Cookbook Challenge: Week 2, Indian

Vindaloo

Recipe: Vindaloo
From Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food

Bonus recipe: Roasted cauliflower with cumin, coriander and almonds
From Jame Oliver’s Cook with Jamie

It’s week two of the Cookbook Challenge, and this week’s theme is Indian. I had a bit of trouble finding a recipe for this theme. I do own a couple of Indian cookbooks but I had cooked from those books before so told myself I wasn’t going to look in them.

I looked through a few cookbooks before I picked up Ministry of Food by Jamie Oliver. In it was whole section on curries. Dilemma solved!

Out of the curries in the book, I choose the vindaloo recipe. I made the vindaloo paste the night before and marinated some lamb chops in it overnight.

Roasted cauliflower with cumin, coriander and almonds

The next day I cooked the vindaloo and then made a bonus recipe to eat with the curry – roasted cauliflower with cumin, coriander and almonds. It’s “Indian-ish in style” so I figured I may as well throw it in here!

The vindaloo was fantastic! The sauce was slightly sour, sweetish, and full of flavour. It was wonderfully spicy, which Bro and I enjoyed, but poor Alastair struggled a bit! If you’re a chilli-wimp, I’d recommend cutting back on the amount of chilli.

I think it’s one of the best curries I’ve made – so I highly recommend giving this recipe a go. In fact, it was better than some of the curries we’ve eaten in restaurants (toot toot goes my horn).

The cauliflower was okay, it was rather spicy and sour. It wasn’t a bad side dish, just eclipsed by the curry.

See previous Cookbook Challenge posts here.

Update: My Food Trail has a round up of posts for Week 2. See what others made!

Vindaloo

Vindaloo

From Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food

Serves 4-6

To make the paste:

2 cloves of garlic, peeled
a thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 dried red chillies
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon sea slat
3 tablespoons groundnut oil (I used canola)
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 fresh red chillies
a small bunch of fresh coriander

Spices for toasting:

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

Put a dry frying pan on medium to high heat and add the spices for toasting. Toast them lightly for a few minutes until golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a mortar and pestle, add the toasted spices and grind until fine.

Place the ground spices in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients and process until you have a smooth paste.

For the curry:

2 medium onions, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1-2 fresh red chillies, finely sliced
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves picked and stalks finely chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters
vegetable oil
a knob of butter
800g diced pork shoulder (or other meat – I used lamb)
vindaloo curry paste as above
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon runny honey
Yoghurt, to serve

Place a large pot on medium heat and add a dash of oil and the butter. Add the onions, garlic, chilli, ginger and coriander stalks and cook for 10 minutes, until softened and golden.

Add the pork and the vindaloo curry paste. Stir well and season with salt and pepper.

Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, honey and just enough water to cover everything. Stir to mix and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to low, put the lid on, and let it simmer until the meat is tender.

When the meat is tender, taste and season with salt and pepper (mine didn’t need any additional seasoning, so do check it first).

Serve on rice with yoghurt on top. Sprinkle with the coriander leaves.

Roasted cauliflower with cumin, coriander and almonds

Roasted cauliflower with cumin, coriander and almonds

From Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie

Serves 4

1 head of cauliflower, outer green leaves removed, broken into florets
sea salt
olive oil
a knob of butter
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1-2 dried red chillies
a handful of blanched almonds, smashed
zest and juice of a lemon

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

In salted boiling water, blanch the cauliflower for a couple of minutes. Drain in a colander, letting it steam dry.

When dry, toss it in some oil and the butter.

In a mortar and pestle, grind your spices and chillies with a pinch of salt. Mix with the almonds and put them in a hot, dry ovenproof pan.

Toast the spices and almonds for a couple of minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook for a couple more minutes.

Add the lemon zest and juice and mix well. Fry for another minute.

Pop the pan into the preheated oven for about 15 minutes to crisp up.

Japan: Osaka – Takoyaki

Glico Man
Glico Man!

Oh Osaka! Osaka, Osaka, Osaka! Out of all the cities in Japan we went to, Osaka was my favourite and I was VERY VERY disappointed when we had to leave. I could’ve happily stayed for a couple more weeks, there is so much to do and see and, of course, so much to eat!

Osaka is the main city in the Kansai region, and has a population of around 2.5 million people making it Japan’s third largest city (after Tokyo and Yokohama). It has the reputation of being the culinary capital of Japan and was traditionally referred to as the “nation’s kitchen”.

Our hotel (no more ryokans for us, sob!) was located 5 minutes walk from Dotonbori Street. Dotonbori Street is the main destination for food travel in Osaka, and runs alongside the Dotonbori canal between the Dotonboribashi Bridge and the Nipponbashi Bridge. On the street are lots of shops, tons of restaurants and many neon and mechanized signs.

One day in Osaka, we ended up eating four meals. We had breakfast at the hotel (which, in hindsight, we should’ve skipped!), and then takoyaki just before lunch. A couple of hours later, we had a second lunch at a crab restaurant, and at dinner we ate shabu shabu. Oh, and we also had okonomiyaki the evening before, details of which will feature in a future post. This one will be about takoyaki!

Takoyaki are round dumplings made from batter, octopus, spring onions, and other ingredients. To make takoyaki, chopped pieces of octopus are placed into a griddle that has hemispheric indentations. Then, batter made from flour, water and egg, are poured over. As the batter cooks, it is scraped into the holes, and the balls are turned over, until they become round.

You can eat takoyaki at street stalls, but we went to a takoyaki restaurant. We were seated around a table with the cast iron takoyaki griddle set in the centre. When we were seated, the gas was turned on to start heating the griddle.

We were told to oil the indentations really well, so we grabbed some oil sitting on the side of the table and started greasing it up, making sure the oil was not only inside the little cups but also around the sides of the griddle. It needed A LOT of oil.

Takoyaki!

Then the waiter placed a small piece of octopus inside each of the moulds.

Takoyaki!

He sprinkled over a lot of spring onions.

Takoyaki!

And poured in the batter.

Takoyaki!

We scattered over some tempura flakes.

Takoyaki!

As well as some pickled ginger over the batter.

Takoyaki!

The takoyaki cooked for a couple of minutes, and then we were shown to use our skewers to separate the batter on the surface of the pan. Then we pushed the skewer into the metal cups, to separate the cooked batter from the surface and to roughly turn the ball over.

Takoyaki!

Remaining bits of batter were pushed back into the ball with the skewer.

Takoyaki!

After another minute or so, we repeated the process of turning the balls. Eventually, they become browner and rounder, until they were ready to eat!

Takoyaki!

The takoyaki was topped with takoyaki sauce and seaweed flakes and a bit of mayonnaise.

Takoyaki!

And also some bonito flakes. I do like me some bonito flakes!

The takoyaki was delicious! They were piping hot, lightly crisp, savoury and tangy. Swoon. It was just supposed to be a snack, but we ate so many of them that we could’ve skipped lunch (Err, not that we did. But we could’ve!).

Takoyaki is very popular in Osaka, there were numerous street stalls selling the little dumplings with many people lining up to purchase them. And there’s even a takoyaki museum. I’ll have to see it next time we visit Osaka (and there will definitely be a next time!).

PS: I wish that I had bought a takoyaki pan while in Japan.. I’m thinking that perhaps a poffertjes pan could work as a substitute. Has anyone ever made takoyaki at home? Do you think one would work?

Rice and lemon souffle

Rice and lemon souffle

Cookbook Challenge: Week 1
Theme: Citrus
Recipe: Rice and lemon souffle
From Made in Italy by Giorgio Locatelli

Hooray! It’s my first Cookbook Challenge recipe. The theme for the first Challenge is citrus and I decided to make a rice and lemon souffle.

This is not a quick recipe to make and it uses rather a few bowls. I started with the lemons – large lemons are halved and hollowed out, before being brushed with a juice, sugar and butter syrup. The lemon “ramekins” are popped into the fridge while the rice is cooked in two parts. One part becomes like a “rice milk” and the second batch is to just cook the grains until they are al dente. After this, you’re supposed to drain and discard the milk the rice was cooked in. I missed this step, but it didn’t seem to affect the end result.

After the cooked grains have cooled, the rice milk and the grains are combined with cornflour and gelatine. Next, meringue is whipped up, and combined with the rice, before being spooned into the lemon halves and baked until they (hopefully!) rise and become golden.

I didn’t have any issues with making the souffles – mine rose well and they looked very pretty in the lemons. It did take me a while to get everything together though. And as soon as the souffles were out of the oven, the race was on to photograph them before they deflated!

Rice and lemon souffle

But most importantly, how did they taste? Well, actually, I thought they were rather bland. The rice was only cooked with milk, so I didn’t think the souffle was sweet enough. Not only that, but cooking the souffle in the lemons only imparted a TINY amount of lemon flavour. It smelt fantastic while it was in the oven, but once out you could barely taste any lemon. It didn’t seem worth the fuss of making the lemon ramekins.

I think this would be better if these were cooked in normal ramekins, with a layer of rice pudding on the bottom, then some lemon curd, and finally the meringue on top. So it’s probably not something I would make again, at least, not without significant variations.

Finally, I halved the recipe below, but I had a ton of rice/meringue mixture left over. I filled 3 lemons, and still had enough for four LARGE ramekins. The souffle in the ramekins rose really well though – check it out below!

Update: for a round up of all Cookbook Challenge posts for week 1, see My Food Trail for details. Thanks Rilsta!

Rice and lemon souffle

Rice and lemon souffle

From Made in Italy by Giorgio Locatelli

Serves 6 (I reckon more like 10, but whatever)

200g carnaroli rice
2 litres milk
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways
25g orange juice
50g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
3 big similar sized lemons or oranges
65g cornflour
3 gelatine leaves, soaked in water and squeezed (the book doesn’t specific what strength gelatine leaves, I substituted with 3/4 tablespoon gelatine powder)

For the meringue:
250g egg whites
190g caster sugar

Place a tray into the fridge so that it gets cold. Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Prepare the lemons or oranges by trimming each end (so that it sits flat). Cut each fruit in half width ways and scoop out all the flesh with a spoon. Discard the flesh. Place the fruit “ramekins” into the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

In a small pan, place 80g of the rice with half of the milk. Bring it to the boil, then turn to a simmer and let it cook until the rice is really soft. Blend the rice and milk with a hand/stick blender until smooth and then put the mixture through a fine sieve. Set aside.

Scrap the seeds out of the vanilla pod, and place with the rest of the milk into a pan. Add the vanilla pod and bring the milk to the boil. Add the rest of the rice, turn down to a simmer, and cook until the rice is al dente. Drain through a fine sieve, remove the vanilla pod and spread the rice out on the tray that you placed in the fridge. Set it aside to cool (but not in the fridge).

In a separate pan, warm the orange juice and sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, take if off the heat, and whisk in the butter until incorporated. Brush the inside and rims of your prepared fruit with the orange juice mixture. Make sure each bit is completely covered, this seals and smooths the insides so that the souffle doesn’t catch as it rises.

Lay the fruit upside down on a tray and place it back into the fridge for about 5 minutes to drain off any excess syrup.

With a knife, chop through the cooled rice grains to produce finer pieces. Place into a bowl.

Put the reserved rice “milk” back on the heat, keeping back 4 tablespoons. Add the cornflour to this milk.

When the rice milk comes up to the boil, add the cornflour mixture, stirring all the time. Cook for about a minute.

Remove from the heat and add the gelatine. When it has dissolved, pour the mixture over the ice grains, stirring all the time as it will be very thick.

Next, make the meringue. Whisk the egg whites in a mixer until soft peaks form. Add the sugar slowly, until the whites form stiff peaks.

Fold a third of the meringue into the rice mixture. Add the rest of the meringue to the rice mixture and fold in lightly. Don’t overwork it.

Spoon the mixture into your prepared fruit, to about 1/2cm below the rim. Bake them in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until puffed up and golden.

Japan: Koyasan – Katsu curry don & curry udon

Koyasan

In Koyasan, one of the main sights is Okunoin. Okunoin is the temple where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism and one of the most revered persons in the religious history of Japan, rests in eternal meditation. It is considered one of the most sacred places in Japan.

Koyasan

Okunoin is surrounded by Japan’s largest graveyard. People from all over Japan, who wished to be buried close to Kobo Daishi, lie there, including former feudal lords, politicians and other prominent personalities. Their graves (over 200,000 gravestones are in the cemetery) line the approach to Okunoin for 2km through a forest of tall cedar trees.

The walk to see Kobo Daishi’s shrine had made us hungry, so afterwards Alastair and I headed back into the town to find lunch. We went into a simple little eatery – it was nothing flash at all and we weren’t expecting much. I ordered the katsu curry don and Alastair ordered tempura udon.

Katsu curry don!

When it came out, I found that the katsu curry don was AMAZING. The katsu had a light, crunchy crust covering the moist pork. The curry was nicely spiced with a lot of flavour and chunks of meat. The meal was warm and satisfying, and very delicious.

Sigh. I still remember it fondly!

Tempura udon

Alastair’s udon? I have no idea, I was too busy in raptures over my meal! It looked good?

Koyasan

The following day, we had breakfast at the monastery and an early lunch in the town before leaving for Osaka. One of the shop keepers in Koyasan had passed away a few days ago, and his funeral was being held that day, so lots of shops were closed. It became difficult to find a place to eat, and it had started raining quite heavily, so eventually we just walked into one that was open.

It was a small family run business and we didn’t have high hopes for a good meal. It was still early (just after 11am) and as the shop had just opened, the menu options were limited. We couldn’t order anything that was deep fried as their oil was still heating up and pretty much the only thing that was available was the curry udon.

Curry Udon

We consoled ourselves with the fact that if it was bad, at least it would keep us going until we got to Osaka. But when it came out, well – it was delicious! I already loved udon noodles, but fresh udon noodles? Gahbahfuh, they’re just fantastic! The noodles were soft, elastic and chewy with a very pleasing slipperiness. The curry sauce covering them was so tasty and perfect for the rainy day.

After that surprisingly good lunch, it was time to go to Osaka for more good eating. Osaka food stories coming right up!

Japan: Natto

Natto

While in Koyasan, we took the opportunity to try natto. For those who haven’t heard of the almightly natto, natto is made from soybeans. The soybeans are soaked in water, steamed for several hours, and then are mixed with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis natto. Next, the beans are fermented for a couple of days and then aged in a refrigerator for up to one week.

As a result of fermentation and aging, the beans develop a pungent smell, similar to a strong cheese, and a sticky, glue-like consistency. Natto is commonly eaten with rice at breakfast.

Still, you don’t know whether you’ll like or dislike something until you try it – so we purchased a pack at a local convenience store. It was cheap – 100 yen for two small polystyrene packs.

Natto

We took it back to our room, and opened the lid. It didn’t look that bad. Inside the packet were a small sachet of soy sauce and mustard. We opened both packets and poured them in and started mixing. Mixing the natto produces lots of mucus like strings and the natto becomes stickier and stringier.

When we pulled some beans out of the packet, long spider web like strings of mucus followed it. It really isn’t the most attractive foodstuff out there!

Natto

The taste itself wasn’t particularly nice – the beans were quite bland and didn’t have much flavour but I thought there was an slight bitter aftertaste that I found off putting. The texture was not pleasant either, with the mucus like strings ensuring that we didn’t eat more than a couple of bites.

Natto is apparently very popular in Japan. I’m sure that, similar to other strong smelling/flavoured food, it’s just an acquired taste. However, I don’t think I’ll be taking the time to acquire it!

So next time someone suggests natto – I will be saying nattNo. No thanks!

The Cookbook Challenge!

In an effort to use my cookbooks more (many of which I have never cooked from…!), I have joined the Cookbook Challenge, organised in collaboration with Rilsta from My Food Trail, Kat from spatulaspoonandsunday and Iron Chef Shellie.

There are 52 weeks to the challenge, with a different theme set each week. The challenge is to cook a new recipe each week from our cookbooks. The recipe needs to relate to the theme for that week.

Week 1 of the 52 week challenge starts on Monday (tomorrow!) and the theme is citrus.

Check out Rilsta’s post for more details. Join us!

The weeks and themes are as follows:

Week 1 Monday 16/11/2009 Citrus
Week 2 Monday 23/11/2009 Indian
Week 3 Monday 30/11/2009 Hor d’oeuvres
Week 4 Monday 7/12/2009 Beans
Week 5 Monday 14/12/2009 Greek
Week 6 Monday 21/12/2009 Christmas
Week 7 Monday 28/12/2009 Soft
Week 8 Monday 4/01/2010 Sweet
Week 9 Monday 11/01/2010 Berry
Week 10 Monday 18/01/2010 Cool
Week 11 Monday 25/01/2010 Mixed
Week 12 Monday 1/02/2010 Eggs
Week 13 Monday 8/02/2010 Love
Week 14 Monday 15/02/2010 Japanese
Week 15 Monday 22/02/2010 Muffins
Week 16 Monday 1/03/2010 Noodles
Week 17 Monday 8/03/2010 Vietnamese
Week 18 Monday 15/03/2010 BBQ
Week 19 Monday 22/03/2010 Rice
Week 20 Monday 29/03/2010 Tangy
Week 21 Monday 5/04/2010 Thai
Week 22 Monday 12/04/2010 Red
Week 23 Monday 19/04/2010 Leaf
Week 24 Monday 26/04/2010 Chocolate
Week 25 Monday 3/05/2010 Silky
Week 26 Monday 10/05/2010 Green
Week 27 Monday 17/05/2010 Insect
Week 28 Monday 24/05/2010 Breakfast
Week 29 Monday 31/05/2010 Blue
Week 30 Monday 7/06/2010 Baked
Week 31 Monday 14/06/2010 French
Week 32 Monday 21/06/2010 Potato
Week 33 Monday 28/06/2010 Seafood
Week 34 Monday 5/07/2010 Soups
Week 35 Monday 12/07/2010 Spanish
Week 36 Monday 19/07/2010 Comfort food
Week 37 Monday 26/07/2010 Hearty
Week 38 Monday 2/08/2010 Spice
Week 39 Monday 9/08/2010 TV Chefs
Week 40 Monday 16/08/2010 Apple
Week 41 Monday 23/08/2010 Celebration
Week 42 Monday 30/08/2010 Bird
Week 43 Monday 6/09/2010 Crunchy
Week 44 Monday 13/09/2010 Chinese
Week 45 Monday 20/09/2010 Raw
Week 46 Monday 27/09/2010 Cup
Week 47 Monday 4/10/2010 Italian
Week 48 Monday 11/10/2010 Bread
Week 49 Monday 18/10/2010 Ice
Week 50 Monday 25/10/2010 Picnic
Week 51 Monday 1/11/2010 Creamy
Week 52 Monday 8/11/2010 Outdoors


Books I haven’t cooked from yet… eep!!

Japan: Koyasan – shojin ryori at Rengejoin Temple

After Takayama, we headed to Koyasan. To get to our accommodation in Koyasan, it took us 7 hours, 7 trains, a cable car and a bus ride!

Rengejoin Temple
Rengejoin Temple

Koyasan, a small town located on Mount Koya, is the center of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Shingon is a Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi. Kobo Daishi is one of the most significant personalities in Japan’s religious history.

Koyasan is located in an 800m high valley amid the eight peaks of Mount Koya (the terrain is said to resemble a lotus plant, which is why the location was selected). With a population of about 4000, the town supports over one hundred temples, but in its glory days, Koyasan is said to have contained over 9,000 temples, shrines, and other buildings, with a monastic population of approximately 90,000. In 2004, UNESCO designated Mt. Koya as a World Heritage Site.

When walking through the small town, you can literally trip over temples. They are everywhere!

Rengejoin Temple
Rengejoin Temple

At Koyasan, we stayed for two nights in a Buddhist monastery, Rengejoin Temple, where we had the opportunity to participate in mediation and morning prayers.

Rengejoin Temple
Our room at Rengejoin Temple. There were paper screens between the rooms, so you could hear EVERYTHING.

After arriving at the temple and checking in, we joined the Head Monk for mediation. We had to sit still in a dim, incense filled room for forty minutes. Yes, we struggled!

After mediation it was time for dinner. We headed off to our dining room, where individual tables were set out for us. On offer was shōjin ryori, which is purely vegetarian food that is intended for monks. As well as no meat, no garlic and onions were used in the cooking.

Vegetarian food

We were served Koya tofu, which is a special preserved tofu that is attributed to the monks in Koyasan (in the middle of the photo above, above the beans). Historically, it was made by monks, who cut tofu into thin slices and put it outside to freeze. Then the tofu was brought back in, thawed and pressed, before being dried in warmed sheds. This preserved the tofu, ensuring that it could last a long time without refrigeration. When rehydrated, the tofu becomes very spongey, soaking up a great amount of liquid. It’s literally like biting into a sponge, with liquid gushing out! In the same bowl as the Koya tofu was seaweed that had been stewed with mushroom broth, soy sauce and sugar.

In addition, there was a small bowl of beans that I found too sweet for my liking, and a bowl of clear soup, inside of which was fu (wheat gluten). Naturally, there was rice, pickles and tea.

Vegetarian food

There was also goma tofu / sesame tofu. This is technically not tofu, as it is made out of ground sesame paste, water and a thickener (arrowroot powder). This had a very soft, jelly-like texture, similar to coconut pudding that you get in Chinese restaurants. It was topped with a dab of wasabi and sitting in soy sauce. The goma tofu didn’t have much flavour but it had a wonderful texture and I thought it was delicious.

Vegetarian food

We also had vegetable tempura – beans, carrot, seaweed, eggplant, pumpkin and sweet potato. As well as this, there was a bowl of somen in a mushroom broth. And finally there were a couple of slices of apple for dessert.

(You can see slightly more clearly the preserved tofu mentioned in the previous paragraph at the bottom right of the photo above.)

Vegetarian food

Breakfast was also served. It was just a small breakfast, with seaweed, miso soup with mushrooms and wakame, more Koya tofu, cucumber pickles and rice.

(There was a second dinner and breakfast at the monastery, but the food was very similar to the ones described, so I won’t go into details.)

I enjoyed the meals at Rengejoin Temple. They didn’t reach the exquisite gluttony of Takayama, but they were simple and wholesome. It was probably exactly what we needed to detox after the excesses of the previous dinners!

Rengejoin Temple
700Koyasan, Koya-cho,
Ito-gun, Wakayama Prefecture 648-0211,
Japan

Japan: Takayama, Ryokan Asunaro, Part 2

Asunaro ryokan
Our room at ryokan Asunaro

See the previous post for more information about kaiseki dining and details about a previous dinner and breakfast.

Dinner #2

Takayama ryokan food

We were fortunate enough to have a second dinner at the ryokan in Takayama. Just like the previous night it was fantastic.

Takayama ryokan food

On offer again was Hilda beef, this time sukiyaki style with tofu, taro noodles and enoki. This was cooked at our table in a small burner.

Takayama ryokan food

It was so tasty – here it is cooked!

Takayama ryokan food

This mayo looking sauce is actually made out of tofu. The yellow pieces are actually made out of fish, and there were a couple of different pickles in the bowl. It was all mixed up before eating.

Takayama ryokan food

Doesn’t this look beautiful! Here we had a little plum lollipop, a piece of sweet potato, and at the back was some cold pork.

Takayama ryokan food

Inside this bowl is yuba. Yuba is made from boiled soy milk – thin films of tofu form at the top of the milk and are scooped off. Here it was served with a little soy sauce. It’s quite interesting – it’s soft and tastes faintly of soy.

Takayama ryokan food

There was a small bowl of fried whitebait.

Takayama ryokan food

And here was white fish with moss. Another interesting item, it was quite citrusy.

Takayama ryokan food

I have to be honest here and tell you that my notes on this bowl don’t make much sense! From what I can make out, I believe the white objects are fu, and the yellow items are shrimp covered with egg. (You may remember from the last post that fu is wheat gluten, and is often used as a meat substitute.)

Takayama ryokan food

There was some rather salty smoked salmon.

Takayama ryokan food

On this plate was grilled saury (a type of fish), served with teriyaki sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Delicious. Apparently saury is a common autumn fish, and we saw it a lot during our trip.

Takayama ryokan food

At the back of this plate was a tempura prawn that was covered with shredded burdock root. At the front was a shrimp coated with mochi and yuba, and beside it was the teeniest, tiniest eggplant I’ve ever seen!

Takayama ryokan food

There was rice, clear soup, and pickles.

Takayama ryokan food

And finally, for dessert was persimmon and persimmon agar agar jelly.

Dinner was just incredible. Like the previous night, everything was delicious and beautifully, beautifully presented. Alastair and I only had a very small lunch, but even so couldn’t manage to finish everything. We were still full from breakfast!

Breakfast #2

Takayama ryokan food

The following day, we were up early and had breakfast at the ryokan before we left Takayama. On this plate was (clockwise from the front) egg in deep fried bean curd, shredded ginger, potato salad, seaweed/hijiki, boiled squash and carrots, and sweet beans. In the middle was a bowl containing fu and deep fried soy bean curd.

Takayama ryokan food

In addition, there was a piece of fish that was seasoned with sake remains. This was surprisingly sweet and fishy, but very nice.

Takayama ryokan food

In another small bowl was pork with mushrooms. The pork was really
tender and creamy.

Takayama ryokan food

Cooking away in a small burner, was a little plate of egg and ham.

Takayama ryokan food

And of course, there was rice, soup and pickles.

After the brilliant meals we had eaten, we were rather sad to be leaving Takayama. On the other hand, if we had stayed much longer we may have left several kilos heavier so it may have been a good thing. We certainly detoxed on our next stop….. coming up shortly!

Ryokan Asunaro
2-96-2 Hatsuda-cho
Takayama-shi
Gifu-ken 506-0008, Japan

Japan: Takayama, Ryokan Asunaro, Part 1

After Tokyo, our next stop was Takayama. Takayama is a small city located in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, west of Tokyo. Takayama was very isolated until about 50 years ago and has retained a traditional touch and well preserved old town. It is really very pretty.

In Takayama, we stayed at a ryokan (traditional inn) and included in our stay were two dinners, and two breakfasts. I’m going to spilt this post into two, as there are a lot of photos and details. Plus, as you’ll see, the meals were pretty amazing!

One of the highlights about staying at a ryokan is kaiseki dining, a traditional, multi-course dinner. A kaiseki dinner can consist from 6 to 15 different kinds of food, and the food served changes according to the seasons and the area that the ryokan is located in. The design and display of the food is very important, as is the tableware, which is chosen to enhance the appearance of the food as well as the seasonal theme. We visited in early autumn.

Dinner #1

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

We arrived at the ryokan in the late afternoon and after checking in and a quick walk around the town, it was soon time for dinner. I had no idea what to expect of the dinners, and was pleasantly surprised when we walked into ryokan’s dining room. It was a large room with tatami mats, and individual tables set out for each guest. The tables already had some food laid out, but during the meal more courses were brought out to us. So many, in fact, that we had trouble fitting them all on the table!

Right, I’ll get into it. Settle in, this will be a long one!

Underneath the house shaped cover above, were two layers of food.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

The top layer held three items. At the front was tempura – soybeans, corn, and a leaf rolled around a meat filling. At the back we had angler fish liver and on the right was a mochi topped with sweet miso. I saved the mochi for last (dessert!). It was sweet and salty at the same time with the mochi having that lovely soft chewiness.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

I didn’t know what this was at first – it’s angler fish liver. It has a rich fattiness, with the texture similar to a firm pate. It’s apparently a delicacy, and I really enjoyed it.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

Underneath the tempura and angler fish liver, sat a tray of soba noodle sushi.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

Also on the table, under the green leaf shaped cover, was Hilda beef with miso. It was cooked on a little burner that was lit at the beginning of the meal.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

There were alternating layers of beef and pumpkin that cooked away while we ate other items. The beef was tender and delicious.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

This little dish was eel with ginger. It was slightly pickled (the ginger?) so there was a bit of tanginess to it.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

There was a little glass of plum wine (although apparently the fruit is closer to an apricot). It was a very sweet liqueur.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

More Hilda beef – this one was topped with shabu shabu sauce. I loved the nuttiness of the sauce. I thought we were done at this stage, but no, the little old lady serving us kept bringing out food!

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

This was a taro dumpling sitting in a broth with mushrooms, chrysanthemum, ginger and dried citrus fruit rind. This was very fragrant with the citrus, and the taro dumpling had that soft, almost sticky taro texture (which I personally love about taro).

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

Everyone loved this one – tempura prawn covered with shredded potato. It was like a chip covered prawn. What a genius idea!

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

Beautifully presented tuna and seabass sashimi. The sashimi wasn’t as good at the sashimi we had at the Tsukiji fish market but it was still pretty good!

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

There was a salty clear soup, inside of which was a bonito fish ball.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

Tea, rice and pickles, natch. I ate the pickles before I took this photo – whoops!

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

And last but not least, t
here was some poached nashi and kiwi fruit.

As you can see, everything was beautifully presented and ohmy it was delicious. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had….. until the following night, that is!

Breakfast #1

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

Breakfast the next day was another great meal. Fortunately for our stomachs, it wasn’t as large as dinner!

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

Part of breakfast was hoba miso, which was cooked on top of the little burner at our tables. Hoba miso is a version of miso where sweet miso is grilled on a hoba (magnolia) leaf and served as a dip or for eating with rice as is. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s really tasty as the heat caramelises the miso and you end up with a soft, salty-sweet paste.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

In this box we had cooked spinach like vegetables with shabu shabu sauce on the left. In the middle looks like vegetables with gingko nuts, and on the right is tamago (egg). In the middle of the box was a little umeboshi – a pickled plum that was very salty and sour.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

At the back left was a little piece of grilled salmon.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

And at the back on the right were a few different types of tofu. One was a preserved spongey tofu. The tofu soaked up so much liquid, that when I bit into it, liquid came sloshing out.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

There was a wonderful steamed savoury egg custard – chawanmushi – at the bottom of which sat a prawn and gingko nuts. It was the best steamed egg custard I’ve ever had, with the silkiest, smoothest texture.

Ryokan dinner - Takayama

There was miso soup, with fu (wheat gluten). Fu is soft and spongey and doesn’t have much flavour on its own but soaks up the flavour of whatever its in. After this, we kept seeing fu everywhere, to the point where if I didn’t know what something was, I just assumed it was fu!

Naturally, there was also rice and pickles, as well as some fruit to finish off.

Phew! I feel full just looking at those pictures. But coming up is part 2, where we had another amazing dinner and breakfast! To be continued…

Ryokan Asunaro
2-96-2 Hatsuda-cho
Takayama-shi
Gifu-ken 506-0008, Japan

Japan: Soba noodle making class

Note: Sorry, it’s another photo heavy post!

While in Tokyo, Alastair and I took part in a soba noodle making class. Our teacher was Hashimoto-san, and he showed us how to make soba noodles by hand. After the demonstration, we then made our own batch of soba.

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, wheat flour and water. The flour ratio varies, but in Tokyo they traditionally use 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Hashimoto-san started off by pouring the wheat and buckwheat flour into a large bowl and then formed his hands in a “bear claws” shape. He looks very stern in this picture, but he had a fun sense of humour!

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

The fingers were then placed into the flours and mixed around quickly – “swimming through the flour – with turns at 50 metres!”.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

After the flours were well mixed, he created a well in the middle, and poured in about 80% of the water. The water required varies depending on the humidity and the body temperature of the person making the soba. The water was pre-measured for us, so unfortunately I can’t remember the amount!

Instead of touching the water, Hashimoto-san covered the water with the flour, and then pulled his hand through the flour from one side to the other. He kept repeating these two steps, alternating the direction that he would pull his hand through. This prevented the water from getting on his hands and making all sticky, and eventually all the water was mixed into the flour.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Then it was time for “fast swimming” until the mixture become like small breadcrumbs and was no longer sticky.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Most of the water (apart from a couple of teaspoons) was then poured in, and he kept mixing it together with his hands. At this point we could smell the soba scent – it was very nutty and fragrant. The soba mixture started to clump together into larger balls.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He added the rest of the water and started rolling the mixture under his palms.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

It started to come together in large circular balls under his hands, until gradually it all came together in a dough.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

The dough was kneaded about 40 times.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Then Hashimoto-san started making a chrysanthemum shape, by first rolling it into a disc, putting the disc on its side, placing the side of his right hand at 3 o’clock, turning the whole disc to 10 o’clock, and then pushing it down slightly with the side of his hand. There was a definite art to getting the chrysanthemum shape, and I have to confess that when it was our turn, I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. Fortunately Alastair understood the steps!

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Once he was satisfied with the shape, he started rolling it into a cone. He then squashed the cone down into a disc, pushing down with the heel of his hand until it was 20cm and resembled a big wheel of cheese.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He pulled out a long rolling pin and taught us how to do the rolling movement. The hands are shaped like cat claws, placed on the rolling pin, and then moved together or apart to move the rolling pin.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He kept rolling the disc until it was about 40cm across, turning the disc every now and again to make sure it was even and round.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Then it was time to make the soba dough square. He spread flour down the middle of the disc, and then rolled it up around the rolling pin.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He gently patted the dough down, in a forward rolling motion, about five times. He then unrolled it, turned it 180 degrees to the opposite side and re-rolled it around the rolling pin. He repeated the patting down movement 3 times.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He unrolled it again, and turned the dough around 90 degrees to repeat the previous two steps for the other side of the dough.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

When he was finished, it was looking squarish!

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Next he used the rolling pin to even out the angles.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

And kept rolling the dough until it was about 45cm x 80cm big.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

When he was happy with the size and the evenness, he rolled the dough on to the rolling pin.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He turned the dough around and unrolled most of it, leaving a small section still on the rolling pin. He scattered buckwheat flour over the top of the dough.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Lifting the rolling pin and the remaining dough that was still rolled up, he folded the dough widthwise.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

Scattering more flour on top of the dough, he folded it over again.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

It was almost time to cut the soba! He pulled out the chopping board and sprinkled on a lot of buckwheat flour.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

The dough was placed on top of the chopping board, and more flour was scattered on top.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He showed us the large knife and taught us how to hold it. The Chinese characters were on the outside, and the hand holding the knife had the index finger pointing down towards the board. On top of the soba dough Hashimoto-san placed a wooden chopping guide. On the chopping guide, he placed his other hand, with the fingers in a “fox shape” – pinky and index finger pointing down, and the middle and ring finger folded in. He then taught us how to cut the soba.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

The knife was placed hard up against the chopping guide – he tilted the knife a tiny amount (which moved the chopping guide slightly), pulled the knife back up and then pushed down to cut the soba.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

After repeating this movement, the soba was cut into thin strips.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

He cut the soba very quickly and thinly – it was very impressive!

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

And his noodles were beautiful.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

After the demonstration, Alastair and I tried making soba noodles ourselves. We shared a bowl and made noodles together, which is a good thing because a batch of soba noodles makes enough to serve 5 people! The cutting of the noodle took a bit of practice, but I think we did really well, and our noodles turned out nice and thin (those are our noodles in the photo). We made the best ones – haha!

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

We then had the opportunity to eat the noodles we made. Hashimoto-san cooked our noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 60 seconds, and then rinsed them thoroughly in cold water before dunking them into ice water.

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

We ate them dipped in soba sauce – yum!

Tokyo: Soba noodle making class

I love cold soba, and the noodles were doubly delicious because we had made them ourselves. It was fascinating to learn the process in making soba noodles by hand – I hadn’t realised it was that labour intensive. But it was good fun and we got to eat our work. What’s better than that?