog eggs, if such a thing existed.

Although all these odd treats may seem like a fad, Kracie’s freaky foods are not that recent of a development. Nerunerunerune, a sugary foam candy that makes you wonder if they developed it in the same lab as their shampoos, was first sold in 1986 and is considered a classic for Japanese kids today. To introduce you to the granddaddy of the frankenfood family and its popular descendant, we rustled up a batch and fed it to our colleagues.

Intern Eric grimaced after tasting the foam and uttered a single “Uh-uh” while shaking his head. “I didn’t enjoy the texture or the taste,’’ he said later. ”The purple concoction was foamy and supersweet, with some sort of unidentifiable fake flavor. When combined with the crystals in the other compartment, the sugar factor became way over the top. I’d say I have a sweet tooth, but this one was too much for me to handle.”

Another fellow intern, Natasha, took a nervous bite and immediately exclaimed, “It hurts! This is acid! I thought Japanese people were health-conscious. Why do they put this in their systems?”

Being the responsible person that I am, I too sampled the shaving cream-like foam. The verdict on the purple blob is that it’s a flavor you’ll never miss.

Finally, we cooked up the cute little “Popin’ Cookin’” sushi, a modern candy classic. When we did a taste test however, we learned that the only thing that’s cute and little about them is the way they look.

Editor Shaun took a bite of the maguro sushi and, after a long thoughtful pause, said, “Because the sushi looked so real, I was expecting a maguro flavor. When it tasted sweet instead, I felt betrayed.”

Eric, who tried the tamagoyaki (cooked egg) sushi, said, “On first bite, the taste wasn’t bad. It was a lot like any other artificial, gummy candy. The texture is what got to me. The ‘rice’ wasn’t bad, but the ‘fish’ on top was a gooey, bizarre mess. I also couldn’t tell if the accompanying ‘soy sauce’ made a difference.”

Editor Andrew weighed in on the ikura (fish roe) sushi: “The ikura were like little bubbles of jelly and the nori had the texture of a stick of bubble gum. Tasted like gummy bears, but less chewy. Would have been more interesting if it did actually taste of sushi!”

If you want a glimpse of the Japanese childhood you never had, you can head to any convenience store or supermarket to find candy from the Kracie family (or outside Japan, try White Rabbit Japan‘s snack section). The packages say no preservatives or artificial coloring added, but bigger questions came to mind when the purple foam started fizzing in our mouths . . . If it’s not artificial, what’s in it? Because I’ve never seen that stuff on a farm.

Limited-edition burgers, ep. deux

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

For the second edition of McDonald’s “Jewelry” burger series, the company released the Black Diamond Quarter Pounder. While last week’s Gold Ring left us somewhat unimpressed, the Golden Arches’ latest was a different story. This time, a beef patty was sandwiched between two brioche buns, grilled onions and mushrooms, Emmental cheese and black truffle sauce. As before, the burger arrived gussied up in an oversize, ribbon-adorned bag. I could already smell that unmistakable truffle aroma. Inside, there were two pamphlets explaining the contents of this deluxe sandwich. The burger itself came in a foil-trimmed box.

The arrival

Uncovering the burger from its elaborate serving arrangement revealed a surprisingly appetizing aesthetic: melty cheese, symmetrical mushrooms and a nearly spherical bun. We’re talking darn close to the advertisements we’ve seen nearly everywhere with Mr. Honda encouraging us to “BITE!” Continue reading about the Black Diamond →

Japan by the numbers (07.11.13)

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

A Tale of Two Limited-Edition Burgers: Lotteria’s Twin and McD’s Gold Ring

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Limited-edition fast food campaigns are made to lure in people exactly like me. I just don’t really eat all that much McDonald’s. I’m not the kind of person who would rather starve than eat a flimsy cheeseburger, but I also need to avoid putting my system into salt shock by eating — what I admit — are pretty tasty fries.

The point for me is, when it comes to fast food, pursuing the novelty is the pleasure. Last week there were two very different novelties to pursue: Lotteria’s Twin Burger and the Gold Ring at McDonald’s.

It takes two

“Lotteria’s new Twin Burger is not to be confused with a double burger.” Rocketnews 24’s headline issued what to me was a clear challenge. “Not to be confused”? Why confuse a double burger with a sandwich that aligns a tartar-sauced, deep-fried shrimp patty with a two-tone cheeseburger on a long bun . . .  when you can make it a double burger.

Here is the curious oblong package you are handed at the register when you order the Twin Burger:

The partly unsheathed twin

The sheathed Twin

You could eat it like this and get the same 801 calories, but what fun would that be?

The unsheathed Twin

The unsheathed Twin

And so, armed with a straw, I began the dismantling process:

L2.5

Soon, a new, more formidable burger emerged:

photo-1

Quite frankly, I was intimidated. For starters, it was going to be hard to get it in my mouth without getting tartar sauce and cheddar grease everywhere. And then even once I managed to do that, what would it taste like?

“It has flavors,” I managed, after the first bite.

photo-2

“Actually, it works fine. Surprisingly edible.”

And that’s when it dawned on me I had basically created a fast food surf  ‘n’ turf burger. In a way, it was anti-climatic.

The worst part was the aftertaste, but that has zero to do with whether you eat it horizontally or vertically. Unlike our next contender, the Twin is available through the end of the month (July 31), and for one coin (¥500) at that, so if you feel inspired to try this union of two popular Lotteria burgers, head on over. However, it would be a mistake to take this post as a recommendation.

Put a ring on it

On July 6, McDonald’s launched its one-day-only premium Quarter Pounder “Jewelry” series with the Gold Ring: a kaiser roll just barely wrangling two colossal slabs of smoky bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a quarter pound of beef, and the gold ring itself, a round of pineapple. The slathering of BBQ sauce, featuring over 10 spices, makes this stack a slick mess. That said, it was quite the production number.

McDonald’s president Eiko Harada was quoted, “Other companies might be able to develop the same quality of food, but they can’t offer it at the price, scale or speed that McDonald’s can.”

Regardless of your thoughts on the rest of that statement, when ever-ready intern Eric and I descended on my local McDonald’s on Saturday we laid a flavor foundation picking at our fries for well over 10 minutes before our burgers finally came, so I’m not entirely sure if that was the speed he is referring to. In any case, they did  arrive (two of the 24 the location was prepared to purvey) with a bow and a prompt to examine the included documentation. The illustration on the card below was probably the best part of the whole meal.

The invitation

The invitation

Out of the bags, into the boxes. First slide obi-like wrapper off, then life the box lid up, remove the inner wrap:

The deboxing

The deboxing

The bacon made us shudder in terror. Neither of us were able to eat it all.

photo-9

Thick enough?

I had Eric take the first bite:

Digging in.

“My first impression of the thing was pretty good,” he said. “The smoky bacon, soft Monterrey Jack and tangy BBQ sauce combined well. A few bites in, however, and certain ingredients got overwhelming. Notably, the bacon and pineapple. The former was just way too thick. I had to remove several pieces to get through the sandwich. And the pineapple made the burger tough to eat and was too sweet alongside the already sugary sauce.”

photo-11

Inside the Ring

Allow me to loudly proclaim ditto on the bacon. These shields of pork can only be called such since they come from the same area of the pig’s belly. It’s really too bad, because I think the sandwich could have benefited from the crisp that (what many would argue) “properly” fried bacon would have brought. The sauce was less sweet than feared and even had a bit of kick thanks to those 10+ spices.

As Eric walked away, he said, “I’m a little disappointed in the Golden Arches,” but I felt nothing. The utter lack of necessity, combined with a flavor that ended up still tasting somehow like McDonald’s despite being completely new, bred neither love nor hate.

This food was not only fast but fleeting. July 6 was supposedly the only day the Gold Ring would be available, but Black Diamond day is coming up fast. Adventurous eaters ready for McDonald’s spin on a truffle burger should mark their calendars for this Saturday, July 13.

Watch this space.

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