Tells a story


Soba internship at Hosokawa

Posted on December 13, 2012 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (1)
Soba Master Hosokawa boiling soba noodles.

Doing an internship in a Michilen star restaurant is not easy.  Most chef look for someone young and eager. Not someone over fifty like me.   Hosokawa is a chef who is notorious for being a perfectionist, tough and uncompromising,  He has gone through a lot of apprentices but many don't last, and none of his three sons have followed his path.  But if put his disciplinarian style persona aside, Hosokawa serves the most elegant soba, edo-style.  100% milled and hand made on the premises of his small shop.  The buckwheat,  the vegetable, the eel andr oysters -are all personally selected carefully - he deals directly with farmers and fishermen and does not like going through middlemen.  His dipping sauces and soups are heavenly. His tempura is the considered better than tempura shops - crispy and light and always seasonal. i have been visiting Hosokawa's shop for years, every time I am in Japan I make a pilgrimage to his shop and go home enlightened.  But the only contact I had ever with him is his occasional audible yelling at one of the apprentices or calling out an order.  

But one day in July, a muggy hot day, I went to his shop in the early evening by myself to have a slurp of his soba and basically try as many dishes as I can manage.  When I got to the second dish of an eggplant served with miso, I couldn't help but ask if the eggplant was deep fried or barised. It was so sweet and tender, yet not greasy at all. The way the scallions and bell peppers adorned the dish was so lovely that I wanted to make conatct with the chef.  He suddenly appeared before me and came out of the kitchen personally to answer my question.  I was completely humbled. 

Hosokawa was much slimmer than the man I had seen in pictures, but there was the smile and the edokko style towel wrapped around his head. I learned later that he had been ill with intenstinal cancer and had been absent for sometime. He was slowly making a comeback when I went to the shop but in a short time, his assistant had ran away and was short of help. He seemed tired and needed to bounce his feelings to someone so willing  to listen like me.  I told him I live in Los Angeles and I love soba and I make soba.  He was interested in me and for the next 15 minutes, ( I was the last customer of the day), we had a conversation about soba - something that revealed who he was -  the artistry that he brought to each dish he created.  I knew that perhaps this is the moment to to ask if he would le me come to his kitchen and watch him make soba.  He said, sure. I had called him a number of times before to see if he would teach me soba but he was too busy back then that he had cancelled the workshop. I was delighted by the idea to watch him make soba - he asked me to call him
when I came back to Japan again, which I told him I would in December.

I called him the week before leaving for Japan. He answered the phone and remembered who I was. He invited me to come at 8am to his shop in Ryogoku. It would be an hour train ride from my parents' house in Shibuya.  I marked the date on my calendar. It was set for December 13, 2012.

I knew this experience was going to allow me to go back to the beginning and learn soba all over again.

Katsuo - Skipjack Tuna - Yaizu, Japan

Posted on October 21, 2011 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

One of the first things you see when you get off Yaizu train station is a large whimsical drawing of Katsuo (skipjack tuna or Bonito) musicians.  Drawn by the graduating class of the local high school, the fish are depicted as one happy bunch, and you soon find out why. Katsuo fishing has been the main industry of Yaizu since ancient times. Caught in the tropical waters of the south seas, most of the catch is frozen instantly and brought into Yaizu port for processing into Katsuobushi - smoked tuna, which is used for making "dashi" - the essential Japanese seasoning - miso soup is among the savory soups that benefits from Katsuobushi.  Of all tunas, Katsuo is considered the most fecund and sustainable.  I was in Yaizu, just at the start of katsuo season.  I spent a day at a katsuobushi factory and at the old Yaizu port  for a story I am writing on Katsuobushi.

An oil painting of Katsuo (skipjack tuna) drawn by Kuno, the  late owner of Marusho - 80 year old katsuobushi factory in Yaizu.  

A lunch in Yaizu of smoked eel and sashimi of Katsuo and baby sardines.   What a productive day!

Help Japan: Visit

Posted on August 28, 2011 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Shibuya, Tokyo

Here is an article I wrote in Zester Daily titled Help Japan: Visit. (.)

Earthquake in Japan - Santa Monica

Posted on March 12, 2011 at 2:14 PM Comments comments (1)

Ana, wisteria, and stone sculpture

I am feeling numb from the earthquake in Japan. 9.0 in the rector scale.  It took me the whole day to reach my family. My family in Tokyo was fine but I have distant relatives in Iwaki, Fukushima where the nuclear power plant exploded.  I am concerned for their lives.   I've been in touch with family and friends from all over the world who have called or e mailed me to find out if my family was okay. In times of crisis of this scale, we feel helpless.  Someone in Japan described the shaking buildings like a trembling leaf,  and the earth like a quivering jello.  A friend in Niigata is trying to create a special ribbon that ties people together - not just the Japanese but everyone in the world. 

I've been through two major earthquakes in LA.  The first one happened when we lived in Monterey Park. My old soba cups fell from the shelves and I broke many. But we were okay.  My friends from Japan helped replace some of my broken china. In the second earthquake, the house shook so hard, I thought I was going to die.  I was scared for a long time.  My assistant left LA and moved back to Georgia. But again, we were lucky. Some people were not.

The Japanese wisteria tree  and Sakai's sculpture in the patio make me connected to Japan.  We are all tied ot  Japan in one way or another - by land, by sea, by blood, by spirit.  Today, I prayed a lot.

A walk in the snow - Sado Island

Posted on February 26, 2011 at 9:58 AM Comments comments (0)

Sake - Made by Hand - Sado Island

Posted on February 23, 2011 at 12:17 PM Comments comments (3)

I wrote about making sake by hand (h) during my recent to Sado Island, Niigata. 


Kappo Cuisine - A personal style

Posted on February 20, 2011 at 1:19 AM Comments comments (1)
On a recent trip to Sado Island in theSea of Japan on the northwestern coast of Niigata,
I had a free night alone. My Sadoan friend Ken Hirashima suggested I havedinner at a nearby
Kappo style restaurant called Goshima , which was tucked away in a quiet residential area behind the inn
where I was staying. The snowy weather discouraged him from suggesting any other place.
Kappo means “To cut” and "To Cook." The setting of Kappo is similar to small sushi bar, with counter seating and a few tables.
The Kappo chef will prepare a variety of dishes - sliced raw, grilled, steamed, braised and deep fried –
right before your eyes, and may engage in some lively conversation.

Grilled head of Snapper
Kappo falls somewhere between the traditional Kaiseki cuisine and the casual Izakaya style cuisine.
Kaiseki offers a seasonal course menu of elaborately prepared dishes, which are served in
an environment that is serene. Izakaya, on the other hand, offers an a la carte menu that consist
mostly of small plates. Drinking is the focal point of Izakaya style of dining. With Kappo,
it’s completely up to the chef. This can range from formal to casual, classic to modern Japanese.
Fusion can come into play. Prices vary. First timers are sometimes turned away.
It is through the introduction of the regular customers and their word of mouth that keeps
these small Kappo establishments going. To get to know Kappo, the best route is to find a
friend who can introduce you to the restarant they frequent.

Sashimi with local fish

Cod Milt Nabe

When I entered Goshima, a small stove was set up to heat the place. There was a counter with
six stools and a room with tatami mats on an elevated platform.

When Goshima, the owner chef for whom the restaurant is named, saw me come in, he must have thought that I
was a wayward tourist because he immediately tried to turn me away. “We don’t serve dinner here.
We just have nibbles and sake,”he said in an apologetic tone. By then, I had checked the menu
on the wall and I was sold.

A young woman came out and set a pot containing something fishy on top of the stove. “Welcome,” she said
smiling. She was much friendlier than Goshima. “What is it?” I asked her, bending down to look what was inside
pot. I was still wearing my down jacket and scarf around my neck. “It’s shirako nabe,” she said, pointing to the
white knotted rope like thing. It was cod fish milt – a sperm filled gland of a male fish. I turned to Goshima
and announced myself. “I am a friend of Hirashima of Manotsuru brewery down the street.” Goshima finally
seemed relieved that I knew someone from the area. “Dozo,” he said. I was invited to take a seat at the counter.
I hung my jacket and sat down Goshima serves locally brewed sake, sochu, and a few wines from California
and France. I chose sake.

HOW TO ORDER Goshima suggested that I try “Omakase” – leave it to the chef. He said it would cost 2500 yen for the
course menu. He asked me if I was okay with that? It was very reasonable compared to most places in
Tokyo where a small plate of sashimi could cost you that. It is a good idea to go by what the chef
recommends, as the Kappo chef will mostly go to the market himself to buy the ingredients.
In no time, Goshima prepared a beautiful plate of sashimi of snapper, squid, tuna, and yellowtail
and other local fish I had never heard of before. “It’s been a good winter for the fishermen,” 
Goshima said, “Almost too good to believe.” I was happy to hear the news, especially since
I heard that the fishing industry has been on the decline and many of the fishermen were struggling
to make ends meet.

Goshima showing the rare pencil thin fish

WHO YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER An hour went by and I was still the only customer at Goshima. I came at 6pm so that was early
for a place that could be for people who drink sake and nibble on food. The inclement weather seemed to be
affecting the business. Goshima served me a rare local fish – it was a long fish that look like a stick, with a tiny
mouth and big eyes. It had coral pink skin. “They are a delicacy and can command a high price at Tsukiji
fish market in Tokyo, but it didn’t make it there today because the fishermen only caught two in the net,”
said Goshima. Its sashimi was tender and sweet. He made tempura out of the remaining half of the long
fish. I prayed that there were plenty more of this fish in the ocean.

Assorted seafood sashimi

Finally, one person walked in. A lone diner. He looked like a regular because he just went straight
to the end of the counter, took a bottle of sake out of the small fridge and made himself comfortable.
My fish sausage tempura arrived about then. The sausage was made from fresh pureed local seafood
and wrapped with fragrant shiso leaves. There was also the fish milt pot, which was served in a small
table top cooking unit, a plate of the cod fish roe and monk liver. It was a lot of fish to eat on my own. I learned that the man at the end of the counter, ta dentis,t had dinner at Goshima every night when he wife and children were away in
Tokyo. Lately, that was happening a lot, but it was not my business to ask why. Goshima made him a
kimchii cabbage hot pot and a dish of crab croquettes and shredded cabbage salad – neither dish
was on the menu. They both looked delicious.

The dentist turned out to be Hirashima’s family dentist. Once that was known, he shed his guard
and became talkative. Just as I was thinking, Goshima served me the head of grilled snapper.
I wasn’t sure if I can eat another piece of fish.
fish, but I kept going. Then another man walked in. He was also a regular. Goshima introduced 
him to me as the sake sommalier of Sado. He had won some blind folded sake contest. He checked
to see what sake I was drinking and brought out a different local sake from the fridge to try.
Besides being the island’s unofficial sommalier, he was also the prep school teacher, who
had taught Hirashima’s wife, Rumiko, when she was a teenager. Talk about a small village.

The little stove that heated the room - Nabe wth Cod Milt
It was past 9 pm and still only three customers, all enjoying their food, sake and company in
their comfort zone. I had eaten so much fish, I felt like a fish tank. I asked for the check. To finish
the evening, Goshima treated me to a piece of homemade apple pie that the young woman who
worked there had baked. It was of course not on the menu. I was greatful for the fish, Goshima’s
cooking, and the company of quirky regulars. The apple pie tasted sweet.



Winter Rice Field - Sado Island

Posted on February 4, 2011 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (0)



Himono -Dried Fish and Mollusks - Sado Island

Posted on February 2, 2011 at 2:16 AM Comments comments (1)

String of Fish

As I was gettig ready to leave Sado Island in Niigata last week, I came upon the most beautiful string of fish.  I crossed the snow covered street to take a closer look. It was Himono-salted dry fish.  The fish had just been salted that morning and hung to dry.  

I grew up eating a lot of Himono, having lived near the seaside of Kamakura as a child.  When I walked by the local fishmonger's shop on my way to school, I would always find him cleaning fish. He made himono first thing in the morning. I would watch him while I waited for the bus to come.  He split and gutted the fish one by one, and dropped the innards into the stone tub right next to his cutting board where the fishmonger kept his gold fish as pets. These gold fish were fed so well, they were as big as Koi.  

To make himono, the fish are soaked in a brine and then laid flat on a large screen to dry in the open air.  The sun and the wind aid in the drying. This method of drying retains the umami of the fish, without drying the meat out.   Kamakura was famous for mackerel Himono, Aji-no-himono. It was my favorite way to eat fish.

Squid drying.

When I moved to Los Angeles, my mother would come visit me once a year. She always brought suitcases full of care packages  - one of which was a styrofoam box full of Himono. I can still recall the image of my mother when she came out of the plane on a wheel chair one time.  She was holding the box of fish on her lap.  I  thought something terrible happened to her during the flight because I had never seen her on a wheel chair before. It turned out she just didn't feel like carrying the heavy box.  My mother always went over board with souvenirs.  She never got any of the fish confiscated by customs.  

Himono is an ancient invention that allowed people to preserve and transport fish when refrigeration was not available and is still a popular food in Japan. Himono can be fishy in taste for some people.  A good introduction to Himono is to eat it as appetizers with sake. The way to serve Himono is broiled or grilled. You don't need to add any seasonings because the salting intensifies the flavors of the fish.  Some come smoked.  Mollusks like squid and small need only to be pan fried dry.   Heated or grilled, Himono softens up. You can keep Himono in the freezer for 3-6 months.

Fresh flounder hanging.

Squid drying

Fin of sting ray





Manga Tokyo - Kameari

Posted on January 14, 2011 at 7:42 PM Comments comments (0)



Window - Sado Island, Japan

Posted on November 7, 2010 at 2:28 PM Comments comments (0)

Window of miso factory - Sado Island, Japan

Sado Island - The story of fishermen

Posted on September 24, 2010 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (0)

I am still catching up on my life but i did get to write a story on the recent trip to Niigata on the Fisherman of Sado Island.  Also, check out the events section for Fall Cooking Workshop that takes place between October 9-17, 2010 or go to

Rice fields - Sado Island

Something "Kawaii" - Japanese Egg Mold

Posted on April 10, 2010 at 5:48 AM Comments comments (0)

I keep finding things in Japan that makes me say, Wahhh Kawaii!  This basically means "Oh, how cute!" but it can also mean "I like it." Japanese use this word in almost any context. Kawaii rhymes with Hawaii so it is easy to remember. Here is what I found today while shopping at , a gigantic store that reminds me of HOME DEPOT, only it's got tons of fun and Kawaii merchandise.  Take a look at this egg mold.  It molds a hard boiled egg into the following  Kawaii shape.   

Car shape egg mold. This one didn't work very well. The

design was too complicated for the delicate egg.  The egg fell apart

when I closed the mold.

The fish shape egg mold worked much better.

The egg is beige because it has been marinated in

a dipping sauce for noodles. 

It was Kawaii and delicious.

Marinated soft boiled egg recipe

2 peeled soft boiled eggs

1 cup Basic Dipping sauce (see below)


Marinate the peeled soft boiled eggs in dipping sauce for four hours or overnight.

Put it in the egg mold and lightly press to make your favorite shape. Keeps in the

fridge for 4-5 days.

Basic Dipping Sauce

 This is an all purpose basic dipping sauce that I use for dipping Tempura, Soba, Somen noodles. You can use this as a basic recipe and make some adjustments with the seasonings to suit your palate. The sauce is sweetened with Mirin, sweet sake, which unlike sugar has more depth in flavor.

1 cup of Dashi (see Basics for Dashi broth recipe)

1/6 cup - light color soy sauce (Usukuchi-shoyu) or regular soysauce. (I prefer light color soysauce)

1/6 cup - Mirin, sweet sake

1/2 cup - bonito flakes

Bring the Dashi broth, soysauce and Mirin, sweet sake in a medium size pot and bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Add the bonito flakes and let the flakes sink to the bottom. Strain broth. Discard bonito flakes. Let the broth cool down to room temperature. Refrigerate.


Makes about 11/4 cups of dipping sauce.

Keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days.



More Flower viewing in Tokyo - Myogadani

Posted on April 4, 2010 at 5:48 AM Comments comments (2)

Myogadani - Tokyo - Flower viewing festival


During this time of year, almost every body in Japan will make time to view the cherry blossoms. The weather in Tokyo has been particularly kind to the cherries. The necessary cold spell came a few days before the cherries bloomed and once that spell passed, we've moved right into good spring weather. Not too windy. Not wet. Warm enough to allow the blooms to open slowly and surely. In Japan, cherry blossoms are known for their fragility and transient nature. The blooms last for about a week.  Some of us think that life is like that: ephermeral. We might as well enjoy it while they last.

  Spectacular blooms

  The cherry blossoms blanket the sky

  People have picnics under the cherry trees.  


I was in Myogadani with my sister Fuyuko. We went to Ikoan, an artisinal pastry shop that I blogged about last year. They make a pastry called "Mitarashi dango" during the flower viewing season. The tiny shop was crowded with people who came to buy the dango and Sakura Mochi (Pastries wrapped in pickled cherry leaves). The Sakura mochi was sold out.

  Fuyuko takes a bite of the mitarashi dango

  Mitarashi dango is made with rice flour. It is

served with a sweet soy sauce.


The shape of Mitarashi dango was inspired by droplets of water. These little balls are soft and chewy like mochi. What makes them special is the soy based sauce. It is traditional these rice balls during the flower viewing season.


I have to say, this was one of the best spring I have ever experienced.

Minori - Handmade Soba Restaurant in Tokyo

Posted on April 1, 2010 at 7:27 AM Comments comments (0)

Kakoshi - Soba Master

One of the first people to ever teach me how to make soba by hand was Kakoshi.  Although he ls still in his early thirties, he has been making soba for nearly 10 years. Three years ago, he went back to school to polish his techinques in artisinal soba making at the  When I met Kakoshi last summer, he was working as an Assistant/Apprentice there. I spent a half day at the Academy where I got to watch Akila Inouye's soba demonstration. Then when it came to hands-on soba making, Kakoshi stood by my side and showed me how. Even though my noodles looked more like Udon than Soba in width, he assured me that my soba will taste good, and they did.  Before leaving the Academy that day, Kakoshi told me that he would soon be leaving the Academy to open , an artisinal soba restaurant in his hometown Akishima.   

Akishima is in the outskirts of Tokyo, bordering Yamanashi prefecture. It took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there from Shinjuku.  For that reason, I had been putting off the visit but I really wanted to see Kakoshi's dream restaurant but I finally found some time to make the trip. 

The interior of Minori

All the sake is "Junmai-shu" - made of 100% rice and water

As expected, Minori was an impressive looking restaurant. The facade reminded me of soba boxes stacked together, only they were white boxes. It is a pretty modern structure in a semi rural city b ut it works. Kakoshi lives upstairs. It was close to 2pm when I got there. Several couples and ladies were having lunch.

Kneading and Milling room  

What you see when you enter the restaurant is the little glassed room that is used for making Soba. The milling machine is also in this room. This is where everything begins for a soba maker.  I dream of having such a space someday.  Kakoshi kneads about 6 kilos of dough every day to service his customers; he mills the flour himself.  This is what makes his soba restaurant special. Most soba restaurants in Japan rely on machines to knead and cut soba, and use more wheat than buckwheat flour. As a result, the flavor and texture of the soba are flat.   The artisinal style of making soba is incredibly respectful in handling the soba. The soba maker tries to make soba with premium quality flour, stone-milled, hand cut and cooked immediately before it has a chance to go limp.  Anyone who dares to go into artisinal soba making has to have lots of passion and discipline. Kakoshi brings all these qualities to his soba making.

The menu was varietal. It had everything from classic cold soba with Tororo, grated yamaimo potato, and to hot and soupy, Kake-soba. There were a couple of fusion soba dishes with Italian influences, with such names as Carbonara and Pepperoncini soba. I opted for the traditional course and ordered the lunch special. It was 1200 Yen, which included a dessert and coffee. The appetizer plate came with three items: tamago, a crispy fried soba and Mitsuba salad with Umeboshi dressing, and Tofu made with soba flour. I enjoyed quite liked the soba tofu. It is heavier than soybean based tofu but the fragrance of soba comes through nicely in the custard.  The main course was cold soba and Maitake tempura. Ground salt was served on the side.  

Flat handwoven baskets for serving Zaru-Soba drying on
the wooden lid of the big pot.

I believe the best way to taste artisinal handmade soba is to eat it cold. Kakoshi uses a 9 to 1 ratio of buckwheat and wheat to make the soba. He adds about 42% water in the dry wintertime.  Less when it's more humid. I asked Kakoshi if there was something else I should order from the menu.  He suggested I try the Age -grilled tofu pouches with Negi miso. The age was quite thick than I am used to. The miso was seasoned with Negi, sesame oil and a little sugar.  Kakoshi told me that this particular age came from Niigata prefecture.  I noticed he had other foods of Niigata origin.  it turns out that his father is from Niigata so he wanted to introduce foods from this region. I liked that idea. 
Soba appetizers: Soba tofu, Mizuna and crispy Soba noodles
served with Umeboshi dressing, Tamago

Cold soba with dipping sauce and condiments of grated daikon,
sliced negi and grated wasabi - all fresh.

As I sat at the beautiful wooden counter, I couldn't wait to try the soba. 
Kakoshi's soba was long. Very long with good al dente texture. He said some customers complain that the length makes it difficult to pick up the noodles and dip them in the little cup containing the sauce, but he likes  it long.  I found myself struggling with this length too but it's nice to see someone make long and thin noodles as such.  Believe me, if you ever try making soba, you will soon find out how skillful you have to be to get them thin and long, particularly if it is made mostly from buckwheat flour, which contains no gluten and therefore by nature does not like to stick together like wheat flour.

Maitake mushrooms taste great as tempura.

I loved the lunch, especially the soba and the Maitake tempura. The Soba pudding was also very good. I could eat more.  Kakoshi gave me a tour of the kitchen. It's realy an efficient place.  The milling machine was turning. The hulled buckwheat was filled to the top.  Kakoshi was getting ready for the evening. 

Milling machine 

Kakoshi uses a traditional tin-lined tea box to 
store the fresh milled flour.

I headed back to the train station. The waitress at Kakoshi's restaurant said that the cherry trees in Akishima need a few more days to be in full bloom.  But I got lucky. I found one tree that was in full bloom.

Flower viewing in Tokyo

Posted on March 31, 2010 at 12:14 AM Comments comments (1)

Kaido in our garden

       Flower viewing lunch with my Father

Today was the first day of the year that felt warm enough to eat outdoors, and timely because the Kaido tree in our garden is blooming. My father suggest we eat lunch outside, and have a have a glass of wine with it.  The Japanese have a name for such flower viewing, sake drinking practice. It's called Hanami.  The occasion is devoted mainly for viewing cherry blossoms but our charming pink Kaido deserves a similar attention.

I made pasta with spring vegetables - fava beans, eggplant, carrots, and onions. Japanese vegetables are amazingly delicious. With the pasta, I brought out the bottle of wine, a Pinot Noir made in Tanba, Kyoto that my sister Fuyuko gave me as a birthday present. It was the first  Japanese Pinot  I ever tasted. It was a surprisingly decent red wine.  My father was so happy to have me back in Tokyo.  Wine with Hanami paired well.  Pasta was delicious!

Sleeping Beauty - Santa Monica

Posted on February 22, 2010 at 12:27 AM Comments comments (1)

Zensai with Mochi

Posted on February 1, 2010 at 2:20 AM Comments comments (3)

Sweet azuki beans soup with Toasted Mochi

I realized that during my first year of blogging, I only made six dessert entries.  This is very little for someone who loves sweets.  There is a reason.  At home in Santa Monica, noone cares for sweets but me.  So making desserts is not on my priority list. But here in Tokyo, I practically live in my sister Fuyuko's pastry atelier. Everyone takes desserts seriously so if I make a batch of something, there are plenty of people willing to taste my creations. 

One of my favorite winter dessert or snack food is a warm Japanese sweet bean soup called Zensai.  Since I had some leftover mochi from New Years, I decided to make Zensai and top it with some toasted mochi.   Zensai is a perfect cold weather soup that is made with Azuki beans, water, and sugar.   When you go to a Anmitsuya (a Japanese style dessert shop), Zensai is usually served with grilled mochi on top, and pickles on the side.   in Kagurazaka, Tokyo makes a killer Zensai. I visit Kinozen at least once or twice during my stay in Tokyo to get my Zenzai fix and some.  Kinozen serves Zensai with moch; they also serve it with sweetened chestnuts, Kuri zensai, and Millet gruel, Awa zensai.  Awa like mochi is also gooey in texture. The Japanese find this texture very comforting.   


Mochi- it has long shelf life if you keep it in the package. 
Grilled they soften and pop up like popcorn.  It's great with
soysauce,  and in soups like Zensai.

Simmer the beans  gently


Makes 8 servings


300 grams azuki beans  

300 grams white granulated sugar  or more

1 Tbs soy sauce  

4 pieces of Mochi, cut in half


Rinse the beans in cold water several times. Soak overnight in plenty of cold water to soften.  If the beans are very fresh, no soaking is necessary.

Discard soaking water, rinse and cover beans with fresh cold water.  In a heavy saucepan, bring the beans and water to a boil.  Drain.  Start again with fresh water and bring to a boil and then turn heat to a gentle simmer until the beans are cooked throughly, being careful not to overcook or burn them. The beans should be submerged in the cooking liquid and never exposed. It will take about 90 minutes to two hours to cook the beans. Test one bean and squash it with your finger.  If it squashes easily, it is ready.


When the beans are cooked, pour off the excess cooking water leaving just enough to cover the beans. Add 1/2 the white sugar and the soy sauce. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the remaining sugar and cook for another 15 minutes. Taste and make adjustments.  If more sugar is needed it can be added at this point.  Simmer for a few more minutes and turn heat off.  The azuki beans are ready to be served but it's best if you let them rest in the saucepan overnight. 


When ready to serve, cut the mochi pieces in half and grill under a broiler or a toaster oven until they pop. Heat the zenzai until very hot. Place a piece of grilled mochi in individual serving bowls. Ladle the hot zenzai on top. Serve immediately.


This recipe makes about 8-12  servings.   

Note: If the soup is too thick, you can dilute it with a  little water.  If it is too thin, you can

cook it and thicken the soup. This is a matter of preference.  It should have the consistency of a thick soup.


Two Japanese Pastas - Wafu Style

Posted on January 24, 2010 at 2:47 AM Comments comments (0)

Natto pasta with scallions

When it comes to fusion cusine, Japanese often do things that I find quite daring mixing native ingredients with foreign imports.  Take pasta, for example. The most popular Wafu, Japanese style pastas are Tarako, salted cod roe and Natto, fermented soybeans. Both ingredients have strong flavors.  Tarako is salty, some are spiced with chili, in which case they are called Mentaiko.  Natto is smelly like cheese and slimy like okra. It is an acquired taste.  Fusing Tarako with Pasta is understandable because Tararko is similar to Bottarga, the dried and cured roe, which is used in Italian pasta.  But there is nothing I can think of that comes close to Natto in Italy. The Japanese figured, if Natto works on top of rice, it can also work on top of pasta, and it does, more or less. 

Pasta Carbonara with Bacon, Mentaiko (salted cod roe) and Chives

When my son Sakae and his girlfriend Bina were in Tokyo during the winter holidays, I took them to an inexpensive neighborhood pasta place in Shibuya that's been here since the early fifities called 

We ordered the two quintessential Wafu style pastas. The Natto spaghetti came with a generous mound of whipped natto (fermented soybeans) seasoned with raw egg, soysauce and mustard and served over buttered spaghetti. It was slimy as Natto  should be. People either love Natto or hate it. My son loves natto but he was not crazy about this dish. He said he prefers Natto over rice and not pasta.  I feel the same but many Japanese eat Natto this way and love it.

Bina ordered the Mentaiko pasta, carbonara style.  It was your basic egg pasta with bacon which was coated with spicy Tarako, salted cod roe. She ordered the large plate. Compared to the Natto spaghetti, this one was a winner. I orderedTarako, salted cod roe, and with Squid and Shiso.   Bina's dish tasted better. We all ended up taking a bite or two of her pasta. 

Both Natto and Tarako pasta can be easily made at home. WIth natto, you just take it out of the container, mix it with whipped raw egg, a teaspoon or two of soy sauce and mustard and pour it over hot buttered spaghetti.  Not much to it really.  Sesame oil works instead of butter, too. WIth the Mentaiko pasta, you take the cod eggs out of the egg sac with a spoon, or slice it in half, and mix the loose roe into the hot pasta. Toppings such as chopped shiso, scallions, nori seaweed, roasted sesema seeds, daikon sprouts work for both pasta dishes.


L'atelier du Gout - a French Pastry Chef in Tokyo

Posted on January 9, 2010 at 8:56 PM Comments comments (0)
Fuyuko's Gateau du Voyage, fruit cakes

 is very busy today.  A new customer called to place a large order of Gateau du Voyage, fruit cakes.   is my sister Fuyuko Kondo's French pastry shop and pastry school. It is located on the ground floor of my parents house in Shibuya. When she is baking, the whole house smells of butter burning. That makes coming home to Tokyo, a unique kind of a French experience.

Fuyuko's day starts at six in the morning.  She changes into her neatly pressed, spotless white uniform.  When I come downstairs with my morning coffee, Fuyuko is talking on the phone to the new customer who placed the big order of fruitcakes. Fuyuko assures her that the cakes will arrive in Osaka before noon tomorrow. The cakes still need one final touch up - dried pineapples rings, pistachios, goji berries and orange peel go on top. Fuyuko slices an end piece and asks me for an opinion. For these fruitcakes, she used a new butter from Hokkaido. I am always tasting her creations. I can never refuse her offer.

Fuyuko did her culinary training with in Brussells and in Paris in the eighties. Back then, there were only a handful of Japanese studying european pastries abroad. During Fuyuko's apprenticeship, I visited her in Paris a couple of times. I remember her tiny one-room apartment crowded with pastry equipment and   flowers. She was practicing even at home. These glossy sugar flowers had a way of brightening her modest room. That year, Fuyuko won a prize in the pulled sugar contest in Paris.  

Today, French pastry chefs like my sister have multiplied in numbers.  So have the number of pastry shops in Japan. You can find some of the finest French pastries. I always feel at home when I eat Fuyuko's fruitcake in Tokyo. On this visit, I am going to take some lessons in French pastries. Being able to do this in Tokyo is a unique kind of French experience.

Fuyuko decoratees the cakes.

You can order Fuyuko Kondo's cake by visiting the website:
She offers pastry classes and sells pastries on-line.  She can ship anywhere in Japan.
The website is in Japanese but you can e mail Fuyuko in French or English. 
11-17 Nampeidai-cho
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0036
Tel 03-3461-6551