A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
May 8... I had a relatively quiet last day in Japan, and met a friend for a quick lunch while Hiromi started the first day of work after Golden Week. After lunch, I made my way to Yūrakuchō to look for some additional self-indulgent snacks and treats to bring back to Seattle. I made my way back to my usual favorite spots (Hokkaidō Dosanko Plaza, Mura-Kara-Machi-Kara-Kan) and discovered, downstairs in the same building, a shop selling Wakayama specialties and another focused on Toyama products. I ended up taking home some umeboshi, some yuzu yubeshi, and some high-powered umeshu, and a few other treasures.
I met up with Hiromi mid-afternoon, because she had a medical appointment and had to leave the office a bit early anyway. After she finished with that, we met in Ginza and went to Printemps, where we both ordered a really nice, this-month-only, Matcha Mont Blanc. We then slowly headed back home, rested for a few minutes, and made our way to a restaurant we'd been planning to try all week.
Wai Wai, or 和伊・和伊, is a Japanese-Italian Izakaya that cutely uses country-appropriate Kanji (Japan and Italy) as ateji for a word that usually means something like "noisy" or "noisily".
The space looks tiny if you peek inside... There's only a U-shaped bar adjacent the kitchen, and maybe a small table or two. But it turns out that they have a half dozen or so tables upstairs, and that's where we were seated. The booths have small noren hanging to create some semblence of privacy.
This was fascinating. In fact, seeing this dish on the menuboard outside Wai Wai may have been what triggered us to try this restaurant.
They transformed a typical izakaya dish of fried tofu in a seasoned dashijiru into a clever, but not over-the-top, fusion dish. Deep-fried basil, mozzarella, and tomato make an appearance, along with the typical agedashi accompaniments of ginger, oroshi-daikon (grated daikon), and negi.
While the flavor isn't much a surprise, and any crispness quickly faded as the dish made its way to our table, the combination was quite successful. It's hard to go wrong with basil-tomato-mozzarella, and the mild broth added the same kind of complexity you'd get from parmesan or a more Italian style soup stock.
This was the most Japanese of the things we ordered. It's an elegant presentation of a simple dish: fresh yuba, made from skimming the surface of slowly simmering heavy soymilk, served with soy sauce, ginger, wasabi, and chopped scallions, which you add to the yuba to your own taste.
I ate most of this, as Hiromi ordered for herself some chicken thighs, grilled with something like sansho.
Caeser Salad and Crepe
This salad replaces the typical crouton with a sculptural crispy crepe, which you're encouraged to break up and scatter over the salad.
Marinated vegetables, or short-term pickles, featuring Western vegetables, including red bell peppers.
Quattro Formaggi to Hachimitsu
Four cheese pizza drizzled with honey. Like most pizza in Japan, it has an impossibly-thin, cracker-like crust. With the honey it would have served as a great final cheese course, but we weren't quite done yet...
Yakionigiri no ochazuke with an Italian accent
Ochazuke is a popular way of finishing a meal at an izakaya... there are two main tracks of ochazuke, one of which is the near-literal interpretation of tea poured over rice, with some pickles and furikake as accompaniments. Another is with a soup broth, and this version clearly is in the latter school.
As accompaniments, some chopped basil, parmesan, and anchovies are provided; they've been served separately to accommodate my vegetarian habit.
I'm wasn't quite sure which herb was used, but I think the rice has been mixed with a chiffonade of parsley along with some toasted sesame. Because the ball of rice is grilled before being incorporated into the ochazuke, the rice ball is called yaki-onigiri. Topping the yaki-onigiri is an earlobe of wasabi.
Any number of variations of ochazuke exist. I've made a yaki-onigiri ochazuke before, myself, though with a decidedly more Japanese flavor profile.
This dish was really smart. Well balanced and comforting, it avoids most of the cliches found in American "fusion" cuisine while still playing with foreign (to Japanese) flavors. I think it's successful because it's firmly grounded in one culinary tradition, while judiciously adapting ingredients found in another... So many fusion dishes in the US seem to have a poor understanding of all of the source cuisines they are borrowing from.
I think I haven't had a chance to have kuriimu anmitsu for quite a while. We had a small dish of anmitsu served with a quick set meal at a kissaten in Mashiko, but for some reason, Hiromi and I haven't found our way to any place featuring anmitsu for quite a while.
The ice cream version of anmitsu, called cream anmitsu, can be found at old-school kissaten around Japan, but it seems not as easy to find as it was even six or seven years ago.
Not your obaachan's anmitsu
Usually anmitsu comes with fruit, anko (sweet red been paste), and wasanbon (blonde cane sugar syrup), kuromitsu (black sugar syrup) or occasionally a simple sugar syrup. Occasionally the concept is combined with kakigouri, the shaved ice dessert; a few years back I ate that in a little shop in Takayama in Gifu prefecture.
Since we were in a slightly quirkier restaurant, the dish had been altered a bit further... in place of a more common syrup, it was served with tapioca that had been simmered in sweetened coconut milk. That transformed this treat into a Japanese-by-way-of-Southeast-Asia treat, and it worked suprisingly well. Since cream anmitsu is sometimes made with green tea ice cream, perhaps Chockylit's coconut matcha tapioca topping would be equally suitable...
We meandered the few dozen meters to our weekly apartment and started halfheartedly attacking our luggage.
You'd think that we couldn't possibly have room to eat more.
However, to think so, you must be oblivious to the concept of betsubara... literally, separate stomach, the idea is expressed rather verbosely in English as "there's always room for dessert."
Toraya Cafe is a contemporary-style wagashi shop... Much like Tsujiri Cafe, from Uji, they reference traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionary) but playfully reimagine flavors and presentations. Toraya, though, is a very old confectionary company, and their parent company is equally adept at old-school and contemporary wagashi.
Most of us ordered some sort of beverage, generally some kind of tea. Kristin ordered a "matcha glacé", a sort of sweet matcha drink that doubles as a dessert.
Tōnyū Pudding with Matcha Sauce
I ordered some azuki-cha (roasted azuki mean tea) served cold, with optional wasanbon syrup, a lightly processed sugar cane syrup, as a sweetener.
One of the things I love about soy-based foods in Japan, including desserts, is that, for the most part, little effort is made to conceal the soy flavor. In fact, the aroma of the soybean is often intentionally highlighted. Soy is not some sort health food or a second-class milk or meat substitute, but, when suitably fresh, a remarkable flavor all its own.
This tounyuu purin, or soy milk pudding, has a pronounced soy flavor and is pleasingly creamy.
A thick matcha-based crème anglaise adds a bittersweet touch and contrasts nicely with the soy pudding.
Dark azuki beans, slightly sweet, garnish the dessert in the same way you might expect to see in a coffee-based dessert.
Oshiruko With Pu-erh infusion
This remarkable variation of oshiruko, sweet azuki soup, is relatively traditional except for one subtle base note: The azuki are simmered with earthy Chinese pu-erh tea. Since azuki already has a somewhat earthy flavor, the flavor doesn't dominate, but provides a pleasant underlying accent that adds a subtle complexity to a dish that normally has a very straightforward, sweet flavor.
A few shiratama, also slightly tweaked for this dish, had, I believe, a little accent from white sesame seeds.
Although Toraya is a fairly large company, their cafe is, for me, one of the pleasant things that can happen when someone with vision and firm roots in a culinary tradition smartly reinterprets their palette of flavors and techniques with a creative eye. It's not hit-you-over-the-head culinary drama, but it's pleasingly innovative, and worth seeking out.
I don’t customarily plan an entire three course meal around a single ingredient, except to celebrate some seasonal excess, like fantastic tomatoes or the fall mushroom season.
However, over the last month or two, I started to want to push the boundaries of my usual matcha adventures…
I’ve become comfortable letting matcha play a role in sweets, cocktails, and so on, and I have done a matcha flavored cream sauce before, but I never really let it play a starring role in a planned meal. I wanted to test the capacity of matcha to play different roles. In addition to its obvious applications in desserts and sweets, it also has herbal and spice-like qualities I wanted to explore. I thought maybe I would revisit my matcha cream sauce again, but this time make some homemade gnocchi instead of throwing together a quick lunch with some dry pasta from my pantry. In this case, I could let the matcha serve the role of an herb. I also wanted to use it as a seasoning, so I thought maybe a simple tempura would be nice. And I couldn’t really envision a three course meal highlighting matcha without it serving a role as a dessert flavoring, so I decided to go way back in my repertoire to produce a green tea cheesecake. I had made a matcha mousse in Germany in 1996 or so, but I think it wan’t until 1998 or so when I decided to make a cheesecake with it.
When I first attended FoodEx and Hoteres Japan back in 2004, I was intrigued by the idea of a matcha-jio, or matcha seasoned salt. The primary suggested application was as a seasoning for tempura, but I have also seen it used to season oborodoufu (custard tofu) served in small portions. I don’t really make tempura all that often, but I thought that tempura could be analogous to a “fritto misto”, and since tempura was itself a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese cooking, it seemed fitting as a gateway between the European and Japanese elements of the meal I envisioned.
Even though I’m at Uwajimaya at least weekly, I don’t really know where to find matcha salt in Seattle. I do, however, have a small mortar and pestle, and a fairly substantial supply of matcha for cooking, since I’ve been functioning as a sales broker for Three Tree Tea. So I ground some salt up to a fine snowflake-like powder, and combined it with a fairly substantial proportion of matcha for cooking (grade A).
I spotted some freshly harvested local green beans (ingen), and some well packed Chinese lotus root (renkon). For color contrast I thought a few slices of carrot would be nice. I decided to make tempura the “old fashioned” way, which is not with a batter, but by bathing the vegetables in very cold water with a beaten egg, and dipping into flour. This allows for a very thin coating that allows the colors to come through. I did sprinkle everything a tiny amount of salt after frying before plating.
A few weeks ago at La Medusa, Hiromi and I had a nice “sappari” sauced pasta made with a fava bean cream, served with salt-marinated fava beans. I thought it was a good model for what I had in mind for my gnocchi.
For the pasta, I wanted the matcha to function much like rosemary or thyme or any other herb would work in a sauce. My goal was to make it recognizable if you were familiar with it, just strong enough that you would miss it if it weren’t there. So I chose to use a very small amount of cutting-board minced garlic (roughly half a clove), 2 tbsp. butter, 2–3 tbsp. cream (unmeasured), and a bit of parmesan. I prepared matcha by whisking about 3/4 tsp. of the powder in about 1/4 cup of my pasta water. I had some salt-water boiled edamame, which I had dropped in an ice bath after cooking. After boiling the gnocchi, which were a simple potato-based gnocchi with no special seasoning, I combined them with the edamame and the sauce and kept cooking a couple more minutes in the cream sauce (adjusting salt as needed). As a tea, matcha can become bitter or astringent when cooked for a long time, so I combined it into the sauce just before adding the gnocchi.
Gnocchi seem an ideal gateway between Japanese and Italian cuisine. The mild sweetness of the potatoes in gnocchi and the sweet-savory nature of “dango” or Japanese dumplings seemed to make the medium even more fitting. In fact, the first time I made a matcha cream sauce a few weeks ago, I used a tiny amount of sugar (1/4–1/2 tsp) just to make the sauce smoother. This time I skipped that. If someone served me a matcha cream pasta at a restaurant, I would be happy with either choice. The sauce was simple, clean-tasting, and slightly herby without any noticeable astringency.
In the morning I baked a moderately-sweetened green tea cheesecake. I am not a fan of the increasingly ubiquitous super-sweet cheesecakes. Matcha does need a bit of sugar for balance in sweets, so I did use a tiny bit more than if I were just doing a simple lemon zest cheesecake that might be topped with some fruit.
The base of the matcha cheesecake was essentially 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, 2 tbsp. sour cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 2 level tsp. matcha whipped with the softened cream cheese and sugar, a few drops pure vanilla extract, and one egg. I made a simple graham cracker crust. I used two very small (maybe 4”) springform pans. After the cheesecake came out of the oven, I made a sour cream and sugar topping which had additional matcha blended in. I served about 1/2 of the small cheesecake per person, which was more than really necessary but not overwhelming. Just before serving, I dusted a bit more matcha on top and on the plate.
The final product: Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).
Dinner is served!
This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is tea as an ingredient, hosted by A La Cuisine, so please take a look at what other folks have imagined. By Japanese standards, my dishes are probably slightly conventional but still somehow very much my own, so I'm sure you'll find some more radical uses of tea over there.