Learn How to Make Sushi the Right Way

Sushi is a class of Japanese dishes that contains vinegared rice and other ingredients such as dried seaweed and raw fish. Tourists who visit Japan can take a short class in making sushi, although the training for a professional sushi chef requires at least 10 years. The rising popularity of sushi has resulted in the development of sushi dishes that appeal to western palates. Find out more about making Japanese dishes in Japan by visiting Inside Japan Tours.

sushi lessons in tokyoLesson Plan

A typical sushi dish begins with gently heating sheets of dried seaweed (nori). Place a rolling mat on a flat surface and place the nori sheet on top of it. Spread cooked rice on top of the nori sheet and spread it evenly with your hand, leaving a space of about 1 inch from one end of the sheet. Add other ingredients to the rice such as wasabi and gather the sushi filling into a line at the center of the nori sheet. Roll the mat so that the nori sheet wraps around the filling and squeeze the mat to pack the sushi roll tightly. Open the mat and remove the sushi roll, then cut the roll into equal sections. Serve with condiments such as pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi.

Varieties

The California roll is one of the most popular forms of sushi in the western world. It contains imitation crab, avocado, and cucumber, although premium brands may contain real crab. A California roll is often served with the rice outside the nori, a presentation known as uramaki in Japanese.

Classes

The ABC cooking studio in the Midtown district of Tokyo is a popular place for tourists to learn how to make sushi in Japan. It offers a one-day class in preparing Japanese party plates, which includes sushi. The Nara Cookery School is located in Ikoma, which is 1 hour from the Kyoto station. These classes are offered in English and last about 3 hours. The classes may contain 1 to 4 people and the lesson times are flexible.

[photo via ABC cooking School]

Mad cows in Kobe

I am putting this blog post together just before lunch time and its not easy as it is making me incredibly hungry.

One of our fantastic Japan staff, Ayako Kiyono recently took it upon herself to visit a Kobe beef farm.  I am sure that you have heard of Kobe Beef, but these days the term ‘Kobe Beef’ seems to be linked to any meat where the animals have been reared slightly differently to the usual methods as I recently found on a trip to Cornwall. The landlord of a pub and farmer was feeding his cows and pigs on local beer and producing his own, “Kobe beef and pork”. It was nice, but it certainly wasn’t the real McCoy.

The real Kobe beef is produced in the Hyogo area of Japan and Kiyono san wanted to actually see what went into producing the finest beef in the world. She travelled to Takami Kobe Beef farm in the rural town of Ichijima to find out and here is what she discovered.

 

What is the Kobe Beef?

No cows are born to be “Kobe Beef” cow.

Only Tajima-gyu cows (special breed in Hyogo prefecture) that satisfy the specific quality criteria deserve the title “Kobe Beef”.

Roughly 3000 Tajima-gyu cows manage to pass the criteria and titled as Kobe Beef every year.

Takami san delivered this calf the previous night and is nursing it himself.

Who discovered Kobe Beef for the first time?

Surprisingly, it was an Englishman! Until 1868, Japanese were not accustomed to eating meat, but that year, Kobe opened its doors to foreign trade as an international port and Kobe Beef was eaten for the first time.

 How are the cows raised?

The mother and baby names are written next to each calf.

At the Takami Kobe Beef Farm, the following methods are use for their cows;

Cows drink Sakamizu water. Sakamizu refers to spring water that is used to brew fine Sake.

Cows take a shower twice a day. (Shampoo and treatment)

Cows are talked to by farmers. (Farmers check each cows health by talking to them)

Each cow has Japanese name and taken care very well by farmers.

Cows are watched 24h through security camera.

Cows do not do any exercise.

Calves relax. No moooving for these cows!

 Are there any problems with raising pure-blood Tajima-Gyu?

Pure-blood Tajima Cows are not as healthy as their half-blood counterpart.

Pure-blood cows tend to be born premature and grow slowly.

New calves are kept in their own shed.

 What is special about Kobe Takami Beef Farm?

Takami Kobe Beef Farm won the championship for Kobe Beef 2010 and the farm has an official license.

Normally, each process, such as breeding, raising, and fattening are done separately by different farmers who is specialized in each process. Visitors to Takami can observe all the processes that go into raising a ‘Kobe Beef Cow’.

The highest grade kobe beef.

Takami Beef Farm has restaurants where visitors are able to enjoy fresh Kobe beef for reasonable prices. Try a Kobe beef rice bowl (Gyudon) or  1260 yen or the best Takami Kobe beef course at lunch time for an incredible 3800 yen.

 

Takami Kobe Beef Farm is approximately a 2h 15 minute train ride from Kyoto by train. If you want to eat the best beef in the world and at a decent price…and see exactly what goes into producing it, then it might be worth a visit. Let us know and we can organise it for you!

 

10 Reasons why Japan is so great – No.5 – Food

As I have said before, this list is in no particular order, but food has got to be high on anyone’s list of reasons why Japan is so great.

Tokyo and the Kansai region including Kyoto, Osaka and Nara have ensured that Japan has got the most Michelin rated restaurants in the world and the most top-rated three star restaurants than any other country. It is truly the culinary capital in terms of ‘posh nosh’, but there is a huge range of very delicious, good quality food all over Japan.

If there is one thing the Japanese take seriously, it is their food. Everyone knows about sushi and sashimi as a Japanese dish, but many people (from the UK anyway) are often surprised how sushi can melt in your mouth, taste so good and not cost very much at all (many conveyor belt sushi shops sell a plate of sushi from approx 80 pence). Many cities across the country will have areas that are covered in a huge range of eateries providing reasonably low cost, good quality food such as Okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), Ramen noodles, Rice bowls and more. Tokyo’s Yurakucho district is full of salrayman favourites such as Yakitori shops (grilled chicken on skewers) and Osaka’s Dotonburi district is renowned for its Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) stands and Okonomiyaki shops. Traditional Japanese pubs known as Izakaya are found all over the country in most towns and serve a great range of food covering a range of Japanese delights and western snacks.

If you don’t want to eat out, you wouldn’t go too far wrong by heading to the convenience store and buying a Bento box consisting of noodles, meat, vegetables and more, costing approximately £3. Convenience stores are the way to go if you are travelling on a budget, but there are also very reasonably priced chain restaurants selling combination set meals for approximately £4. The food looks and taste good and the price is nice too. In Japan, even the plastic display food looks delicious!

There are so many food choices in Japan. A meal in a ryokan guest house is a must and I suggest you try and taste the local speciality (meibutsu) of a city or region, whether it be a particular type of fish, fruit, vegetable or style of cooking. You will definitely not go hungry in Japan and even if you go there with the mindset that you are not really keen on Japanese food, I recommend that you give it a go and you will probably like it. After all, if you don’t like Japanese food, you could try the western food in Japan as it is probably better than the western food in the west.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Food is a very good reason as to why Japan is so great.

A guide to drinking in Japan

InsideJapan Tours (IJT) is lucky to have a talented bunch of staff in Japan with our office staff in Nagoya, our tour leaders across Japan and our private guides. Ayako Kiyono san is one of IJT’s professional guides in the Kyoto area who has a great knowledge of the Kansai region, the country, its history, religion and culture in general. If you have any interest at all IJT can just about guarantee that Kiyono san will be able to give you the most interesting and fulfilling day of guiding during your time in Japan.

Kiyono san has just been doing some ‘personal’ research on in the Kansai area. In fact, Kiyono san has developed a little tour of the regions beer and whisky producers squeezing three breweries into one day….along with free drinks and snacks on the way. So for the thirsty traveller, here’s Kiyono sans ‘Beer and Whiskey sampling tour of Kansai’.

What better way to begin the day, than with a 0930am stop at the Asahi beer factory. Asahi is one of Japan’s most famous beers and the factory is found in the Osaka district of Suita, a short train ride from Osaka station. A 90 minute tour is followed by three complimentary glasses of Asahi Superdry and snacks (Otsumami).

After a lunch brake, why not opt for a change in palate and a 60 minute tour of the Suntory Yamazaki whisky distillery. It is only a 25 minute train ride from Suita, but you will probably be quite thirsty by the end of the informative tour. Don’t worry; you have approximately three complimentary glasses of Suntory single malt whisky to quench your thirst at the end of the tour with a few snacks to keep you ticking over.

Just a few minutes on the train and a short shuttle bus trip away, brings you to the Suntory beer factory in Nagaoka-kyo. You can take part in the 60 minute tour before enjoying complimentary Suntory Premium Malts beer along with some more snack food.

Having finished your brewery tour for the day, you can find yourself back at your hotel in Kyoto or Osaka by 5pm. You can freshen up before heading out to experience a fantastic food in a Japanese Izakaya (traditional pub) or perhaps head to one of hundreds of excellent restaurants for some wonderful food or even to a Tachi-nomi (standing and drinking bar) to continue as the day began.

All of the brewery tours are in Japanese and require advanced reservation.

IJT are proud of the commitment shown by Kiyono san in researching this trip and can guarantee that she will give you 100 percent when guiding you, wherever your interests lay. Kiyono san will be able to show you some of the popular tourist sights in the region, take you to secret local spots of interest and give you valuable cultural insights into life in Japan. A days itinerary is not fixed, but if you have anything in particular in mind that you would like to see or do, or maybe you have a specialist interest, let us know before you arrive and Kiyono san will help you get the most out your time in the Kansai region.
KANPAI!!

Matsumoto Restaurant Review: Kurekino

Matsumoto has lots to offer its visitors: sake breweries, wasabi farms, the world’s largest private collection of ukiyoe (woodblock prints) and not forgetting one of Japan’s best preserved and visually striking castles. But, unfortunately, many visitors are here just for one day. With the time constrained punter in mind, here is a restaurant which offers Matsumoto’s culinary specialities: soba noodles, wasabi, raw horse meat and sake, located next to the train station’s East Exit (Castle Exit).

Kurekino’s is easily found, with its sake barrels to the right of the entrance and an immured (but visible) soba noodle chef to the left. Inside there are a number of 2 or 4 person tables and also a big wooden counter where one can sit and engage with the other customers.

The most popular dishes are the soba noodle sets. The noodles will either be in hot broth or cold with a dipping sauce, larger sets come with tempura. Raw horse is also on offer on the à la carte menu.

The soba and tempura sets were well presented and large. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the soba is handmade: you passed the soba chef on your way in. But the irregular width of the noodles is also a sign of noodles not processed by machine. The texture of the soba was satisfying (a little denser than wheat noodles) and they had the characteristically nutty buckwheat taste. I opted for the soba in duck broth which was excellent. Duck meat is not very common in Japan so this was an occasional treat.

The cold noodle dishes are also served with a red lacquer jug which contains the hot water in which the soba noodles were cooked (called sobayu, the Japanese word for it sounds a lot better than my English description). This starchy liquid is used to dilute the soy sauce based dip and is drunk at the end of the meal. I’ve come to use the sobayu as a kind of soba restaurant quality yardstick, as I’ve only enjoyed it in better establishments and I enjoyed the sobayu here enough to drink by itself (a habit I’ve never observed anyone else do so don’t necessarily follow my example).

The horse meat here was tender and of good quality. But because raw horse is quite a lean meat don’t expect the delicious fatty flavour associated with good Japanese raw beef. This dish is often served with a little grated ginger, crushed garlic, shredded onions and soy sauce which are added to the thin slices of meat to taste. An ideal accompaniment to the horse is a bottle of cold sake and the staff were more than happy to recommend one from their range of local brews.

Kurekino Ekishaten 榑木野駅舎店 (next to the Matsumoto East Exit (Castle Exit), Shimadachi 859, 390-0852, Click here for location)
Tel: 0263-38-0803
www.kurekino.co.jp

Sets under ¥2000 and the raw horse is ¥870. Sake from ¥400.
Open Daily
Last Order 20:40.

Japanish Food

I`m pretty sure I like Japanese food, I`m just not really certain what it is. Nobody has given me a list, and I know there`s far more to it than just soba noodles and sushi.

Last week, wandering around tourist-free Tokyo, I tried a couple of dishes that are not traditional Japanese, but they are unique to Japan. I have called them Japanish.

Omuraisu, a classic Japanish dish, in Asakusa.

My first Japanish dish was in Asakusa at Yoshikami Yoshokudo. Yoshokudo means western diner, but the name is just a cunning disguise. The chefs and patrons are all Japanese, as are their main dishes – like omuraisu.

Omuraisu was first served in Osaka in the 1920s. Now you can get it anywhere in Japan. It consists of sticky rice, mixed with fried pork, wrapped in a fried egg and hosed with tomato ketchup.

It`s kids food in adult portions. Eating it, I felt nine years old, but the sweet tomato ketchup was worth all the shame.

A couple of days later, near Shinjuku, I went to a restaurant for some French curry. French curry sounds like a dreadful idea, as appealing as English sushi, but the small counter-seating only restaurant is always full.

The enthusiastic head chef told me he had studied French cuisine for several years. Adding red wine to curry sauce seemed to be his specialisation.

The meal came as a pleasant surprise. Smooth sweet and satisfying, it was the only best French curry I have ever had.

French Curry

Japanish food does stretch credibility at times. You sometimes wonder if they are jokes, like the pineapple chunk sandwiches, horseradish flavoured Kit-Kats and ice burger buns on sale at conbini stores. I don`t recommend all of those, not in one sitting anyway, but trust me, Japanish food is here to stay.

Japanese Eating Experiences with a Difference

I really miss my Japanese food when I am in the UK as you can probably tell by the amount of food related posts on this blog. Japan offers some of the best food in the world and really is a culinary heaven. There are some eating experiences in Japan though that are more than just about the food. I thought I would highlight one or two throughout the blog.

Catch your own fish – Get that hunter-gatherer feeling before dinner to appreciate your meal all the more. Zauo has branches across Japan but each is designed like a boat from where you will dangle your fishing line or dip in your net to catch your meal.

The sushi chef will then prepare a wonderful  sashimi or sushi meal for you.   I am not sure if this would be everyones kettle of fish but it certainly a bit different. The sashimi is great and there are certainly no questions about the freshness of the fish here.
Their shops are all over the country with the original one being in Fukuoka but you can find Zauo in Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Kameido districts too.

Ninja Style – A slightly different concept in eating and drinking, this themed izakaya wins the prize for ‘shocking’ service. ‘Ninja‘ sits in the Akasaka district of Tokyo and there are no prizes for guessing the theme. The izakaya is full of nooks and crannies from which the ninja waiters jump out at you from.

The food is pretty good but is reasonably pricey compared to other izakaya, but you pay for the experience which is worth it for a one off visit – great fun.

There are plenty more interesting and varied eating experiences to be had in Japan and no doubt I will look at  a few more at a later date.

Enjoy your meal sir!

Kyoto Café Culture

Continue reading

Bringing Japan Home

I seem to have a slight obsession about festivals in Japan – but that’s ok, because they are awesome. They have the best food, the best fireworks, the best random costumes, and the best atmosphere. They bring together families and communities, allow people to dress up in their best Yukata, and showcase the best and occasionally worst of the Japanese people letting their hair down.

Having been back in the UK for a couple of years now, it’s been a while since I got my festival fix and I often lament the fact that we British just don’t seem to have the same community events that come naturally to the Japanese. Whilst we are drowning in the British ‘summer’ over here, the Japanese are sitting on hot beaches, watching stunning fireworks, eating amazing food and generally having themselves a good time.

But being back in the UK doesn’t mean I have to miss out completely of course. There is always so much going on here if you look for it, and other people looking for the same thing. There’s over 19,000 Japanese living in London, and almost 40,000 in the UK which means that Japanese culture and influence is easily found. Indeed, the flashiest restaurants are often Japanese and Japan still keeps a rather exotic image to many people. We’ve talked about Japanese restaurants in London before, and here in Bristol, we have a number of great Japanese restaurants also – so there’s always the chance for a spot of sushi at lunchtime – as some of my colleagues know well!

And to top it all off, in London next month, they’re holding what is claiming to be a proper Japan Matsuri, with food stalls, crafts and even Nodojiman – a popular Japanese ‘X-Factor’ type TV show – you have to sing in Japanese and entries close soon – so best get in there quick!

So, no excuses for those missing a bit of Japanese culture – the festival is on next month, it’s sure to be a soggy september here in the UK, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put on our finest yukata, snack on some dango, and warm up our voices for some karaoke – maybe see you there!

And finally – a little more Nodojiman to get you in the matsuri mood.

Tsukishima – The Little Village in the Heart of the Big City

You know how it is; you go to certain town city on a pretty regular basis. However you find yourself getting stuck into a rut of going to the same places each time – favourite parts of town, the regular bars, the usual restaurants. That’s kind of how I felt about Tokyo, so yesterday afternoon a took a stroll through Tsukishima, a small district of Tokyo close to Tokyo Bay, Odaiba and the famous fish market.

Despite its close proximity to central Tokyo it is very much a residential district, with houses, apartments, a supermarket, lots of shops, koban (police box) on the street corner and all the other little things that make you feel like you are part of a neighbourhood where people live their lives; not just their 9am-5pm working lives (or 9pm to 5am partying lives!) as you feel they in many districts of Tokyo.

The reason most visitors come to Tsukishima (99% Japanese, this place does not register on the foreign tourist radar) is to sample monjayaki (or just ‘monja’), one of Tokyo’s most famous culinary specialities. To give you an idea of monja’s standing in the gastronomic leagues, going out of your way to sample a specific monja is like touring the pubs of Britain to find the best pork scratchings. However the food itself is only a smal part of the experience. Monja is a cook-it-yourself meal, so groups of people gather round low tables each with a hot plate in its middle. The small of cooking wafts through the air, mixed with hearty conversation and laughter from the diners, facilitated by the mugs of beer used to wash down the meal.

Not exactly haute cuisine but a truly authentic Tokyo favourite

Not exactly haute cuisine but a truly authentic Tokyo favourite

Now just one of these restaurants makes for a fun experience, but Tsukishima has a whole street of them. Dozens of monja restaurants line both sides and small side alleys like rabbit warrens hide even more monja places, many of them no more than a kitchen itself and a couple of tables. The main street is even closed off to traffic allowing a wonderfully festive atmosphere to prevail. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the type of people milling around the streets.

Tsukishima, not your usual shops, offices and nightlife

Tsukishima, not your usual shops, offices and nightlife

Whereas many nightlife districts of Tokyo mean wave after wave of dark-suited salarymen, the fact that Tsukishima is a residential neighbourhood means that all manner of people are out on the streets and rubbing shoulders in the tiny restaurants; children, grandparents, students, families, friends etc. For anyone who thinks they have seen it all in Tokyo, or dismisses Tokyo as a soul-less business machine, I thoroughly recommend a visit to Tsukishima, preferably in the early evening, just as the sun is going down and the restaurant lanterns are lighting up – its monja time!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 213 other followers