Archives for category: Food

Veggie ice cream 2

Today’s bizarre snack outing comes to us courtesy of none other than Haagen-Dazs.  Haagen-Dazs is fairly expensive here in Japan.  In fact, a 120 ml. (4 oz.) cup will run you 257 yen ($2.50) at the local 7-11.  Usually, the cost is worth it.  Today, however, not so much.  Haagen-Dazs frequently creates new and interesting flavors for Japan.  Recently, to celebrate an anniversary, they sold limited edition Rose as well as Sakura (cherry blossom) flavors.  You can also find purple sweet potato, azuki (red bean), royal milk tea, and green tea, all fairly standard Japanese flavors.  But the latest set of flavors is the strangest I have heard so far: Carrot/orange and Tomato/cherry.  They go by the series name “スプーンベジ (Spoon Veggie) and are supposedly healthier.  Unfortunately, the Carrot/Orange one tastes about as good as it sounds.

Veggie ice cream

I admit, it’s difficult to describe the exact flavor.  The first taste is just…weird.  Not really carrot or orange, but a kind of earthy, milky flavor.  Then the orange sherbet taste hits you.  This is a delicious surprise for as long as it lasts, which is sadly about 2 seconds.  But for those 2 seconds, I was carried back to my childhood days of eating Push-ups on the front stoop.  Finally, that taste is replaced by a sort of bitter after taste, as if they used only the peels of the carrot and orange.

The co-workers I tried this with had much the same reaction, and I noticed we all made similar faces as our brains frantically tried to identify the flavors.  All in all, not a horrible experience.  But we did not finish the tiny cup, and there were 5 of us who tried it.  I usually try these things out at work (it makes it so much more fun), and there is always someone who likes the snack and will finish it.  Alas, not today.  But on a positive note, everyone now wants to try the Tomato/Cherry one.  So not a win, but not a total failure.  Not bad for an ice cream made of veggies.

Update: The staff members who missed out on trying this the first day were able to partake of the leftovers the next day.  They LOVED it.  Go figure.

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Oh, the horror! The horror!

OK, I admit I sort of chose an easy snack for my first Snack Japan post. It was a strange combo, yes, but bacon always makes everything better. Overall, the bacon-wrapped asparagus potato sticks could have been tougher. So to make up for it, I chose a true challenge this time. It was a difficult decision, and I almost put it back, but ultimately, I realized I owe it to all of you who are counting on me to help you make good snack choices. So tonight I ate my first Spaghetti Popsicle. To be more exact, it was a Spaghetti Napolitan-flavored popsicle with bits of tomato jelly thrown in to get that real, tomato taste that everyone loves in their popsicles.

Imagine a big plate of spaghetti noodles sitting in front of you. It’s cooked to a perfect al dente, you’ve got fresh parmesan ready to sprinkle over it. And here comes a ladle full of the delicious sauce, about to be poured out over your perfect spaghetti noodles. But instead of being poured over your noodles, some idiot pours it into some plastic popsicle molds and sticks it in the freezer. 2 hours later, open the freezer and you’ve got this Japanese delight. Except there’s an added surprise, because when you stormed off to the nearest Taco Bell because your delicious spaghetti dinner had been ruined, that same idiot went and snuck a bunch of little chunks of tomato-flavored Jell-O into the popsicles, so that when you bite into them, you also get globs of tomato goo. Spaghetti sauce gone horribly, horribly wrong.

In conclusion, if you like the taste of frozen tomato sauce alternated with sugar and biting into bits of goo, then this is definitely the snack for you.  If not, then do yourself a favor and heat up a can of Spaghetti-Os instead.

Japan has interesting tastes. I’m not just referring to the raw fish, the sweet beans, and the many green tea-flavored things. I’m talking about their habit of making snack flavor combinations that no one in their right mind would ever think of. Some examples from the last 6 years here are red bean Pepsi, Mountain Dew Cheetos, and sour plum potato chips. So I’ve decided to make a new feature in which I will sample a weird-flavored snack and give you an honest opinion. Today’s item is: Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus Jagariko (potato sticks, think potato chip meets French fry). IMG_2152

I like bacon, I like asparagus, I even like bacon-wrapped asparagus. So I figured going into this that this was definitely going to be one of my better outings. Not surprisingly, they were not bad at all. They definitely tasted like asparagus and potato, and they had a smoky flavor which I suppose was the bacon. It was pretty much the perfect way to make bacon-wrapped asparagus even unhealthier. However, it was a bit difficult to get over the mental hurdle that I was basically eating chips that tasted like an appetizer. It wasn’t that they tasted bad, or even strange. But who thought that there would be a reasonable market for this particular flavor? In all the time I have been here, I have never seen bacon and asparagus even on the same plate. I’d really love to know the thought process that resulted in creating these.

Fannie May

The Fannie May traditional assortment is certainly nothing to turn your nose up at.

Valentine’s Day is a big business holiday in Japan.  And just as in the U.S., chocolate  is a bestseller.  While you will never hear me complain about receiving some good old Fannie May, I have to admit that the creativity and artistry that goes into Japanese Valentine’s Day goes far above and beyond what we Americans are most familiar with.

 

 

Even though the chocolates sold in the stores are beautiful, many young women like a more personal touch.  It’s very common to make your own chocolates to hand out to friends, boyfriends, and co-workers.  But just because you went that extra mile for your crush, ladies, don’t expect anything back just yet.  In Japan, February 14th is the day women give chocolate to men.  Men aren’t expected to reciprocate until White Day on March 14th.   Why is it called White Day?  Well, the gifts are usually white.  I asked a Japanese friend once what kind of white gifts are given and she told me that marshmallows are common.  Which I think is just terrible.  You slave over a hot stove melting chocolate and lovingly pouring it into molds all night, and a month later he hands you a bag of marshmallows?  You’d better hope that’s not an indication of how the rest of the relationship is going to go.

Today is February 3rd, and Japan is full of beans. Or at least the front yards are. Today is the annual Bean Throwing Festival, aka Setsubun (節分、せつぶん). Setsubun falls on 2/3 every year and serves to purify the home before spring officially begins on 2/4. The “festival” is pretty simple: you throw soybeans out the front door. It’s thought that throwing the soybeans out of the house drives away the evil spirits who bring bad luck and bad health. Many stores have display shelves full of decorative packages of soybeans, many of them adorned with a picture of an evil spirit, or oni. It’s also customary to shout, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Evil out, happiness in) as you are throwing the beans.

Soybeans and an ogre (oni) mask.

Children gleefully throwing beans at an evil ogre (oni).

 

 

 

 

 
In addition to tossing the beans, you are supposed to eat roasted soy beans to ensure that you have happiness and good luck all year. You eat one roasted soybean for each year of your life. In the Kansai area, which includes Osaka, it has recently become a custom to eat uncut makizushi, or ehoumaki (blessing direction roll). (Note: I have read some articles that claim that this tradition dates back to Edo period Japan, but many of my students have told me that it actually was a marketing ploy by nori (seaweed) companies. Perhaps these “historical tradition” stories are not based on fact, but on yen!) But be careful! It doesn’t work unless you eat it all, in silence, while facing the lucky compass direction, which changes every year according to the Chinese calendar. It’s a very tricky process, acquiring happiness.

Ehomaki (恵方巻)

So I wrote a couple of weeks back that I would be making breakfast for a guest speaker.  The event is scheduled for this coming Sunday and I am ready to go.  Here’s the menu:

Breakfast casserole with ham, broccoli, mushroom, green pepper, onion, and Swiss AND cheddar cheeses

Homemade zucchini bread with raisins

English muffins with blueberry jam and/or butter (for those who don’t like raisins)

Fresh apples, bananas and strawberries

Orange juice and coffee or tea

All in all, I suppose it’s not the most exciting menu.  Breakfast is to be served at 7:30 AM, so I opted for a less time-consuming, all-in-one casserole rather than “the works” (pancakes, bacon, eggs, hash browns).  I SO did not want to begin cooking at some ridiculous hour like 5:00 AM.  In the best of circumstances, I would have loved to make something really impressive, like eggs benedict and some kind of amazing stuffed French toast .  I actually enjoy planning this sort of big deal thing, but my schedule is so tight as it is.  Besides, I’m sure our guest  will be looking forward to something different from Japanese food by now.  A good, hearty, American breakfast classic is just what he needs!  And to be honest, it’s just what I need, too 🙂

In the last several months, I have been enjoying a bit of baking.  I’ve made various cakes, muffins, cookies, etc to share with my classes, the office staff, and many others.  I’ve also had a great time over the past year making dinners periodically for certain friends who happen to be rather helpless in the kitchen (sorry to any of you lot if you’re reading this, but you know it’s true:)).  But now I’ve been given an assignment, and I’m going to have to step it up.  I was asked today to organize a team and cook breakfast for a visiting speaker and his wife later this month.  !!!!!!!!    It’s one thing to cook for fun.  If you give it to someone and they don’t like it, well, whatever.  You probably will never hear about it because it was an unexpected gift.  Honestly, they can throw the whole thing out and you’ll never be the wiser.  But now there’s EXPECTATION.  Not just of my food, but of my performance in completing said task.  Yikes!  I’ll have to deliver the goods (which I hope don’t have to be Japanese-style, because that’s SO not what they’re getting) on Sunday 2/21.  If you think of it, please say a little prayer for me.  And of course, encouraging comments never hurt anyone 🙂

I am SO full right now. We went to this amazing dinner at the Ritz Carlton tonight for this Christian businessmen group thing called VIP. Granted, it was not a large dinner, but I could’ve gone to bed without starving. Amy, on the other hand, did not eat very much, so she was starving. On the way home, Dr. Horiuchi asked Amy if she had enough to eat, and she joked (not really) that maybe she and Dan would go to McDonald’s later. Next thing you know, Dae Hong, who was driving, was pulling into a McDonald’s. We all laughed and Amy was able to convince them that she was fine and was just joking (not really). Then, out of the clear blue, Dr. H points out a restaurant called Yoshinoya and says, “Jen, if you’re going to try beef bowl, this is the place to go.” I just said, “Really? I’ll have to try it.” I was completely puzzled as to why he said this to me because I have never talked to him about beef bowls or Yoshinoya. And I hadn’t said anything about being hungry. Sure enough, Dr. H tells Dae Hong to pull in because he wants me to try a beef bowl. Why me? I have no idea. So we all 7 of us got out of the car and, at 9:45 PM on a Monday night, after dinner at the Ritz, went and ate beef bowls. Except for Amy, who had rice and salad, and Dr. H, who ate nothing. It was delicious.  And now I don’t have to eat tomorrow.

Do you know what the difference between an American barbeque and a Japanese barbeque is? As I mentioned before, they were all wearing sweatshirts. But the biggest difference was the food. When I hear the word “barbeque”, it conjures up pictures of hamburgers and hotdogs, sometimes chicken, potato salad and watermelon. My mouth actually starts watering. But here’s what the menu was at the Japanese barbeque I attended:

– Fish, grilled until it was black and crispy (which might have been a mistake)

– Squid

– Some kind of weird jello/tofu type thing that I’ve seen before and tastes like absolutely nothing but they say it’s healthy so I ate it anyway, grilled

– Yakisoba (fried noodles)

– Rice (of course)

– Butajiru (miso soup with pork)

Make no mistake, it was delicious! Just very odd. I mean, soup?

On a completely unrelated topic, I found out that some of my English students here in Japan are now reading my blog. How exciting! I’m so proud of them!

I haven’t had any problems with the food here thus far. There have been some interesting dishes, but overall I’ve really enjoyed Japanese food and have not really missed food from home too much. But Saturday night, I came home after class and it smelled like someone in the apartment was cooking tacos. It just about killed me.