Japan Must Eat Wish List

Yeah, I know it’s been just over a year since I last posted. Annnnnnd I have yet to blog about my two months in Europe. Or my New York City trip. Well. Frankly, my dear, IDGAF. Let’s just move on.

One week from tonight, I will be at LAX with two of my dearest friends preparing to board an All Nippon Airway nonstop flight to Japan. This is my first trip to the land of the rising sun, and I’ve been wanting to visit Japan since I was a young weeb (that’s hopeless nerd obsessed with anime and other J-culture). This trip is a good twenty (plus) years in the making and I am so excited, I haven’t even really allowed myself a lot of time to think about it. Now that the final 7 day countdown is here, though, it’s time to get hyped up.

My friend Nexus is the self-designated itinerary builder, taking a huge burden from myself and our other friend, Ty. Our so-simple-a-monkey could do it tasks were simply to give Nexus a list of all of the places/activities we wanted to potentially tackle during our visit. Truth be told, I don’t have a huge “must do/see/visit” list, but rather a “MUST EAT” list. As this is my wheelhouse, I did not share this information with my friends – they know “Eat ALL the things” is generally my ultimate goal. However, I thought I’d share my Japan Must Eat Wish List with you. I realize some of these dishes are a bit out of season, but fuck it, just roll with the punches, OK?

Sofitel - NikujagaNikujaga | 肉じゃが  (credit)

Nikujaga is easily one of my favorite go-to recipes that I cook well at home but want to experience first hand in the land of its origins. A lighter version of Western “pot roast” or “beef stew” this dish literally means “meat and potatoes.”

ChawanmushiChawanmushi | 茶碗蒸し (credit)

Chawanmushi is a savory steamed egg custard. While I will pass on the fish cake variety as pictured above, I would like to suss out one adorned with mushrooms and shrimp. Yum!

Shimofuri Gyu SaroiYakiniku | 焼肉 (credit)

Literally translating as “grilled meat”, yakiniku is the ultimate carnivore indulgence. One of the meals I am most looking forward to sharing with my two friends, I can almost smell the hot charcoal and feel the inevitable meat sweats we’re all going to be suffering from!

OdenOden | おでん (credit)

Although traditionally eaten exclusively during the winter months, I am crossing my fingers I might find some little hole in the wall Showa era eatery that serves exactly this style of Oden: small, individual two slurps portions that can be changed up on every order so as to experience the variety of Oden. I only discovered this smaller version through a Japanese show called Gourmet Samurai, streaming on Netflix.

Hamburger and curry
Hamburger Steak Curry | ハンバーグカレー (credit)

Listen. This little white girl loves herself some Salisbury steak; it is easily one of my favorite dishes ever, and Japan’s “Wafu Burger” and “Hambagu Steak” is no less delicious. Add curry, rice (maybe a sunny side up egg on top? maybe a cheese sauce?) and you have heaven on a plate.

A Portion of the Aburi Sushi Sampler from Minami ($21)
Temari Sushi | 手まり寿司 (credit)

I don’t know what it is about Temari Sushi that makes it more special than regular sushi; maybe it is the novelty of a circular sushi bite, or perhaps it is simply more aesthetically pleasing to my eyes. Either way, I want to pop them in my mouth and savor each adorable bite.

Matcha Parfait
Cute Parfait (credit)

Another iconic image of anime is a bunch of girlfriends meeting at their neighborhood cafe after school to indulge in a sweet treat, particularly a parfait. This was often seen in my favorite anime, Sailor Moon, and has made a lasting impression on me. I don’t care that my rose-tinted school girl days are long gone, this is going to happen.

Hiroshima-style modan yaki
Okonomiyaki | お好み焼き (credit)

First, a history lesson: Being a weeb in Los Angeles during the 1990s/early 2000s was pretty sweet due to access to abundant Japanese communities. The apex of weeb-hood at this time was going to a restaurant that served okonomiyaki (or, alternatively, finding a mix and making it at home with your friends). These places are few and far between, with one I only know of for certain in San Francisco (and maybe Gardena, down here in the Greater Los Angeles area). So, what is it? A Japanese savory pancake made of batter with cabbage, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, dried bonito flakes, and dried seaweed. I’ve made this at home, but my goal is to eat Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki (Pictured above) which features yakisoba and and thin slices of pork (which I add anyway to mine). The iconic image of friends sitting at a low table with a teppan (hotplate), making their own okonomiyaki, is very iconic of my generation of weebs and one I wish to fulfill.

スパゲティ明太子
Fusion Pasta (credit)

I’ve been grossly obsessed with mentaiko pasta since, uh, oh I don’t know. Let’s say for 15 years. It isn’t something I can eat but once in a very great while, like annually, due to the sodium content of mentaiko, or roe from Pollock fish. I’m not terribly picky about the kind of roe pasta I want to eat in Japan, but highest on the list is Uni, Ikura, Tarako, and of course, Mentaiko.

Beef Sukiyaki
Sukiyaki | すき焼き (credit)

The ultimate Japanese hotpot dish, there is no particularly special reason I want to experience it other than it is something to be eaten with treasured friends – which is what I intend to do!

Sweet Japanese Angel Crepes
Crepe (credit)

I’m not exactly sure how to explain the difference between a Japanese style crepe and an American style crepe, except that the Japanese style strikes me as more extreme. Crepes have always been a favorite dessert of mine, and I want to take the opportunity to taste how another country approaches this beloved French staple.

ハンバーグ Hamburger steak
Hamburger Steak | ハンバーグ (credit)

Don’t adjust your monitor; you are not seeing double. This is indeed another hamburger dish, the O.G. hambagu dish, if you will, sans rice and curry, opting for a lovely demi-glace sauce. I think this is the closest to a Salisbury steak Japan gets, and I cannot wait to taste it!

Superior Fresh Matsuba Crab & Tajima Beef Kaiseki
Kaiseki | 懐石 (credit)

A traditional multi-course meal, a kaseki is typically offered at a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. Kaiseki is considered an art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of seasonal food. This style meal is actually going to be realized when we check in to our lovely ryokan at Kinosaki, but it was very high on my Must East list – so it was worth adding!

This is by far and wide not a definitive list; there are many regional dishes I’d like to try, and I leave myself open to discovering new dishes I’d never heard of before to expand my mind, taste-buds and experience.

What are your favorite Japanese dishes? Have you tried any of these? Do you have any recommendations in the Kyoto, Osaka, or Tokyo city areas?

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SNEAK PEEK: 28th Annual Beverly Hills Vintage Bouquet

Greystone Mansion

Beverly Hills Vintage Bouquet @ Greystone Mansion

What are you doing Sunday, April 17th? Nothing, you say? Then whip out your eatin’ pants and checkbook, because have I got an event for you.

We all know how much I just adore the Beverly Hills Vintage Bouquet Food and Wine Event, right? No need at all to reiterate except to say: It’s back! So, without further ado…

Prestigious events at a glorious backdrop of the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills! Giving back to the community! Helping out with charitable causes! Hhors d’oeuvres by the area’s top chefs! Wine from California’s premium wineries! Libations! A photobooth! Live entertainment! Silent auction! Oh, I have your attention now, don’t I?

The Barristers of the Beverly Hills Bar Association and the Beverly Hills Bar Foundation established the Vintage Bouquet Food and Wine Event in 1988 to raise funds for various causes including, but not limited to, Wills For Heroes (a free program to provide wills to firefighters, police and first respondents), free programs for victims of domestic violence, The High School Blue Car Project, which educates high school students about the law.

FOOD GUESTS: Dandy Don’s Home Made Ice Cream; Le Mervetty; Lawry’s The Prime Rib; Chef Kevin Warren; Bier Beisl; Plaza Le Reina; Sugar and Spiked; Ayara Thai; Le Bon Garcon; Camille’s Culinary Creations; Hansen’s Cakes; Maggiano’s Little Italy – just to name a few!

DRINK UP WITH: Deep Eddy Vineyards; Iron Triangle Brewing Company; Vampire Vineyards; Angel City Brewery; Aqua Hydrate; Organo Gold; Stella Artois; Cass Vineyard & Winery – just to name a smattering.

Lawry's Prime Rib - Beverly Hills Vintage Bouquet Food & Wine Event
Mmmm….prime rib! ::Homer drool::

Le Mervetty - Beverly Hills Vintage Bouquet Food & Wine Event
Sweet and elegant cakes for dessert!

So there you have it. An amazing afternoon filled with a culinary adventure, classy drinks, majestic views of Los Angeles and giving unto others.

See you there!

28th Annual Vintage bouquet Food and Wine Event | Official Website
Greystone Mansion | 905 Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Spoonie under the Microscope

The Hope Hygieia/

There are a lot of Spoonie/Chronic Illness blogs out there in Internet Land. I mix mine up with food, travel, and utter nonsense, because (1) I can only talk about my health for so long (2) I’m not terribly decisive and (3) I have a deep mental block when it comes to being openly vulnerable, especially on the internet.

The unwillingness to be vulnerable is not an enigma, but the stuff of psych 101: Due to my health, I was forcibly placed in repeated vulnerable situations, so when confronted with the choice to be vulnerable willingly, an internal wall builds itself around me, deflecting my efforts. Typically, I resort to humor, or bombastic anger. I’ve toted this dog and pony show out many-a time to amuse my friends, my medical team, and my fellow Spoonies. It’s my own personal Olympic sport, and like any mere mortal attempting the Olympian, I can only perform for so long before I will keel from sheer exhaustion. This is, ideally, the moment when I ought to allow raw vulnerability to show through. So I’ll give it a shot.

Recently, I finally set the wheels in motion to realize a long-time goal of mine to volunteer with hospitalized children. I’m not there quite yet, but in the process of all of the legalities that come along with being side by side minors in a compromised state of health. For obvious reasons, I will never be going into detail about the work itself, but I can at least attempt this whole openness…thing.

I’m not exactly a greenhorn; my first career and my education revolved around the care and development of children. Even when I ceased to work with them and had to abandon my studies due to conflicts with health and work, I never stopped volunteering with them. So with this leg-up, you can imagine the confidence I’ve been strutting around with during this initial screening process. However, when I crossed the threshold and stepped into the world of a children’s hospital, it was like the last twenty-five (plus) years completely melted and I was suddenly a little girl on the 5th Floor West Wing of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia all over again.

I faltered, and an ugly little voice in the depths of my consciousness piped up, “Can you really do this?”

I remembered the full-lunged hysteria as I was pinned down and subjected to insurmountable physical pain. There is no pain that can compare to medical pain when it carries the echos of a lifetime of trauma. I recalled the late nights of insomnia I suffered, coping by pulling up a rocking chair outside of the room I shared with 2 to 5 other kids and watching a video, a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. Worst of all, I remembered the impersonal prodding and poking from med students and equally repugnant residents, talking at me rather than to me. CHOP is a university hospital, and brow-beating doctor-patient etiquette and empathy was not yet part of the curriculum – especially for children. I was a particularly prized specimen because my second and third open-heart surgeries were performed by a world-renowned surgeon whose methods are still taught to this day. I felt like a sideshow freak on display and thus my animosity charming Spoonie personality was born.

But it was in the recollection of the god complex plagued white coats that shook me from my reverie. While this kind of behavior has been dramatically reduced within the last decade or so, and the hospital I will be volunteering at goes to great lengths to ensure each child is treated with the respect and empathy they deserve, I realized that I needed to not only witness this revolution in care, but be a part of it as well. As I recently wrote to one of my dear friends, If I am to see the change I want, I need to be the change I want to see.

Shandon Sweets

Shandon Sweets

In the previous two times that I’d visited Cork Ireland, I had never properly meandered around Shandon, a historic hilltop neighborhood of Cork City. This breezy, chilly September day I had been determined to climb the magnificent alleyway staircase and have a proper poke around.

My friend Evin tipped me off to Shandon Sweets, owned and operated by the Linehan family since 1928, where old fashioned boiled candy is made. Those silver circles framing the door aren’t there purely for decoration; they’re awards acknowledging the continued excellence of these simple and popular sweets.

I arrived at Shandon Sweets a bit early; it was still lunch time and the shop was closed. Ireland, like most of Europe, takes lunch time very seriously. I bummed around the neighborhood, snapping a few photos here and there, trying not to look suspicious to the theater company next door as people gathered for what I can only assume was a rehearsal or class. Finally, a vehicle pulled alongside the shop front and a man in his sixties came out and opened the sweet shop.

The man in question was Danny Linehan, whose father established the confectionery shop. He chatted pleasantly with me as he told me all about the business and how the candy is made, even confessing his favorite is honeycomb rather than the boiled candy “drops” he produces. As we chatted, Danny began to set up for another boiled candy batch. You can check out the step by step process at Roger’s blog, Cork Foodie.

Typical of many fathers, Danny began to turn the tables and ask me about myself and my trip, curious as to why and how a rainbow-haired American woman found his shop. He was impressed with my journeys and the amount of time I’d been away from home, and still had yet to go.

Taking comfort in his instinctive paternal concern, I admitted that I was beginning to miss my mother, to which he remarked that my mother must miss me terribly. I said no, she doesn’t miss me in the least. He was quick to correct me, insisting she definitely missed me and doesn’t say so because she wants me to focus on having a good time.

Normally, I’d be irked that someone was correcting me on my life, but there was something about Danny and talking to him about my insecurities that made me feel at ease. So I bought four bags of candy. The strawberry drops are my favorite.

Shandon Sweets

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Serenaded with traditional Korean music

I know there is more – much more – to Korean cuisine than Korean BBQ. Through the wonders of living in Los Angeles, home to the largest Korean population outside of South Korea, I have been able to sample a handful of Korean foods. These were typically at informal events and homemade, though, with no induction other than “JUST EAT IT!” And while I could have made the effort to experience Korean food out of the realm of AYCE BBQ and kimchi, I am shamed to say that it never struck my interest. Until, that is, I watched The Kimchi Chronicles. I followed Marja on her quest to get in touch with her Korean roots via food – leaving a trail of saliva behind me.

Sorry about the visual. What I am (poorly) getting around to saying is that thankfully the Korean Tourism Organization invited me to their Korean Cuisine and Tourism evening, hosted at the traditional Korean restaurant, Yong Su San. Travel industry professionals (and me lol) were treated to an evening of music, information on what to expect and where to visit in South Korea, and food, glorious food.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Beoseot Juk
mushroom porridge made with sweet rice

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Kaesung Namul
Mixed vegetable salad of bean sprouts, radish and apricot

My favorite dish of the evening! I have been searching for store bought (which I know won’t compare) but to no avail. If there any Korean grandmothers out there that can cook this dish and would like to stuff me silly with it, I would be the most gracious dinner guest ever.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Tang Pyeong Chae
Thin sliced mungbean jelly marinated in sesame oil

I need more of this dish in my life as well. Gods be good, I need to hit up a Korean market this week.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Paeju
Skewered sea scallops with mushrooms sauteed in sesame oil

Scallops AND mushrooms on a skewer? Yes, ma’am!

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Jeon
Korean pancake with egg battered fish or meat

I have actually eaten this before, both as banchan and at a little party a Korean-American friend held at her house. Her mother whipped up a bunch of dishes for us, many dishes a hybrid of typical American party foods with a Korean twist, but others just straight up Korean comfort food, like Jeon. I’m proud to say I was the most enthusiastic white girl at the gathering, eating my fill and making Korean mom glow with pride.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Kaeseung Bossam Kimchi
Gaeseong cabbage kimchi stuffed with radish, pine nuts, jujube & pickled seafood

I hate to be this stereotypical, but anything to do with kimchi is heaven for me. As we were dining family style at large, round tables that sat eight people, we had to share all of these dishes. I am only partially ashamed to admit that I did whatever it took to keep this dish within arms reach so I could gobble up the lions share. Hashtag sorry not sorry.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Gujeolpan
Beef, shrimp, mushroom, assorted vegetables to be wrapped with small thin crepes

This dish was my learning curve, because it arrived at the beginning of the meal and it was through this dish I learned we were eating family style. No, Rachael, that whole plate of Gujeolpan is not just for you! Take one and pass, you oinker!

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Daeha Yori
Fresh egg battered king prawn

Anything to do with prawns is a winner in my book, and this crispy, zucchini laden shrimp fritter is no exception.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Galbijjim
Slow braised short ribs, radish, chestnuts, ginkgo and dates in soy based marinade

So meaty I could only snack on one of these beefy delights. Not my favorite dish of the night personally, but definitely an overall crowd favorite.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Naengmyeon
Cold noodles

Another knock-out dish; so elegant in its seeming simplicity. The bowl was a LOT bigger than my photo will lead you to believe, and this was one of the few personal dishes we did not share. After everything we’d already gobbled down, it was my absolute pleasure to scarf and slurp this down, setting my belly on maximum overdrive.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Naengmyeon
Cold noodles

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Bibimbap
Mixed vegetables & beef over rice

Ah, yes, a true classic. I did not partake in this dish (I chose the cold noodles), but my friend said this bibimbap was a knock-out.

Korean Cuisine + Tourism Night
Chilled cinnamon ginger punch

A common dessert-y digestive, this cinnamon punch was precisely what my stomach craved after that delicious feast. I was raving about it equal to the food.

Now that we have become more familiar with the traditional food of South Korea, which alone is good enough a reason to visit as far as I am concerned, let’s add some obligatory visuals to sweeten the pitch:

Korean Cuisine and Tourism Night
I mean – can you even?


Stop it, Korea. Stop it this minute. You are gorgeous.


Let Korea get on your “To Visit” list, take photos, eat lots of Korean cuisine and send me a postcard!

photos of Korea courtesy of Korean Tourism Organization

Out of Place

Self-Portrait of a weary traveler in Berlin//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js


There are the moments between “the moments” we share with the rest of the world, and this photo was taken during such a moment. Between all of the smiley “proof of life” “I’m traveling and having a BLAST!” expressions, I chose to take a real photo of how I typically look. I relaxed my face and let it do its thing, ditto with my posture and body. You’ll note my sleeves are rolled up because it was unusually warm that day in Berlin and I foolishly left the apartment in a sweater with only an undershirt and no bra. I am wearing next to no make-up (my lip color has all but worn off) and there are ink stains on my left hand because I was writing in my journal and do not live in left-handed person’s world. I had been nursing a single beer for about ninety minutes at this point. I am tired. I am questioning what I will do with myself after Poland, as I had yet to solidify any plans and did not want to come back to Berlin for more than a rest-laundry-repack day. This day was the first day I finally began to unearth the Berlin that I kept hearing people talk about; the fun, warm and kind of zany Berlin. This is the first time (and maybe the only time) I will speak of my true feelings: being an empath in Berlin was not easy.

Welcome. Mind the step.

I’ve been so far removed from blogging and writing in general lately that I have been struggling to get back to it. Shreve from Honey Rock Dawn has been feeling this way as well and decided to post every day for the next month. Writing for the sake of writing. Or blogging. Whatever. Anyway, I am going to do the same. No finesse. No carefully crafted wordsmithery. Just simple, straight-forward whatever.

I am also over on instagram doing the #fmphotoaday – so I may align both posts to talk about the same topic, especially if I have more than the appropriately sized Instagram description to say on any given topic. Such as today, where the prompt is “A Door.” I know I am pushing it posting this just after 10:30pm but fuck it, I had to see Deadpool and then I had to come home and cook dinner. Then I sat down to watch an episode of Downton Abbey even though i have seen said episode four times. FIGHT ME.

Bridge House - Skibbreen, Cork

For whatever reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to snap a series of photographs depicting interesting doors of Europe. I really didn’t get on it until I was in Ireland, more than half way through my trip. I need to go back to Brugge in particular because I am having MASSIVE regrets not taking a photo of this gorgeous purple door I kept walking by. I will talk about the weirdness that was Brugge another day, though, and stay on task for now.

All through the near three weeks I spent in Ireland, I took photo after photo of doors. As I explained more eloquently on instagram: I am fascinated by residential architecture and how color plays an important part, especially on doors. The entryway to the home is particularly integral to how we, outside strangers, perceive the dwellers within. I don’t know. It read more profoundly on instagram.

It isn’t difficult to figure out why this door stood out to me, with it’s fire engine red door, dainty floral flourish – which almost looks Art Nouveau, with those curves – and all of that greenery going on around it. The green-teal of the building itself, while lovely, does pose such a juxtapose to the violence of the red that I cannot love it completely, but I do appreciate the commitment to polarization.

This door is located picturesque harbor town of Skibbreen, a town in west Cork. It is the front door of Bridge House, a guest lodgings that I am sure sees booming business during the summer and late spring. My friend Fiona, saint that she is, took me all over the central-west Cork area and put up with my bizarre door obsession with grace and patience. Thanks, Fiona. I imagine one day I will have prints made and I will send a print of a door we visited together and she will mutter in a bemused tone, “God love her, she’s crackers.”