Saturday, August 30, 2014

Retort Report: Hormel Okinawa Spam Curry And Glico Grand Chef

An excerpt from my overseas Spam popularity theory post, some thoughts on cultures that embrace Spam were:

1) Usually a place where the culture of consuming Pork has already been very popular...
1b) These places tend to have a geography, whether it be the lack of space (have dense forests) or topography where raising pigs for consumption is much more convenient than cows.
2) These places are usually subtropical, hot and humid climates where the task of preserving meats were already difficult and thus canning is popular.
3) Last but probably most influential... A history of U.S. Military occupation.

With these, my hometown Okinawa fits the bill quite well and we have here today a Spam Curry from Hormel Okinawa. The product found sitting next to the Habu Curry was purchased at a tourist gift shop and you can say for me had red flags all over it. But as a proud Spambassador (Spam Ambassador...) who enjoys spreading word of the great virtues of this classic pork luncheon meat brand product I give it a try, even ignoring Kat's not too flattering review I had remembered reading some time ago.

First I have to say that as much as Spam is a popular protein substitute in local dishes on the island, I can't recall it ever being used in Japanese curries and there's probably a good reason why. The porky umami-rich salty flavors that usually makes my mouth water when grilled crispy on the edges and in a sandwich here I felt completely clashes with the also savory curry roux with spices.

A rather odd combination of flavors that didn't complement, and although sometimes even seen in traditional soups, I feel the method of stewing rarely brings out the best in Spam. The Spambassador needs to keep it real and it was an unfortunate thumbs down for the tourist oriented catch. I'm sticking with the classic Chinsuko cookies as travel gifts, and if I maybe ever did have Spam with curry again, I imagine it'd be fried separately and plated on top?

Next up is a Glico product, the 'Curry Grand Chef'... (Beef - medium spice level.)

As I mentioned on my original spicy Beef Curry Lee post (30X post here), Glico isn't a retort curry powerhouse as compared to House and S&B, but it can't be said that they don't try to compensate with novelty. The Grand Chef comes with a small packet of Camembert Cheese flavored cream sauce.

A deep roux with lots of tender beef and the few mushroom pieces gives this a nice value. But while the first few spoonfuls were great, ultimately I felt it was too sweet for my tastes despite it being labeled as in medium heat level. The cheesy sauce also seemed to be flavored on the sweet side and was surprising for something I guess is marketed for an older audience. The rich flavors makes it otherwise an overall solid product but not something I'd be keeping stashed in my personal all-star curry cupboard.

Novelty or gimmick, I still give a tip of the hat to Glico for trying. Like how we would've never have gotten the now ubiquitous mayo-mustard beam packets in instant Yakisoba without companies willing to experiment with something new. With rice cooker on warm, I patiently await for the next big thing. :)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Retort Report: Shiseido Parlor Pork Curry And Kinkei Mozzarella Cheese Curry

Another exciting edition of sharing my delicious meals of heat-and-serve convenience that is the retort pouch curry! The first is a treat from the historic and ritzy Shiseido Parlor. Many may recognize the name Shiseido as the Japanese cosmetics company, but having roots in pharmaceuticals, it would be that they had opened an American drugstore inspired soda fountain back in 1902 in Tokyo's posh Ginza district. They are credited in introducing ice cream to the general public amongst other things and the building currently serves as the company's flagship store. As their restaurant serves the finer end of Japanese Yoshoku cuisine pendulum I've always been curious in dropping in the pretty Art Deco building when I'd often pass by during my treks, but for many random reasons it never happened.

If I did ever visit, I know I would really have a hard time deciding what to order. Price be damned, the visual of their perfectly flawless Omurice and Cream Croquettes are what Yoshoku lovers' dreams are made of. While one of their more famous is the ~$100 Lobster and Abalone Curry, it was a pleasure to find the Beef, Pork, Chicken and Vegetable versions at select department store grocers at a much more attainable ~$5.50 each.

What I had brought back for tasting was the Pork Curry, and for this special occasion I busted out my classy vintage Noritake China. The meal's box probably the prettiest I've encountered in any Japanese retoruto meals, it matched the plate by chance. :)

Even the pouch inside was super cute!
In rapidly boiling water it would sit for a few minutes, then the piping contents poured on a plate creating my familiar yin-yang estuary of savory aromatic curry next to some freshly cooked, equally steamy hakumai rice. Sweet Fukujinzuke pickles for me a must, while Rakkyo are a nice to have option.

This was a surprisingly fruity Japanese curry where the light acidity helping to cut the usual associated richness with subtle pleasant lingering of bitterness. Some presence of vegetables, however most well-surrendered into contributing to the body of the roux, it was nice to see a good amount of tender pork pieces for the price as well. Overall a fairly recognizable flavor profile but definitely extra fragrant with heat level on the milder side. This curry was a pleasure to eat to the very last spoonful. I really regret not also purchasing the Beef version.

I've covered the Kinkei Brand Curry in the past and feel for something in the $2 range, it's still what I consider the one that I wish to be in my cupboard at all times, cost-performance wise. I came across a version with Mozzarella Cheese and thought I'd include it in my to-try stash.

These days it's hard to know what's not an appropriate topping for Japanese Curry, cheese definitely being up there in popularity, while Natto isn't unusual as well. I did wonder if the mozz combo here would perhaps be too much of a good thing. Time to find out. I used my Coco-Ichi plate-ware and matching spoon again for this one. :)

I didn't recognize any of the beef and onion pieces this time which I missed. There were however plenty of the advertised melty cheese orbs which was maybe difficult to make out a lot of the Mozzarella flavor from the rich roux.

Not surprising the plate was on the heavy side and rather indulgent. For me the balance of flavors that made me a fan of the original wasn't quite there and got to be a bit much towards the end. For Kinkei, I personally would be sticking with the standard Beef Curry, with or without a topping of Natto. :)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Ramblings - Lunch @ Kokoro And Oton. A Gift Of Myoga And Others

Posting on some random topics and few updates that was intended to be up last Friday -- my self-imposed oxymoron that is the 'blog post deadline'... :P

So being on a low-carb diet these days has put a sizable dent in my former ritual of going out for lunch but I allow myself cheat days once in a while, and on those I try to make the most of it. "Making the most of it" meaning if I'm going to consume carbs, it's going to have to be something worth the guilt. The same going for anything sugary.

I visited Kokoro, one of the newer Japanese offerings in SD not too long ago and had a very nice lunch. It's located in a rather hard to find area in Serra Mesa over past Montgomery Field and Pampas Argentine Grill. Once the GPS takes you to the general area, keep an eye out for a Subway and Kokoro will be next to it. Despite being in this obscure strip mall, things inside the restaurant are much different -- peaceful, minimal, and in trend with many higher end sushi places in Japan, without the usually ubiquitous horizontal sushi neta case.

I had the Chirashizushi ($18) which comes with miso soup and a drink. The Chirashi that included both fresh and a few grilled items was quite good. First, the sushi rice was excellent but I was equally impressed by the variety of toppings that seemed like from their entire sashimi menu and then some. A combination of both akami and shiromi, uni and ikura salmon roe, shrimp, both tako octopus and squid (all lightly boiled), shime saba, grilled Anago conger eel and albacore, then last but not least a very memorable tamago omelet that was mildly sweet with plenty of dashi flavor. The few kampyō pickles sprinkled over the rice was a nice touch.

The miso soup I have to say was also terrific. Nothing here from an electric kettle that's been sitting for who knows how long. A very nice scratch made taste where the fresh dashi plays an equal if not more important role than the miso used. Since a refill is $3.50, I'd be savoring the last sipful.

I have their current entire menu up on my Menu Vault for anyone interested. Prices are on the higher side but quality is quite good. There are also a few cost conscious to-go only items during lunch such as soboro, grilled chicken, beef or salmon over rice. And for the casual sushi goers, there are your many familiar Americanized rolls. Was pleased to see Kokoro's heart set both with originality and tradition, while also able to cater to popular local demands.

Kirk of Mmm-yoso has already done two posts on Kokoro including an omakase. Check it out.

Kokoro Restaurant, 3298 Greyling Dr, San Diego, CA 92123

Although Kokoro's head chef was formerly at Oton, my recent visit there for lunch was unrelated. (I ordered another Chirashi even...) I was told by a close friend that Oton may have stopped serving lunch and was quite surprised to hear since they seemed pretty busy the hour in the last year. Being the cheerleader of Japanese restaurants in town that puts effort in serving non-cookie cutter offerings, I've done several lunch posts and most always enjoyed these reasonably priced noon meals.

Turns out lunch is now only served on Fridays and Saturdays from 12~3PM. In place, Oton gains a happy hour Mon~Thurs that starts from 3PM. The recently updated lunch menu can also be found on my other blog here.

I went for the Hokkai-don (which is a play on words, sort of a bowl filled with the bounty of Hokkaido..., $18.50). The variety of seafood was also a pleasure to see which included fresh scallops, (real) crab, salmon, both ikura and kazunoko (herring roe), uni, squid, a botan shrimp and nice block of tamago.

Picking the tasty brains out of the botan shrimp with chopsticks was one of the meal's highlights. All with the sushi rice which was also quite good and drizzle of wasabi spiked shoyu, I was happy to enjoy the meal guilt free. Their miso soup has also been one of the better in town (though I must have looked American the day since they included a spoon with mine).

Oton has several Chirashi-style seafood bowls during lunch to choose from but if I'm ever back, I'd probably be having this again, though their daily bento box ($13.50) that includes a variety of sashimi, fried and simmered items is hard to pass up as well.

Robataya Oton, 5447 Kearny Villa Rd # D, San Diego, CA 92123

Been pretty hot here the last few days and so was delighted to see the Nashi (Asian Pear) flavor of the GariGari-Kun popsicle for sale at both Nijiya and Mitsuwa Markets. GariGari-Kun is known to have many flavors (at least in Japan) with even a few odd limited editions such as the Corn Pottage flavor that was out a few years back.

I had a chance to try one of their limited flavors from their Rich series during my last winter vacation that was a collaboration with Ezaki Glico and their brand of Cream Stew block roux's -- "Aunt Clea's Stew."

Creamy with a tad of savory, surprisingly it actually serviced decently as an ice snack (for me) where I even enjoyed the small bits of potato that it contained, ha. While I maybe won't be yearning for this flavor to be out again in the future, the Spaghetti Naporitan flavor that came out earlier this year I am curious about. Of course you can count on my friend EatNapo-san of NaporitanXNaporitan having covered it and can be checked out here.

Last, I was very happy to have received some Myoga from a friend's garden recently (which is the same person I had obtained some roots of my own). What you see below would roughly cost $12 as they are around $2.99 per bulb here.

I've made a quick cold tofu hiyayakko meal out of one of the smaller bulbs which turned out great. I used kinugoshi (silken) Meiji Tofu and Kamada Dashi Shoyu both purchased from Nijiya. A little grated shin-shoga young ginger and bonito flakes.

These myoga were especially fragrant and pungent, a little went a long way. Next time I would chop them even finer. Some additional julienned Shiso leaves would've elevated this to another level of aromatic flavor bomb but I didn't have any at hand.

It probably won't be until next year before my plants will start bearing these bulbs but if what I had are a hint of what to expect, I'm really looking forward to them!
Some random things I've made and posted in the past using Myoga is a baked miso and cheese tofu appetizer as well as a tempura that paired well with a soba. Both something I may try again if things cool off in the next weeks.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I ♥ Detroit - Hunter House Hamburgers

Although the term 'slider' is used synonymously for anything and everything that resembles a miniature hamburger these days, any food curious should be obliged to know that the roots are from a specific type of smaller burger categorized by a unique method of cooking. Where a conservative amount of ground beef is smashed flat on the griddle and copious measure of onions also given an initial char, then everything (preferably with cheese) including the sweet squishy buns stacked to steam so to achieve an oniony huddle of tender oneness. These humble bargain snackages often purchased by the sackful are your true sliders, made most known by the large chains White Castle and Krystal.

My mini tour of the Detroit area offerings inspired by both a Serious Eats and Offbeat Eats articles led me to Greene'sBates'Telway and finally here to the Hunter House. The HH was a perfect example of the classic white pill-box designed burger joint diners of yesteryears in and out. Next to Greene's it was my most favorite. The time I had arrived for an earlier dinner, the place was busy with families, young school kids and various blue-collar worker types on their off time.

After a quick visual survey of what most people where having, I went for a double cheeseburger and side of onion rings.

The double cheeseburger was the highest priced of the bunch (relatively speaking) at a whopping $3.05 but I have to say was also the best I've tried the trip -- the image of griddled onions above speaking for itself. The also maillard patties further infused with melty American cheese is really the key with these. Like the rest I've consumed, a couple pickle coins and a small squirt of mustard was all it took to elevate it to slider bargain-bliss status.

The onion rings ($3.25) were also terrific. Too bad a couple of the rings fell off as I was bringing my tray to seat (!) but for something pre-prepped for optimum fast food convenience was very fulfilling.

My meal at Hunter House really made my evening the final day at the city and it made me wanting to experience even more of the city's independent slider burger establishments which there are definitely no shortages of. The new Ann Arbor location of Hunter House should be operational as you read this. Looking forward in visiting them both in the hopefully not too far near future. :)

Hunter House Hamburgers, 35075 Woodward Ave, Birmingham, MI 48009

I ♥ Detroit - The Telway

The third stop on my mini tour of Detroit's independent slider establishments after Greene's and Bates' was a Telway branch in Madison Heights. According to a commenter on Kaszeta's Offbeat Eats post on the place, this location used to be a Top Hat, another one of many past White Castle clones. Really loved the building, in and out, being retro but somehow also modern at the same time. The workers were also a friendly bunch.

An early dinner and since I had plans to also visit Hunter House next, my meal order was light. A cheeseburger ($1.05) and a Coney Dog ($1.30). Yay.

As with Daniel Zemans' experience in his Serious Eats article, it was also the most tender slider I've had from the few I've tried. This is partly due to Telway's unique additional method of placing a towel over the burgers for some extra steaming before final assembly. There isn't much char on this one but the moist 'oneness' of the slider ingredients of griddled onions, sliver of ground beef, American cheese and pillowy buns is high and a joy to eat in its own right. I felt this was also probably the closest in favor and texture to a White Castle, but one that is definitely a good cut above.

My coney (shown pre-mustardage) was very serviceable as well. As with Bates' the frank seemed a skinless but it was much better griddled. I feel the chili is really more the key with these and the version here felt equally good as Bates' -- smooth, with no beans of course, and perhaps a little spicier. I'd love to try their Foot Long one day.

The Telway, 27000 John R Rd, Madison Heights, MI 48071