It’s come to our attention that some truly bizarre looking creatures are being served up in seafood restaurants in Shizuoka lately. Ever since a new deep sea aquarium opened up in Numazu just over a year ago, deep sea seafood has been all the rage in the area. Monkfish, scorpionfish, lumpsucker and rosy seabass are being served up as sushi, sashimi or simply on a bed of rice, in local restaurants.
Pioneering this local trend has been Uoshige Shokudou, a restaurant that serves up a weird and wonderful deep sea sashimi platter that varies according to the season. The most expensive item on the menu, costing between ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 ($101 to $151), is the Japanese spider crab that lives at depths of 600 meters.
Bottles of amazake for sale at Matsuya department store in Ginza, Tokyo. (Photo by Rebecca Milner)
The annual competition for the summer’s hit drink is as fierce as usual, and all the major manufacturers have their contenders. Will it be Asahi’s new Red Eye in a can? Or Pepsi’s latest oddity, the shocking-pink Salty Watermelon soda?
According to the morning TV show “Non Stop!,” the winner may just be a dark horse: amazake.
Though it literally means “sweet sake,” this fermented rice drink is actually alcohol free and has been around for centuries. In the Edo Period, it was commonly drunk to ward off the dreaded natsu-bate (summer heat fatigue). Apparently the combination of vitamin B and glucose provides an immediate jolt of energy. The rich ate eel; the rest drank amazake.
At some point in history, that tradition fell out of favor. These days, amazake generally only shows up at traditional festivals, namely during New Years, or at cafes attached to Buddhist temples. Now, however, a savvy Niigata producer is looking to give amazake a little more everyday cachet.
In February, Furumachi Kōji Seijōjo opened a specialty shop in the fashionable Tokyo suburb of Jiyugaoka. Here you can get hot and cold amazake drinks spiked with matcha and shiso (perilla leaf) or health tonics that mix amazake with fruit-flavored vinegar. Boosted by plenty of media attention, they’ve since opened a second branch in the basement food court of Ginza’s Matsuya department store.
You might have heard that Japanese food is all about delicate flavor; that seasoning tends to be muted to allow the flavors of the main ingredients to shine. Despite this, according to J-Cast, the current food trend is all about rich, strong flavors. These days packages of instant ramen, potato chips, happoshu(a beer-like beverage) and puddings are often emblazoned with the words “noukou” (rich) or “koi” (strong flavored).
Rich cream stew
A recent program on TV Asahi presented by Yohei Onishi demonstrated that in supermarkets there are now 38 products labelled noukou or koi. Out of these Koi Stew, by S&B Foods, has been a hit among consumers. There are two varieties of Koi Stew, one beef flavored and one béchamel cream. Dense, creamy sauces are the reason many Japanese shy away from French cuisine, citing the fact that they are just too rich and difficult to digest, so it’s interesting that S&B’s product has been so successful.
Richer flavors are found not only in processed foods. There’s been a trend in restaurants in recent years for ramen broths to be thicker and richer. We asked Brian MacDuckston, author of the blog Ramen Adventures for his thoughts on this trend: “It’s true, there has been a recent trend to make stronger flavors in ramen. In the past, the soup was simply a vessel to keep the noodles hot. Now, the noodles are a vessel to deliver the soup, often motor-oil-thick, to your mouth. Chefs have a difficult task, though, as the long boiling times required for thickness can easily result in a bitter broth.”
So why the change in attitudes? Economic analyst Kazuyuki Hirano states that in this bad economic climate when salaries are taking a hit, people want to indulge in small luxuries or small extravagances. In summary, the recession is pushing this boom for richer flavors. Consumers on the Asahi show commented, “If it costs the same, I’d prefer a rich taste” and “I feel deep flavors are tastier.”
Journalism can sometimes be a tough gig, and my mettle was totally tested today when I bravely scarfed my way through a mountain of free samples at Foodex Japan 2010 in pursuit of the latest trends in Japan’s food and drinks industry. One of Asia’s largest food and drinks fair, Foodex is the go-to event for Japanese and foreign companies to network and show off their products . . . and for journalists to sample their wares.
Snow Ice has an unusual consistency
The biggest queues at the show seemed to be for the Charmy Snow Ice booth, a Taiwanese company, Charmy make a peculiar kind of ice cream that looks a bit like cotton candy and tastes incredibly sweet. Charmy launched in Japan in 2008 but other companies, such as Kinokuni Gelato and Kita no Watayuki, are also getting in on the action with similar products. We’re expecting to see more and more franchises of Charmy et. al opening up across Japan in the coming year. Judging by the shocking pink signs, the target consumers of snow ice are teenage girls with a sweet tooth.
For those of us who are a little more wary of piling on the pounds, Soycom Ltd. have launched a range of doughnuts made with soybean flour in healthy pumpkin, spinach and ginseng flavours. Instead of being deep fried, these donuts are baked for extra healthiness, however, after sampling these low-fat numbers, I wasn’t quite ready to kick my Mr. Donut habit.
Soybean doughnuts are definitely healthy, but they didn’t set my taste buds on fire
Soybeans are definitely the versatile ingredient du jour; there was even a healthy coffee on display made from smoked green soybeans made by Ryokokushoji Co. that’s due to be released on the market in April.
Also popular, though obviously not as an ingredient, was the legendary samarai leader Sakamoto Ryoma, whose famous image could be seen gracing packets of curry. Ryoma Legend Curry was launched in December last year obviously to cash in on the NHK series “Ryomaden.” Elsewhere, Sakamoto was being used to promote Sasebo Burgers and an actor dressed up as the atypical samurai was tasked with handing out leaflets advertising the chain. Wonder who gets all the merchandising money?