Japanese Street Food: Yakiimo!

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“Ishi yaaaaaakiiiiimooooo! Ishi yaaaaaakiiiiimooooo!”

Anyone who has spent autumn or winter in Japan knows how exciting it is to hear the sound of the “yakiimo man” driving through their neighborhood in his mini-truck. His iconic call to come enjoy a hot sweet potato has children eager and adults nostalgic for the days when they ran out into the cold to get these stone-baked treats. Whether the yakiimo man sings his own melancholy song or broadcasts it from the loudspeaker mounted on his truck, the wintery tune brings smiles even in the coldest weather.

Yakiimo is a sweet potato, most typically of the satsumaimo variety found in southern Japan. These sweet potatoes were brought to Japan from Central America by way of China in the late 16th century. Their cultivation was limited to the subtropical southern region of Kagoshima Prefecture for many years, until a widespread rice famine struck the country in the mid-18th century. In heavily populated areas, especially near modern-day Tokyo, crop failures led to major food shortages, starvation and civil unrest. ?Konyo Aoki, a local scholar, experimented with growing satsumaimo in the Kanto region in order to help feed the hungry Japanese people. This colder northern area was traditionally thought to be inhospitable to growing satsumaimo, but Konyo was able to help them flourish, and their popularity soon spread.

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Satsumaimo have reddish-purple skin and cream colored flesh, starchy and sweet. The yakiimo man bakes them in hot stones placed inside a propane-powered, steel stove in the back of his mini-truck. He bakes the sweet potatoes until their skin is browned and wrinkled and the insides are soft, giving them to hungry people wrapped in paper. You might hear those same hungry people say “Achi! Achi!”, or “Hot! Hot!” as they hold the fresh sweet potatoes.

Yakiimo can now be found in many convenience stores, but nothing replaces the experience of breaking them open and taking the first savory-sweet bite from the one purchased directly from the yakiimo man.

Until next time, stay warm and don’t forget to look out for next month’s post about Japanese street food!

 

Essentials of Japanese Cooking: ?Making Delicious Miso Soup

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Miso soup is a vital, versatile part of Japanese cuisine. It can be served for breakfast, mixed with a bit of tofu and wakame seaweed. It can be part of a complete ichiju-sansai meal, served as the soup course. It can be served as part of a fancy meal, with crab legs and clams, or it can be served just by itself.

No matter how it is served, it is part of the soul of Japanese food.

Tofu Misoshiru is one of the most common forms of miso soup found in Japan and abroad. It is made by heating dashi stock with ingredients such as tofu and green onions, until the soup comes to a simmer. While the soup is simmering, a small amount of miso paste is dissolved in a separate bowl using a small amount of the warmed dashi. Once the dashi, tofu and green onions are cooked, the heat is turned off and the miso mixture is added into the soup, imparting protein, probiotics, umami and a lovely flavor. Dried, cut wakame seaweed is added at the end, just before serving, to round out the soup.

Making miso soup is deceptively simple, however, creating a truly delicious soup requires sensitive attention to the quality of ingredients and how the soup is prepared. As Rochelle Bilow, a writer for Bon Apetit, states, “With a soup that requires so few ingredients, the quality of each one really matters.” Using subpar miso paste and instant dashi detracts from the richness of a well-made miso soup. Similarly, using firm tofu in the soup detracts from the texture and mouthfeel of the soup. When adding vegetables, such as daikon or carrots or mushrooms to the soup, it’s important to slice them thinly and in small pieces and let them cook to tenderness in the soup’s liquid. Similarly, it’s important to balance the “heavy” ingredients, such as potatoes and tofu, with the “light” ingredients, such as scallions and seaweed, in the soup. Too much of one or the other affects the pleasure of eating the soup.

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Dissolving the miso in broth to remove lumps

How the miso is added to the soup mixture is one of the most important aspects of making delicious miso soup. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, and through the fermentation process, becomes full of beneficial bacteria and active cultures. Adding miso paste to the soup mixture while it is on the flame may kill these good bacteria and cultures and diminishes umami. Miso should be dissolved in a bit of broth first to remove any lumps and then added to the soup once the other ingredients have cooked. Then just before the soup returns to a simmer, turn off the heat.

Following these rules is the best way to make miso soup. But as with many Japanese foods, miso soup is versatile and adaptable. You can use different types of miso paste, from white, yellow, to red. A variety of vegetables can be added to the soup, including chard, carrots, radishes, mushrooms, sea vegetables, onions and potatoes. A variety of seafood can be added to the soup, including fish and crustaceans. Even noodles, such as udon, can be also be added to the soup.

Whatever way it’s made, miso soup is a staple in Japanese cuisine. Tell us how you make it!

 

Zojirushi Ms. Bento? Stainless Lunch Jar (SL-MEE07)

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September means back to school, college and work! Our Ms. Bento? Stainless Lunch Jar keeps you organized with a convenient way to take fresh and wholesome food with you, wherever you go.

The Ms. Bento? is a complete package, containing a washable, stainless steel outer jar, two microwaveable inner bowls, chopsticks, chopsticks holder and an easy-to-carry bag.

The durable outer container is made using Zojirushi’s superior vacuum insulation technology, which creates lasting insulation by removing the air between two layers of stainless steel walls. This keeps food hot or cold for hours.

The two inner bowls are perfect for a variety of foods. The main bowl has a 10 oz. capacity, good for holding rice, meat, vegetables, pasta or noodles. The main bowl’s insulated lid locks into place and helps to retain the temperature of the food inside the bowl, as well as prevent heat or cold from transferring from the side bowl, which sits above the main bowl and keeps foods at room temperature. The side bowl has an 11 oz. capacity, and holds foods such as salads, vegetables, fruit and desserts. Both bowls are locked into place with the outer lid.

Like all of our products, the inner bowls, outer container, lids and chopsticks are all easy to clean with soap and warm water.

The Ms. Bento? Stainless Lunch Jar comes in Aqua Blue and fits into the matching tote bag. It’s one of our best-selling products and we know you’ll love its practical and stylish convenience.

As always, we would love to hear from you, so be sure to leave a comment below.

 

Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer (NS-LGC05)

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We’re excited to introduce our newest small-capacity, microcomputerized rice cooker this month!

The Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer (NS-LGC05) is stylishly designed, and has innovative technology and cooking features that make it easy and convenient to use.

This rice cooker’s microcomputer uses advanced fuzzy logic technology to make fine adjustments to cooking temperatures, so that rice cooks perfectly each time. The multiple settings let you easily cook a variety of rice, including white, mixed, sushi, brown, and—for the first time—long grain white rice. Expanded healthy menu options include settings for steel cut oatmeal and GABA brown rice, which soaks the brown rice before cooking for enhanced nutrition. Each of these menu settings can be selected on the easy-to-read LCD control panel, which also has a clock, and delay timer function.

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This rice cooker uses a triple heater on the bottom, sides, and lid to generate heat all around the inner cooking pan so that the rice heats evenly. The removable steam vent cap located on the outer lid allows for high-temperature cooking without messy overflows. Once rice is cooked, the rice is automatically kept warm, and the REHEAT cycle brings the rice back to serving temperature when you’re ready to chow down.

Along with these great features, the rice cooker comes with a practical and easy-to-clean nonstick coated spherical inner pan. High-contrast water level lines on the inside of the pan make it simple to read how much water should be added to the pan for the specified amount of rice. The pan and the detachable inner lid are both hand washable, and the clear-coated stainless steel exterior is easy to wipe down after use. The built-in retractable power cord and sturdy fold-down handle make it easy to store and transport this compact rice cooker.

The NS-LGC05 Micom Rice Cooker & Warmer comes in a 3-cup capacity, making it ideal for small kitchens. Individuals and small families can make as little as ? cup of rice or oats and as much as three cups of perfectly delicious rice. Accessories include a rice measuring cup, spatula and spatula holder.

We know you’ll love this new rice cooker as much as we do, and you’ll be able to purchase it from our great retail partners this month! As always, we’d would love to hear from you, so be sure to leave a comment below.

 

How to… Use a Deba Bocho

As we’ve been showcasing, Japanese kitchens are equipped with simple, elegant tools that serve multiple purposes and are made to withstand constant use. Japanese knives are key to the culinary tradition, with the deba bocho being an important piece of the cook’s knife collection.

The deba bocho is one of the five basic knives that are part of most traditional Japanese kitchens. Along with funayuki bocho, nakiri bocho, wabocho or santoku, and the sashimi bocho, the deba bocho, which means “pointed carving knife” has a unique shape and heft that has evolved over time to become task–specific and task-expert.

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The deba bocho, also called a sakana bocho, is a thick-bladed, heavy knife with a sharp tip. The length of it can vary, but in general, the deba bocho is a medium to large (23-31 cm, or about 9-12 inches) knife that is used to hand-fillet fish, carve whole poultry and cut through larger chunks of meat, especially when the cook needs to cut through small bones.

The various parts of the blade are extremely useful for specific cuts. When filleting a fish, the broad, long edge of the blade is used to cut through the flesh along the edges of bones. The tip is used to sever fillets from the carcass and the corner edge is used to cut through larger pieces. The knife can also be used similar to a Western carving knife, useful for carving a chicken along the joint lines and along the breasts. The knife, especially if maintained correctly and sharpened regularly, makes precise cuts and will last the cook for many, many years.

Have you used this type of knife before? Share your stories!