Allison Day


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Every Day is a Sushi Day!

Sushiday.com is all about sushi. My recipes vary from the most traditional sushi to the craziest off-the-wall combinations. Every week I will post new sushi recipes that I have made, as well as sushi restaurant reviews, sushi tutorials, and other sushi-related randomness. Every day is a sushi day!


A big part of why we went to Japan this summer was to be there the same time Rachael was there. Since she’s lived there before, speaks and reads Japanese fluently, and – oh, yeah – we have a podcast about Japanese food that we do together, we decided that we should definitely, absolutely take a trip to Japan together.

She goes to Japan every summer because her husband’s company sends him to Tokyo every year, so Son and I planned our trip to coincide with theirs. Since they found out not long before we left that they’d be able to take their two girls along this year, their flight scheduling meant they arrived a couple of days after we did.

So what did we do the first day we were all in Japan together? Well we visited the brand new Tokyo Skytree, of course!

Before meeting them that morning, I popped by the Starbucks in their building, in desperate need of some coffee. (Apparently I don’t do so well with jetlag. Heh.)


Allison with a Starbucks soy milk card

I got a soy latte (hi, I’m lactose intolerant), and discovered that unlike the Starbucks here in the US, the ones in Japan are super careful about making sure you don’t actually get regular milk instead. (That card I’m holding says that my drink should be made with soymilk – you hand it back to the barista when they give you your drink.)

At 430 yen (about $5.50) for a grandé, it’s definitely more expensive in Japan. But holy cow, their soymilk is lightyears better than the soymilk you get in the US! Almost worth the ridiculous price.

Once we found the Fujis, we all stopped by our newfound favorite onigiri place to pick up some onigiri (we got a salmon with mayo onigiri, and a laver paste – aka seaweed paste – onigiri) to take with us, then it was off to the Skytree!


Tokyo Skytree

The Skytree is very, very…


Tokyo Skytree

… very tall.


Tokyo Skytree

We were all hungry by the time we got there, so we found a curb to sit on while we snacked on the onigiri we bought.


Sitting on a curb near the Skytree


Sitting on a curb near the Skytree, eating onigiri

While we were sitting there, an older man who was walking past stopped to talk to Rachael and the girls. (Apparently this is common – people in Japan love to stop and fawn over children, especially Rachael’s blue-eyed, blonde-haired, very obviously not Japanese girls.)

He insisted upon giving the girls a couple of boxes of cookies he had just bought to the girls, and talking to Rachael and Mr. Fuji for a while.

Then he turned his attention to Son and myself… and started speaking Japanese to Son, thoroughly convinced that Son could understand him, even when Rachael informed him that Son is Vietnamese, not Japanese. (And he was very amused by the fact that I’m Japanese but can’t speak the language, while Rachael is not Japanese but is fluent in it!)

He was quite a character.


The girls playing with a dog

Then a man on a bike passed by with his dog, and they stopped to let the girls play with the dog.


The dog sniffing at Squirrel

Both Rachael and I got dragged over there by her girls, so we could play with the dog too!


Rachael saying hi to the dog

Because really, who can resist an adorable dancing dog like this one?


Dog doing tricks

Once the man and his dog went on their merry way, we all took a stroll around the Skytree Town (the area beneath and around the Tokyo Skytree where there were a bunch of shops.)


Tokyo Skytree

Have I mentioned yet that people in Japan really seem to like lining up for things? Such was the case with this statue – apparently if you stand in the middle of it, you can look up and it’ll line up with the Skytree. There was a ginormous line of people waiting to take pictures of the Skytree through the statue.


People taking pictures of the Skytree through a statue

We found this place called the Tokyo Curry Lab.


Tokyo Curry Lab

Both Rachael and I have a difficult time resisting curry-filled pastries, so of course we had to check it out.


Tokyo Curry Lab


Tokyo Curry Lab

They sell these curry pies – 300 yen each. Rachael and I each got one.


Curry pastries

Delicious! Though I’d still have to say curry buns are my favorite.


Curry pie


Food court outside


Bug goofing off

Pretty soon Rachael and her family had to be on their way (they had something else scheduled for the rest of the day), so we all said our goodbyes, for now.


Squirrel

After they left, Son and I wandered the area a bit more.


Shopping area inside

Let the pigging-out commence!


Onigiri shop

I’ve spoken of our newfound obsession with onigiri, which has resulted in us having a very difficult time resisting any onigiri specialty shops we come across.


Onigiri display

Especially when there are so many different, interesting types to choose from!


Onigiri display

Since we… er… still can’t read Japanese, we just picked two that looked interesting.


Allison buying onigiri

I just adore how the Japanese wrap things up for you, although it does result in a whole lot of packaging that just ends up being thrown away.


Onigiri packaging

So we ended up with an onigiri that was wrapped in something akin to mustard leaves (though I’m not entirely sure that’s what it was).


Onigiri wrapped in mustard greens

It use a mixed rice, but didn’t have any sort of fillings.


Inside of onigiri wrapped in mustard greens

The other one had tempura shrimp and lettuce in it. Delicious! Both for only 400 yen.


Tempura shrimp onigiri

After we ate the onigiri, we headed back in, to a mochi shop we had passed.


Mochi shop


Display at mochi shop


Display at mochi shop


Mochi shop

We decided to get two of the mochi skewers (dango?) that they were selling.


Mochi packaging

The first was warabimochi, an almost jelly-like confection covered in kinako (soybean flour).


Kinako mochi

It came with a packet of mitsu (a dark, sweet syrup) to drizzle over it. After eating this, Son has gained a newfound obsession with warabimochi (he really wants me to figure out how to make it, and we got it at least two more times while we were in Japan.)


Kinako mochi with kuromitsu

The second kind that we got was a sort of yaki dango (grilled mochi) with a sweet shoyu sauce. Both were delicious, and came out to a total of 310 yen.


Dango

After pig-out part one, we walked around a bit, going upstairs where there was a Ghibli store. Son bought “The Art of Spirited Away”, because he’s been interested in doing a bit of drawing lately.


The Art of Spirited Away

After that, we wandered around the upper level of Skytree Town, over to where the base of the Skytree is.


Black and white Tokyo Skytree

We considered going to the Sumida Aquarium, which is right next to the Skytree, but decided there were better ways to spend our time there.


Sumida Aquarium entrance

Such a strawberry milk soft cream, for example.


Son with our strawberry milk soft cream

There was a nice breeze, so we sat out on the plaza at the base of the Skytree to eat our soft cream (Japanese soft cream is like a mix between ice cream and soft serve).


View of plaza from second level


Tokyo Skytree

Then it was back downstairs, where we just had to check out KFC.


KFC

We’d heard that it’s better than KFC in the US, so of course we had to sacrifice some precious stomach space in the name of research.


Allison with the Colonel

Very important research.


Inside KFC

We did this for you, dear readers.


Ordering at KFC

Apparently, in Japan, it is extremely common for families to eat KFC for their Christmas dinners.


Chicken strip

And, well, after eating Japan’s KFC, I can see why.


Putting honey lemon sauce on chicken strip

Those “11 herbs and spices and finger-lickin’ flavor” they go on about here in the US is a load of bull. To heck with that. I want what KFC makes in Japan!


Chicken strip and drumstick from KFC

We got a drumstick, and a spicy chicken strip with honey lemon sauce.


Allison with the KFC chicken

Both were much more flavorful than anything we get here in the US. And that honey lemon sauce! Seriously. Why can’t we have this deliciousness here?

(Though at a total of 480 yen – about $6 – it wasn’t exactly cheap.)


KFC chicken strip

You’d think after all we’d eaten so far, we’d be done, right?


Crepe shop

Er… nope.


Wall of crepes

Like I said, pigging out.


Crepe

Next we got a crepe with banana slices, cheesecake pieces, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.


Allison with the crepe

Because, well… why not?

(At 550 yen it made the chicken look inexpensive, but it was totally worth it.)


Crepe with banana, cheesecake, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream

Okay, now we’re done eating.

Sort of.

For now.


Akihabara at night

After a nap back at the hotel, we headed out to Akihabara because Son wanted to look for something.

Akihabara stresses me out. All that noise and light and chaos…


Mister donut

So obviously, I needed doughnuts to soothe my nerves.


Mister donut

(Kidding. We would have ended up at Mister Donut even if I were completely zen… that was half the reason for going to Akihabara!)


Pon donut and whipped cream-filled donut

We got a glazed pon de ring donut (the one that looks like a string of fat beads) and a whipped cream-filled donut.


Mister donut outside

For 252 yen (about $3.25) it was totally worth it.


Akihabara

After a bit more walking around, Son decided he was hungry (if you think you’re noticing a trend here, you’re totally right). When he saw this tempura place, he insisted we try it.


Allison at the tempura place

This was pretty much the best tempura we’ve ever had. You know how I know that? Because even now, nearly four months later, Son still cannot stop talking about it.


Tempura bowl

“This is pretty good, but not as good as that tempura place in Japan.” “Man, we should have gone back to that tempura place while we were in Japan.” “Why isn’t there any tempura place here that’s as good as the one in Japan?”

(There is never any doubt that when he refers to “that tempura place in Japan,” he’s referring to this one.)


Outside of the tempura place

And then, because Son was still hungry (and had developed a fondness for the bento boxes from Ueno station the previous night), we headed to Ueno station.

For a bento box, of course.


Bento box

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Our second day in Japan began with onigiri. Delicious, delicious onigiri.


Onigiri display at Mai Mai

We found an onigiri specialty shop in Shimbashi station (when facing the entrance to the JR lines, it’s in the far left corner) called Mai Mai.

(We went there so often, the woman who works there started bringing out the English menu whenever she saw us coming!)


Mai Mai

(And what is it with Japanese women taking pictures of posters? Every single time we passed this huge poster in the train station, there was always a group of girls/women standing in front of it, taking photos – no matter what time of day or night. I’m not exaggerating – there literally was not a single time we went by where there wasn’t at least one female (usually quite a few more) taking a picture of it.)


Every time we passed this, there were girls taking pictures of it.

So back to the onigiri. One thing we really loved about the onigiri at Mai Mai was that they used a mixed-grain rice for it.


Onigiri

It was delicious.


Yum.

The first time we went, we got an onigiri filled with mayo mixed with salmon, and an onigiri filled with miso paste. (The onigiri there are 220 yen each – about $2.75.)


Onigiri with mayonnaise salmon

I couldn’t tell you which I liked more, because they were both fantastic. Although now that I think about it, I’m still dreaming about that miso onigiri…


Onigiri with miso

There was a bakery in the train station that we passed by every day, called Kobeya Bakery.


Kobeya Bakery

Apparently they’re known for their mango hand pies, so of course we had to stop in and see how they were.


Display at the bakery

And while we were there, we could’t resist drooling over all the rest of their baked goods as well.


Display at the bakery


Display at the bakery

Once we made our purchases, we walked back to a nearby outdoor plaza that had plenty of seating.


Mango hand pie

It’s no wonder the mango hand pies are their specialty – they were fantastic! Not too sweet, and full of perfectly ripe mango.


Schoolchildren and a businessman sharing a bench

All sorts of people can be seen sharing a bench there – like a businessman trying to catch a quick nap, next to some schoolgirls enjoying a snack.


Upward view in the plaza

But the thing I was really excited about was the tonkatsu sandwich we also purchased from the bakery.


Tonkatsu sandwiches

Ever since Rachael and I recorded our Miso Hungry Podcast episode about tonkatsu, I’ve been wanting to try a katsu sando (tonkatsu sandwich).


Tonkatsu sandwiches

Hooooly cow. (Perhaps “holy pig” would be more appropriate in this case.)

I’m kind of obsessed.


Tonkatsu sandwiches

The katsu sando was made with perfectly fried tonkatsu and a tangy sauce between two soft pieces of white bread. So simple, yet so ridiculously freaking good.

(806 yen for the mango hand pie and katsu sando – about $10.40.)


So yummy!


Shimbashi Station

Back through the station…


Shimbashi Station

… and then we were off to our actual destination.


Takoyaki stand across the street from the Tokyo Dome

(Not this takoyaki stand, though there is takoyaki in our future!)


Architecture near the Tokyo Dome

No, we were headed to the Tokyo Dome that day. Though not normally much of a baseball fan, Son wanted to find a gift shop because there was some Japanese baseball team jersey he wanted to see if he could buy.


Grilled cod roe with mayo onigiri

But before wandering the Tokyo Dome, we found we were hungry again (something you’ll find to be a common theme of this trip) so we sat down to eat another onigiri that we had gone back to Mai Mai’s to get after we enjoyed the first two so much.

This time, the filling was grilled cod roe mixed with mayonnaise. Delicious.


Grilled cod roe with mayo onigiri

And then we got slightly (understatement of the century) sidetracked by a manga store that was right next to the food court we had sat down in.


Anime store

So… we’re kind of closet One Piece fans.


Allison holding the One Piece book we got

In the first few years we were going out, we spent a ton of time watching episodes of it together.


Manga

It’s unfortunately been a while since we’ve had time to watch, but I’ve been wanting to for a while.


Inside the anime store

Which meant it was pretty much impossibly not to buy the manga I was holding a few photos up… and a One Piece shaped ice tray. Heh.


Allison buying the book and ice tray

I’m going to be the Pirate King!


Allison standing with a Luffy statue

Aaaaanyways… after that minor distraction, we were off wandering again, trying to find the baseball gift shop Son had found online.


Tokyo Dome City

We wandered around Tokyo Dome City, finding some very interesting menus.


Allison looking at the Baseball Cafe menu

And some very interesting bugs. (I nearly sat on that!)


Weird bug

Finally we found the gift shop, attached to the Tokyo Dome (a baseball stadium).


Tokyo Dome

Unfortunately we didn’t find the jersey Son wanted, but it was definitely interesting to wander around.


Baseball souviner shop at Tokyo Dome


Tokyo Dome

Then we went to find more food. Of course.


Takoyaki shop

Like I said earlier, takoyaki was to be had today!


Takoyaki

Mmmm, takoyaki.


Takoyaki

Such a guilty pleasure. Just look at those huge pieces of octopus! (450 yen for 6 pieces – about $5.75)


Huge piece of octopus in the takoyaki

Son opted to get a salmon ochazuke. (750 yen – about $9.50)


Ochazuke shop

Ochazuke is a dish where you pour a hot liquid (I’ve mostly seen it with green tea, but this one had dashi) over a rice bowl.


Son's ochazuke

This is the first time I’ve seen it made with all these toppings, but it was fantastic!


Son's salmon ochazuke

Then it was back to the train station.


Train station

We love the train system in Japan.


Train station

Especially when there are little dessert shops right near the train tracks!


Dessert shop

This one was in Akihabara station, which I believe was the station nearest the Tokyo Dome.


Allison buying flan tart


Clock reads 15:22


Tart

A quarter of a flan-like tart cost us about $4.70.


View from the elevator in our hotel

After that it was back to the hotel for a nap, then we wandered around the area for a bit.


Interesting clock near our station

There’s some really interesting architecture near the Shimbashi station.


Our hotel

By then it was late enough that we just wanted to find something to eat and get back to sleep. (Yep, still a bit jet-lagged.)


Ueno station

Son decided he wanted to go check out Ueno station and see what they had there.

Japanese train stations almost always have an excellent selection of pretty gosh darned good food, whether it be in restaurants or take-out.


Ecute

Ecute is a little food mall in Ueno station that has a bunch of little stores selling a huge variety of both sweet and savory foods.


Shops inside Ecute

We looked around for a bit – there were so many options, it was hard to choose!


Bentos

But we finally decided on a bento box (1000 yen – about $13).


Buying a bento


More shops


Salads

After all the ramen and greasy foods (takoyaki and katsu sando aren’t exactly light foods!) of the past few days, I wanted something lighter, so I got a small salad as well.


Buying a salad

Back at the hotel we got into the food… I just love the bento boxes in Japan! So many interesting foods, you can’t possibly get bored with all that variety (and Son is obsessed with all the different kinds of rice).

The fish was fantastic, all the different tsukemono and types of rice were delicious, and I especially loved the little meatball – tsukune – in the lower right corner.


The bento we bought

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View from our hotel room

Day 1. Our first full day in Japan. We woke up to find we had quite a lovely view of Hamarikyu Gardens from our hotel room.

Since we weren’t able to get our JR Passes the previous evening when we arrived in Japan, off we went to Shinagawa station, where there was a JR Exchange Office.

And back we went to our hotel room, because someone (we won’t name names, but it starts with “S” and ends with “on”) neglected to bring their passport, and we couldn’t exchange our JR passes without it. (They wouldn’t even take a photocopy! Boo.)

But we weren’t totally empty-handed – since the first time we were in Japan we stayed across the street from Shinagawa station, we became quite well acquainted with the curry pan from a bakery in the station. Obviously, we couldn’t walk by and not get one.


Curry pan

Do you have any idea how impossible it is to resist buying a cream puff when you can smell them, freshly baked, the scent wafting through the train station? It’s like going by Krispy Kreme when that “Freshly Baked” sign is blinking, or In N’ Out when you can smell french fries cooking from across the street. Or smelling bacon, anytime, ever. Instant cravings.


Beard Papa's Display

Yeah, so there’s a Beard Papa’s shop in Shimbashi station, right near the entrance to the JR station. And Son has a coworker who’s OBSESSED with Beard Papa’s (hi, Victor!), so of course we had to stop by and see how the ones in Japan compared to the ones in the US.

All in the name of research and being a good friend. Yup. That’s our excuse, and we’re sticking with it.


Beard Papa's Ice Cream Puffs

No comparison. None. At all. Even just the plain custard-filled cream puff blew our minds. (Which unfortunately is, I’m pretty sure, the only one we had there that you can actually get in the US. Come on, US Beard Papa’s! What’s your deal?!) Best. Cream puffs. Ever.


Beard Papa's classic cream puff

So, after a quick jaunt up to our hotel room to retrieve aforementioned someone’s passport, off we went to Tokyo Station to exchange our JR Passes. (Tokyo Station is in the opposite direction of Shinagawa Station, a little bit closer to Shimbashi Station so cost us less, and also has a JR Exchange Office.)


Tsukemen

After attaining our JR Passes, we decided to walk around Tokyo a bit. (When I say Tokyo, I mean the area around Tokyo station.) By then our stomachs were starting to grumble (a curry bun and a cream puff, shared between the two of us, does not make for much of a breakfast.)


Tsukemen noodles

Mind you, neither of us read or speak Japanese, and we’re only somewhat familiar with certain parts of Tokyo. So when it comes to finding a good place to eat… we’re pretty much useless. After a bit of wandering, we ended up at a ramen place with a line out the door for lunch – always a good sign.


Tsukemen soup

I got the tsukemen, which is similar to ramen, but the noodles are served on the side and the broth is thicker than normal ramen.


Gyoza

Son had the miso ramen, and we shared an order of gyoza.


Tsukemen noodles

The tsukemen was ridiculously good. The weirdness of squishing into a table across from a couple of businessmen was worth it for that tsukemen.


Eating the tsukemen

Son’s ramen and the gyoza weren’t bad either, but we were both in agreement that my tsukemen was the winner of that meal. (The meal came out to 997 yen – about $12 – such a deal!)


Miso ramen

After lunch, we walked around a bit, then headed back to Shimbashi station.

We couldn’t help but stop by Beard Papa’s again – more research, of course.


Tully's

We also stopped by the Tully’s inbetween Shimbashi and Shiodome stations (on the way to our hotel).


Allison in Tully's

Hoping for a taste of home, and unable to resist buying boba milk tea (me, an addict? Nah…), we stopped there for a second, and then sat down in the courtyard outside.


Boba milk tea from Tully's

We were so, so sorely disappointed.


Beard Papa's cruller

In the boba, I mean. The cruller-type pastry we bought from Beard Papa’s (filled with the same sort of pastry cream as the regular cream puffs) was fantastic! Quite possibly even better than the original cream puffs.


Boba

But that boba… ugh. Such a waste of 150 yen.


Huge crowd near Tully's

After a quick nap – jet lag had us utterly exhausted by that time – we took the train over to Harajuku.


Harajuku

We walked around Harajuku for a bit, then through Yoyogi park – one of our very favorite parks in Tokyo. This time it was too late to see the Rockabilly dancers or visit food stalls, but it was still nice, a moment of calm in the middle of a busy city.

We searched for the Sword Museum on the other side, but it ended up being closed by the time we got there.


Sword Museum sign

So instead, since we were in the area, we took a train to Shindaita station and walked to Bassanova – the ramen shop where Keizo of Go Ramen works.


Boom and Keizo making ramen at Bassanova

We got to meet Boom, another Japanese-American who began working at Bassanova after Keizo mentioned on his blog that they were looking for more employees.


Boom and Keizo making ramen at Bassanova

Son got the Tom Yum Ramen, a spicy Thai-style ramen. It was fantastic. Seriously, we haven’t had anything here that wasn’t amazingly good.


Son's Tom Yum Ramen

But that wasn’t what I was here for.

I came to Bassanova looking to get my Green Curry Ramen Soba fix!


Allison's Green Curry Soba

Ooooh, baby. That’s some freaking fantastic soba.

I’m still working on convincing Keizo to open a branch of Bassanova in LA, so I don’t have to travel all the way to Tokyo to get my fix!

I swear, it’s like a drug.

And 1800 yen (about $23) for 2 bowls of ramen makes it a very affordable drug.


Tom Yum Ramen

After hanging out at Bassanova with Keizo for a bit, we took the train to Shibuya to walk off all that ramen.


Walking around Shibuya

Then back to the hotel to pass out. Day 1 was a ramen-filled success!

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As some of you might know, in January of this year I started a podcast – Miso Hungry Podcast, all about Japanese food! – with Rachael Hutchings of La Fuji Mama. (And if you didn’t know, then you should definitely go listen to one of our 25 (plus 2 mini) episodes! Seriously, go. Now. This post can wait, promise. ^_^)

A couple of months into the podcast, Rachael mentioned that she was planning a trip to Japan with her husband in the summer, as she does every summer. (They lived in Japan for a while a few years back, and his job takes him back to Tokyo for a few weeks every year.)

Half-jokingly, one of us proposed that I should go too, as a “research trip” for the podcast. The more we talked about it, the more it sounded like an awesome idea… and when I mentioned it to Son, he was totally on board.

So what started as a wild, “that would be cool” sort of idea, ended up as a full-fledged trip to Japan. In the middle of June, solidly in typhoon season, six of us (on three different flights) headed off to Japan – Rachael, her husband, and their two daughters, and Son and I.


Reading the Kindle before we left

Son and I booked our flight on Singapore Air. It’s the same airline we flew the first time we went to Japan, and we highly recommend it. Even though we fly economy, they have great service, friendly flight attendants, and food that’s actually pretty good.


Singapore Sling

To say I’m a bit out of touch with what’s trendy/cool/”in” would be an understatement. Especially when it comes to anything having to do with any sort of alcohol.

The super-sweet flight attendant who took care of our part of the plane recommended that we get a Singapore Sling, on one of the instances when she came by with the drink cart. (I think she thought Son and I were on our honeymoon.)

So we got one to share, which she made super-weak (I’m pretty sure it was practically a virgin cocktail) because neither of us ever drink.

Of course I, the dork that I am, was sitting there thinking, “How cool, they have a cocktail named after their airline! And it’s not half bad, either… actually pretty good, for something with alcohol in it.”

(Remember the part where I said I don’t drink… and I’m waaay out of touch? Yeah…)


Singapore Sling description

Dinner was buta kakuni (Japanese braised pork) with rice, which came with tamago and shrimp on the side, a rice cracker, a roll w/ butter, soba with dipping sauce, and chocolate brownie ice cream. For airplane food, it was damn good.

(Asian airlines always have the best food! I’m told food on the American airlines can’t even compare. Word to the wise – although both options offered by Singapore Air at each meal are pretty decent, the one with Asian food is almost always better.)


Airplane dinner

After a few hours of “sleeping” – aka Son watching various movies and me reading an entire Robert Jordan book on my Kindle, we got another light meal – this time chicken curry with rice, which came with a roll with butter, seafood salad, and a mocha cake. Again, delicious (although the cake kind of sucked.)


Airplane curry

We landed at Narita Airport around 7pm Japan time… which unfortunately was juuust too late to exchange our JR Exchange Order for a JR Pass.

(PRO TIP: if you are going to be staying in one city, without traveling elsewhere much, then the JR Pass may not be worth it for you, since local trains usually aren’t too expensive. However, if you’re planning on using the Shinkansen a lot – we used it to go to Kyoto and Osaka – then it might be worth buying one before your trip to Japan.)


Son on the train

So, since we were too late to get our JR Passes, we ended up spending 2800 yen (about $35) for tickets on the Rapid train to get from the airport (which is about 1 hour away from Tokyo) to Shimbashi station (which is the closest big station to the hotel where we were staying.)


Allison on the train

By the time we got to our hotel, we were 100% completely and totally exhausted. Also, kind of lost. (Park Hotel Tokyo, which is where we were staying, is kind of hard to find from the subway station level, and the lobby is on the 20-somthingth floor.)

And by that time, everything was closed. Luckily for us, there was a Family Mart convenience store (aka “combini”) on the subway level of the hotel building, which our bellboy was kind enough to point us to.

Thank goodness for Family Mart. Open 24-hours, always brightly lit, and always with plenty of food… it became our favorite place over the next two weeks. Every morning we would buy a bottle of water there, every night a tuna with mayo onigiri for the next morning’s breakfast… and any time we found ourselves still hungry when most restaurants were already closed (or we were too exhausted to go out), Family Mart was there with plenty of good food.

Seriously. I’m not kidding about it being really freaking good food (um, hello American convenience stores, get your act together please!)

For our first meal back in Japan, we ended up with inari sushi and futomaki, fruit jelly, and a cherry soda. (Sushi was good, Son ate the fruit jelly, and I’m generally not a fan of cherry-flavored things so I didn’t really like the soda, but Son says it was good.) All for about 800 yen (about $10). Only in Japan will I ever advocate getting convenience store sushi! ^_^


Family mart dinner

Okay, so our “first” day in Japan wasn’t so exciting… hence it being labeled “Day 0″. But the next day included ramen, cream puffs, and more ramen… so stay tuned for the next post!

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Fourth of July, sushi-style

Over the years, we’ve all seen the American flag cakes, the patriotic fruit kabobs, the everything red, white, and blue for Independence Day. Heck, even Pocky sticks have been decked out in patriotic colors!

So, considering this is a sushi blog (and completely disregarding the fact that I have hardly posted in ages, thankyouverymuch), I’d be awfully remiss if I didn’t make something sushi-style for the Fourth of July.


Blueberry salsa

For the red and white, I used sashimi, of course. (I made this as a chirashi – sashimi on top of a bowl of sushi rice – so there is a layer of sushi rice underneath.) The red is ahi tuna, and the white is made up of bay scallops.

For the blue, I decided I wanted to make something with blueberries. I hemmed and hawed between pickled blueberries, some sort of blue tsukemono (Japanese pickles), or this blueberry salsa. Since it was only a couple of days before the fourth, I ended up not having enough time to make pickles, and no time to go to the Japanese supermarket to search for blue tsukemono. So salsa it was.

(I used red jalapeños instead of green ones, and lemon juice instead of lime – funny story, I thought I had run out of lime juice, then found it in the very back of the fridge several hours later. Oops.)

This recipe can easily be adapted to make however much or little you would like. As written, this makes a 12″ square chirashi “bowl”, which could probably feed 4 people on its own, or a whole lot of people as part of a potluck.


Sushi flag!

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seared albacore tuna belly nigiri

Sustainability is an important food issue these days. But what people don’t always realize, is that it can also be a very delicious issue.

Luckily, we have people like Hajime Sato of Mashiko, the lovely people at I Love Blue Sea, and Casson Trenor to show us just how delicious sustainability can be.


The Butterfly Project Loft

Last week was a perfect example of this. There was an event in Los Angeles – A VIP Mindshare LA Sustainable Sushi Experience with Tataki Sushi at the very cool Project Butterfly Loft that Son, Rachael, and I were lucky enough to get to go to.


Kin Lui and Raymond Ho, chefs at Tataki Sushi Bar in San Francisco

Tataki is a sushi bar in San Francisco… actually, three sushi bars in San Francisco. And now they’re looking to open a branch in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it. A sustainable sushi restaurant in LA? You can bet I’ll be there quite a bit… and I’m going to be doing anything I can to help them do well. Want to help? Email me and I’ll get your info to Casson.


Casson Trenor

But as much as the dinner was about getting the word out about bringing Tataki to Los Angeles, it was also just as much about the food. And oh boy, was it ever about the food… amazing, delicious, creative food!


Course 1: Pumpkin-carrot soup and a coho salmon salad with three types of seaweed and a miso-sesame dressing

The first course was made up of a pumpkin-carrot soup, and a coho salmon salad that had three types of seaweed in it. The soup had the sort of flavor that seems like a new, different flavor, but you just cannot stop eating it. The seaweed in the salad was a new experience for me – more than your typical wakame seaweed that you find in many Japanese applications. It was texturally fascinating, and the salmon, of course, melted in your mouth.

Coho salmon is generally considered a good choice in terms of sustainability, because of how it is fished – especially when it uses trolling methods (a hook-and-line method that tows fishing lines behind or alongside a boat, which is considered an environmentally responsible fishing method.).


Course 2: Canal Oysters with tobiko, basil chiffonade, Sriracha, and ponzu sauce

The second of nine courses consisted of Canal oysters, topped with tobiko, basil chiffonade, and a Sriracha ponzu sauce. I only recently developed a taste for oysters – three years ago, at the first sustainable sushi dinner I attended at Mashiko. (It’s all coming full circle!) These were delicious. Of course. (There’s a good chance I will be trying to make these at home, soon.)


Course 2: Canal Oysters with tobiko, basil chiffonade, Sriracha, and ponzu sauce

Oysters are one of the best types of seafood you can eat. They are almost always farmed, and according to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, most of these farming operations are very well managed – so as consumers we have little to worry about here.


Course 3: Albacore tuna poke with endive and nori

The third course was a Hawaiian-influenced albacore tuna poke, with nori and endive. I really want more of this. I had never considered endive as a pairing for sashimi, but when you spoon a little of the poke onto it and take a bite, it’s entirely addictive.

Albacore tuna is a great choice, especially when compared to unsustainable options like bluefin tuna. The albacore tuna is much smaller than the bluefin, and something that Casson constantly says is that the smaller the fish, the better option it is. (Sardines are a great option.)


Course 4: Vegan tsukune made of mountain yam, panko, water chestnuts, and bean curd. (Tsukune are usually chicken meatballs)

The next course was a vegan tsukune, made of mountain yam, panko, water chestnuts, and bean curd. “But,” I’m sure you’re wondering, “if it’s vegan, then that means there’s no fish. How does this fit into a sustainable sushi dinner?”

Part of what Casson and the chefs at Tataki are trying to show is that sustainability is about more than just eating the right fish – vegetables are a vastly overlooked solution. As you’ll see later (and as I’ve mentioned in the past), vegan sushi can be so good, that even meat-lovers crave it.

That goes for these meatballs two-fold. Tsukune are usually meatballs made of chicken, but I’d claim that this vegan version is even better. You have no idea how much I am still craving them. (Casson, when you guys open a LA branch of Tataki, these had better be on the menu!)


Course 5: Arctic char sashimi with dill and capers

Course number five consisted of arctic char sashimi with dill and capers. Although obviously not a very Japanese dish, it utterly melts in your mouth.

I’ve been talking about arctic char as a sustainable substitution for salmon for quite a while, and for good reason – it’s delicious. And sustainable! Most of the arctic char sold in the US is farmed, and luckily for us, done in closed systems – land-based systems that prevent a lot of the issues that come with open farms.


Course 6: Horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and daikon, kampachi, skipjack tuna with mustard and scallions, hokkaido scallops layered with lemon slices.

It wouldn’t be a sustainable sushi dinner without a sashimi course, and Tataki definitely delivered. The course included horse mackerel sashimi with ginger and daikon, kampachi, skipjack tuna with mustard and scallions, and hokkaido scallops layered with lemon slices. The skipjack tuna melted me, and in my opinion you can never go wrong with scallops. The horse mackerel and kampachi? Also amazing.

Not surprisingly, horse mackerel, kanpachi, skipjack tuna, and scallops are all good choices when it comes to sustainability.


seared albacore tuna belly nigiri and black cod 'faux-nagi' (made to taste like unagi)

The seventh course had everyone sighing happily. This course consisted of four nigiri, but Casson had very specific instructions about the order in which you were to eat them. Traditionally, you are supposed to eat sushi in the order from the most delicate to the fattiest/most flavorful, and this was no exception.


black cod 'faux-nagi' (made to taste like unagi)

We were instructed to start with the suzuki (striped bass) nigiri, that was topped with tobiko.

Then we were to sample the seared albacore belly nigiri – this was when the room lit up with ecstatic groans. (Although everything was amazing, if I had to pick a single favorite bite from the evening, it would have been this.)


Course 7: Suzuki (striped bass) nigiri with tobiko, seared albacore tuna belly nigiri, saba (mackerel) nigiri with candied kombu, black cod 'faux-nagi' (made to taste like unagi)

Third of the nigiri we were instructed to eat was the saba (mackerel) mackerel with candied kombu.

Lastly, something that I’ve made and posted here in the past – Tataki’s black cod “faux-nagi”. As we know, unagi is a bad choice when it comes to sustainability… the problem is that everybody loves it. So Tataki came up with this black cod-based substitution… try it, and you’ll see that it does quite well in place of unagi.


Course 8: Reggae Roll - vegan uramaki with asparagus and cucumber, topped with avocado, cherry tomato, and shaved pumpkin. Served with avocado puree, Sriracha aioli, and Sriracha sauce for dipping.

Then we moved on to the (ura)maki sushi course. Or rather, courses. Although this was billed as a 9-course dinner, it really turned out to be more like 12 courses after all the maki rolls!

Like I mentioned before, they started the maki course with a vegan roll – the Reggae Roll. Filled with asparagus and cucumber, and topped with avocado, cherry tomato, and shaved pumpkin, then served with avocado puree, Sriracha aioli, and Sriracha sauce for dipping… it’s so flavorful, you have no opportunity to miss the fish.


Course 8: Golden State Roll - uramaki filled with scallops, Sriracha, and green apple, and topped with avocado, albacore, masago, and an apple spice reduction. All ingredients are local.

The second of the four rolls was the Golden State Roll – an uramaki filled with scallops, Sriracha, and green apple, and topped with avocado, albacore, masago, and an apple spice reduction. Everyone really liked the use of apple in a sushi roll… and I always, always love anything made with scallops.


Course 8: Golden State Roll - uramaki filled with scallops, Sriracha, and green apple, and topped with avocado, albacore, masago, and an apple spice reduction. All ingredients are local.

Another concept that Casson speaks of often is the idea that using ingredients that are local is more sustainable than using ingredients that have to be shipped from very far away. Every ingredient in the Golden State Roll is local to California. It’s common sense, if you think about it. Local uses fewer resources, and keeps demand for ingredients more spread out (instead of, for example, everyone buying tuna from a single source like Japan).


Course 8: Tataki Roll - uramaki filled with avocado, cucumber, and topped with albacore, arctic char, black cod 'faux-nagi', and multi-colored tobiko.

“When you think about the Rainbow Roll, it’s pretty much carnage on a plate (in terms of sustainability).”

Casson said this as they brought out the Tataki Roll, and it’s true – you often have every sort of popular, unsustainable fish packed on top when you order a Rainbow Roll. So as a sustainable replacement, he offers the Tataki Roll – uramaki filled with avocado, cucumber, and topped with albacore, arctic char, black cod ‘faux-nagi’, and multi-colored tobiko. All sustainable ingredients that we’ve already seen, and entirely delicious.


Course 8: Russian Roulette Roll - asparagus, scallop, crawfish, sriracha, kewpie mayonnaise, soy-marinated masago. One of the rolls is filled with habanero oil, hence the name.

The last of the sushi roll courses was one that, quite frankly, terrified me. They brought it out, and our entire table just sat and stared at it, no one daring to touch it.

“Why,” you ask? Well, the name tells all. This is known as the Russian Roulette – a roll with asparagus, scallop, crawfish, sriracha, kewpie mayonnaise, and soy-marinated masago. It all sounds innocent enough, until Casson warned us that one of the pieces had been filled with habanero oil… hence the glass of sake included with the plate.

We all stared at the plate warily, as if it held a poisonous snake. Other tables had already started eating the Russian Roulette, piece by piece. You could tell when someone got the loaded piece of sushi – they would go red in the face, and the room would erupt in a ruckus.


Rachael

Finally, Rachael was the first one at our table daring enough to reach out and take a piece. We all watched her with bated breath… until she smiled and admitted, “I got it.” Not that you could tell – the spice had no effect on her at all. (Have I ever mentioned that she’ll eat anything? I’d even venture to say she can handle spicier foods than Son can, and that’s saying a lot.)

Needless to say we were all relieved, and were able to enjoy the rest of sushi without the sense of dread that had previously haunted us.


Course 9: Shiso and lychee granita with plum wine and yogurt

Last course was dessert – a shiso and lychee granita with plum wine and yogurt. To me, it tasted like Vietnam – not a bad thing at all. (Son was convinced it had fish mint in it – a Vietnamese herb that apparently tastes quite similar to shiso.)


Allison

All in all, the dinner event was a grand success. We met a lot of interesting people, ate great food, and Casson gleefully embarrassed me in front of the entire dinner.

I’m really excited about the future of sustainable dining (seriously – bouncing-off-the-walls, dancing-around-the-room excited), and eagerly anticipating the arrival of Tataki in Los Angeles!


Rachael, Allison, and Casson

P.S. This is an excellent time to go check out my Miso Hungry Podcast… this week’s episode is all about sushi! We talk about this sushi dinner, and also talk quite a bit about the new documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, that I highly recommend all of you go see.

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Uni Nigiri CubesPosted on February 23rd, 2012 · 7 Comments »

Nigiri Recipes


uni rice cube

When I first tried uni, at a little sushi restaurant in Honolulu in the summer of 2008, I was not a fan. Something about the texture, the saltiness, and how exotic it seems just put me off. For the next three years, I was convinced that I just plain didn’t like uni.

In spring of 2011, I was at a fellow food blogger’s house, filming some sustainable sushi videos for a friend with a couple of other friends of mine who are also food bloggers. Among the types of seafood we had to work with was some fresh golden uni.

Since this was my first time meeting Rachael and Greg, and at the time I had only met Cathy and Martin once… I sure as heck wasn’t about to admit that I, a sushi blogger, didn’t like uni. Especially since everyone else was raving about it so much.

So I tried the uni temarizushi that Rachael made… and they were actually pretty good. Then I ventured to try the fresh uni straight from the tray… suffice to say that since then, I’ve become a full-on uni lover.

Lucky for me, uni is pretty sustainable, not to mention good for you as well (and also an aphrodisiac… oh la la! ~_^)

If you want to know more about uni, why not listen to the uni episode of my Miso Hungry Podcast?


uni

A few weeks ago, Rachael gave me a cool little kitchen toy called a Rice Cube. (Disclaimer: I got this as a gift, and Rice Cube also donated several Rice Cubes for us to give away on our podcast.) So when I bought a tray of uni for the uni episode, I wanted to find a way to use the rice cube with it.

I tried compressing the uni into a cube with the rice… but that just looked ugly (though still delicious). So instead I made a cube with the sushi rice, laid a lobe of uni over it, then sprinkled it with paprika and topped it with a sliver of green onion. I actually liked this better than normal nigiri, because not only was it ridiculously easy to make, the ratio of rice to uni was also perfect.

If you want a Rice Cube for yourself, you can buy one through their campaign to fight childhood obesity on IndieGoGo at a discount and have the proceeds go towards fighting childhood obesity. OR… you can head over to the Tako Episode of my podcast, where we’re giving away three of them!


uni rice cube

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Food blogging. It’s mostly written word, complemented by some (hopefully) beautiful photographs of delicious food, with maybe an occasional video or two thrown in the mix. Blogging’s easy. Anyone can do it (lots of people do, and very well at that!)

Then there’s podcasting. Another beast entirely. Wrought with all sorts of challenges and insecurities blogging doesn’t provide. (After all, who doesn’t think it’s really flipping weird, when made to listen to a recording of their own voice?)

Of course, there are also many of the same worries – will anyone show up? Will people like it? Am I just going to sound like an idiot, putting myself out there like this?

So why am I waxing poetic about the differences between blogging and podcasting? Well, I’ve been blogging for five years, two months, and seventeen days. (Not that anyone’s counting.) I’ve gotten that pretty well under my belt, even if we already know that I kind of suck at it (given that I got in… oh, about seven posts last year. Oops.).

But podcasting? Not really something I ever thought I’d do.

Ever.

Pfft. Who, me? Podcast? Yeah, right. I hate my voice! I suck at talking!

But then I was talking to my friend Greg (who is, himself, a podcaster), and he said, “You know, you should do a podcast. Yeah… you’d have a good subject for a podcast.” I came out of that conversation perplexed (I do? What could he possibly be talking about?)… but also intrigued.

After some serious thought (Son can tell you that I was talking about that conversation the rest of the evening), I decided that if I were to do a podcast, it would have to be about Japanese food. Of course. What else could I possibly talk about that would make a good podcast? (I doubt I could make either programming or dance interesting enough by myself to carry an entire podcast… especially with no previous podcasting experience under my belt.)

This was all hypothetical, of course. It’s not like I was actually considering doing a podcast.

But the seed had been planted. I knew I couldn’t do something like this myself (after all, all of my favorite podcasts feature multiple people – Spilled Milk, The Joy the Baker Podcast, The Table Set…) so just days later I asked Rachael Hutchings if she might be at all interested in doing a podcast with me.

(It was a surprise to me too… I asked her on a whim, completely spontaneously, knowing she was the only person I’d want to do a podcast like this with. But once I asked – and she said yes! – there was no turning back!)

In the span of a weekend, I went from never having even considered ever podcasting to seriously discussing putting together a podcast with my new partner in crime. (I’m still not even sure I believe this is all happening.) Two months later, we’ve already recorded several episodes and are ready to launch!


Miso Hungry Podcast

So without further ado, I bring to you the Miso Hungry Podcast!

Rachael and I have gotten together to bring to you a podcast all about Japanese food! So far we have three episodes ready for your listening pleasure: our Introduction, our first whole episode in which we talk about the Japanese New Year, and Episode 2 which is all about Candy!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (and if you feel like it, we definitely appreciate your comments and ratings!)

(And if three episodes aren’t enough for you… we’re also doing a giveaway of Japanese candy over on the Miso Hungry Podcast site!)


Sushi Necklace

Giveaway!

So to celebrate the launch of our podcast, I’m giving away one of these beautiful sushi necklaces from The Frippery Factory shop on Etsy!

All you have to do to enter is go over and check out our podcast, then come back here and leave a comment letting me know what you think, and what you’d like to hear us talk about in the future on the podcast! (One entry per person; you can enter until 11:59pm PST on Monday, January 23rd; winner will be chosen using random.org; anyone can enter – I can have it shipped internationally. If you want to leave a comment but don’t want to enter the giveaway, just let me know in your comment!)

And if you don’t win, or want to buy any of the other SUPER CUTE things she has in her store, the coupon code JAN2012 is good for 15% off throughout Etsy!

Octopus with headphones

What about all those insecurities I talked about at the beginning of the post? Well, they’re still there, of course. (It continues to be seriously weird, listening to my own voice when I’m editing our podcasts.)

But one night, while working into the wee hours on our new podcast, I heard an interview that Carson Daly was doing with Chris Hardwick (The Nerdist), and this quote really resonated with me:

“It’s weird when I think about, that most people listen to the podcast than watch most cable channels. But you know, even if they… even if most of those people went away, we’d still keep doing the show. That’s kind of how I know it’s something I should be doing, because I would do it no matter what.”
-Chris Hardwick, nerdist.com

Even though I still worry no one will listen to the podcast (although it’s turning out far better than I had ever hoped it would), I’ll still do the podcast no matter what… because we have so much fun doing it.

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Vegan SushiPosted on December 19th, 2011 · No Comments »

Maki Recipes


Vegetarian sushi

I love to cook for others. Like, really, really love making sushi for other people.

In a perfect world, I’d be allowed to experiment and have as much freedom coming up with new rolls as I do here on Sushi Day. But this isn’t a perfect world, and not everyone will eat all the random rolls I put together (and, to be honest, not everything I attempt comes out well…). And I’m okay with that.

These days, there are a lot of things you have to take into account when making sushi for other people, like if you’re going to a potluck. While my Spicy Shrimp Inari is always a crowd pleaser, you know there are always a few picky eaters: “I don’t eat seafood… at all.” (Hence my Man Sushi… trust me, that’ll convince any meat eater that sushi’s actually delicious!)

Then there are those with allergies – gluten-free? Just stay away from tempura. (And bring some wheat-free tamari soy sauce… did you know that most normal soy sauce actually has wheat products in it?) Dairy-free? Okay, no rolls with cream-cheese.


Sushi for the potluck

And, of course, you have those with other dietary restrictions, like vegetarians and vegans. At the most recent potluck I went to, I knew we’d have a few vegetarian/vegan attendees. So in addition to the other sushi dishes that I brought, I decided to come up with a vegetarian roll.

Obviously, I was going to use primarily vegetables in the roll. I considered using tofu, but decided against it since I didn’t think there would be a quick, easy way to make tofu taste good in sushi. (I needed something that wouldn’t be too time-consuming, since I was making four dishes that morning for the potluck.) I also couldn’t resort to tempura-frying the veggies, since tempura isn’t vegan – the batter uses egg. For the same reason, no mayonnaise is allowed either.

But it had to be a delicious, somehow interesting roll. It just wouldn’t be right to make delicious rolls for my meat-eating friends, and then bring a boring, “blah” roll for my vegan friends. So I had to come up with something so good even the meat-eaters would love it.

“Asparagus… roasted. Obviously. I love roasted asparagus.”

“Onions… sauteed? Nah, I want a texture contrast. How about fried? Yeah, I’ll need to heat up oil to fry the Arctic Char and Cream Cheese Wontons, so I can just fry up a bunch of thinly-sliced onions before I start the wontons.”

“What else… what would go well with asparagus and onions? Hm. How about carrots? Yeah, carrots would be good. But I don’t want to just roast them. I’m already roasting the asparagus; another plain roasted vegetable would be boring. Oooh, what if I glaze them with a little maple syrup? That would add a nice sweetness that should round out the roll.”

So how did it turn out? According to my veg(etari)an (as well as my omnivorous) friends, this fish-less, meat-less roll was a grand success. So much so, that it has definitely earned a place in my regular potluck menu. ^_^


Vegetarian sushi

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