Category Archives: Japanese food

Sushi Ichi in Pasadena

Is there a more perfect food than sushi? If one exists, I have yet to experience it because beautiful slices of fresh fish lying so gently on a mound of barely warm seasoned rice is my idea of perfection. Of course, there are varying degrees of quality and style when it comes to sushi- some places pride themselves in serving 10-ingredient rolls the size of a baby’s arm, while others focus more on letting the ingredients shine through in simple preparations. I’m partial to the latter, and one of the places that does this best is Sushi Ichi in Pasadena. Ridiculously fresh fish, perfectly cooked and seasoned rice, crisp nori and a deft hand by Chef Ichi combine to form one, spectacularly sublime sushi experience. No words can describe just how good it is, so I’ll go ahead and let the photos do the talking. Enjoy! Continue reading

Chankonabe- Food For Sumo Wrestlers

In many Asian cultures, hot pot meals are very common. Generally speaking, these one-pot meals are a combination of some sort of broth or stock, a variety of vegetables and one or more kinds of protein. I know that’s about as generic of a description as you can get, but that’s kind of the point- there are no hard, fast rules about what the Japanese call nabe (pronounced “nah-bey”), which, translated literally, means “cooking pot.” Continue reading

What The Heck Is Tuna Toast?

“Tuna Toast?” is the most common reaction when I tell people the name of my blog. Without some sort of explanation, they probably think it’s just some cute little phrase I dreamed up that has no meaning whatsoever. Then it dawned on me that maybe the phrase “tuna toast” isn’t as familiar to people who have never lived in Japan.

You see, Japan- and Tokyo in particular- is chock full of coffee shops and cafes. Some are so tiny they only seat five, others are larger and of those, some are of part of a chain. There are SO many coffee shops in Japan that I like to tell people there are two on every corner. It certainly seems that way.

Why the overabundance of these kissaten? My best guess is that in a bustling city where most people travel by train and foot, it’s necessary to sit down for a minute and take a coffee/snack break. It isn’t like L.A. where you drive to the end of your street to mail something or balk at the 10 minute walk to the store. You walk, stand on a crowded train, maneuver through the 100,000 other people crossing the street, and then walk 20 blocks more to reach your destination. And repeat. Every single day. I need a cup of coffee and snack just writing this, it’s so exhausting.

Anyway, back to tuna toast. Tuna toast is a dish commonly found in these tiny coffee shops- probably 80% of them sell some version of it.  At its core, tuna toast is exactly what its name implies- it’s toast, topped with tuna. Oh, but it’s sooo much more. The best versions of tuna toast are made with a thick slice of Japanese shokupan – light and flaky yet toothsome, yeasty and buttery all at the same time. This Rolls Royce of white bread is then topped with a generous heap of tuna salad made with Kewpie mayonnaise- again, a far better product than American mayo tasting of fresh eggs and full of umami. The whole thing is sprinkled with a bit of cheese and toasted in the oven until golden brown. It’s literally one of my favorite foods in the whole world, so I named my blog after it!

I know it sounds too simple to be so good, but the best things in life ARE the simple pleasures, aren’t they? Just make sure you use good ingredients- the shokupan and Kewpie are key- and you’ll be converted!

Recipe: Shrimp and Pork Gyoza (Potstickers)


Before I get into this post, I just realized that today marks a milestone for this little blog. Seven years ago today, I dipped my toe into the world of food blogging by launching Tuna Toast with this post. I thought I’d link to the original Blogger version since that was what I started on (I’ve since graduated to WordPress, thankfully!). I just wanted to say “thanks” for reading- if you still are- and for sticking around through the lulls in posting. Seven years- whoa. Ok- now onto the gyoza!


I am lucky enough to have two parents who are great cooks. Growing up, my sister and I woke up to toast with cinnamon sugar or buttered and topped with sardines (to this day, a favorite!), waffles, freshly fried corn or apple fritters which my dad would whip up on the weekends or huevos rancheros with perfectly runny eggs . Our lunch boxes were packed with my mom’s delicious egg or tuna salad sandwiches, and we always- always- sat down as a family to a homemade dinner. Whether it was one of Papa’s specialties like crispy chicken fried steak with white gravy, stir-fry of chicken and cashews with rice, eggplant Parmesan, Welsh rarebit or juicy hamburgers, or Mom’s chicken noodle soup, baked cod with Gruyere and mushrooms, stewed Japanese eggplant and chicken or shimesaba, it was always hand made and never out of a box. Of course, as kids my sister and I wanted to be like everyone else and would occasionally bemoan the lack of Hamburger Helper on our table (what were we thinking?!) but as we got older we realized how this variety of great food in our home helped form the palates and love of cooking we both have today. Continue reading

Teishoku: Japanese Set Meal, AKA My Comfort Food

It’s pretty funny how, since we returned from Italy a week ago, I’ve made either Italian or Japanese food for every meal. I guess I’ve subconsciously been looking for comfort due to missing my sister and coming off such an amazing trip, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I often find comfort in food. Don’t worry- I’m not sitting on the sofa armed with three pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and a ladle! It’s just that both Italian and Japanese cuisine have always been my favorite (J’s too- he must have been Japanese in a former life!) so it makes sense to want to come back to what you know and love when you’re feeling a little down. Continue reading

Japanese Beef and Vegetable Rolls

Seven months have gone by since I last blogged- well, on here, anyway! I can’t believe I let something I once enjoyed so much slip away for so long. I guess a combination of blogging for clients at work, the instant gratification of sharing photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter plus my overall laziness in the kitchen (we had one helluva hot summer this year and I wasn’t going anywhere near the stove!) contributed to my blog abandonment. But hey- I’m back (again!)- and it feels good to be here. Fresh off a totally awe-inspiring, inspirational and eye-opening vacation to Italy (my sister wed the man of her dreams in a celebration that rivals even the best Pinterest wedding board!) and welcomed back to Los Angeles by much cooler weather, I’m feeling the urge to roll up my sleeves, get back in the kitchen and start documenting my food adventures in longer form once again.

Speaking of roll, these healthy ones made from paper thin slices of rib eye, green beans, carrots and gobo (burdock root in English, although I’m guessing you’re still scratching your head) are longtime favorites that too, hadn’t seen daylight in a few years. So I decided to whip up a batch for our first, post-Italy dinner at home and was very happy I did. Although they require some prep- blanching the vegetables to soften them a bit is the only major step- they do come together quite easily after that and make for a deliciously filling yet healthy dish. You’re probably wondering how the words “rib eye” and “healthy” can be uttered in the same conversation, but due to the utter thinness of the meat, you’re only consuming a couple of ounces while ingesting a large dose of high fiber vegetables. I’m all about using a little bit of a great ingredient to make a dish taste good rather than opting for large amounts of flavorless, low-calorie stuff that lacks any punch whatsoever. Trust me- the former will be exponentially more satisfying.

To compliment these beautiful beef and vegetable rolls, I made a batch of sprouted brown rice, a vinegared salad of cucumbers and bean sprouts; a green salad tossed with Japanese sesame dressing and hiyayakko- cold, silken tofu garnished with grated ginger, green onions and a touch of soy sauce.

This teishoku (set meal) style meal was missing the traditional addition of miso soup, but was otherwise a nice, veggie-heavy dinner to ease our post-vacation-weary-and-sad hearts into being back to reality….and back to blogging!

The recipe can be found in Japanese Cooking for Health and Fitness, available on

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Z Sushi, Alhambra

Toro sushi

I’ve been going to Z Sushi in Alhambra for almost ten years now, and it dawned on me that I rarely blog about it. It’s safe to say J and I dine at Z Sushi more than any other restaurant, with the bar at Drago Centro coming in a close second. My parents go to Z at least once a month, my sister has it on her list of “must visit” places when she comes home from Ireland to visit, and we’ve taken countless friends there who have also fallen in love with Z. Continue reading

Healthy Asian Plate: Salmon, Vegetables and Forbidden Rice

I suppose it seems strange that something so healthy contains something that is forbidden. Apparently, this black, whole-grain rice (it’s more purple in color, actually) was eaten exclusively by the Emperors of China back in the day (like, waaaay back in the day) so it was dubbed “forbidden” to lowly farmers or pretty much anyone ranked below royalty. Hm, maybe we can rename it “1 Percent Rice?” Wait, I guess that would lead people to think it contains only 1% rice. Ah well. Continue reading

Japanese Dinner + The Blowtorch!

About two years ago, J bought me a blowtorch for my birthday.  No, I’m not going all Flashdance on you with dreams of becoming a food-blogging welder- he figured I’d need it in case I ever wanted to brulée something.  I think the main motivation for him to buy me the torch was because he wanted me aburi something.  Aburi means “flamed” in Japanese, and if you go out to sushi often you’ve probably seen the chef whip out his blowtorch and lightly sear the top of a piece of salmon, toro or mackerel.  The heat of the flame melts the fat in the fish and creates a beautiful, soft, fatty flavor and texture.  If you haven’t had the chance to try any aburi sashimi or sushi, make sure to request it next time because it is, in a word, heavenly.  

Luckily my mom sent us home with some of her world-famous shime saba on New Year’s Day, so I only had to take it out of the freezer, let it thaw, then go all Jennifer Beals on it (ok, I’ll stop with the Flashdance references now!).  To be honest, the reason why I’d never used the blowtorch before was because I was scared.  Visions of a propane explosion in my kitchen (and in my FACE!) kept me from ever even taking it out of the box, but after receiving assurances on it’s safety from my dad and my chef friend, I finally decided to use it.  The verdict?  Let’s put it this way: Once you torch something, you’re hooked.  At least I am.  Now I always look for things to brulée!

So here it is- my first foray into the world of blowtorching food:

Pretty cool, right?  Anyway, here’s the rest of the meal:

I had some beautiful King Trumpet mushrooms which I sliced, brushed with a garlic/soy/agave/sake mixture and grilled in a pan:

I did the same for some yams I had laying around:

Cold, silken tofu topped with ginger and soy sauce:

Japanese cucumber, sugar snap pea and onion salad with sesame dressing:

A couple of Japanese condiments: on the left, taberu rayu, which is the hottest condiment in Japan right now.  Not “hot” as in Scoville scale, but as in it’s super popular.  Rayu is chili/sesame oil and has been around for ages; taberu means “to eat” in Japanese, and taberu rayu is the chili/sesame oil we all know and love combined with toasted garlic, sesame seeds, dried shrimp and other goodies to make to chunky, so you can actually eat it.  My best friend Mika gave it to us, and ohmahgawd it is downright addictive.  As if there aren’t already enough Japanese condiments that make you want to eat buckets of rice!  I could probably eat five pounds of rice with spoonfuls of taberu rayu mixed in.  Seriously good stuff.  The one of the right is shichimi tōgarashi, or seven flavor chili pepper, which is great on yakitori or grilled vegetables.  

The star of the show, aburi saba:

The table:

If you have any great recipes involving the use of a blowtorch, let me know!  I’m totally hooked.

明けましておめでとうございます, or, Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year everyone!  It’s a rainy day here in Los Angeles on the 2nd day of 2011, so I thought I’d take the time to post some pics from our annual Japanese New Year meal that my parents have at their house and J looks forward to for about 12 months.  We all do, because it’s tradition, and happily for a family of food lovers, it’s awesome to sit and eat many different kinds of Japanese goodies that make up the  osechi meal.  Although my mom’s version isn’t 100% osechi, the meal contains many of the dishes that make up the spread of traditional Japanese New Years foods.

Are you ready for a photo fiesta of Japanese delights?!

Renkon mousse with shrimp and unagi: This dish is new our our family New Year table; my mother’s friend had prepared it for her and mom was blown away so she looked up the recipe.  Renkon is lotus root, and she grated it, folded it with egg whites and steamed it, then served it atop some poached shrimp and grilled unagi (eel) and garnished it with gingko nuts.  It was mellow and savory and the perfect way to start off the meal.

Chicken and enoki mushrooms with mitsuba: Another appetizer to open up our stomachs before the big feast.  Mitsuba is a type of wild, Japanese parsley that has a distinct flavor, but I’ve never found it to be too strong at all.  
Colorful kamaboko: Fish cakes made of fish paste, they are very, very mild tasting and actually don’t taste much like fish to me.  The color and shape represent the rising sun.  I thought these were especially pretty:
Nimono: An array of vegetables, including gobo (burdock root), renkon (lotus root), carrots, mountain potato and snow peas simmered in broth, soy sauce and a touch of sugar.  The little balls you see are konnyaku, which is made of the starches from a type of yam, and has virtually no flavor or calories, so it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it in.  I’m sure it’s strange to a lot of people, but it’s really good for you, and because it’s filling but doesn’t have many calories, it’s known as the broom of the stomach.  Funny eh?
Tazukuri and Kinpira Gobo: Tazukuri and little sardines cooked in sweet soy sauce, and my mother got this year’s batch as gift from a friend; they were the best I’ve ever had, with the little fish being quite meaty.  On the right is a bowl of kinpira gobo, which is gobo (burdock root) and carrots tossed in a spicy seasoning made from soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and dried red chiles.  It’s easy to make, and certain not exclusive to New Year’s.  
Shime saba: This marinated saba (mackerel) is the dish that J literally waits ALL year for my mom to make.  Sure, you can have saba anytime at most sushi places, but no one makes it better than my mom…it’s true!  The fish is folded in softened kombu (seaweed) and both are marinated in rice wine vinegar, sugar and white onions.  
Oh, let’s take a little break from our food programming to tell you what we washed all of this gorgeous food down with: sake, of course!  Our favorite sushi chef, Toshi at Z Sushi, gave this bottle to us a couple of weeks ago and we’d been saving it for our special meal.  The piece of art on the wall behind it is something my father made out of leftover wood- cool right?!
Sashimi assortment:  Oh man….just looking at this picture makes me want to have it again, right now!  We had fatty hamachi (yellowtail), tender ika (squid) and beautifully buttery chu-toro (medium fatty tuna).  Mom always makes a bed of thinly sliced daikon and garnishes it with daikon sprouts- all of it is delicious dipped in soy sauce with a touch of wasabi.
Kuro-mame and kuri: This isn’t dessert, exactly, but a little something sweet you can take bites of in between all of the savory elements of the meal.  Kuro-mame are black soybeans sweetened in a light syrup, and kuri is a chestnut, also macerated in sweet syrup. 
We ate until we couldn’t fit any more food into our tummies, and then sat down to watch some Japanese travel shows that feature ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels), onsen (hot springs) and lots of gorgeous fall scenery and traditional food.  It was the best way to spend the first day of the year- I hope the rest of 2011 lives up to that perfect day!  
Here’s a wreath studded with origami cranes my mother made to usher in the new year:
Happy 2011 everyone!