Some people travel to shop, to be seen, to be part of that enviable life (especially so these days with social media and how it preys on the minds of the young and impressionable). I, on the other hand, travel because there is a whole world out there that I want to explore, lots of things to experience and food to eat and learn about.
I am one of those folks that will travel for food. In fact when I figure where to go, the next thing I do, is to bookmark places I want to go eat at. I have decided a long time ago that even though I’ve eaten well and at many different places, it doesn’t give me the right to openly critique (esp on social media) someone else’s (up to) months of hard work to create a dish just because I’ve taken 5-10 mins to eat it, I paid for it and I (not forgetting that it is a personal opinion) do not like it. Negativity never made anyone better people. Instead, I prefer to be inspired and write about what inspired me and how I can bring that experience home with me and reconstruct flavours or improve my cooking.
We were in Hakuba, Nagano, Japan and now we are in Tokyo. What I love about Japan is that they have some of the best homegrown produce. They take so much pride in what they do that it shows in the quality of the crops they grow, their chefs also respect their produce and they bring out the best in what they cook. So thought I’d share some of my favourite food/food related places to date (the last 5 days) from this trip. More to come.
Daio Wasabi Farm
The wasabi you eat probably isn’t wasabi. Watch this video!
Daio Wasabi Farm has been around since 1915. It is one of the biggest farms in Japan and the biggest wasabi farm. Wasabi has been dubbed as the hardest plant to farm because it needs clean spring water between 13 degC to 18degC, a certain amount of sunlight and it takes 18 months for it to be ready for harvest. That’s also why most of the wasabi you eat isn’t real. We got to visit the farm. It’s amazing how they are grown with spring water flowing through rows and rows of them. Earlier in the day, we made a stop at a small batch coffee roaster at Azumino. She told us that at Azumino, you can actually find wild wasabi by the river. Azumino is famous for their fresh air and water. That lady we met even gave us each a cup of water to taste it. It is crisp and clean tasting, and refreshing to drink. Sounds cliche i know but having drunk a fair bit of water from pretty much everywhere I go, this was pretty special. Special enough for them to brew an award winning beer with its water at their own micro-brewery.
In the above photo, one of them is their wasabi lemonade drink. They froze wasabi as an ice cube and added that to the lemonade. You can try that at home but you need to use fresh wasabi not the artificial one because the fresh one isn’t as sharp and has a “sweet” flavour. That’s a wasabi leaf oyaki. The buns are filled with stir fried wasabi leaves. To get close to that flavour if you haven’t access to it, is to use arugula leaves but it won’t have that same sweetness or texture.
Kawakami An at Karuizawa
They had the biggest prawn tempura we have ever seen The prawn is longer than my hand. What I liked about it is that the batter is very crisp and the texture of their soba was still firm.
When frying tempura, always use a thermometer to make sure that your oil is maintained at 170 degC to 180 degC. Use a cast iron pot to keep the oil in check. I also always make the batter with ice cold water. That tip was from my father who told me that makes the batter light. As for the noodles, follow the prescribed time to cook them and use a timer. To test, take a strand out and put it under running water then taste. If it is ok, then pour it out into a sieve and add in ice cubes and run it through running water. This stops it from cooking further and gives it the firm texture.
For the folks that know me, it is no surprise that I absolutely love eating shabu shabu. The quality of the meat and vegetables matter here because of the simplicity of the dish. This establishment has done it right. Everyone has an individual hotpot. Their yonezawa buta (pork) is so tender and flavourful. Their beef is from a famous farm, Taketori Farm in Miyagi prefecture. We had their special sirloin and it lived up to its name.
Always buy good and fresh quality meat. For beef, there is no need to buy one with a high fat content for shabu shabu. In my opinion, the grade of the meat matters more than the marbling.
So meat is graded from A to C, A being above standard, B is the standard and C is below standard. Then there is a number from 1-5 next to it 1 being the poorest and 5 the highest. The grade depends on the colour and brightness, the firmness and texture and lastly the colour, luster and quality of fat. So for example, you know that you’ve gotten a very good piece of meat if it is A5 (which is rare).
Then there is the BMS (Beef Marbling Standard) that ranges from 1-12. My preference is anything between a 5-9 which is already expensive enough and not too oily. However for shabu shabu a BMS of 5 or 6 is more than enough if you decide to splurge.
Vegetables wise, no hard and fast rules as long as they are fresh.