This Week’s Recipe

I have been enjoying a certain dish lately, so much so that I’m going to post it:
Pork Flavored Garlic Stir Fry
Ingredients:
7 cloves of strong garlic, minced
3 pork chops, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 large onion, cubed
3 bell peppers (preferably red or yellow, but green can be added for color) cubed
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of shoyu
1 tablespoon of mirin
1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce
Spices:
garlic salt
pepper
montreal steak seasoning
Dipping sauce:
Mix 2 parts of Thai sweet chili sauce to 1 part Shiracha
Directions:
Heat up your pan until it is really hot, and then add the oil, and spread it around the pan. Next, keep the heat on high add the vegetables and braise them for about 2 minutes. Add the pork, garlic, and seasonings, and then add the shoyu and mirin. Cook until the pork has a nice seared color. For best results, keep the heat high, and aim to cook the vegetables so that they are still crunchy, but not raw. Serve over rice, and dip morsels into the sauce. I enjoyed the flavor of the dish both with and without sauce, but you can mix the sauce into the dish as well.
The reason I like this dish is because:
1. It is cheap. Beef is more expensive right now over here. Bell peppers are fairly priced as well.
2. It’s fast.
3. It has lots of garlic, but maintains a good flavor balance.
4. I have way much more garlic salt and steak seasoning than I could ever use in Ubuyama (one year of use has only resulted in 1/3 use of Costco sized Lawry’s seasonings).
5. I love the smell of sesame oil frying in a hot pan.

The Hunger

Right now I’m searching the net for pictures to make a complete phonics lesson, and while looking for “cheeseburger”, I stumbled upon this. Seeing this image has awakened the hunger. It is right before lunch so I will be eating shortly, but this will not satisfy my craving for some fresh grilled meat patties and cheese sandwiched between two crispy, soft buns, iceburg lettuce, grilled onions, and a slice of tomato. Might as well splurge and get a large vanilla shake and french fries.
According to the reciept, the thing in the picture is a 12×12 (a 4×4 + 8 patties and 8 slices of cheese, meaning it has a total of 12 patties and 12 slices of mouth-watering cheddar cheese) and cost a mere $10.15. I have only eaten a 3×3 personally, but many friends from high school as well as Justin and Kohei have downed a 4×4, and I think they were full. I don’t think that any one person is capable of eating a 12×12. It’s just not physiologically possible.
Actually, I think that a regular cheeseburger has the perfect ratio of every ingredient. I the beef and cheese overpowers everything else if you order anything larger than a double double.
If you haven’t eaten at In N Out burger, you are missing out. If you are a hardcore In N Out junkie, then you know the secret menu which includes but is not limited to the following:
4×4- 4 patties, 4 slices of cheese
3×3- 3 patties, 3 slices of cheese
animal style- mustard grilled onto the patty
protein style- lettuce serves as the bun
grilled cheese- self explanatory
These are all I remembered off of the top of my head, but you can find the rest here.
If you are truly down, then you have noticed that there are bible verses written on the packaging. If you are like me, then you have not bothered to look them up, but you can find them on the page hyperlinked above.

Takana

On the second week of April I was recruited to help process Ubuyama’s freshly harvested takana while on my way to the laundromat. I pulled into the parking lot and was surprised to find it being used as a loading dock. I swerved to avoid the scattered pyres of takana and a forklift with a full load (a vegetable that looks like a cross between celery, bok choi, and spinach) and proceeded to unload two heaping baskets full of wet clothes bound for the driers. A farmer approached me and asked for my help. Even though I had only met him a couple of times before, I dropped what I was doing and headed into the warehouse to lend a hand.
Inside I met many more of my students’ parents, all relaxing and eating some real country Japanese food. They served me some smoked cod that had so much salt on it, that it was almost painful to taste along with takana musubi and assorted tsukemono. They explained that this fish was a traditional food in Ubuyama. In the old days, before the 57 was built, they could not get fresh seafood, so it had to be heavily salted in order to survive the trip inland. When we finished eating, we got to work.
takanastart.jpg
The okusans are taking an ocha break and shooting the breeze in between frantic shifts.

Continue reading Takana

Bento

Calling a bento a “lunch box” doesn’t do it justice. It is a lunch box in the sense that sometimes it comes in the shape of a box (and sometimes not), it often has the picture of a cultural icon on the lid (My Little Pony, Ultra-man, He-Man, Hamutaro, and Mr. T. come immediately to mind), and it contains a lunch inside. However, lunch boxes are typically comparatively massive, rectangular in shape, and have a hinged door that clasps tightly shut by two levered latches, located next to the handle of the lunch box. Examples of typical contents found in a lunch boxes include a thermos (usually full of milk or soup), a sandwich, some vegetable sticks, a bag of chips or cookies, a box of juice, and a stick of string cheese. It is also interesting to note that most people stop using lunch boxes after leaving elementary school and switch to the brown paper bag as the vessel of choice for their midday meals. I fondly remember my lunch box, but its contents were always predictable and partly pre-packaged. Opening a bento is more of a mini-adventure.
If you are lucky there may be treasures under the lid of the bento bako, just waiting for you to uncover them at lunch time. Geisha Asobi has some interesting glimpses Japanese culture, including a link to some few highly stylized bento designs. As for a bento that emphasizes equality in form and function, I like these bento made by Mizuko Ito, who examines the question “Are bento an artistic form of motherly love, or are they just another oppresive tool used to shape Japanese society?”. Anyhow, you may notice that these bento pictures have been snapped from a cellular phone camera (she also studies the effects that cellphones have on society- pretty interesting stuff), like the ones on Justin’s moblog, or the smaller pictures that I was posting up until the demise of the camera on my D251.
This is diverging from the bento theme of this post but still related, in the sense that if your bento contained some undercooked meat or fish you might grow a 28 foot-long friend in your intestines.

Memories Of Little Saigon

Visiting Little Saigon, unlike other designated ethnic areas, gives me the feeling that I’m in a place that lives up to its namesake. Short of a trip to the real Saigon, it is as authentic an experience that you will ever get, smack in the middle of the O.C.. It’s an island made up mostly of people with black hair and brown eyes and names like Nguyen, Pham, Trung and Minh (and some guy named Dr. Phouck) within the homogenous racial mix of Southern California. You know this place is legit Southeast Asia style, as 90% of the cars in Little Saigon have, at the very least, one obvious dent or scratch. If you’re looking for cheap imported goods, look no further than the Asian Garden Mall, full of all sorts of strange smells, cheap knockoffs, and stuff you can’t find anywhere else. When you walk in a Vietnamese supermarket, you can see black patches where the linoleum has peeled off. If you order a catfish from the tank, the butcher will grab one by the tail and smash its head into the concrete, wrapping its still quivering body (now that’s a fresh piece of fish!) in a pink sheet of butcher paper. And it smells of Southeast Asia: lychee, rotting detritus, urine, etc…
But the main reason to go to L.S. is for the food, namely the Pho Restaraunts.
pho.jpg
For all of you wondering what type of sauce is in the green capped bottle in front of Justin, that is called Shiracha and is arguably as versatile a condiment as ketchup is. Now look at the bowl in the bottom of the frame. This is the infamous bowl of Pho (no. 10), the prime suspect for causing my bout of projectile vomiting and diarrhea on Christmas Eve. However, I like the pho so much that I plan on eating it again on my next visit. After all, whats a little projectile vomit and diarrhea now and again. A fair trade-off for eating great food, I say.
Pho is not a complicated dish, and that’s one of the reasons why it tastes so good. Its a simple rice noodle soup with a light beef broth, some meat, and assorted vegetables and herbs. I have eaten pho in Japan, Santa Barbara, Seattle, and other random places, but the best pho I have eaten so far is in Little Saigon.
Pho should be eaten with an order of cha gio and a glass full Vietnamese style iced coffee.
chagiao.jpg If your cha gio arrive cold, with old vegetables and no fish sauce, you should be very worried. If they come still sputtering out steam with ample freshly washed vegetables and a bowl full of fish sauce, be prepared to cry (from burning your tongue AND from the sublime flavors that your olfactory system will eventually register after the pain fades away).
The egg rolls above are known as cha gio. The filling is usually seasoned pork and rice vermicelli. They taste great by themselves, but the taste awesome if you wrap them in a fresh leaf of lettuce, along with some Vietnamese pickled daikon and carrot slices, and dip them in the nuoc mam (badass stinky fish sauce- don’t be scared!). Eat them right when they come out of the frier if possible, when they are still capable of causing third degree burns. Bite off a piece and use the lettuce to shield your tongue from the intense heat as you inhale and exhale rapidly in an attempt to cool down the morsel. Trust me on this. A Vietnamese meal would not be complete without a cup of Vietnamese coffee. The coffee comes dripping from a cheap metal aparatus, into a small mug holding a generous amount of condensed milk. By the time you are half-way finished with your meal, the coffee should be completely filtered and ready to pour into the ice-filled cup.. I love this coffee because it is as thick as a cappuccino, and creamy and sweet due to the condensed milk. Iced coffee is the only way to go, and the caffeine counter-balances the urge to siesta.
There are many other mysterious, often delicious foods to be eaten in Little Saigon. The sandwitches are cheap and kick major ass (picture a sub sandwitch with butter, pate, roasted pork, vietnamese pickled vegetables, jalapenos, and lettuce), the deserts look like they were taken from the set of Star Trek, and their take on French cuisine is truly refreshing.
So if you do end up coming to Orange County, don’t wuss out and go to El Torito, Applebees, or P.F. Chang’s after spending all of your time and money at Disneyland. Go to the beach instead and after that get your ass down to Little Saigon, experience an adrenaline rush from almost getting into an accident, and enjoy some truly interesting and delicious food!
As for pronouncing Vietnamese words, good luck. I just point at the pictures in the menu and ask for things politely in English. This may be unfounded, but I get the feeling that these dudes are more likely to spit in your food if they think that you are a prick. At least they’re not sneaky about it, like the clowns over at El Torrito.

Yet More News Of Spam

The largest Spam musubi in world history will be rolled in Hawaii later this April. Apparently, the Spam Jam restaraunt has successfully branched out into an official chain. It’s now only a matter of time before it arrives in the continental U.S., and it becomes another trendy “ethnic food”. Now is probably a good time to buy stock in Hormel.
All of this recent talk and news of spam has made me decide to pop open the one can that I have in reserve next week to make kimchee and mayonaisse spam musubi. Ah, good food puts me in the best moods. I think that most people really like food, but I’m beginning to suspect that I like food more than most people do…
Other favorite highly processed meat-based products:
Farmer John’s sausages (in both link and patty form)- It is mandatory to use the sausages to scrape up the yolk of a busted sunnyside up egg, picking up some of the fried egg whites on their way into your mouth. Tastes even better when you add the crunch of hot, buttered toast to the mouthful of goodness.
Bologna and bologna-like cold cuts except for head cheese or any other loaf in the “just plain nasty” category (like this for example)- fried with eggs and served on a steaming pile of rice (with gravy sounds awesome- yet to be attempted, but sure to be delicious).
Hot dogs– preferably grilled over a bonfire while listening to oldies and watching the sun set with family and friends in Huntington Beach. Necessary condiments include ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, sweet relish, cheddar cheese, and scalding hot chili. And what the hell, a little sand adds to the sentimental flavor.
Costco hot dogs– this gets its own listing because Costco hotdogs (traditionally Hebrew National, but also some other kosher brand called something like Sinai hotdogs or Westbank wieners or something) come with a refillable cup- something that is really special to one who has been living in Japan for so long- and also because it was often the last course that we ate when we had college brunch of free samples on Saturday afternoons in college. Yes, one of the secrets of streching that all mighty buck when eating out was taking advantage of free condiments, particularly those which were unsupervised and offered inexhaustible supplies. Take note, young ones.
Braunschweiger– its not only delicious, but its also just plain fun to say! I think that the only way to eat this is on hot toast. This is one of the very few liver dishes that I enjoy eating. The only other liver that I like is horse liver- when served extremely fresh and cold, with some sesame oil and shoyu, it is one of the more surprisingly good types of sashimi that I have yet encountered.
BTW, you can look up all of the meat products that I have listed on this page, if you are interested in seeing what they are made of. I took a good, long look at how much fat and sodium all of them contain, and I can’t really say that it had any effect on my appetite whatsoever. I will continue to eat beef despite BSE (although not American as of late), and I will continue to eat poultry products despite the avian flu situation (cooking it makes it safe, or so I am hoping). Making bad choices despite being informed. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but it won’t make any difference unless you ACT upon it. Time for a big fat bologna sandwitch!

Jelly-Coated Meatloaf

Heh, a restaraunt that specializes in Spam based dishes opened in the Phillipines last year and is doing some kick-ass business. I wonder how my fellow Japanese living in Kumamoto would react to Spam musubi… I think that I will sneak some thinly sliced slabs of Spam in to my next enkai (drinking party) and change them out with the basashi. I am willing to bet that small browned slices of Spam will taste pretty good when coupled with onions that are cut paper-thin, a leaf of shiso, and some thick shoyu.
Why is spam so reviled in the continental U.S. and so celebrated by Asians? I wonder what Europeans make of spam- do Norwegians celebrate spam like their Viking forefathers did? In any case, the reason why I don’t eat spam on a regular basis isn’t because I don’t like it. I just think the price of spam is a bit too high, and I only like to eat a little spam at a time. One thing that really creeps me out about spam, though, is the jelly that helps the loaf to ooze out of the can- watching the loaf work its way out of the canal somehow brings to mind nature documentary footage of wild animals giving birth. After that, I cannot help but feeling a little bit like Kronos eating his young Titan children.

Penonpen Ramen

phnompenhramen.jpg
“Penonpen Ramen… Penonpen… Hmmmm.” I pondered the katakana as we sat at a small ramen-ya hidden next to Hita’s giant koban and in back of a huge pachinko parlor. “Penonpen, penonpen, penonpen.”. And then it popped into my head. “Is Penonpen ramen named after a place?” I asked. “Yes, it’s the capital of Cambodia” Tomohiro answered.
Tomohiro had drove me and Jaime 2 hours, stopping to sightsee along the way, with this particular ramen-ya as the main point of the daytrip. I have always had great adventures in the company of those who enjoy questing for great food while questing for great food (Kohei is the undisputed master, and everyone in my family is rather adept as well). Food is the only religion which I regularly and piously subscribe to, and there are many gods (this is a topic that would take up multiple posts to fully cover, and so I will stop here and hopefully remember to pick up on this thread later) whom I worship.
Yes, in a small, intimate, professionally run ramen-ya, not unlike the one in the movie Tampopo, I experienced Phnom Penh ramen for the first time. This place (Called Sato ramen-ya if you happen to be in Hita city in Oita-ken) had a great variety of ramen, including shio, shoyu, miso, tonkotsu, and Okinawan style to name a few. Phnom Penh ramen was vaguely “Italian” flavored because of the ingredients in the broth:
Chunks of stewed tomatoes
Celery
Bok Choi
Squid
Pork
Shoyu
I was a bit skeptical whether I would like this type of ramen (my favorite being a good Kyushu style tonkotsu) because it was so loaded with vegetables, but the more I ate, the more delicious it became. The broth also made a slammin’ okayu when poured on top of rice. The fried chicken cartilidge (I forget what this is called in Japanese- honyarara karage or something like that) was also very delicious.
Other notable things about yesterday:
Woke up with no hangover, despite drinking too much on Tuesday night.
Went to Kuju Resort with the intent to snowboard, took one look and changed my mind. Saw steam over the ridge, and went to Kuju’s jigoku (hell).
After jigoku, spontaneously embarked on said ramen eating expedition.
Took many pictures with sad, unmaintained manga statues along the way.
After lunch at the Sato ramen-ya, took a walk through old Hita looking at traditional crafts and trying to fend off numerous free samples of miso, ume, shiitake-cha, etc…
Took an onsen at Kurokawa.
Ate amazing tabehodai yakiniku (all you can eat barbecue) at the joint at the bottom of Takimurozaka.
Woke up today still full from last night.
Yesterday, I spent a whole day eating, sightseeing, and relaxing and it was really, really good.

Top 8 Burgers:

1. Chorizo Bacon Avocado Teriyaki Cheese Burger- home-made, thus perfection (note- there is NO chorizo in Kumamoto)
2. Double tri-tip cheese burger- eaten after bungee jumping with Kohei in the LBC. The juciest, most delicious pure-beef burger ever. EVER!!!
3. Double Kingburger with everything on it and all add-ons: cheese, bacon, chili, ranch dressing, and an egg. While eating one of these, you can actually feel yourself getting fatter- Fat Burger, Los Angeles
4. Masa’s Deluxe- Masa’s Diner, Kumamoto City.
5. Dick’s Deluxe- This company is pretty cool because they help out their workers with their college tuition, according to Mika. Dick’s Burgers, Seattle
6. Double Double with Cheese and Grilled Onions “animal style”- In-N-Out (btw, whoever is using the In-N-Out sign in Japan for the Joyfull clone restaraunts should be repeatedly kicked in the nuts, several times a day. Sick bastard!!!)
7. Tommy’s cheeseburger with chili fries – Fountain Valley, Ca. Straight up arterial schlerosis.
8. Teriyaki avocado bacon cheese burger- Fuji Burger, Huntington Beach, Ca. This place reminds me of Hawaii, like the Loft, but more of that greasy authenticity.

My Kumamoto Big Kahuna Burger

MASA’S SUPER-DELUXE
pic_0517[1].jpg
This burger was two huge patties of real beef (no pork, breadcrumbs, or any other bullshit),cheddar cheese, bacon, tomato, onion, lettuce, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup on a grilled bun. It was IMPOSSIBLE to take a real bite out of this burger, so I had to split it in half and eat it openfaced. It was one badass burger.
I had just about lost all hope of finding a good burger in Kumamoto City, until last Thursday. I went out with a couple of friends after our JET meeting to Masa’s Diner. The diner kicked ass for several reasons:
1. Good food- the Super-Deluxe was too big for me to finish, and I was starving! In addition, they have locomoco, steak fries, onion rings, chili dogs, and many other truly American classics to try. Bonus for Heinz 57 in glass bottles at every table.
2. Beer from the WC
pic_0516[1].jpg
Good drinks- this place has Red Hook ESB and Steelhead(reminiscent of Sierra Nevada Ale) beer. It also has Dr. Pepper and Dad’s rootbeer, both of which are hard to find in Kyushu.
3. Its big. It really is. There is room to walk around and to stretch after a gut-busting meal.
4. The staff. The owner, Masa, is really tall for a Japanese man, and he speaks English. This man knows good food. Also, the waitresses are cute, although they do not speak English.
So if you are in Kumamoto and you are tired of eating fish, raw horse, grilled pig intestine, lotus root stuffed with spicy mustard, nato, and all of that other stuff, drop in on Masa’s and you will not be disappointed. (Tel 096-352-3118)
If you want good Mexican go to Plaza del Sol (they have real Mexican cooks who have the ganas to make excellent comida).
If you are in southern Aso, check out the Strong Boss. They make a decent burger, and other good food, but the real reason to go is for the atmosphere. Its a biker bar the way you would imagine one to be, in Disneyland. There are no fights and no drugs, and the patrons of the bar won’t make you dance to “Tequila” on the table if you knock over their bikes (but they would probably kick your ass as you pointed to the “no fighting” sign).
But remember to enjoy the food that Kyushu is best at making:
Tonkotsu Ramen
pic_0504[1].jpg