As you will know if you get me talking on the subject (don’t do it, I’ll never stop talking), I am very much enamoured with Japanese food, fashion, and culture. I’ve visited Japan twice in the past, and am currently planning trip #3 once it’s safe to travel again. With the many different things to see and do and local cultures and food specialties in every prefecture, I will never get bored of visiting this lovely country.
In Japan, both my sweet tooth and my umami tongue (?) are satisfied. Yet, every time I fly back to Canada I find myself missing the delicious foods of Japan. Sure, there are a few wonderful Japanese restaurants where I live, but there are some things, like mochi and dorayaki, that I just can’t get in town. Some foods can be ordered online, but then they are heavily processed and super overpriced. Monthly Japanese snack boxes are fun, but you don’t get to choose what’s in your box, and after a while you get a lot of repeats and stuff that you don’t want. I also live in a small town in northern Alberta where the nearest big city with an Asian supermarket is at least 5 hours away.
So what’s a small-town Alberta girl to do? Well, I’ve started to stock up on Japanese ingredients. Some things I can find easily in town, like udon noodles or panko breadcrumbs. Other things, like mirin and rice wine, are more hit or miss. Then, some things, like kombu seaweed, sweet rice flour, furikake rice topping, are impossible to find anywhere in my area.
With no other options, I’ve had to bulk up my pantry. Between ordering things online, stocking up whenever I go to Edmonton or Calgary, and even bringing home a few things from Japan, I’ve begun to gather my own stocks of ingredients. I’m the flustered girl you see at the T&T market during my biannual trip to Edmonton rushing around and buying implausible amounts of dashi soup stock because I simply cant buy it at my home grocery stores.
Where to start!?
A good place to start might be the konbini egg sandwich. These humble and unassuming morsels are known to travellers as a quick and cheap option available in convenience stores (“konbini”) across Japan. You might be thinking “who the hell wants to eat a stinky convenience store egg sandwich when they are travelling?!” and in any other country you’re totally right. However, Japanese convenience store offerings are on a whole other level, to the point that one of the things I regularly miss about Japanese cities is stopping into a friendly neighborhood konbini and loading up on affordable snacks and meals. A lot of things are new and exciting in Tokyo, and it’s great fun to explore restaurants and try out new cuisines, but there’s also something so comforting about knowing that the bright lights of konbini are waiting for you nearby (always nearby) any time that you just want something that you don’t have to think about or navigate. A simple, quick sandwich.
RECIPE USED: A pretty simple mix of a couple mashed up boiled eggs, couple tablespoons or so of mayo, salt and pepper to taste. Throw it between a couple slices of bread and voila. Should give you enough to make 2 sandwiches.
I was pretty happy with how my egg mix turned out, but my whole grain braid couldn’t compare with the soft, thin, chewy, cakey white bread used on my favorite konbini egg sandwiches.
Next up, another konbini staple: onigiri.
RECIPE USED: it popped up on the MyFitnessPal app one day and I’ve since lost the recipe, but rest assured these are easy to make and if you google “onigiri recipe” you will get tons of hits.
I guess I never took a picture of an onigiri in Japan aside from this one of them still in the wrapper. My own onigiri look like sad little rectangular lumps because they took on the shape of the little bowl I used to form them, but I assure you they were tasty. I used tuna (with mayo, basil, salt, and pepper) for the filling.
Coming up: shabu shabu!
RECIPE USED: https://www.justonecookbook.com/shabu-shabu/ (with some substitutions)
Shabu Shabu is a type of hot pot and a really great meal for sharing in the winter when it sometimes gets to be -38°C where I live. I bought a double-chambered electric hot pot that we can keep on the kitchen table while we eat. The name Shabu Shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) refers to the swishing (shabu) noise that the thin slices of meat make as you twirl them through the hot broth. The broth gets tastier and tastier as you eat, because the juices and flavorings of more and more ingredients get deposited to the pot as the meal goes on. I took this a little too much to heart when I was in Gunma and one of the ryokan staff noticed me putting pickled vegetables in my hotpot… they got a good laugh out of that (apparently the pickles do not go in the hotpot. To be fair I didn’t even know they were pickles).
I’m still experimenting with my Shabu Shabu, as some ingredients are hard to find. Enoki mushrooms are hit or miss in my town, and so far I’ve only found one grocery store that offers the thinly sliced hotpot meat.
Next, it’s bento time:
RECIPE USED: White sushi rice topped with furikake and mini hamburger bites with carrot shapes from The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches to Go by Makiko Itoh, Mini-hamburger bento, p. 27
Bento are awesome kuz you can throw together whatever you want into a cute little portable bento box. Bento picks and other little accessories can add to the creativity, but bento don’t have to be Pinterest-worthy; leftovers make great bento fare and you can use whatever tupperware you have on hand. I also love making tamagoyaki, which is like a rolled omelette.
Speaking of omelettes…
RECIPE USED: not applicable ^-^’
Ok, to be fair I didn’t actually make omurice here, sorry… this is just a badly flipped omelette on top of some hastily placed lettuce and grape tomatoes. It was basically an excuse for me to try some ketchup art. Someday I will master the omurice in all of its smooth, saucey glory. Someday.
On to dorayaki…
RECIPE USED: Get Started Making Japanese Snacks: Step By Step Recipes for Delectable Bites by Yamishita Masataka, p. 14 Tsubu-an & p. 22: Dorayaki
I have something to admit…The first time I had dorayaki (well, actually it was taiyaki, those fish shaped cakes which are sorta similar) I was put off by the red bean paste that is a common filling in Japan. I am someone who has a huge sweet tooth and is used to overly sugary western snacks, so the first time I tried azuki bean paste I thought something like “this is weird…I’d rather have custard or icing inside”.
HOWEVER! I can honestly say that anko has since grown on me. Very much so, in fact. I’ve developed a taste for it, and I’ve bought my own azuki beans and started making Japanese snacks with anko filling at home. The first one I tried was dorayaki.
Dorayaki is like two sweet pancakes wrapped lovingly around a filling of anko paste. These pictures are from my second attempt. The first time I tried making dorayaki, I used custard powder (the recipe calls for custard sugar) and ended up with globby, chewy pancakes that were less than delightful. Pro-tip: regular sugar works just fine! Then for the anko paste filling, two common kinds of anko paste are tsubuan (chunky consistency) and koshian (fine consistency). I made tsubuan for my dorayaki, and I also used it in my next sweet:…
RECIPE USED: https://www.justonecookbook.com/daifuku/
The mochi I made in Japan with friends is probably about as authentic as you can get. We made it as part of a New Year tradition, and took turns pounding hot rice in a giant usu mortar.
The one I made at home, on the other hand, involved using sweet rice flour to quickly make the mochi dough. I put a bit of anko paste inside, and voila: daifuku mochi. Make sure to have some potato starch or cornstarch on hand to keep the mochi from sticking to every single surface imaginable.
RECIPE USED: No recipe… just shave some ice and pour a bit of syrup on top. I ordered grape kakigori syrup online, but you can also use sno-cone syrup or whatever.
I had to buy an ice shaver to make homemade kakigori, but I’m so glad I did. It’s such a nice summer treat, light and cold and sweet. The closest thing I can compare this to is a sno-cone, but in Japan shaved ice, as with so many other things, is taken to higher levels of sophistication (levels which I clearly did not successfully replicate at home).
Finally, a soothing beverage:
RECIPE USED: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uavCHN_k0Lk&t=9s
Latte art is beyond my talents currently, but nonetheless I was super surprised at how tasty my matcha latte turned out. It’s so easy to make, too! This is a recipe I will whip out again and again. Heating the milk also gives me an excuse to use the cute spouted Animal Crossing pot that I bought at the Nintendo store in Parco Shibuya last year! I think it makes the latte taste better…
Bonus time: pudding!
RECIPE USED: Dr. Oetker Crème Caramel boxed pudding
I’m calling this a “bonus” because I only have a picture of a pudding label that I stuck in my travel journal (can’t believe I never took a picture of an actual konbini pudding! I guess I was too busy eating them), and the pudding I made at home was from a box…
The custard puddings from Japanese konbini are… TOO good. I ate way too many of them. Breakfast with a side of pudding? Pudding with lunch? After dinner pudding? Dangerously delicious.
You don’t see these puddings out and about in Canada. The closest I could find for a quick pudding was this Dr. Oetker box mix. It was tasty! Still, not quite as tasty as the plentiful puddings of Japan.
Well, that’s about it for my forays into Japanese cooking for now, but I have more ideas for the future that I want to try, such as matcha mochi, kushiage skewers, and maybe even a fluffy Japanese style strawberry shortcake!