Category Archives: Food

Japanese Cooking Class in Hiroo

Firstly, I apologize to the… 5 people who read this blog for the half-year hiatus. As usual, I blame life – things have been quite hectic these past few months, forcing me to put the brakes on blogging yet again.

So what has finally inspired me to come out of blogging hibernation?

Food, of course.

As you’ve probably already noticed, I love food. Really, huge fan of the stuff. Now, although my sister is the chef in the family, cooking is something that all the women in my family enjoy doing, and I am certainly no exception.

Always eager to learn new recipes and techniques, I decided that I would try to go about learning how to create Japan’s most famous culinary export – sushi.

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To that end, I was quite delighted to learn about Yuka Mazda. Yuka is a Japanese home cook who has been teaching cooking for over 20 years. After a stint living in the UK, she began giving lessons in Western cuisine to Japanese people upon her return to her home country. Eventually, she also started offering Japanese cooking lessons to foreigners out of her home kitchen.

I first meet Yuka at Hiroo Station, where two other students are also waiting. Together, we walk over to Yuka’s apartment – quite spacious, for Tokyo standards – and enter to find a table laid out with various types of fish, vegetables, mirin, komezu (rice vinegar), pickles, and everything else we would need to prepare our Japanese meal.

“I don’t like to spend too much time explaining things, because then you’ll get bored,” she begins, with a slight British inflection. Instead, she would prefer we learn by getting our hands dirty and diving right in.

And dive in, we do. Yuka begins each step of the process by demonstrating what needs to be done, and then we each take turns cutting maguro and salmon, deveining ebi, seasoning rice, preparing several makizushi, nigirizushi, and even the Western-style uramaki. It’s a veritable sushi-making boot camp, albeit an enjoyable one. And after assembling one roll after another, it’s hard not to get the hang of it. Since there are only three of us in the class, we each get a lot of attention from Yuka. She’s quick to correct mistakes, although she doesn’t hover too much — she gives us a chance to try things for ourselves.

The results from a morning of sushi-making.

The results from a morning of sushi-making.

Throughout the class, Yuka is clear in pointing out what is traditional and non-traditional, as well as some background information on the ingredients themselves, but also encourages us to take these newly learned techniques and make our own creations, incorporating ingredients from our home countries.

Before the class is concluded, Yuka prepares the table with nihonshu (sake), as well the tofu, miso soup and sushi we prepared during the class.

Even if you’re a klutz in the kitchen, I highly recommend taking a class with Yuka. (In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I ended up returning recently with my mother-in-law who also wanted to learn how to make sushi, although this time, I opted for the daifuku course).

Daifuku -- Japanese sweets.

Daifuku — Japanese sweets.

You’ll learn a new skill, and at the very least, gain a greater appreciation for the sushi that you scarf down at your local kaitenzushi.

Information:

Website: Cooking School YUKA MAZDA
Price: ¥4,800 – ¥8,000

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A Night at the Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver

While I was in Vancouver, I had the chance to attend the culinary final practical exam at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver, my sister Andrea’s alma mater. The school’s professional culinary program culminates in a 3-day practical exam, during which the students are responsible for designing and executing a fine dining six course meal. Although this meant a great deal of stress and pressure for the students, for the rest of us, it meant an amazing dinner (including wine!).

Most of the guests were friends and family of the students. As someone who had already gone through the culinary program, Andrea was able to sit in as a guest, and – fortunately for me – invited me along. Also present were chefs from Vancouver fine dining establishments such as Hawksworth, España, and West serving as judges.

We were all seated at long tables in an open kitchen, while the students laboured away on the other end. It was a wonderfully relaxed environment, and all throughout the evening we were able to chat with the other guests, as well as Chef Tony Minichiello, culinary instructor and co-owner of the school. Andrea and I were each served dishes from two different menus, but we managed to sneak a few bites from each other’s plates.

The food was superb. My dinner incorporated a lot of ingredients foraged from nature, thus giving it a seasonal and very west coast Canadian feel.  While we dined, we were encouraged to jot down notes directly on the menus to serve as feedback for the students. My notes probably weren’t as useful as Andrea’s (I peeked at her sheet and she had all these comments on texture and flavour combinations and whatnot; among my comments were “holy shit!” and “yum!”). Overall, the meal was wonderful, full of unexpected flavours that really reflected the season and location. Really, a top fine dining experience.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s what I ate:

Polenta "Arancini"

Polenta “Arancini” – Stuffed funghi, chevre, beet & spinach powder

Scallop – “Scrambled” eggs, brunoise of jalapeño, red peppers, shallots, scallop chip

Scallop – “Scrambled” eggs, brunoise of jalapeño, red peppers, shallots, scallop chip

Parsnips – Bark, puree, raw, glazed, garam carrots, pinenut milk, sorrel and wild carrot greens.

Parsnips – Bark, puree, raw, glazed, garam carrots, pinenut milk, sorrel and wild carrot greens.

Consommé – Egg, roasted funghi, grilled corn, smoked consommé, foraged nest.

Consommé – Egg, roasted funghi, grilled corn, smoked consommé, foraged nest.

Salmon – Crispy loin, salmon tortellini, squash “noodles,” prosciutto sautéed chard, salmonberry blossoms, leek & fennel beurre vert.

Salmon – Crispy loin, salmon tortellini, squash “noodles,” prosciutto sautéed chard, salmonberry blossoms, leek & fennel beurre vert.

Quail – Stuffed, “fresh-fried” tomato, grilled oyster mushrooms, pickled mustard, prosciutto sautéed chard, wild alliums, juniper jus.

Quail – Stuffed, “fresh-fried” tomato, grilled oyster mushrooms, pickled mustard, prosciutto sautéed chard, wild alliums, juniper jus.

Apple – Chip, spiced chocolate ganache, sorbet, maple caramel, shattered raspberry, mascarpone, pastry, wild mint.

Apple – Chip, spiced chocolate ganache, sorbet, maple caramel, shattered raspberry, mascarpone, pastry, wild mint.

Bonus — here is a little of what Andrea ate:

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Much kudos to the students of NCAV!

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Nishiki Ichiba (錦市場 ), Kyoto

Nishiki Market (錦市場), Kyoto, Japan

Nishiki Market (錦市場), Kyoto, Japan

Markets are among my favourite places to visit in any city. They are wonderful place to try new and interesting food, mingle with the locals, and immerse yourself in the culture. With only three days in the Kyoto, we budgeted out an entire day in our itinerary solely devoted to exploring Nishiki Ichiba (錦市場 Nishiki Market).

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Dinner time with Ninjas and the Dogs

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to meet up with a few friends from ICE who were in Tokyo for work, and another friend from the Kennel who happened to be vacationing in Tokyo at the same time. It was great getting to hang out; I definitely have moments of LA-homesickness (to differentiate from homesickness for my actual hometown), and hanging out with my former Naughty Dog coworkers definitely cured it that weekend.

On one of the nights, we had dinner at Ninja Akasaka, a ninja-themed restaurant located in Chiyoda-ku. It is built like a ninja fortress, a dimly-lit labyrinth of winding hallways, secret doors, and crumbling bridges. Even the entrance to the restaurant itself is somewhat concealed.

Ninja Akasaka

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a ninja (of course) and brought inside in separate groups of five, as the narrow, winding corridors could only accommodate a few people at a time.

The “fortress” ambiance was quite convincing. The cave-like walls, the torch lighting and the maze-like layout of the place really did make you feel like you were transported back to the Sengoku period, only an alternate-reality Sengoku period in which all the ninjas are happy and smiling and are more concerned with serving you really amazing food, rather than being immersed in endless war and political chaos.

Anyway, after our treacherous journey through the restaurant, we were all finally reunited with our group in a private dining room. Interestingly, the singer Bruno Mars had also, at one point, dined in the very same room, as evidenced by this scribble on the wall:

Clearly, this alternate-reality Sengoku period is one in which pop singers vandalize ninja property.

Clearly, this alternate-reality Sengoku period is one in which pop singers vandalized ninja property.

We each opted for the Yamato Spirit Course, an 11-course tasting menu, which included some ninja-themed items (e.g. Shuriken star blades grissini) and some creative takes on familiar dishes (e.g. Ninja-style cream puff, a savoury version of a cream puff).

Shuriken star-blades grissini

The shuriken crackers came with a foie gras star.

Our ninja server

Ninja-style cream puff

Turban shell bombs with garlic butter

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Sorry dudes, I forgot what this was called (I could never be a food blogger). But it was yummy!

Ninja korokke!


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The ninja server preparing the stone-boiled soup at our table

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We each had a choice of several dishes for our main course. I chose the beef with foie gras.

Ninja washroom! Because the restaurant is constructed like a maze, you need to ask a server to escort you to the washroom so you don’t get lost.

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Finally, dessert! This thing was so cute, I didn’t want to eat it!

But I eventually overcame my fears and CRUSHED IT. LIKE A NINJAAAAA.

After we cleaned off our plates, we were treated to a post-dinner ninja magic show, which consisted of standard card and coin tricks, but the fact that the ninja magician performed them while seated with us at our table was pretty neat.

One of the playing cards, touched by ninja magic! (We weren't allowed to film or photograph the magic show, but no one said anything about documenting the evidence afterwards.)

One of the playing cards, touched by ninja magic! (We weren’t allowed to film or photograph the magic show, but no one said anything about documenting the evidence afterwards.)

The damage at the end of the night. Thanks for buying me dinner, Sony!

The damage at the end of the night. Thanks for buying me dinner, Sony!

Overall, I very much enjoyed Ninja Akasaka (and even moreso because I didn’t have to pay :P). Tokyo is full of theme restaurants, and this one was pretty elaborate and well executed — I recommend going at least once, and definitely with a group of good friends to share in the experience.

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Tokyo Tower and Really Amazing Tofu

Normally when I travel, I do some research ahead of time. I don’t like to have a regimented schedule, but I do like to have something of a to-do list to act as a guide. I’ll browse the Lonely Planet forums and Wikitravel pages on the region, and so prior to setting foot in a new place on the map, I am at the very least aware of what cool things there are to see and do there — even if I don’t get to them all or even if my itinerary ends up being something else entirely.

Coming to Tokyo was different. The thing is, moving to a new country is nothing at all like traveling to spend a few days or weeks in a new country. Pre-flight research doesn’t consist of fun things like what museums to check out, what temples to see, what new foods to try, what souvenirs to buy. Instead, it’s all, how do we sign up for national health insurance? Where should we rent an apartment? Where can we get a good deal on household appliances? Where is the nearest grocery store?

The result of this is that touristy moments often take us by surprise.

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Hot Dog Café, Akihabara, Tokyo

Ok, this is starting to get a little ridiculous. How is it that literally every place we go to eat has amazing food? This is insane.

I still haven’t been able to find the Japanese equivalent of Yelp, but so far, I haven’t needed it at all, at least when it comes to restaurants — literally every restaurant, cafe, and convenience store has great food.

How is this possible?

Since moving here, we’ve mostly stuck to Japanese food, but this weekend we decided to venture into the world of Japanese “foreign” food. Throughout my past travels, I’ve tasted Canadianized, Americanized, Brazilianized, Koreanized, Argentinized, and Britishized versions of Japanese food (all with varying results) , so I was curious to try the Japanese take on another culture’s cuisine.

This past weekend, we had lunch at Hot Dog Cafe, an American restaurant just outside Akihabara Station. I’d had Japanese-style hot dogs before, but never in Japan.

I’ll start off with the second thing that struck me about the place, which was the eclectic decor. The restaurant was lined with a mishmash of beer bottles and books and other odds and ends — it didn’t remind me of America, but it certainly looked cool.

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Yes, that is a poster of Reba McEntire and a Bratz doll on the same bookshelf.

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Of course, the initial thing that struck me about the place was the menu. They had a wide assortment of different kinds of hot dog creations, including a Garlic Dog, a Vietnamese Dog, and a charmingly spelled “Itarian” Dog (イタリアンドッグ). After much contemplation, I finally settled on the Akiba Dog, which seemed appropriate as we were in Akihabara, after all.

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It may not look like much, but it was very tasty, although it came at a much smaller portion size than anything you would actually find in America.

Edu ordered the Hamburger Dog, which was also very yummy.

(I was actually kind of jealous of his order).

Despite the seemingly über-American combination of hamburgers and hot dogs, it was smothered with kewpie mayo and thus still managed to taste very Japanese.

For dessert, we split a Cream&Choco, which consisted of whipped cream and chocolate sauce on a hot dog bun, which was a lot better than it looked, and ten times better than how it sounds.

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The verdict: yes, even hot dogs taste amazing here. However, given our track record so far with the food in this city, this is not surprising at all. Also, I should probably point out that hot dogs taste great everywhere, so really, we were just setting ourselves up for another win here.

Then again, I’m not complaining in the slightest.

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Japanese Fast Food Trumps Everyone Else’s Fast Food

Sushi Daidokoya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Kaiten zushi is sushi given the fast food treatment; also known as conveyor belt sushi by English-speakers, it’s sushi done cheap, quick and — most importantly — delicious.

Both Edu and I love sushi, and so our first weekend in Tokyo, we stopped at Sushi-Daidokoya to have our first kaiten zushi experience.

Sushi Daidokoya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Sushi Daidokoya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

It works pretty similarly to other conveyor belt sushi joints — you can place your order with one of the servers, who then calls them out to the chefs behind the bar.  Or you can just grab items off of the conveyor belt as they pass in front of you.  Once you’ve cleaned them off, you can stack your plates, which are colour-coded depending on the price of the item. At the end of your meal, the server determines how much to charge you based on the quantity and colour of your empty dishes.

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I totally meant to take more pictures than this, but the food was too good and I’m too impatient.

The second kaiten zushi restaurant we checked out was the slightly more modern Genki Sushi.

Genki Sushi is actually a chain of restaurants with locations all over Japan, Singapore, and the USA, among others. The basic idea is the same as your typical kaiten zushi, only you place your orders through an iPad.

The menu comes in various languages, including English. You can order three items at a time, which arrive speedily on these tracks moments after you place your request.

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On a related note:

Japanese Lesson of the Day:  とてもおいしいですね!(totemo oishii desu ne) — “It’s really delicious!”

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The Week in Pastries

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There is a wonderful pastry shop located a short walk from our apartment called Le repas. You pick up a tray and tongs as you walk in, grab whatever you like, and then pay at the front counter. Simple enough, apart from the “grab whatever you like” bit — everything looks great. And, at about ¥150 a piece, priced incredibly reasonably as well.

How could I possibly choose?

The solution, therefore, was to return the following day to try something new. This plan ended up extending to a week, since they change up the selection everyday.

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This is what a hot dog looks like in Brazil.

This is what a hot dog looks like in Brazil:

Correction: this is only HALF a hot dog.

Correction: this is only HALF a hot dog.

1.5 kg (3.3 lbs.) of mashed potatoes, corn, three types of cheese, chicken, pulled pork, peas, olives, onions, tomato sauce, potato chips, sausage, mayo, ketchup, and mustard.

Oh, and of course, hot dogs and the bun.

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