Saturday, June 28, 2014

An Okinawa Soba - Takaesu Soba (Yushi Tofu Soba)

Changing things up and sharing an Okinawa Soba today, Byaay(!)...

A quick primer on Okinawa Soba can be read on my Hamaya Soba post from 2011, a unique soup noodle dish that isn't soba in the true sense as buckwheat aren't used in the noodles, but also is neither a ramen or udon that is ubiquitous to the islands. The Yushi Tofu Soba variant where fluffy fresh unformed Shima-Tofu is sieved over as topping (Yushi Tofu in mainland called Oboro Tofu), Takaesu Soba (高江洲そば) in Urasoe City has taken credit as the originator.

Often simply referred as Tofu Soba, I couldn't pinpoint when and the story behind why it came about but as far as I can remember definitely wasn't around when I was a kid. Things like it can randomly happen I suppose. Any case you can now find Yushi Tofu Soba on the menu of many Okinawa Soba shops.

Takaesu resides on the first floor of a smaller apartment complex. The building recently renewed, the interior was squeaky clean but still retains a homely charm. The day was filled with your usual school kids and family crowd. Popular, there's usually a wait.

Although the word Tonkotsu immediately evokes the opaque-white ramen soup of Kyushu-style for most, any stock that primarily includes pork bones, clear or otherwise is tonkotsu by nature as the word simply means 'pork bones' (as was my recent Shio Ramen from KIZO).

With additional good ratio of kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) dashi, the familiar aroma and flavors are comforting, irresistible and without substitute. The addition of the very fresh tofu brings in a nice mellowness in flavor and texture to the mix and matched well with the medium rich broth. Typical condiments below which are your benishoga (red pickled ginger), shichimi and Koregusu - chili peppers seeped in Awamori sake.

[Brief factoid: Koregusu in the Okinawan dialect means Korean Chili Peppers which the Shima Togarashi (Island Chili Peppers) originated from -- the Korean peninsula in the 18th century. The same word condiment Koregusu was said created by an Okinawan transplant living in Hawaii that took inspiration from the island's Chili Pepper Water in the Meiji era. Said as the person would occasionally revisit Okinawa the condiment slowly spread and took root.]

Okinawa Soba is never greasy like some ramen but can rival in meaty toppings. One very popular is the Soki which is stewed rib meat. Takaesu's Soki Soba a friend ordered. Meat extremely tender and well seasoned, slightly sweet with shoyu flavor. We then joke at how these on the island were never this tender and flavorful when we were kids. Between the time and now, an evolution had happened with what we assume more modern cooking methods and evolving palate influencing. All for the better though as the popularity of the dish (and Okinawan cuisine in general) have spread to all over Japan.

The Nakami Soba with offal (chitlin) toppings comes with a side of fresh grated ginger.

Long stewed and well rendered of fat, its taste is earthy but clean and a meaty yet tender textural delight. What little offal flavor exists is helped by the addition of grated ginger. Other toppings included were a knot of stewed kombu and your standard shredded kinshi tamago and sprinkle of finely minced negi green onions. This also hit the spot though I know a portion of childhood nostalgia plays a large role here. :)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

6 Years, A Gyutan Negi Shio Ramen From KIZO, Gift Cookies And Other Random Ramblings

So I spell Bloggaversary the unpopular way, and I'm quite fine with that. Google will give you the, "Do you mean Blogiversary?" response if searched. I suppose it depends if one is suggesting an Anniversary of being a Blogger vs. the Blog's Anniversary...?

Any case, didn't want to make a deal of the day especially since I wasn't very active a good part the year. I feel I did a decent reintroduction last year so quickly sharing some random photos and the usual accompanied ramblings. :)

Received some cookies from my B-kyu Gurume fan hairstylist as a return thank you from some snacks I brought back earlier from Japan. A couple were from her recent family trip to Hawaii and one from Seikotei in Tokyo.

Seikotei has an interesting history where it started as an organic Yoshoku restaurant in 1982. While the business was successful, their confectionaries, especially the walnut cookies had become immensely popular, to the point they had evolved to focus only on it.

The bite sized Chocolate Walnut Cookies were airy light, not too sweet and delightful. As you can see, the box with various signature squirrel illustrations was also adorable. Thanks again S-san! The Everyday Bentos series were super fun to do and I hope to have better luck finding more volunteers this year.

Was at Mitsuwa Torrance yesterday to try KIZO's Gyutan Negi Shio Ramen (Beef Tongue Scallion Salt Ramen). The showcase was at the usual former Katsuhana stall that was recently replaced by a second Edomae Tendon Hannosuke outlet.

Was refreshing to see as I've long grown out of the milky rich Kyushu Tonkotsu inspired ramens that seem to be the only rage out here. KIZO is produced by the owner of Chibakiya. Curious that they had a similar offering -- a Gyutan Shio Ramen from a visit by Chibakiya back in 2010.

This was pretty good. The simple salt flavored clear soup made mainly with carefully stewed pork bones and beef tendons had a nice amount of body and depth. Things become much more interesting though when the small dollop paste made with garlic, lard and some heavy cream is mixed in.

The extra eggs, which though a nice soft-boil, seemed unmarinated and it with large whole kikurage mushrooms drove the price up to $12. Nice, but if I have this bowl again I'd probably pass on these and instead have a couple extra slices of the great beef tongue for the money. Standard toppings are the green onions (said three types are used) the earlier mentioned garlic paste and two slices of delectable ultra tender beef tongue.

Noodles were custom made for KIZO by Sun Noodle and interesting. Whiter in color, medium firm, and a chijire crinkly. Reminded me a lot of what was used in the Kitakata Ramen of Tanaka Sobaten or maybe a thinner version of what's used in Okinawa Soba. The crinkles help bring up the soup during slurpage and its subtle flavor I thought went well with the bowl.

The Gyutan Dry Curry ($4) was decent which had a moist pilaf like consistency. I prefer ones that are more like fried rice where the pan heat brings out the flavor and aroma of the curry spice. This was still good though, especially with some leftover ramen soup poured over halfway through. ;)

As usual I'm not that great at covering the rest of the fair but most Mitsuwa Events usuals where there.

I picked up a bottle of Mentsuyu from Aji no Hyoshiro since I was low at home. Had a good dried bonito flavor and nice olfactory aromatics which tend to be drowned out in other cheaper brands. Unrelated to the fair, I thought the new Onigiri rice ball wrappers printed with an image of the contents were kinda cool.

So after all this it may be hard to believe that I've been on a low-carb diet for some time now. You're allowed a cheat day once in a while, so during I try to make the most of it. More typical, below is a Paleo Bread which I used this recipe. Was pretty decent for what it was, the texture more like a denser nut bread. I recommend more this Paleo Banana Nut Bread though which I've made several times (slightly modified, minus the Almond Butter replaced by instead Almond Meal with a tbsp of coconut oil).

With the plain bread though I was able to make some Paleo Crab Cakes. Basically followed a classic Maryland style Crab Crake recipe and used it grated vs. the regular bread crumbs. I didn't account for the sodium already included in Old Bay Seasoning so it turned out a little on the salty side but still pretty good. I'd like to do this again with jumbo lump.

Last, despite some initial hiccups, my Myoga plant that was given to me by a friend seems to finally be taking root. They grow like weeds in Japan but here can be up to $2.99 for a single bulb, which is the unbloomed flower of the plant. Planting this wouldn't produce a plant and you need to get ahold of the rhizome root.

If all goes well I think my next challenge will be Shiso. A Myoga and Shiso Paradise out back like tulip fields in Holland!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Retort Report: Two From Osaka! And Brief Recap Of Japanese Curry History

A couple more nerdy reports on Japanese retort pouch curries to cap off the weekend. Yay.

These two I owe thanks to Kat of Our Adventures in Japan. It was really great to hang out with her for a day in Osaka end of last year. I'm still working on the dedicated detail post but a preview can be read on my belated New Years greetings while Kat's more timely recollection of the day can be read here.

The first is the Hanshin Tigers Beef Curry. Hanshin Tigers is the region's Pro Yakyuu (Japan's equivalent of Major League Baseball) team well known for their fanatic fans. The Curse of the Colonel Sanders is a good read on their wiki page.

On the back of the box was the team's anthem Rokko Oroshi (六甲おろし). Humming along, found it a nice passing of time while waiting for the pouch to boil. ;) The spice level was stated as yaya-karakuchi which means so-so spicy, a Kansai tongue-in-cheek humor that also made me grin. :)

The curry had some tender beef and vegetable pieces. The tasty roux's flavor profile was close to the classic Bon Curry and staple House's KuKuRe (Cookless) Curry, however with extra unique spices to give the product a nice edge. Solid stuff. Thanks again Kat!

While the Hanshin Tigers Curry may be considered a novelty product, the second labeled Hankyu Hyakkaten Daishokudou Meibutsu Karee (translated: Hankyu Department Store Dining Hall's Famous Curry) I found had a very interesting history the more I dug into it.

The origins of Japanese Curry coming from the British Navy I knew about, but how it spread to the common middle class, Osaka's Hankyu Department Store takes credit for. A quick recap, when Japan was modeling their Navy from the British, the custom of eating curry on Fridays was also adopted for the crewmen. When you're out in sea for long periods of time, a person can lose track of the week's days. Eating something spicy on a scheduled interval helps the crew establish a reference of the week. But additionally in Japan the curry also supposedly helped mask the flavors of meat which most at the time were still not accustomed to eating.

Moving forward several decades to the 1920's, curry was still an expensive meal for most common Japanese. In 1929, Hankyu Department Store opened its large cafeteria / dining hall to the public where the highlight was a curry rice dish that was a loss leader sold at half the price than what was typical. The popularity quickly rose and was said the tradition of having Japanese pickles with Japanese Curry also began here. Very cool!

So how was the taste? Very creamy and actually quite mild. The beef pieces were extremely tender and soft. This was a really cool treat and I learned something more about the Japanese Curry in the process.

A thorough focus on Japan's love of curry rice on NHK's BEGIN Japanology (love the show) below which includes the story of Hankyu Department Store as well as popularity of retort pouch curries:

Japanology 54th : Curry [1] by abricot5725

Japanology 54th : Curry [2] by abricot5725

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Retort Report: Glico Beef Curry LEE X30

Hello there. Another nerdy report on a Japanese retort pouch curry. I should probably be covering the San Diego Fair like a proper food blogger would, but here I expose my more true nature of food sharing nerdity -- tasty curry from foil lined vacuum sealed pouches. I have 30+ to go through in the next six months so there will be more than a few of these on its way.

I've written about Glico's Beef Curry LEE X5 back in 2011 and really enjoyed it. I've since been trying to get my hands on their annual summertime limited run X30 for a while and finally managed thanks to a friend.
Ezaki Glico, known more here for their popular Pocky sticks isn't a retort curry powerhouse, but in the mid 1980's managed to carve its own niche by jumping on the then Geki-kara or "Extreme Heat" boom with its LEE Beef Curry series. Currently the LEE brand line has expanded to Keema types as well as block and flake roux for home cooking and the name occasionally seen advertised with Japanese curry flavored snacks.

The limited run X30 features a special hot pepper blend each year and for 2013 it was the Trinidad Scorpion Butch Taylor which supposedly at one time was the hottest known (the spot to later be taken by the California Reaper). Other chile peppers featured in the past were the Bhut Jolokia (2008, 2011) and the Brazilian Pimenta de Cheiro (2009).

If the box's expiration date wasn't less than a month away that it was, I actually wanted to give this to my friend Kirk of Mmm-yoso the Scoville enthusiast I knew he was. Since I'm not a real big extreme spice heat fan, this experiment experience was more for my sake of documenting.

Prepping, I was at first a little bummed that a separate spice packet of the special pepper blend was included. I had thought it was something to be used to have the meal reach its ultimate X30 spice level. Turns out that this packet was for an additional X15 spice so to reach a potential max of X45 (!). All plated, finally time for a taste...

Not surprising a good amount of heat is immediately noticeable, but it takes a moment for the real burn to take affect which is the type that is slow and creeps up, much like the visual of volcanic lava inching its way across a rocky slope. Still, much like the X5 experience, the umami rich rue makes things very palatable, if at least at first. The leaner beef pieces were a bit tougher than I remembered but could have been due to the age of the packet.
Halfway through, the heat builds to the point that I'm sweating and having a tingling sensation on my face, chest also feeling warm like one of those infrared electric dish heaters. My last few bites I strategically avoided the areas with extra spice sprinkled (which had a less acidic, smoky rich flavor that I actually enjoyed if it weren't for the shear heat).

This was up there with the involuntary facial twitch inducing Nashville Hot Chicken I had at Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. The tormenting feelings of contradicting pleasure and pain. But it wasn't how I was feeling at the moment that concerned me most, it would be the morning after.(!)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Yoshoku Bliss: Yoshokuya Yoshikami - Asakusa

Located in the heart of the popular Asakusa district, another honored OG yoshoku restaurant referred to simply as Yoshikami (ヨシカミ). Few may know that they've often been a consultant to the Japanese 2002 hit drama series ランチの女王 (Lunch no Joō) - Queen of Lunch. A link to their website here and restaurant's blog here.

Old Japanese yoshoku spots give me the crazy warm fuzzies and I always look forward in dropping in for a meal, but to also soak up the great atmosphere. Maybe equivalent to how American coffee/breakfast diners can evoke a sense of comfort and nostalgia. While scratch made Demi Glace (that can take weeks to prepare) isn't anything rare in fancier restaurants, in commoner yoshokuya's they definitely are and what my personal noted aspect of where I divide the good with the greats.

An establishment can easily spend money on gourmet ingredients and in turn charge a premium. But to offer something great while also affordable, this takes an extra leap of virtuous effort and no less shortage of love. I feel this spirit still lives in Yoshikami.

If you ever make it here their Beef Stew which makes extensive use of their labor-of-love Demi Glace is a high recommendation. Luckily it was Monday when I visited where a combination special of half-order of stew and plate of spaghetti Naporitan was available. As for the stew, the extra large hunks of beef are a serious melt-in-your-mouth tender, but as important the demi glace based stew incredibly rich, smooth and deep in flavor that is surprisingly also the least cloying. The half order disappears in front of me in no time. Makes me really want to try their Hayashi Rice some day.

The Naporitan tossed in expert, almost militant precision by a seasoned chef was also delicious in its own humble rights. Ingredients were onions, ham, mushrooms (canned) and green bean. Had a great sear (シャツに飛ばない系。。) and a nice rounded flavor. Yoshikami was recently featured on the show Solomon Ryu (ソロモン流) and so I now know that a little white wine and steak-shoyu is also used as a kakushi-aji (hidden flavor ingredient).

The corn pottage soup pictured earlier as well as coffee and ice cream is also part of the set, but I either passed or forgot to take a photo of the ice cream. Probably because I was stuffed from the Kani Cream Korokke  (crab cream croquettes) that I had also ordered, ha. These were a pure joy as well.

Doing the basics right and to do it consistently -- the simple old concept never been so delicious.