We've spoken extensively about the prized beverages of Japan - sake and shochu - but to round out the holy trinity, we can't forget about umeshu. Often consumed as an aperitif, umeshu is made by steeping unripened, green ume fruit in white liqueur with added sugar. Although there are many different brands of umeshu on the market, most follow a simple recipe that can be replicated at home.Umeshu has an amber color, a syrupy sweetness, and tends to be a hit with young people and females. Because of its high sugar content and flavor profile, its versatility is endless - umeshu can be enjoyed straight, on the rocks, mizuwari, oyuwari, soda-wari, and more! It's even sold as a topping for ice cream in Japan and can also act as a cocktail base for mixed drinks.While umeshu is hugely popular in Asia and has gained popularity in the West, the world of fruit liquors is also vast and interesting. Yuzushu, for example, is a delicious alcoholic beverage made with the Japanese citrus, yuzu. Other varieties include jabarashu, gingershu, ringoshu, and even ichigo-shu.
A traditional Japanese meal is typically built around three core dishes: rice, soup, and pickles. Also known as tsukemono, Japanese pickles serve a very important purpose. Japanese food culture is heavily influenced by the principle of balance, and pickles provide exactly that - a variation of colors, flavors, and textures to balance out a meal. They’re also known to provide health benefits such as vitamins, fiber, and probiotic cultures that promote digestive health.Tsukemono have existed in Japanese history for many years (in the days before refrigeration) when pickling was used to preserve food. The different methods used to make pickles vary from simple salting or vinegar brining to more complicated processes that involve cultured molds and fermentation. Unlike western pickles, Tsukemono tend to have more subtle flavors that vary in strength depending on the type of vegetable and type of pickling used.At Yardbird, we offer four different types of pickles: cucumber with ginger, daikon with red shiso, fennel with yuzu, and kimchi with napa cabbage and carrots. These pickles are meant to be enjoyed throughout the meal, not only to bring balance to the bigger dishes but to act as a palate cleanser and digestive as well.
As Japanese whisky and shochu enthusiasts, we are no strangers to mizuwari-style drinks - a bit of cold water can be a pleasant addition to a specific dram or certain style of shochu. But now that the weather is cooling down, it's the perfect time to switch things up and start thinking oyuwari.Oyuwari (お湯割) means "with hot water," which is the perfect way to enjoy shochu and whisky during the winter months. When serving a drink oyuwari, hot water is usually prepared in a traditional Japanese teapot. It is then poured into a glass and the spirit is added afterward. The hot water helps to release the flavors in the spirit, adding intensity to the drink, and the result is a deliciously warm libation.The ratio of alcohol to water depends on whether you're drinking whisky or shochu, but 3 parts alcohol to 2 parts water is most common. Stronger spirits are ideal for oyuwari-style since the hot water brings out a lot of flavor, but it's never a bad idea to test out different combinations to find out what you like best! Let us know your favorite shochu and whisky to enjoy oyuwari in the comment section below.
The story of Japan and its history can in many ways be told through its food. Japanese food culture is extremely rich and ingrained in society because of its prevalence in both historic and modern religious beliefs as well as the nation's meticulous and precise nature. Specifically, rice is the essence of all Japanese food culture and its importance in Japan's daily life is perennial.Rice has played an important and defining role in Japanese culture for centuries. Shintoism, for example, revolves around rice growing and rice products such as mochi and sake. Historically, rice was also used as currency in trading, as payment for samurais, and the wealth of a lord or family was often represented by how much rice they had.Japanese culture is closely linked to nature which is also how rice fits into defining the morals and structure of society, family, and community. In Japanese food culture, everything has a specific meaning, feeling, and symbolism. Like the changing seasons, Japan's food culture relies heavily on shun, or the seasonality of ingredients.The word "gohan" in Japanese means cooked rice or meal. Just as bread is a staple of Western cuisine, no traditional Japanese meal is complete without a bowl of rice, pickles, and soup. Rice is required to round out other flavors and to provide a blank but fragrant canvas for accompanying dishes. Local Japanese rice is usually short grained and fatter, making it easier to stick together. And although Japan also imports rice, there are many regions that produce top quality rice that's also used to brew sake. Planting rice and harvesting season are celebrated events in Japan. During New Years, pounding mochigome (a special kind of rice for making sake) is widely popular.Japan's current food culture is more globalized with the prevalence and convenience of fast food and Western cuisine, but rice remains constant. In addition to the popularity of rice snacks in Japan, rice is still a large part of everyday life from obento to kaiseki. And with Japan's emphasis on heritage and tradition, it will likely remain a staple in Japanese identity.
Karuizawa Distillery was located in Miyota, a town south of the active volcano Mount Asama, in Nagano. While it was the smallest distillery in Japan, it produced some of the most expensive bottles of whisky in the world. In 2015, a bottle of 1960 Karuizawa was sold at Bonhams for a record price of US$118,500.The whisky distilled at Karuizawa were produced in small batches and aged in sherry casks from Spain. The water used in production flowed through lava because of its proximity to Mount Asama, giving each whisky a distinct flavor. Karuizawa Distillery was inaugurated in 1955 and its production methods followed strict, traditional guidelines to ensure the highest quality whisky. While bottles of Karuizawa are now highly sought after, these methods proved to be commercially insufficient, which led to the end of production in 2000. The distillery fully shut down in 2011 and was razed and destroyed in November 2015.While the distillery was permanently closed to the public after October 25, 2015, we got the final look at Karuizawa Distillery before it was completely dismantled. The shoot at Karuizawa took place from sunrise to sunset to showcase the defunct distillery during different times of the day.Karuizawa Distillery after sunrise: Karuizawa Distillery Interior:Karuizawa Distillery at sunset:
Shochu is a part of Japanese culture that many people outside of Japan don't know about. Shochu is typically combined with other ingredients during the distillation process and although the amounts can vary, shochu generally has more alcohol content per serving than sake. In the past, shochu was the drink of choice for oyaji (old men) in izakayas, but today, drinking shochu is becoming popular again, especially amongst women!Not only does shochu taste good, but it's even considered good for your health. Shochu has been shown to prevent blood clots due to a specialized enzyme called urokinase. It's also said that shochu won't give you a hangover! Apparently, due to the distillation process involved, shochu is actually better absorbed by the body than other types of alcohol. And for the weight-conscious, shochu is also a big draw. Without mixers, the drink has hardly any calories at all.So while moderation is always key, why not go for shochu the next time you're out for a drink? It might be your best bet!
The byproduct of the sake-making process may not be internationally known, but it's an important ingredient in Japan. This byproduct is sake kasu, also known as the lees left behind after the liquid is expressed from fermented rice. These solids are separated during the pressing stage of sake production, but just because sake kasu is technically a leftover, it should never go to waste!There are many culinary uses for sake kasu. Many breweries vacuum-pack it and sell it frozen to supermarkets throughout Japan, allowing people to buy it year-round. However, fresh sake kasu that comes straight from sake makers is the best, and full of complex flavors. Sake Kasu is packed with umami enhancing compounds, making it ideal for cooking, but its characteristics will vary depending on the type of sake it comes from. In Japan, this unique ingredient is used to add flavor to many different dishes, including soups and marinades.Aside from adding flavor and complexity to food, sake kasu is very nutritious and full of fiber, amino acids, and vitamins. And on the beverage side, it can be used to make amazake (a traditional, sweet, low- or non-alcoholic drink) or distilled to make shochu.
Yuzu Kosho is a Japanese condiment that comes from the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. It's often made with green or red Thai chiles or bird's eye chiles, which are fermented with salt, yuzu zest, and yuzu juice. About the size of a tangerine, yuzu is mainly cultivated in Japan, Korea, and China. It's incredibly fragrant but also super sour and tart.Red Yuzu Kosho has a rounder flavor profile while green Yuzu Kosho is much sharper. The combination of spice, citrus, and salt come together in a powerful and distinctive flavor that can be paired with everything from grilled meats to sashimi to hot pot. At Yardbird, Yuzu Kosho is used in the Seared Yellowtail Salad, Korean Fried Cauliflower, and on top of the Chicken Neck Yakitori.So if you're looking for something new to spice things up in the kitchen, pick up a bottle of Yuzu Kosho!
The Sunday's Single Cask is comprised of whisky from two famed distilleries: Hanyu, which closed in 2000, and Chichibu, which currently produces some of the best Japanese whisky today. Founded by Isouji Akuto in 1941, Hanyu Distillery is known for its 'Card Series' and the grandson of Isouji, Ichiro Akuto, founded Chichibu Distillery in 2008. Created in collaboration between Elliot Faber (Beverage Director for Yardbird, RŌNIN, and Sunday's Grocery), Ichiro Akuto, and famed Scotch whisky bottler Duncan Taylor, this pure malt whisky is produced near the Arakawa River in Japan's Saitama Prefecture. This river is the only water source for the Sunday's Single Cask, which is blended by Ichiro Akuto himself.The Sunday's Single Cask is a marriage of two very special whiskies, one of which is at least 17 years old. In 2010, it was filled into an ex-bourbon cask in Scotland, where it was left to mature until 2017. This 7-year cask was carefully crafted with the goal of preserving the purity of its production process and has benefited from Japanese production techniques, soft natural water, as well as a unique Scottish climate. Only 312 bottles of the Sunday's Single Cask were produced - available exclusively through Yardbird, RŌNIN, Sake Central, and sundaysgrocery.com while quantities last.
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai is a 150m-long shopping street in Osaka that is famous for selling all kinds of kitchen utensils and restaurant supplies. You’ll find everything from Japanese cutlery to tableware to takoyaki grills to food packaging, and much more. There are even stores that specialize in very specific aspects of the restaurant business - there's one store that only sells grills and charcoal and another that only sells plastic replica food (shokuhin sampuru).This famous street’s roots started in the late 1800s and originally connected Sennichimae in Hozenji to Odaishi-san in Tennoji Temple and Imamiya Ebisu Shrine. Tradesmen would set up general and antique stores along this road. In the early 20th century, the area developed into a place for wholesale stores and specialty manufacturing stores. In 1970, the covered arcade was built and Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai, as we know it today, was created. In 1985, the first Doguyasuji Festival was held, which has now become an annual event with sales and cooking demonstrations.Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street is a must-see for chefs and restaurateurs who visit Osaka, but it's also a fun place for enthusiastic home cooks looking for specialty tools and souvenirs. And as Osaka is dubbed the “nation’s kitchen,” it’s the perfect place for a passionate foodie to visit.
Kabayaki is the traditional Japanese grilling method for eel that includes filleting, deboning, butterflying, skewering, marinating, and then grilling. Grilled unagi and anago has been enjoyed throughout Japan since the Edo Period and is often served with rice. But depending on the region, the grilling technique differs – in Kanto (Eastern Japan) the eel is grilled, steamed to remove fat, and then grilled again to ensure tender, soft meat. In Kansai (Western Japan, including Kyoto and Osaka), the eel is only grilled but for a longer period of time, which results in an extra crispy exterior.After sashimi, grilling accounts for one of the widest food categories in Japan, but Japanese grilling techniques are quite different from the rest of the world. Binchotan is predominantly used as it burns cleanly at a higher heat for a longer period of time and charcoal grilling has long been a part of Japan’s culinary history. In other countries, where fish and meat are usually cooked in dry heat, Japan likes to utilize an open flame.With Kabayaki, the eel is gutted and deboned using a special technique. It's never served raw as the blood can be toxic, but no part of the eel goes to waste. The bones can be fried to mimic chips, the innards can be used for soup, and the fillets of meat are skewered and fanned over the grill. Before grilling, however, the meat is marinated in a special tare sauce made of soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. Throughout the grilling process, the eel is basted with that same sauce for seasoning. It's grilled over high heat to ensure crispiness on the outside and tender, moist meat on the inside. The key to grilling eel is knowing when to remove it from the heat to stop the cooking - heat should help form a crispy outside but barely reach the center.Traditionally, eel is eaten during the summer season, and especially during the hottest days of the year because its nutritional content is most essential when you're hot/sweating. Eel is rich in Vitamin B1, which is lost through sweat, so it helps to restore energy in the body. Grilled eel is rich and savory and can be seasoned with sansho pepper to add a kick and help cut the oiliness of the meat. Although Kabayaki is very popular throughout Japan, several species of Japanese eel have been added to the red list of threatened species, making eel a highly unsustainable food source.
At RŌNIN, we pride ourselves on following the Japanese tradition of eating fresh and seasonally. Every morning our chefs go to the market to pick up ingredients for the daily menu and our seafood is either local or flown in from Japan. We’re meticulous with our fish preparation and passionate about understanding their flavor profiles and where they come from. Learn more about the fish that we serve in our series, Fish Files.Yazu (油甘魚) (やす) Young Yellowtail - This fish is extremely popular both in and outside of Japan. It's often used in sushi and sashimi around the world, but depending on how big and how old it is, the Yellowtail fish goes by different Japanese names. Characterized by a yellow stripe along the tail, this fish is a quick swimmer and can be found in the Northwestern Pacific waters. Young Yellowtail are around 15-20 centimeters long and are usually caught during the summer season.The Yellowtail is a fatty fish since it dwells in colder waters and is popularly served as sashimi and sushi. Other cooking methods include broiling, simmering in sauce, and grilling the collar with salt. It is rich in vitamins B1, B2, and D.
Tajime Brewery was one of the many stops on the Yardbird crew’s 2017 trip to Hyogo, Japan. This brewery produces our favorite Chikusen sake and is a 10-time winner of the Annual Japan Sake Awards: Gold Award. Tajime Brewery is located in Asago-city in the Northern part of the Hyogo Prefecture, and one of the first things we noticed is how large it is for a small-batch brewery. Owner and current head, Hirotaka Tajime, took our crew on a tour of the facilities and explained why they have so much space when their annual output is 108,000 liters.Tajime Brewery was founded in 1702, which means they have 19 generations and over 300 years of sake brewing under their belt. Their facilities allow them to produce up to ten times their current volume, and at one point in time, they did produce much larger volumes of sake. But the current generation at Tajime Brewery believes that, sometimes, less is more. While the rest of the world is using technology to try to improve just about everything, Tajime Brewery took away a lot of their automated machines, opting for more traditional methods of sake-making. The brewery decided to limit its production in order to better control the quality of sake they were making.It is important to note, however, that the removal of automation doesn’t mean that the Tajime team have romantic illusions or nostalgia for the past. They are a seriously dedicated group of brewers who are not rejecting technology just for the sake of doing so. While a lot of modern technology was removed from production, they bought new high-tech equipment to wash their rice that is able to better protect the grains. Tajime Brewery is driven by their desire to make top quality sake and have chosen the best methods to achieve that goal, both traditional and modern.Aside from their "less-is-more" approach to producing sake, there are two other important factors that go into Tajime’s philosophy of sake-making. The first is cleanliness. While the brewery produces a range of sake and umeshu, they specialize in namazake (unpasteurized sake) and aged sake. The former spoils easily and the latter needs to be kept for a long time by sake standards, which means things can go wrong when cleanliness is not a top priority. The second factor is using local ingredients. Tajime-san told us that while great rice is produced all over Hyogo, they try to use hyperlocal rice grown in Asago-city whenever possible. This encourages local business and provides opportunities for young people in the sake industry. The brewery even tries to use local ume (Japanese apricots) for their umeshu.The next time you peruse a sake list, look out for Chikusen, knowing these craft brewers have sacrificed quantity for quality to produce excellent sake with a sense of terroir.
There may be other brands of mayonnaise in Japan, but KEWPIE is the Japanese mayonnaise. With its iconic baby logo, KEWPIE is a smoother, creamier, and tangier mayonnaise compared to Western brands, such as Hellmann’s. It's made with egg yolks only, as opposed to whole eggs, and with rice vinegar rather than distilled vinegar. The ingredients list also includes unidentified “spice”. Its flavor is slightly sweet, yet umami, thanks to MSG.Mayonnaise was first introduced to Japan in 1925 after KEWPIE founder, Toichiro Nakashima, discovered the condiment in the US. Mayonnaise isn't considered a "health food" these days, but Nakashima had originally hoped to create a high-quality, nutritious mayonnaise to help Japanese people improve their physique. They launched the first KEWPIE mayonnaise in a glass jar in 1925. In that first year, they only shipped 600kg of product, but by the following year, the volume had increased to 7 tons. The company stopped producing KEWPIE mayonnaise in 1943 due to the difficulties of sourcing quality ingredients during World War II, but they resumed production in 1948.Today, KEWPIE mayonnaise - in its modern plastic squeeze bottles - is a staple condiment in households all over Japan and loved by professional chefs and home cooks alike across the world.
At RŌNIN, we pride ourselves on following the Japanese tradition of eating fresh and seasonally. Every morning our chefs go to the market to pick up ingredients for the daily menu and our seafood is either local or flown in from Japan. We’re meticulous with our fish preparation and passionate about understanding their flavor profiles and where they come from. Learn more about the fish that we serve in our series, Fish Files.
We’ve talked a lot about sake here on sundaysgrocery.com, including how to order it, what to pair it with, and the cups you should sip it out of. However, sake is much more than just an alcoholic beverage and plays an equally important role in Japanese-style cooking and it does in Japanese-style drinking.Sake is used in all sorts of Japanese foods - everything from steamed seafood to teriyaki sauce to nabe (hot pot) broth. It’s often used in stocks and sauces to add body, umami flavor, and a touch of sweetness. Sake is also used in marinades for meat and fish to help tenderize them and eliminate odor. And some people even believe that cooking with sake has health benefits! While sake is a staple in Japanese kitchens, this fermented beverage made from rice (and only rice) is increasingly being explored as an ingredient in Western kitchens as well.The type of sake you should use for cooking is debatable as it really depends on preference and what you are trying to achieve with a dish. On the one hand, you can use ryorishu, or cooking sake. But remember, manufacturers of cooking sake are required by law to add 2-3% salt in order to make it unfit for drinking. It's more accessible as stores that aren't licensed to sell alcohol can stock ryorishu, which imparts a bolder flavor compared to regular sake; however, it should be used in moderation because of the additional salt. On the other hand, some people recommend only cooking with a sake that you would drink - a similar piece of advice we hear when it comes to cooking with wine. A nice, drinkable sake will have more complex flavors and can elevate a dish. An inexpensive table sake should work just fine, or even leftover quality sake if you have it at home, but it’s probably not worth opening up a new bottle of expensive junmai daiginjo to cook with!
At first glance, a tenugui towel doesn't look like much. It's a thin piece of cloth, usually dyed to show a design or pattern, that is used in everyday life in Japan. And while the popularity of tenugui towels started to decline with the introduction of newer, thicker fabrics, they are currently experiencing a resurgence and have made their way back into Japanese lifestyles.Tenugui refers to the traditional Japanese cotton-weaved towel. These towels are usually about 90 centimeters long and 30 centimeters wide and their history dates back to the Heian period (794 AD - 1185) when they were exclusively used in religious Shinto ceremonies. During the Edo period (1603-1868), tenugui towels were common household items and today, they're often used as handkerchiefs and hand towels (they are also good for wrapping gifts, souvenirs, and as headbands).Because tenugui towels are so thin, they dry very quickly and are extremely absorbent. Because the edges aren't sewn down, they are usually frayed - this adds character to each towel and helps them dry quickly when wet. Since tenugui are often hand-dyed and get better with use, each towel is personal and unique to its owner. In the kitchen, tenugui are useful for wiping down the surfaces of counters, dishes, and sinks. Chefs also wear them as bandanas to absorb sweat. They are reusable and biodegradable, which makes these towels ideal for kitchen use.
Tachinomi, also known as standing bars, are staples in Japan. They are ideal places for the fast-paced, convenience-driven lifestyles of Japanese people and while previously reserved for businessmen, are increasing in popularity with women and young professionals. These bars are colorful places for a quick, inexpensive drink and bite to eat.While standing bars first came about due to the scarcity of real estate, they were also established from the need of having a convenient gathering place for a drink before commuting home or a serious night out. Tachinomi can be found everywhere from train stations to working class neighborhoods to the alleyways of business districts. Classic Japanese favorites such as beer, sake, and shochu are served along with simple cocktails like whisky highballs and shochu highballs.The food offered at tachinomi is similar to the dishes found at izakayas. From simple skewers to kushikatsu to edamame, the offerings are often diverse, small, and meant to be shared. These days, tachinomi are getting creative with some serving specialty wines, others with French themes, and there are even boutique sake standing bars that play reggae. But while the types of tachinomi have evolved over time, their purpose remains the same - to provide a convenient place for people to gather and mingle combined with a satisfying and fast food and drink experience.
At RŌNIN, we pride ourselves on following the Japanese tradition of eating fresh and seasonally. Every morning our chefs go to the market to pick up ingredients for the daily menu and our seafood is either local or flown in from Japan. We’re meticulous with our fish preparation and passionate about understanding their flavor profiles and where they come from. Learn more about the fish that we serve in our series, Fish Files.Tachiuo (太刀魚) (たちうお) Silver Beltfish - Literally translated, Tachiuo means swordfish. This fish is available year-round but is used in Japan to signify the summer season. They can grow up to two meters in length and can be found dwelling in waters all around Japan. Tachiuo bodies have shiny, silver skin with a hairlike tail.The meat of the Tachiuo has a mild taste and soft texture. It can be served both raw and cooked, but is most popular in dishes like sashimi with ponzu, aburi, and nigiri.
Fresh ingredients make a good meal, but the execution of those ingredients is just as crucial. And that's where the tools come in. KAMA-ASA Shoten is one of the leading stores in Tokyo's Kappabashi-dori. Also known as "Kitchen Town," Kappabashi street is almost entirely populated with shops supplying the restaurant trade. While it originally opened as a foundry shop in 1908 by Kumazawa Minosuke, the store changed its name to KAMA-ASA and is now run by its fourth director, Kumazawa Daisuke. With over 100 years of history, the store provides quality tools that serve a purpose - to provide users with the utensils necessary to execute the best versions of their gastronomic creations.KAMA-ASA's storefront showcases some of their signature restaurant tools; however, they're known for carrying a large variety of high-quality Japanese knives. KAMA-ASA acts as the middleman between customers and the craftsmen who create these tools themselves. Through understanding the user's skills and needs, their staff can suggest knives with specific blades, grips, and handle sizes. In addition to complimentary engraving services, aftercare maintenance such as sharpening and repairs are also provided.Besides Japanese (and Western) knives, KAMA-ASA also sells hammered iron pans made by hand, which allows for even oil dispersion across the surface. Cast iron tools like graters and pots are also available along with iron stoves and grills. Each product on the shelves at KAMA-ASA reflects the craftsmanship and technique of the artisans who created it.