Archive for the ‘Food & drink’ Category

J-blip: Ramen cake

Friday, March 1st, 2013

At Machi no Kumasan (“The Town Bear”) bakery in Takasaki, they’ve recently added ramen, soba and pork katsu to their menu. That’s right, a bakery. A closer look shows the dishes are actually sweets made of pudding, chocolate and creamy Mont Blanc chestnut paste cunningly shaped to look like savory dishes. Not surprisingly, they’ve gone viral on the web.

We called Ken Ichikawa, the bakery’s head chef, to get the sweet low-down. “I wondered if we could make a cake that looked exactly like the ramen on instant noodle packages,” he said. Obviously, it was a success since many customers are fooled by the lovingly crafted details … from the ramen noodles in the glassy soup to the slices of pork (chashu) sitting on top.

Even Ichikawa himself says he is amused when a customer comes in and orders a ramen. “It’s a funny thing to hear that in a bakery, no?” he says with a laugh. The ramen cake is the same size as a regular bowl of ramen, about 18 cm across. Ichikawa says that on busy days, they make about 40 of them a day.

Ichikawa says he’s thinking of ending the ramen cakes at the end of the month. As for the next surprise, Ichikwawa said, “That’s a secret.”

Machi no Kumasan is at 1436-2 Minami Oorui Takasaki-shi, Gunma-ken

The bird is the latest word in animal cafes

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eurasian_Eagle-Owl_Maurice_van_Bruggen.JPG

Whooo would like a cup of coffee?

 

For feline fanciers who aren’t allowed to keep pets at home, Japan has no end of cat cafes. But now bird lovers of a feather can also flock together at Tokyo’s new wave of cafes that host birds of prey. According to Daily Portal, this burgeoning trend started with Café Little Zoo in Chiba. A cafe that houses not only a number of owls and hawks outside its doors, but also reptiles within. Visitors to the cafe get to hold and pet the animals under the supervision of staff. The cafe is now so busy that groups of four or more are advised to make reservations.

Tori no Iru Cafe

Tori no Iru Cafe — where the birds are

Also taking reservations due to a flurry of recent media coverage is Tori no Iru cafe near Kiba station on the Tozai line. The shop is home to a Harris Hawk, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, parakeets, parrots and other birds.  Here too, customers are allowed to pet and hold the birds — while a staff member watches like a hawk, of course.

The manager, Ms. Toriyama,  opened the establishment after keeping birds as pets herself. Although she gushes in her  Daily Portal interview that owls are quiet and easy to take care of, a British charity called the Suffolk Owl sanctuary begs to differ. The sanctuary emphasizes that birds of prey are unpredictable creatures with sharp claws that do not take well to confined spaces. Indeed, according to the BBC, high numbers of owls were abandoned in the UK last year for just this reason, after the popularity of the Harry Potter films triggered a trend for keeping the birds as pets. All the more reason, perhaps, that owl-lovers might want to visit the birds instead of trying to keep them at home.

Fukuro no Mise (“owl shop”) near Tsukishima station has sweaters, cards and other goods shaped like or decorated with owls, as well as items to help you raise your very own owl at home. (However, the sanctuary recommends building an aviary to keep owls — we can’t help but wonder where a Tokyoite might find the space for one.) At Fukuro no Mise, just like at the other bird cafes, owls that have been raised in captivity to be docile can be held and petted for the price of a cup of coffee. Their talons are trimmed and their beaks are filed to reduce scratching.

At the Falconer’s Café in Mitaka, falconry enthusiasts bring their own birds to compare and contrast. The concept of this cafe is rather similar to dog cafes where dogs are not held captive within the cafe but brought along by their owners. Though Japan isn’t the most litigious of societies, bringing together small children and birds of prey doesn’t strike us as the brightest of ideas for a business. Smoothed claws aside, it might take just one nasty scratch or peck to ground this trend before it really takes flight — or at least to ruffle a few feathers.

Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.

J-blip: Face Chocolates

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Workshop to make chocolate doppelgangers, using a 3D scanner and printer, at FabCafe. Photo courtesy of FabCafe

Does it look like me? Workshop to make chocolate doppelgangers at FabCafe. Photo courtesy of FabCafe

Valentine’s Day is big business in Japan. We’ve seen a lot of confectionery one-upmanship, but nothing quite like FabCafe’s jibunsei chocolates (self-styled chocolates).

A chocolate replica of your own face might look more kimoi (creepy) than oishii (delicious), but for the 15 people who participated in a two-day workshop the week before Valentine’s Day, the draw was the experience: getting to test out the 3D scanner and printer used to make the silicon molds. The workshop cost ¥6000, or about twice as much as an overpriced box of Godiva. To see more pictures of the process click on the gallery below.

FabCafe, a café-cum-workspace (with a laser cutter you can rent by the hour—or use to burn your own Valentine’s designs into macarons), is run by Loftwork, an “innovation consultancy;” it is also downstairs from 3D printer showroom Cube. “We were brainstorming together about how the 3D-printing technology could appeal to consumers, when we hit on the idea of Valentine’s Day chocolates,” explained Loftwork PR rep Kazue Nakata.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is for women to give chocolate to men; men return the favor on White Day, March 14. FabCafe is planning similar workshops for men in March. They haven’t officially announced it yet, but keep your calendar open if you’ve always wondered what you or your man would look like as a Gummi Bear.

Check out FabCafe’s own report of the event (in Japanese) and more great photos here.

Today’s J-blip: Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Had enough fun playing with your food? For the times you find yourself having a meal alone and wishing for some virtual company, your solitude can now be relieved with the Anti-Loneliness Ramen Bowl.

Conceptualized by MisoSoupDesign, the dish comes with an in-built iPhone dock that gives you a hands-free way to do the things you’ve already been awkwardly trying to do with your phone as you slurp away. This could be the ideal resting spot for your virtual dinner date. The bowl was created after one of its designers, Minnie Jan, witnessed a man eating with one hand while browsing through his phone with the other, she told the New York Daily News. “We did it for fun — it’s kind of sarcastic,” the paper quoted her as saying. But we think there might be a market for it in Japan. As Japan Pulse has noted, plenty of Japanese diners eat alone, and there is no shortage of restaurants catering to them. These solo-friendly place settings would make a lot of sense in hitorisama establishments.

The bowls will come in black, white and red and the company is now accepting a limited number of orders via email (info@misosoupdesign.com) and Facebook. The price has yet to be announced, but they are expected to arrive around April or May. Whatever happened to simply savoring the experience of feeding the body, though? How about some tips on mindful eating? Yes, you can read them on your phone.

 

 

2012: Food and drink trends in Japan

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Whether it be moldy salt, lunch in a cup or frozen soup on a stick, the thriving Japanese food scene spawned a diverse array of surprising culinary wonders this year. Behind the fads, a pragmatic consciousness about healthy eating and a desire to economize were major factors affecting food and drink trends during 2012.

Eating out

According to Nikkei Trendy, the poor economy and the aging population have dealt blows to the high end of the restaurant trade. Enter the low-cost posh restaurant. Massively successful in 2012, a chain of restaurants run by Value Create is serving up top-end French and Italian food designed by “super chefs” in a bistro environment. There are now five “Ore no Itarian” (My Italian) and four “Ore no Furenchi” (My French) restaurants in the Ginza area. Meals cost around  ¥3,000 to  ¥4,000 per head, a huge saving compared to the ¥30,000 per head charged at the poshest restaurants. Nikkei Trendy says that other high-end restaurants are cutting costs and following suit.

A new casual restaurant called Tanita Shokudo turned up on Jiyu Kokuminsha’s 50 top buzzwords of 2012. Run by Tanita, a company that manufactures scales, this hugely popular restaurant in the Marunouchi area of Tokyo serves up the same menu — and nutritional advice — as the company’s own cafeteria to health-conscious customers. This year has also seen a revival of interest in restaurants serving yakuzen (Chinese medicinal) cuisine. Some of these restaurants also advise customers on what dishes might have a beneficial effect on their health. This is a trend we feel might spread in 2013.

Keeping trim

The inevitable diet fad surfaced in 2012 with the appearance of the tomato boom. It was kicked off by the publication of a study that appeared to indicate consuming large amounts of tomato juice would help alleviate metabolic syndrome. Though the trend has slowed somewhat, just as the notorious banana boom did, tomato sales stayed higher for longer than your typical fad.

Continuing on a health tip, one of the most successful new beverages to emerge in 2012 was a health drink — at least according to the Japanese government. Endorsed as the Japanese equivalent of a FOSHU (food for specified health use) by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency, Mets Cola sold so well that its manufacturer, Kirin, met its annual sales target in just two weeks. Popular with health-conscious men and women in their 30s to 40s, the cola contains an ingredient that helps reduce the absorption of fat. Other tokuho (health) drinks that deliver the fizzy pop experience without the calories have also been popular. The trend looks set to continue with more and more products gaining accreditation.

Spicing things up

Another versatile ingredient that’s still trending is koji salt. Combined with salt, koji, a domesticated fungus used in the production of miso, soy sauce and sake, can be used as a marinade that increases the umami (savory) flavors of meat or fish. It also turned up flavoring packaged foods like potato chips and drizzled on salads and grilled vegetables as a dressing at trendy restaurants. Following salt koji’s huge success, salty yogurt also enjoyed a mini boom with a number of cookery books utilizing this rather odd ingredient. Both savory sauces can be homemade, meshing with the trend toward cheaply producing food at home.

Taking it with you

Hot on the heels of the phenomenon of bento danshi (guys who bring a packed lunch to work), home-made lunch boxes continued to be popular in 2012. This time it was women who were behind a trend to pack their lunch into plastic tumblers. Colorful, versatile and fun, the trend for tumbler bento was also great for keeping portion sizes under control and was popular with dieters as well as the budget-conscious.

Keeping things interesting

As well as economizing, the Japanese food and beverage industry continues to innovate, producing a range of weird and wonderful new products. Among our favorites this year were Gari Gari Kun corn soup on a stick and frozen beer suds. In keeping with that, we’d like to raise a glass of the recently released limited-edition Coffee Porter hot beer coffee (got that?) and wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year — a year which will no doubt be filled with delicious new treats.

 

Today’s J-blip: Otoshidama Kit Kat

Friday, November 9th, 2012

The snake and the Kat.

There are many perks to being a kid in Japan, and receiving money just because it’s New Year is one of them. As if that isn’t enough fun, Kit Kat will soon be releasing the otoshidama version for the fourth year in a row. Being an ’80s kid doesn’t seem all that cool now, does it?

Otoshidama is the money children get from adult relatives during the New Year. It usually comes sealed in a prettily patterned envelope. On this year’s otoshidama box, Kit Kat, in collaboration with Japan Post Holdings, features a cute snake on the package to represent the Chinese zodiac sign of the upcoming year and a message can be written on the back of the package to wish your addressee luck.

Kit Kat product collectors, take note: If you’re fortunate to get your hands on the special edition you’ll get Kit Kat gift envelope. Oooh.

And while we’re on the topic. Have you noticed that Kit Kat has been more saku saku (crispy) in recent years? This Japanese snack blogger lets you know what she thought of the otoshidama Kit Kat for the Rabbit year.

Crunchiness aside, you should purchase your own New Year money pack, which will be on sale at local post offices Nov. 1-Jan. 13.

Pulsations (11.08.12)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

  • School Lunch for October 25th, 2012 (from Lunch Break Japan): Does a lunch of nikujaga, rice and natto with miso soup appeal? But what if it’s locally made or comes in a clever package? No? OK …  then how about a KitKat?
  • おたより Exhibition (from Hello Sandwich): Does a visual feast of crafty things make you happy? If you missed the exhibition of envelopes designed by school kids and adults in Ginza, Hello Sandwich gives a big taste of what was on display.
  • Akaoni Design (from Japanese Design): Pay detailed attention to the packaging of food products? Check out some of these by Akaoni Design, a creative studio that was honored with the Yamagata Excellent Design Award twice last year.

Visual Pulse

On a diet but can’t get off chips completely? This ad is featuring Korean pop group KARA spells out the low calorie snack Soy Carat is the way to go.

Pulsations (11.02.12)

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

  • Pepsi Energy Cola — How does it taste? (from Grinning Studios): Pepsi Energy Cola is back, and Darth Vader is endorsing it. Blogger Grin gives a brief review of the drink and tells you where you may find it before it vanishes off the shelves again.
  • JapanaEight: Eight things that scare us (from Japanator): Think “kigurumi” cosplayers are creepy because you don’t know who’s underneath all that extra padding, and if they are wearing anything? Terrified of introducing women to your large anime figurine collection? You just may have something in common with one of these eight contributors.
  • Renewing my driver’s license (from Dru’s Misadventures): Need to renew your driver’s license here soon but don’t know what to expect? Blogger Dru shares his own experience with the process.
  • A giant pop-up jungle gym emerges in Tokyo Midtown (from Spoon & Tamago):  For young and old Tokyoites alike, Design Tide Tokyo 2012 is offering a giant wooden playground. You should hurry if you wish to check it out, though; it will be taken down on Nov 4.
  • Halloween in Japan 2012 (from The Japan Times): We know you read The Japan Times Online daily, but just in case you missed it on the first scroll …

Visual Pulse

The Japanese performance group World Order has released a music video for their song “Permanent Revolution.” The video, a commentary on the recent disputes among the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans, delivers the message that “We are all one” in a lighthearted manner. The members act as robot-like sightseeing, feet-soaking salarymen who, at the end, sign peace treaties with their other Asian counterparts. Nothing quite eases tension a little the way humor and goodwill do, no?

RSS

Recent Posts