Category Archives: Japanese food


Sweet black beans (kuromame) and chestnuts

So here we are, dear reader(s)…the dawn of a new decade! The Japanese above is what my friend Sugar said to usher in the new year- it means “Ake-ome” which is short for “Akemashite Omedeotou” which is the way to say “Happy New Year” in Japanese. So あけおめ everyone!

Kamaboko- fish cake

I went back and forth on whether to open up 2010 on Tuna Toast with these fuzzy images taken on my LG cell phone camera. After all, doesn’t everyone want to hit the ground running as best they can, whip out their A-game, vow to be better this year than the last? Although I’d love to do all those things (and still plan to!) I couldn’t skip an entry which shows off all of the wonderful food my mom made for our yearly “osechi ryori” dinner at my parents house. Everything was delicious as usual, and my husband J looks forward to this meal ALL year long so you can imagine how good it is!

Lots of sake to wash the meal down with!

So please excuse the poor photo quality, but I figure the quality of the food will shine through my lame camera phone images and I’ll make sure to bring the camera next time.

Nimono- simmered lotus root, mountain potato, burdock root, veggies

A rainbow of salmon, tuna and squid sashimi

My mom’s famous shime-saba (marinated mackeral)

Sticky little sweet fish to nibble on with sake

Yaki-zakana- salt-grilled snapper (tai)

The table, all set and ready to go!

Happy 2010 to everyone!!!

Where Am I?

List of menu items line the wall……..and one item that, er, should NOT be on any menu. Can you find the dirty word?

People pack the smoke-filled izakaya……….

Yakitori on the grill…..smells gooood….

The man behind the grills…………

Tsukune and quail eggs…..YUM.

Gyutan, aspara-bacon and tebasaki……….

Vintage poster on the wall……………

Poster of yakitori varieties……

The classic yakitori w tare…………..

The sign says “delicious! cheap! fast!”

So am I at a yakitori house in Kichijoji? An izakaya in Koenji, perhaps? From my seat on a tiny little tree-stump of a stool, it certainly seemed like I was. The sounds, the smells…..even the ubiquitous salaryman smoking cigarettes in a plexi-glass “smoking room” made me feel like I was transported back to the cramped, underground pubs that I’d eaten countless cheap (and delicious) meals in during my seven year stint in Tokyo. While it’s difficult to find quailty food served with large quantities of good, strong beer for under $10 per person here, these izakayas are everywhere in Tokyo and other major metropolitan areas throughout Japan. Thanks to the izakaya, I filled my belly daily with everything from sashimi to yakitori; crunchy deep-fried wontons filled with cheese and mentaiko to fresh salads topped with a popular mix of canned tuna and canned corn; grilled onigiri painted with thin layer of sweet soy sauce to yakisoba noodles served on a sizzling cast iron plate……oh how I dearly miss the izakayas of my Tokyo days. You have NO idea how much!

So imagine my utter joy when J and I stumbled upon an entire ROW of yakitori-yas and izakayas on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village in New York City! We were dragging our butts back to our hotel after consuming embarassingly large quanities of wine and an array of rich tapas but when I saw plumes of chicken-fat-burning smoke, my fullness went away and we ducked in to not one but two places. In Japanese there is something called a “betsu-bara” which means a separate stomach and that is the one I filled with all kinds of grilled meats and little nibbles from both places. It Was Awesome. I was literally transported and it felt amazing as J and I held our glasses of sake and chu-hi up to make a toast.

Although Los Angeles certainly has it’s share of Japanese neighborhoods (Torrance, Sawtell, Gardena) it does not have the bustling city-vibe that Tokyo has. It makes complete sense that New York can recreate the same vibe as Tokyo, and although I’d never thought of living in New York before, St Mark’s Place may have put the idea in my head….at least a little!

Hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving filled with lots of amazing food!

Japan- The Last Snapshots

Here are the last of the photos from my Japan trip back in June. Since then I’ve been back in the kitchen, excited about cooking with summer’s best ingredients, so I’ll get back to the cooking blogging soon. Is it just me or are corn, tomatoes and basil all one needs to eat during the summer? The farmers markets are just loaded with the best and sweetest produce right now.

Anyway, back to Nippon!

Dark purple asparagus at the market in Sapporo

Taking the shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo from Nagoya

Would you like some beecon, or bacon?

Hairy crab with lots of “kani-miso,” at an izakaya near our hotel in Sapporo.

People gather at a matsuri in Sapporo- this area where all of the food stands are is definitely the most popular of the festival!

An array of plastic sushi displayed in the window of a sushi restaurant, Otaru.

Hmmmmm….more delicious looking plastic food in the shotengai (shopping street) in Sapporo.

Punk rocker in front of one of Japan’s most popular convinience stores, SUNKUS, which is pronounced and means “thanks.” It took me a year to realize that while I lived there since I kept pronouncing the “kus” like “bus.”

Salmon sashimi, fresh and fatty, at an izakaya in Sapporo.

Tiny little eateries like this sushi shop are one of my favorite things about Japan. No matter what city you’re in, you’ll find little places- bars, yakitoriyas, sushiyas, etc.

Last but not least, my 99 year old “obaachan” or grandmother. Isn’t she the cutest? She still loves to eat and chat and is just perfect.

Urasawa, Beverly Hills

Last Saturday, my family and I made our much-anticipated maiden voyage to Urasawa. My sister was generous enough to take us all there to celebrate our birthdays, anniversary and other milestones, and we had a wonderful time. I can’t really put into words the kind of service and food we experienced; it was all delicate, profound and will be put into the “once in a lifetime” category.

I’ll try my best to remember everything we ate; some of the sushi is lost on me now that a few days have passed but here is my photo essay of our wonderful Urasawa meal! Enjoy:

Beautfiul display behind counter

First course- hairy crab salad with crysthansamum petals

Lightly seared toro with ponzu
and edible gold leaf

Assortment of lightly stewed vegetables & seafood

Assorted sashimi on ice block…check out that toro…wow!

Baked dish made of yamaimo (mountain potato) with various treasures hidden uni, ginko nuts, shrimp. Most surprising dish of the night- had the exact texture of rice but was made of this very healthy potato.

See the uni inside?

Tempura of cod sperm sack served with dashi dipping sauce

Chef Hiro Urasawa starts to work on a huge slab of Kobe beef…..

…perfectly marbled with fat

Toro seared on a hot stone

The leftover meat from the hairy crab used in the first course, cooked in it’s own shell with a nice slice of uni. This was sublime…

Beef slowly braised in sweet soy….this was one of my favorites. So tender….!

The raw ingredients for shabu shabu, including a large slice of foie gras.

See huge slab of foie gras….

Cooked for about a minute in the hot broth, the foie gras was rich, tender yet extremely refreshing. My father and J, neither of whom are big foie fans, loved this dish.

Sushi course:



Kohada- much less “pickeled” than versions I’ve had before, you could really taste the fish instead of the vinegar.

Lighly grilled shiitake mushroom. This was absolutely meaty and delicious.

Sayori (half beak)

Aji- Spanish mackeral

Awabi (abalone)- I’ve never been a fan of abalone but this was very good.

Uni (sea urchin). The best I’ve ever had, hands down. No bitterness, just sweet and creamy. Wow.

Maguro (tuna)

Ama ebi (sweet shrimp)- we watched Urasawa-san cut open big, fat Santa Barbara spot prawns to create this. Again, the best I’ve ever had.

Giant clam- slightly crunchy and sweet

The housemade “gari” or pickled ginger was sweet and spicy with a softer texture than most.

Real, fresh wasabi root

Unfortunately, this one escapes me!

Saba- mackeral

This one is lost on me now as well…

Unagi, sweet and tender

Astuyaki tamago- his version was almost cake-like..I could have eaten a few more of these!!


Box containing assorted fruit- the stewed apple was my favorite

Sesame pudding topped with a sweet bean paste and matcha (green tea)

The sesame pudding was super smooth, slightly nutty and just sweet enough.

Toasted rice tea finishes out the amazing meal

The thing that surprised me the most, I have to admit, was the cheerful disposition of the chef, Hiro Urasawa. I guess I assumed that he would be a very serious and disciplined type, and although he certainly is when it comes to his food, he was good natured and joked a lot. He made everyone feel so comfortable and made sure to call each person by name.

Everything about the experience was perfect, and I highly recommend one visit if you ever get the chance. It is, as most people know, very expensive, so it certainly isn’t a place to go often but everyone should experience this at least once in their lives. The food, service and watching Urasawa-san at work is absolutely worth every penny.


218 Rodeo Drive Los Angeles CA 90210

Japanese dinner: Unagi brown rice

To celebrate J’s return from Japan, I made a simple Japanese dinner. Even though he had three days of Japanese food, I knew he’d want more as it’s pretty much his favorite cuisine of all time. He told me that he had some good yakitori, lots of Japanese yogurt (which is, in our opinion, the best yogurt ever!) and even a dinner at the Shibuya branch of Gonpachi! So I guess he and I were at the same restaurant on the same night, but he was in Japan and I was in Los Angeles. Oh- and his food was far superoior to the just ok meal that I had. At least I could console myself with the various Kit Kats he brought back (I had requested he pick up any different flavors he saw). The macha/milk flavor was my favorite, but the chocolate banana and the chestnut flavors were good as well.

I read a few Japanese cooking blogs and am always inspired by the recipes and ideas on them. When I saw Naoko’s Unagi Onigiri, I remembered that I had some unagi in the freezer and decided to make the rice.

I pretty much followed her recipe but used Japanese brown rice instead of white. After washing the rice I added the soy sauce, sake, sansho pepper and multigrain mix to my rice maker and set the timer for it to be ready when I got home from work. About 20 minutes before the rice was done, I added sliced unagi to the pot, then mixed in some mitsuba at the very end. The whole house smelled like unagi and sansho……..YUM.

I didn’t make onigiri out of it but instead piled the rice into bowls and topped it with some nori seaweed. A salad tossed with wafu (Japanese style) dressing, hiyayakko (cold tofu) topped with ginger, scallions and katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and some spicy eggplant suzuke (Japanese pickles) completed our meal. Oh, that and a glass of cold sake of course;).

By the way, the food came out way better than these photos!

Short post before VACATION!

One more day of work before our trip to Mexico City and Zihuatanejo…I can hardly wait to see the pyramids, Frida Kahlo’s old stomping grounds, lay on the beach and eat some serious seafood. I have a long list of restaurants I want to try in Mexico City but I doubt we’ll have time to visit them all! I am excited about going to Contramar which I heard about from Potatomato- it’s a must eat destination, apparently! On our first night, we will have dinner at the house of an acquaintance which I’m also looking forward to- it’s always great to see how people cook in their own homes when you’re away from your own.

The other night I made up a donburi (bowl) of sorts- brown rice topped with edamame, stewed kabocha, canned Japanese seasoned tuna, steamed spinach and green onions. I could live on the kobocha alone, but the combination of sweet, salty and savory was great. A side of tofu topped with enoki mushrooms and macha powder plus a small salad completed the meal.

I promise lots of Mexico photos, food and stories upon our return!

Have a great week!!

Sweeps Week Soba Dinner

So May Sweeps on the television is almost over, and what a week its been. Not only do I love television, but I have to watch a lot of it for my job (whether I like the show or not) but who can complain. As my boss always says “What other job requires you to watch television?!?!” He’s right- it’s not like I have to risk life and limb catching crab in the Bering Sea or nothin’ (Deadliest Catch is possibly the best show on television and explains why crab costs so dang much!).

In addition to the American Idol finale (eh, it would have been more interesting had Blake won…it was a so-so season but that performance with Doug E. Fresh was awesome), Heroes ended with a bang (literally) and Dancing With The Stars closed out with Apolo Anton Ono (shout out to the Hapas everywhere!) crowned the winner. But really- who cares about any of this when LOST just blew it all out of the water with last night’s season finale?!?!?! I had to remind myself to breathe during the entire two hours. One of the editors I worked with put it best when he said “The last five minutes of LOST last night was as significant as when Darth Vader tells Luke, “I’m Your Father” in terms of major twists in pop culture history.” Now before you Star Wars maniacs start writing me hate email, remember that I’m simply quoting my co-worker. Not really being a Start Wars maniac myself, I can’t really compare but I can tell you- it was awesome!

Anyway, back to LOST later. Here’s a soba dinner we had recently.

Zaru soba- cold, buckwheat noodles dipped in a bonito broth mixture, wasabi and green onions. A summer-time favorite!

Sugar snap pea and tomato salad with sweet sesame dressing:

Soramame (fava beans) boiled, peeled and tossed with some yuzu pepper. They sell bags of frozen fava beans at Mitsuwa, and although they aren’t as good as fresh, you don’t have to take them out of the pods so it’s great for a quick snack or sidedish.

Speaking of LOST- we were lucky enough to have Michael (who’s been gone FOREVER!) aka Harold Perrineau visit us on set the other day. He brought along Daniel Dae Kim (Jin) so we were extra thrilled!!!

Me and “Michael” with me cut out.

Me with “Jin,” who I congratulated (remember, he and Sun are having a baby!)

We also did a food segment, and Bob Blumer, aka The Surreal Gourmet, was kind enough to come and show us how to whip up the most charming dishes for any party. As a food blogger, I was thrilled to have him and the food was delicious.

Me and the Surreal Gourmet

So I guess this isn’t much of a food post..more like a blubbering fan post. Sometimes variety is the spice of life, no?

Where Have You Been All My Life? Musha, Santa Monica

I miss many things about Japan, but the thing I long for most is the IZAKAYA. An izakaya is a Japanese pub that also serves food, but it is not the same as a drinking establishment here that does the same. Most izakayas in Japan are open late (some until 4:00 AM!), have a variety of small dishes which cover the spectrum from sashimi to kari kari cheezu (crispy fried wontons filled with cheese). When you walk in, you hear the familiar call of “irashaimase,” take your shoes off, toss them in a locker and hunker down with your friends for a few hours to talk, drink and nosh. There are small, hole-in-the-wall izakayas and there are huge, chain-type places with photos of every single thing (drinks too!) on the colorful menus. I miss them all, and have longed to find an izakaya here that lives up to even the mediocre ones that I’d frequent in Japan. Unfortunately, I have found nothing close and my first (and probably last!) visit to Haru Ulala in Little Tokyo last week just discouraged me even further on my fruitless search.

I must admit, my search has not taken me very far. I’m sure there are places in Torrance that may grant one the true izakaya experience, but who wants to have a bunch of drinks and then face the daunting task of driving all the way home? (No one should, drinking and driving is bad bad bad!). Well, maybe I should designate a driver and search a bit out of my 15 mile radius zone, because when J and I found ourselves in Santa Monica last week for an evening appointment, we found what is definitely the closest thing to a true izakaya that I’ve found so far in Los Angeles. We had actually planned to go to the Newsroom (now called Interim Cafe) but when our eyes fell upon Musha, we couldn’t resist walking in.

I knew of Musha- we’d been to the Torrance branch a long time ago and although we did enjoy it, it hadn’t blown our socks off- but we just never make it out to Santa Monica for dinner so we had never been. When I heard the calls of “irashaimase!” I started to get a good feeling. The vibe inside reminded of the izakayas I used to go to back in Japan, and upon a visit to the ladies room I discovered a zashiki – a room where you sit on the floor instead of chairs and usually made with tatami floors, although this one had wood ones- which would be perfect for a private party of six or so. Inside the bathroom hung Japanese kanji characters brushed-stroked by one of the staff, along with a sign that said “Don’t take these- if you want one, I will write one for you!” Are people really that tacky as to steal art off bathroom walls?

Example of a zashiki, not Musha’s zashiki…..

Anyway, on to the food. My friends that frequent the Torrance Musha are always raving about their Musha Fried Chicken (MFC) so we ordered one of those, along with some scallop shumai, salmon sashimi, tofu salad and the aburi saba. J had iced green tea while I sipped on my sauvignon blanc (I know- I should have gotten sake but I wasn’t in the mood for it) and we waited for the parade of food to begin.

The tofu salad came first- nice, beautifully soft scoops of fresh tofu atop mixed greens and capped with a dollop of good sesame dressing. Yum.

The “shumai” were delicious but totally different than any shumai I’d had before. Instead of being wrapped in wonton skins, each billowy shumai seemed to be made of some sort of steamed egg white/fish cake mix and contained a scallop in the middle. They were all coated with thin slices of cooked egg yolk and topped with a bit of caviar. They were delicious!

The famous MFC didn’t disappoint- the tender chicken is first marinated for one day before being coated and lightly fried, which is what I LOVE about Japanese fried chicken- it is flavorful to the core. My mom’s is better but their version was fantastic and came with a nice soy-based dipping sauce that also had grated daikon in it.

Get a little closer……..

What came next is definitely our new favorite dish- aburi saba. We both love shimesaba, but had never had it like this before. The waitress brought out a sliced fillet of seasoned mackeral, lit up a blowtorch then proceeded to torch the top of the mackeral until its oils dripped down the sides of the fish and the top was nicely charred. O M G. Yes- the fatty fish just melted in our mouths and begged to be washed down with a bit of ice cold sake, which I was now regretting not ordering! Not only does this dish create an opportunity for a nice show, it really benefits from the torching and I will have to try this one at home. (oh- J loved it so much that I came home from work two days later to find a blowtorch on my dining table- a gift – and not-so-subtle hint!- from J!

Fire starter…….

Crispy on the outside…..

Lastly we had the salmon sashimi which, as you can see by the glistening fat in this photo, was fresh and beautiful. Without a trace of fishiness (which can be a problem with oilier fish) the salmon sashimi was perfect and oozing with oil. Who needs dessert when you have salmon this good to cap off a spectacular meal?!

Shiny and new……..

We’ll definitely be back to Musha again and again. I feel that our first Torrance Musha experience wasn’t as good as the Santa Monica visit because we simply ordered the wrong things. I hope that a Little Tokyo Musha is in the works……Musha- please open in J Town!!! Little Tokyo NEEDS a Musha!!! It’s too bad the two locations are so far from our house but we’ll make the trek to have some more MFC and saba any day.

Musha Santa Monica
310) 576-6330 -
424 Wilshire Blvd,
Santa Monica, CA

Musha Torrance
(310) 787-7344
1725 W Carson St
Torrance, CA

Simple dinner: Soba

After what seems like weeks of non-stop eating out, I feel I need to put the brakes on restaurants for a minute (we’ll see how long that lasts!) and eat from the earth. Ok, who am I kidding- I don’t have a hippie bone in my body but I do know that I should probably try eating lighter in the next couple of weeks. Saturday’s bout of warm weather had me freaking out about not being ready for the long summer days that are probably just around the corner. Although my arms love hiding in the warm billowy comfort of my Max Studio poncho, they know they’ll have to face the world soon enough and eating six course meals isn’t the best way to contribute to the cause.

Luckily for my taste buds, I keep having a strong urge to eat hot soba noodle soup. I’ve had it twice in the last week, and I could seriously go for some for lunch today. I’m not sure what’s brought on this craving for buckwheat noodles swimming around with cabbage, green onions, bean sprouts and egg in hot bonito stock, but it probably does have something to do with all of the rich food I’ve been eating lately. The Japanese taste buds on my tongue have declared war on butter! Hai-ya!

In additon to being healthy and delicious, soba noodle soup comes together in about 6 minutes. I love TONS of cabbage, onions and green onions in mine but you can add whatever veggie you choose. Just heat up some tsuyu mixed with water, add your veggies in order of cooking time, toss in some soba noodles and then mix in an egg at the very end. Personally, I attack the entire bowl with a good dose of shichimi which adds a nice kick and extra flavor.

It’s the best kind of “fast food” there is, and also a great way to use up any leftover veggies in your fridge.

Chige-nabe Dinner

Continuing on our lighter-fare kick, we had chige-nabe (or kimchi nabe) for dinner the other night. Believe it or not, we’ve had this Japanese electric nabe set for FIVE years…..we got it for our wedding….and have never used it. Yes, I bow my head in shame. It was shoved way back into a kitchen cabinet, left to sit there for so long, all alone. Every time I’d open that cabinet, I’d feel so guilty about not using it, and would often think about making nabe but never got around to it. Thank goodness we finally put it to use. I can safely say that we will be having nabe more often!

The star of the chige-nabe show…..

There are many different kinds of nabe, but I chose chige-nabe because I love kimchi and it’s been pretty darn cold outside. Nothing makes you sweat better than a hot pot of spicy broth. J had never had nabe but is also a fan of spicy food. For the broth, I combined water, dashi-konbu, tobanjan (I had purchased this chili pasted at the airport in South Korea during a layover there last month), kochujan (chili/soy paste), minced garlic, minced ginger, a bit of katsuo dashi (bonito stock), red miso paste and lots of chopped kimchi. This was all put into the electric nabe and heated.

The vegetables I chose for the chige-nabe were hakusai (Chinese cabbage), tamanegi (white onions), chrysanthemum leaves and bean sprouts. I also bought a nice, firm chunk of yakidoufu (grilled tofu) to add to the veggie platter.


For the meat side, I chose thinly sliced pork and some lovely hunks of black cod.

Pork- the other white meat.

After setting up shop on our table, we simply put what we wanted to eat into the pot, waited the few minutes it took to cook, then started pulling out the slightly fatty strips of pork, melt-in-your-mouth cod, wilted cabbage and tender onions into our own bowls. J loves any interactive eating, so this was definitely perfect for him. I love that it’s all very healthy, but between cooking the food, fishing it out, putting more food into the nabe and sipping the spicy broth, it’s extremely satisfying. It’s also a great way to get a ton of veggies into your meal (and your tummy).

Steaming, spicy nabe…..

The leftover stock is rich from all of the ingredients that were once in the pot, so you put leftover rice or udon noodles into the stock, drizzle a bit of egg and enjoy the second part of the meal. Unfortunately we were too stuffed from polishing off all of the meat and veggies, so I saved the broth so that we can have some zousui (soupy rice) later on this week. It’s one of my all-time favorite comfort foods!

Would you like a bite??

I’m hoping to post at least once more before the New Year….what food-related events do you all have for the New Year’s Eve or Day? Would love to hear your stories!