Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Takenoko Time! たけのこ

 In Japan the months of April and May are when skyward shooting bamboo have their lives cut short in order for the tender young shoots (takenoko) make their way into stores,  restaurants and onto the dining tables of discerning home cooks. The store above and below, in the northern section of the Teramachi shopping arcade, always showcases the very best fresh bamboo shoots (at a price). Some are preserved or pickled for use in the off season.  The store also showcases very fine quality, expensive mushrooms such as matsutake when they decide to pop their heads out of the earth in the autumn months. 
Below one of the store workers peels and trims the coarse, papery skin from the raw bamboo shoots
A few minutes away in Nishiki koji - a long, narrow food market also referred to as Kyoto no daikokoro or Kyoto's kitchen you can also find the prepped bamboo, often already boiled in water with nuka (rice bran) to remove any impurities - and ready to prepare any way you like. Think canned bamboo shoots only a million times better! Cooking bamboo from scratch requires a bit of work so many people buy them already prepped to this stage. 
Bamboo shoots in season are wonderfully sweet and nutty - with hints of sweetcorn and young coconut  - it is a real treat to consume these beauties fresh and young before they start to become more fibrous. A very simple and common way of preparing them is to simmer in dashi with some wakame through the end - the flavours marrying so well together - a vegetarian surf and turf if I may be so crass (recipe in my book Zenbu Zen - see Wakatake no Nimono). I love the mellow, earthy but seaspray fragrant combination.

Slices of the young bamboo shoot are also great crumbed and deep-fried or added to soups or simmered dishes. Also Takenoko Gohan or bamboo shoot rice is delicious, the flavour made more nutty by the addition of small nuggets of golden fried tofu (recipe also in Zenbu Zen).   Kinome (fresh sansho leaves also in season at this time) finely chopped through the rice adds a refreshing peppery, citrus like accent  - just deeevine. All simple dishes which showcase the natural beauty and pure flavours of the ingredients at their peak. 

I recently enjoyed this dish below in one of my favourite izakaya's in Kyoto - bamboo shoot sushi! Seasoned rice with finely chopped, aromatic shiso leaves, tucked into bamboo shoot rings and served with a little mellow umeboshi (pickled plum) paste. Served with good quality salty soy for dipping. So good.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Anzukko Gyoza. Kyoto.

We're in the process of transferring all Japanese related posts to Jane's Zenbu Japanese Cuisine and Culture Tours site

You'll find the Anzukko post HERE. 
Thank you. 

A too brief return to Kyoto town...

Yes, I've been a little quiet. I'm just back from a very busy research trip to Kyoto - a mere 10 days that went in a flash. I was expecting the weather to still be a little cool as all had reported just the week or so before I arrived - but  no...the Summer decided to show its nasty face early and I was not entirely prepared wardrobe-wise - or mentally. I mean I left Kyoto last October after a hellish summer then immediately commenced summer in Sydney and I was certainly not anticipating entering my third sweaty season in a row. I'm a winter chick - OK universe!!??

With top temps in the high 30's and dropping to about 9C in the evening I cleverly managed to acquire a bug that turned to bronchitis and asthma - an affliction I am not so familiar with.... I was rather perplexed as to why I couldn't breathe properly or had any energy to move?? At least I found the answer when I returned home and was ushered straight to the doc. 

So for the last half of the trip I was quite literally under the weather and while I did push  myself to attend most of my work related appointments - there were some I simply could not physically get to - so apologies again to all. And also to some of my mates whom I would have loved to have caught up with... next time. Gomen gomen!!

But I had lots of adventures nonetheless and you will be hearing about them soon. I met some amazing locals and ate more than my share of very fine food. I patted two snakes under the railway tracks on a brief visit to Kobe and practiced zazen meditation in a beautiful temple in western Kyoto. A typical collection of Japanese moments. 

More soon.  Jane

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ran Hotei ランほてい 

I have been meaning to post about this special place for so long. Feeling more than a little guilty Randy san! Gomenasai.....
I'd stopped into Ran Hotei a couple of times when shopping in Sanjo Shotengai (an old fashioned shopping arcade on Sanjo Street on the western edge of Kyoto city) to enjoy some of their completely addictive desserts (like the kinako and caramel fudge cake above - TO DIE FOR!), wonderful selection of teas and drinks and even to grab some take out such as the Matcha (green tea) fudge cake and the Houjicha pudding (roasted green tea flavoured creamy custard) both below - but on the third occasion I managed to meet the now famous owner Randy Channell - an ex-pat Kyoto local who has become a master of tea. Randy-san both performs and teaches tea ceremony and has, many times over, been the subject of Japanese TV programmes and magazine articles on the matter. 
To be honest I was expecting someone of his talents and long standing within the community to possibly be a little snobbish or at the least frustrating... Some foreigners residing in Japan try a little too hard to 'become Japanese' which can be equally jarring to fellow ex-pats and the Japanese locals ... But he was NONE of that. Really down to earth, passionate about what he does and trying his best to share his knowledge and maintain a successful business.
If you are looking for some education in English about the art of Japanese Tea in a non intimidating way (held in an intimate space above the teahouse) - or just a really lovely spot for a cuppa and something sweet - or some of Randy's homemade curry (he was making some while I was there - it was also delish!) then do look up Randy Channell or Ran Hotei.
The space is really lovely for spending time in  - particularly towards the back of the teahouse/cafe - I love the old tiles and manhole cover inserted into the flooring on the way to the bathroom by the garden which is an unexpected tranquil patch in an old school shopping arcade. There are many finds like these in Kyoto an I love stumbling across them - but it is also nice to have a heads up when you are planning a trip so I am happy to be able to share them with you. Sanjo shotengai is a a short walk south from Nijo Station and worth making a visit if you are in the area.  The "local" vibe in the arcade is a nice step away from the regular tourist haunts. 
And for a closer look at the sweet stuff....
Houjcha pudding
                     Caramel fudge cake with kinako (nutty roasted soybean powder) cream
Matcha fudge cake with fresh cream

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dari K Chocolates.Kyoto.


If you have ever walked down the Sanjo Shotengai (an old fashioned shopping arcade on Sanjo street at the Western edge of Kyoto city - very close to Nijo Station) chances are you were drawn to this tiny shop by the perfume of warm, spicy chocolate. I cannot walk past Dari k without popping inside to inhale as much of the rich, chocolate air as possible. Once my nostrils are suitably sozzled I then go about the business of tasting and purchasing. 
The chocolate truffles made on the premises are gorgeous and their wooden box packaging turns them into the perfect gift. They have other cacao based goods (desserts, drinks and some lovely spice roasted nuts and roasted cacao beans etc - ie lots of items I find hard to resist.

Check it out if you are in the area -  apparently there is a downtown store now too. Here's a link to their site: DARI K

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Takazawa. Akasaka,Tokyo

I just found these (very low quality snaps)  -  taken almost 5 years ago for my 40th Bday. 
Sadly I can't recall as much detail on the food as I'd like to share (early onset dementia)  but  Takazawa (originally called Aronia de Takazawa) is one of my favourite restaurants in Tokyo (not that I have been to too many lately having been so tied to Kyoto!) The space is elegant and intimate,  the food is inventive and totally delicious and Chef Takazawa, and his wife who runs the floor, are just the most lovely people. Hospitality plus plus!!

I highly recommend the restaurant which has just two or three tables - seating up to about 8 people. When I last ate there (about 3 years ago) the entire prep/cook etc was solely carried out by the chef - I'm really hoping someone at least helps them wash up because it is a damn long day with the many intricate courses he puts up. 

Here are a few snaps to show you what I mean...

Frozen olive oil... from memory
luscious porky goodness to spread on home made bread
Chef's famous vegetable mosaic
The candle with foie gras brulee

"powdery" dressing which "smokes" as it melts
Takazawa's farm - all the tiny veg, milk, eggs from the chef's father's farm. Earth of panko, shichimi, soy etc. This kind of thing is done a bit these days but 5 years ago it was cutting edge!!

Fish and chips with vinegar dropper ( rocks made with bamboo charcoal powder)

shiso jelly (you don't see the jelly on the plate until you pull your spoon through it) with pineapple and pear sorbet
herbal teas for beauty, digestion, slimming etc....
Takazawa's camembert -  Cheesecake dessert
Mont Blanc - chestnut, green tea - note the pearlescent sauce
Love the personalised Happy Birthday note...such lovely touches
Even the bill is brought over in a gorgeous box and the bathroom is delightful... such detail at every turn