Archive | April, 2012

Sea Grapes

27 Apr

My mom and I came across this unusual vegetable (is it still a vegetable if it grows in the ocean?) at a farmer’s market in Shibuya, although the sea grapes are cultivated in Okinawa. It’s eaten widely there, and also the Philippines, according to Wikipedia, and is also known as “green caviar,” which I think is more descriptive. Sea grapes are probably the closest you’ll get to a vegetarian version of caviar; they don’t have the same piscine (“fishy” sounds so bad) aftertaste, but they do have that unctuous texture, as well as the brininess — like little tiny sacs of ocean bursting on your tongue. I don’t know if sea grapes are available outside of Asia, but if you do happen to come across them, you’re in for a delicious surprise. Who knows? Maybe sea grapes will turn out to be the next big superfood fad, like açaí berries, and you’ll be able to find them at every Whole Foods on the block.


Market Monday: The most expensive strawberries in the world?

23 Apr

NPR listeners (I’m guessing there’s more than a few of you in the SOK readership) may have caught a recent story about how most (if not all) of the beef advertised as “Kobe” in the US is not actual Kobe beef, which is far too expensive (and fatty) to ever be caught dead in the guise of a hamburger. I’ve never eaten real Kobe beef, but I did see it for sale at a department store food hall on my last visit. I tried to take a photo, but the salesperson wouldn’t let me; perhaps she was afraid the lens would sully the meat. (How expensive is it? For a top-quality chateaubriand filet, one place is selling it at ¥16,800 for 200 g, or about $400 USD per pound.)

However, there was no one to prevent me from taking photos of other heinously expensive food items, including what I believed to be the world’s most expensive strawberries…

Strawberries in a jewelry-worthy display

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Automats, Unite!

20 Apr

Japan is famous for its vending machines, both the crazy number of them (1 per 23 people, according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association) as well as the crazy variety of things they sell (all the way from standard canned beverages to skin care products). Even restaurants get into the vending machine business, in a way; the automat, which was in death throes in the US by the 1970s, lives on in the Land of the Rising Sun, where many of the casual eateries have a ticket machine in the front, rather than someone taking your order. (Considering these eateries are usually the size of the average US shoebox, this is probably a necessity.) I could extrapolate some sort of grand theory about how the ubiquity of vending machines reflects a deep-seated phobia of interpersonal interactions in Japanese society, etc., etc., but this is a food blog, not an anthropology blog, so I’ll spare you the pseudopsychology.

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Springtime in Tokyo

13 Apr

Apologies for the long hiatus, SOK readers! I was just waiting for an auspicious date like Friday the 13th to make my first post in a month. Last month took me back to Japan to spend some quality time with my now-98-year-old grandma, who still insists on doing much of the cooking when I visit. (She also shared an old Japanese saying that eating a new food extends your lifespan by 75 days, in which case, I’m living to be at least as old as her.)

This March was unusually cold for Tokyo, but springtime vegetables still made their debut. Most of these are semi-foraged woodland foods, tender shoots and buds that are celebrated after a long winter devoid of green things.

Fuki-no-tou (ふきのとう) is translated in English as butterbur scape. (Seriously, what is it with Asian foods that sound terrible when translated to English?) The stalks of the mature plant are also eaten, but it’s the tender buds that are most prized, as they only appear for a month or so. One of my mom’s friends stopped by with three shoots that had poked up in her garden that morning; we had them minced on miso soup, as she recommended. The minced fuki-no-tou is very aromatic, and reminded me a bit of ginger flowers; it’s hard to describe, but there’s a sort of “green bud” flavor that they have in common. Fuki-no-tou is also often served as tempura, though I think I prefer it raw.

Udo (独活) is, according to my Googling, called “Japanese spikenard.” Like fuki-no-tou, it’s only available in early spring, so I never had it growing up, as I only visited Japan during the summer. It’s got a delicate flavor that’s best appreciated raw; we had it thinly sliced with a miso dressing. The taste is a bit like a subdued fennel; less crunchy, but with a bit of that anise tinge.

The last vegetable is not strictly a spring thing, but we did get it as a souvenir from my uncle’s trip. I don’t know the exact name, but it’s some sort of radish. A magic, color-changing radish: the addition of a little vinegar turns the homely vegetable to a brilliant fuchsia, brightening up any menu. Because I think we can all agree that we don’t have enough hot pink in our diets.