Ichigo Daifuku

I love sweets. However, my idea of sweets is synonymous with “chocolate”, and this is not optimal in Japan, especially in summer when it melts faster than you can eat it. And traditional Japanese sweets and desserts are… well, let’s say many of them are an acquired taste. Somewhere on a level with licorice…

But there is one type of Japanese sweets I absolutely love: Ichigo Daifuku. It’s nothing but a soft mochi rice cake filled with very smooth and heavily sugared anko red bean paste. This mochi is then cut open, and a fresh strawberry is put on top. This is one in all its finger food glory:ichigo daifukuEven though I don’t like anko at all, there is something about those ichigo daifuku that makes them incredibly delicious; the taste of the mochi, the strawberry, and the anko blends together perfectly – probably because of all the sugar. They are often sold at matsuri food stalls during spring when the strawberries are in season. If you come across them anywhere – do give them a try!


Check this out: Do you know what that is? a bowl of stone chocolate

No, I am not trying to bring nature into my apartment by covering its beautiful tatami with stones. And I’m not into stone appreciation either…

This is in fact stone chocolate from a nearby shop. I found its appearance so interesting that I just had to try it… The mouth feel is somewhat rough indeed, but once you get through the sugar coating on the outside, the chocolate is rather nice. The stones taste like m&m’s, but they are a bit harder to bite, probably because of the irregular shape. I’ll see if that store has this type of chocolate more often, I think it makes an interesting gift…


In general, I don’t like going out in the weekends, even though here in Japan most shops, museums, and cafes are open. There are simply too many people around for my taste, and even those places that seem totally off the beaten tracks and are quiet during the week are crowded. Well, if you have ever been to an average Japanese home, you can imagine why people are fleeing them…

Anyway, I ran out of food on Sunday and decided to go shopping to the nearby supermarket. I happened to pass by the fish counter, and there was a tunafish on display, a whole Bluefin Tuna from an aquaculture, about 1 m long and weighing some 50 kg. And when I was told that they would start cutting it up and selling it in just a few minutes, I knew I had to stay and watch this.

At 11 am sharp the whole thing started; the fish was brought back behind the counter, and a young girl who seemed to weigh not much more than the fish started carving it up, under the noisy encouragements of her colleagues. First the head was removed, and then two relatively thin slices right behind the head were cut off the fish. A friend of mine called these parts kama, kind of the shoulders of the fish, and she said that these were the best parts of the animal, even though there is not much meat to them. It seemed to me that those three parts were sold whole and on the spot, but I am not sure.

Afterwards, a deep cut was made along the spine of the fish, and the skin was removed from the back in large stripes. The belly was removed next. It yields the fatty parts of chutoro and otoro, the latter being the most oily part of the fish from right under the skin and light pink in appearance. The last part to be cut from the fish was its back, called akami, there the meat is dark red and relatively dry; it is usually sold as maguro.

a pack of otoro tunafishBoth back and belly were further cut down by an assistant and then those pieces were packaged and offered to the onlookers. I bought a small piece of very expensive otoro. This little piece of 77 grams cost me almost 1000 YEN. I ate it as sashimi and yes, it was absolutely worth it!

It surprised me how much time it took to cut up the whole fish – about 45 minutes in total. The girl obviously did not do this the first time, and the knives were obviously big and sharp – and still you could see how hard she was working throughout. Every time she had finished cutting off one piece, she held it over her head like a trophy and thus presented it to the audience, and we were all clapping and cheering, which I found funny somehow. Altogether this was an interesting experience, and I wonder how this would be in the large fish market in Tokyo, at 4 am in the morning…


On Christmas Day, which I spent in Nagoya, my friend’s mother prepared nabe, a typical Japanese winter dish. It is a hot pot, where you start out with water and kelp or maybe a thin soup, boil it on the table and add various other ingredients. Similar to cheese fondue, the finished meal is eaten directly from the pot.

Obviously, there are many different types of nabe, but I have chosen a fish-vegetable nabe that I prepared with another friend a while ago for you to try out. You can find it on top of the “washoku” page. Enjoy!

Kagami Biraki

Japanese kagamimochiAs promised a week ago, I actually did eat the kagami mochi yesterday, on the day of kagami biraki, the breaking of the mirror. When I opened the package, the mochi appeared clean with a shiny surface and a consistency a bit like that of a wax candle. It also had a similar taste, so that did not bode well for my cooking experiment.

Friends suggested that I cut off the hard outer shell of the mochi, but since I had left it in the package, it was clean and comparatively soft, so I did not do this. I did cut the two layers apart though, although I have read somewhere that cutting the mochi at all should be avoided for some reasons clouded in superstition. As I have a gas range, I could at least cook the mochi the recommended way – by simply frying it over open fire. In the beginning it was too hard to put a chopstick through, so I just stuck it onto a knife and held it over the flames.

For a while nothing happened, but then I could hear some crackling sound and the outer shell started to crack and crumble. Small pieces could be torn off and they were nice and crisp – and hot – and the inner part of the mochi was soft and sticky. Soon this part dried out and became crispy as well, so it was a little like eating chips.

While the consistency did improve, the taste did not, unfortunately. I had anticipated this and had prepared a nice salad to go with it, so it was fine. In hindsight, I should have probably put some soy sauce onto the mochi pieces before eating them, but obviously only a real Japanese would think of that. No photo of the finished meal this time, since I was busy frying and eating and I have not yet grown a third arm to hold a camera at the same time. Maybe next time…

Feast Day

Today is a special day in Japan. It is called doyou no ushi no hi, which literally means dog-day of the ox-day, or less literally Midsummer Day of the Ox. The name goes back to old times, when each month in the year was named differently, each day and hour (and even cardinal directions) were named after the Chinese zodiac… Anyway, dog-days is a good description, because this time of the year can be quite unbearable. And indeed, today was probably the hottest day so far in this summer, with 35 degrees, 60% humidity and bright sunshine. Of course, in the normal Japanese summer this is not a particularly special thing, but some reason which I could not find out, today is celebrated.

Today, Japanese people traditionally eat an unagi dish – unagi is the name of the Japanese eel – and it is said that eating unagi today is especially good for your body and increases its stamina and overall health. As unagi is my favourite Japanese food, I would not want to miss this occasion to have some. Unfortunately, there is some sort of disease befalling the Japanese eel, which makes it very expensive these days, and a lot of eel is even imported; however I thought that every now and then I was in for a treat…

one serving of unagi donburiAt first I thought I’d simply get some unagi sushi from the supermarket, but I had to go to town anyway, and I timed it so that I could have lunch in a restaurant selling a number of different unagi dishes, mostly unagi donburi (hot eel on top of a bowl of rice flavoured with soy sauce. The restaurant was busy but not overly crowded, and most people had today’s special, which came in a red square box.

I cannot attest to the health benefit of my lunch – yet – but it was certainly very delicious!


As I had to go to town on Saturday, I took the opportunity to go to an art exhibition at the Takashimaya Department Store.Yes, that’s right: at a department store. Takashimaya is one of the largest chains in Japan with stores in every large city. They are selling upscale goods and all of the international luxury brands, but not everything is prohibitively expensive. They also have a range of Japanese goods like kimono, futons, furniture, and of course, souvenirs. In the basement, there is usually a large food court, where all sorts of prepared foods can be bought, starting from onigiri to tempura, raw and fried fish, Japanese sweets and French style cakes, chocolate… On the top floor are restaurants, they are usually very good, but also rather expensive.

And on that top floor in the Takashimaya in Kyoto was the 44th Japanese Traditional Arts Exhibition. The arts ranged from woodcarving, lacquerware, to glassware and pottery. There were also little sculptures, mainly the little dolls the Japanese love so much. Of course, three walls of the grand hall displayed kimono. Although all the pieces were made in the traditional fashion, they were very modern looking.

Diverse Japanese Traditional Applied ArtsWhen I entered, I was a little shocked at the amount of people. That was because somebody – probably the artist himself – gave a lengthy explanation of one of the exhibits. Once I could pass that bottleneck, the rest of the exhibition was not overly crowded.

At the exit of the grand hall was a little separate room where numerous sake cups were on display. Sake cups are interesting, they come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and materials. I think that at least some of them were made by the artists exhibiting, and one could even buy them. A staff member came up to me and invited me to a sake tasting. At first I did not want to – it was barely noon – but I then asked whether she could explain a little about the sake and when she said she would try, I bought a ticket after all. It is not easy to find an opportunity to taste different types of sake, and this one was quite amazing.

After I had chosen three of the cups on display, I sat down on a little bar to drink. All three sake offered at the tasting were from Kyoto city itself, from Fushimi, where allegedly Kyoto’s best water can be found. Although the taste of sake is not very strong – remember that rice itself has hardly any taste at all – and I found all three of them very mild and pleasant, there was still a quite distinct difference to them. Although the taste was pretty much the same, one of them felt very heavy on my tongue, another very light – for lack of a better word, forgive me, I am not an expert. Interestingly, both of them had the same alcohol percentage, so that cannot have been the reason. I am glad I took the opportunity to do this, it is always nice to try something new.


Takoyaki, or octopus balls, are probably the most widely spread form of Japanese fast food (yes, it does exist). Their origin lies allegedly in Osaka in 193r, but by now you can find them all over Japan; mainly sold by street vendors at all sorts of matsuri, but there are some restaurants specializing on takoyaki as well.  street vendors making takoyaki

Takoyaki are made from a wheat based batter similar to the one pancakes are made from (but with dashi, a kind of fish soup, instead of milk). The most important part of making takoyaki is the right type of pan: it has half sphere shaped moulds and is often made of cast iron to allow the takoyaki to cook evenly. It is fun watching street vendors prepare the food, and, as they are very popular and take quite a long time for fast food, you will have ample opportunity while you’re waiting in line… Essentially it goes like this: First, the pan is filled with the batter, then, the other ingredients are spread on top: pieces of boiled octopus and finely chopped green onions and a little bit of red, pickled ginger. More batter can be added on top now, but you’ll have to wait until they are cooked a little, before they are turned over (thus forming a ball) with a little pick.

takoyaki ready to eat

Once the takoyaki are finished, they are taken out of the pan with a pick and put on a plate (or into a plastic box if it’s takeaway). They are then coated with takoyaki sauce (or worchester sauce) and liberally sprinkled with dried bonito flakes and green seaweed powder. On top of all this goes mayonnaise – if so desired.

I like takoyaki very much, and I have them often at a matsuri, mainly because they are so easy to eat – with toothpicks. After several scalding incidents I have now finally learnt to tear each takoyaki open just a little bit and let them cool off before eating them – the inside can be very hot indeed and has probably burnt many a palate…


I have added a full Japanese menu to the Washoku page – check it out! The menu has five dishes plus dessert, and except for the dessert which comes last, there is no strict order to the food. Japanese people take a nibble from here and there, according to their own tastes and preferences. The bitter gourd recipe is the only one that is not standard Japanese food, it’s from Okinawa and thus tastes different, well, bitter. Many Japanese enjoy Okinawan food though, so it’s worth trying.

Good luck with preparing, enjoy!


I have decided to share some of the Japanese recipes people shared with me – only those I have tried myself and which did not result in the mass extinction of my guests. You can find them on the new page listed above called “washoku”.

Today I start with something easy that is relatively quickly prepared: Okonomiyaki, Osaka style, a type of Japanese pancake with veggies, meat and seafood.

Let me know if you try them out yourself! Bon appetit!