Tropical Treats & Camera Feats

Mangosteen

I instantly regretted not bringing my dSLR when we got to the market and spotted all of these colorful baskets filled to the rim with tropical fruits.  My husband convinced me not to bring it (he always ends up carrying it for me when I’m not shooting!) so I had to make due with his small point and shoot that has taken way too many hits and falls over the years.

Salak

For me, it’s always a struggle to balance between taking great photos with a heavy, bulky camera or attempting to be fashionable and less fussy with gear.

Shallots

I’ve been thinking about getting a compact camera that has all of the functions of a dSLR for awhile, but they usually come with a hefty price tag.Uncooked ChipsAnd I can just imagine my SLR very sadly sitting in some corner of my room gathering dust!  (Yup – all of my inanimate objects have feelings.  Don’t yours?)  I’d love to hear if you fellow photo enthusiasts also have this problem and how you cope!

Delaware Grapes: Japan’s Sweet Morsels

Delaware Grapes in Japan

Delaware Grapes Japanese

Fruit in Japan is sublime.  It’s the only place where fruit is such an art form in appearance and taste.  Whatever the Japanese do, they do it with such precision and perfection… especially when it comes to food!  Last summer, I discovered delaware grapes, which are apparently not unique to Japan, but it’s the only place where I’ve seen them common as table grapes.  They are also grown in the Eastern US and are typically used for wine making – iced and sparkling wine.

The grapes are so tightly packed on the vine – so much so that a whole bowl full fits in the palm of your hand.  There’s safety in numbers because when picked off one by one, they are so delicate, and the skin tears so readily.  Juice and grape flesh burst out of the peel.  These grapes are as sweet and sour as a gummy candy and the texture dripping of juice.  It’s easy to see why they use these grapes to make wine!

Delaware Grape Peels

If you’re interested, you can pick up 250 grams for about 400 yen.  Now if we could only find something to do with the leftover peels!

Dekopan: Japan’s Designer Orange

 – A dekopan’s signature ‘bump’ –

The secret of the dekopan is spreading like wild fire!  It very recently hit the markets in the States for about $2 each (sold under the name Sumo), which is reasonable compared with the prices here in Japan.  Let me start from the beginning:  dekopan (pronounced: deco-pahn) is a special breed of orange from Japan.  You can spot it by the tell tale bump protruding at the top, which was originally considered unsightly but became the dekopan’s trademark.  They are a little bit smaller than a naval orange, but much bigger than a clementine or mandarin orange.

Although these are almost the size of naval oranges, their skin is so thin similar to a clementine so you can peel it by hand without the help of a knife.  In order to be classified as a dekopan, it has to have a certain amount of sugar and a low citric acid content so they are incredibly sweet and the quality is consistent.  I’ve probably eaten over 50 dekopan, and I’ve never found a seed or any of those dry patches.  They are always plump, amazingly orange in color, and sweet.

Like most fruit in Japan, there are different grades of dekopan, which start at about $1 each and increase in price dramatically.  Even so, the $1 ones are so juicy and sweet.  The season only lasts through April so make sure to get your hands on these before it’s too late!  Along with Japan and the US, plants have also been exported to Korea and Brazil although you might have to pay a week’s allowance for one!

Happy Belated Setsubun no hi!

Did you know that demons like beans?  Friday was Setsubun no hi (pronounced: set-sue-boon-no-hie), which is the day before spring begins.  It’s a traditional Japanese holiday that was introduced by the Chinese a long time ago and has roots in the Lunar New Year, which is why the Japanese use this holiday to dispel evil spirits and invite good luck (similar to New Years holiday in January).

– Soy Beans, a demon’s mask usually worn by children (or me!), and eho-maki –

On Setsubun Day, everyone buys dried soy beans, which they throw around their house, outside their front door, and out of the windows.  The theory is that demons run outside to get these beans, thus luring them out of your house while good spirits come inside.

– My eho-maki –

In Osaka, the local people there have an additional tradition of eating a whole, uncut eho-maki, a sushi roll filled with different ingredients.  This year, mine has egg, shiitake mushrooms, eel, and marinated dried daikon, but eho-maki can be filled with many different ingredients.  Each member of the family gets their own whole roll, and you should eat it facing towards the yearly lucky direction.  This year, that direction is NNW.  Once you start eating, no one can speak until they completely finish their roll.  Let me tell you – it’s not an easy task.  These rolls are huge!  Both my husband and I couldn’t finish our rolls so technically, we’re not allowed to talk all year.  Although the tradition of eho-maki started in Osaka, it’s been promoted by stores across Japan so you can now find these rolls in depachika, supermarkets, and convenience stores everywhere.  They run about 400 yen each, but it’s half price if you get it at the end of the day!

If you don’t want all of the Costco hassle..

If you don’t want to lug yourself and your luggages to Costco, there are luckily some other options.  Yoyo Market is an online shop in English that sells products from Costco. Their selection is less than going to the store yourself, but it saves you the trip and it’s much more convenient.  They will also pick up IKEA goods and ship it to you directly.

Another online store that sells American products is The Flying Pig.  Their selection is a little bit different from Yoyo Market, and their website isn’t as sophisticated, but it’s an expat staple in Tokyo!

Steam Cake Jackpot!

While searching the bread section for challah last night, I struck gold!!  I found the original Ginza Kimuraya steam cake along with 3 new flavors – chocolate, maple, and brown sugar!!Even though the chocolate steam cake has dark chocolate color, it’s mild and semi-sweet.  The maple was much sweeter than all the rest and reminded me of Canadian maple syrup cookies I got from Vancouver.  Out of the three, my favorite was brown sugar since it’s a bit sweeter than the original but with a slightly richer flavor.  I’m going to pick these up as a breakfast omiyage for my family!

Simple Mochi Recipe: Yakimochi

Last week, I featured packaged mochi from the supermarket.  I want to share with you a simple and quick recipe using this mochi, soy sauce, and nori!  Nori (pronounced: noh-rlee) is Japanese for seaweed.  Aside from the typical nori used for sushi and hand rolls in the US, I never knew there were so many types of nori … but that’s for another day :)

I learned this recipe from (…get ready for it…) my husband!  We typically eat this for breakfast or as a snack.  Interesting tidbit: this snack is called yakimochi, which is also synonymous for jealousy in Japanese.  Like mochi, jealous people ‘puff up’ when they’re heated!

Prep Time: 0 min (<- awesome, right??)
Cooking Time: ~10 minutes
Servings: 1

Materials Needed:
– 1 packaged mochi ‘block’
– a strip of nori
– soy sauce to taste (~2tbsp)

1. Grill the mochi for approx 10 minutes, until the mochi puffs up.
2. Pour soy sauce on the mochi. If you’re unsure about how much flavor to use, you could also use the soy sauce as a dipping sauce instead.
3. Wrap the mochi in nori. Eat!

Other optional toppings & sides: hot sauce, tsukemono (Japanese pickles), rice vinegar, or miso soup! Hmm.. am I sensing a fun mochi bar idea?