This post is long and picture heavy, so you might want to get yourself a little snack and a beverage and go to the bathroom and everything. It also has gratuitous photos of raw fish, so avert your eyes if you’re squeamish about that kind of thing.
As I mentioned before, Mister Principessa and I visited the Japanese market this weekend. There are a couple of major Japanese market chains here in southern California: Mitsuwa and Marukai. We’ve been to both several times, and we’re partial to Marukai, mostly because they take their grocery selection REALLY seriously. Mitsuwa has Japanese groceries too, but they dedicate a lot of space to other stuff–books, pop culture-y items, gifts. It’s almost like a Japanese mini-mall that just happens to sell groceries.
Marukai, on the other hand, is like a huge Japanese grocery store with other stuff (electronics, ceramics, kitchen gadgets) around the perimeter. We’re lucky to live within half an hour or so of what we call “The Big Marukai,” which is to say, the two-story one in Gardena. It’s really massive, and it has TONS of groceries–mostly Japanese, but some Hawaiian goods as well.
All that selection can be kind of intimidating, particularly if you’re a white girl who doesn’t speak or read Japanese and isn’t familiar with Japanese food beyond Pocky and Kasugai Gummy Candy. So I thought I’d do a post about my favorite Japanese foods. I hadn’t tried ANY of this stuff prior to hooking up with the Mister way back in 2004. But I’m pretty open-minded about food, so I tried anything he recommended, and now I love lots of different Japanese foods. (Not natto. Tried it, thought it tasted like soggy coffee beans injected with cigarette smoke, rabbit poo, and evil, and opted not to try it again.)
Pretty much my favorite Japanese meal in the universe is sashimi. And luckily, it’s also one of the easiest to put together. I’ve read that Japanese food is “the original slow food,” but not sashimi. Making sashimi goes like this:
Step one: Buy raw fish.
Step two: Slice.
Step three: Eat.
Sashimi’s one drawback is the price. You can’t eat just any old fish raw; you need sashimi-quality fish, and it ain’t cheap. The Mister is partial to salmon, which is usually pretty reasonably priced, as you can see by the “per pound” price here:
My favorite, on the other hand, is bluefin chutoro. Toro is the general term for the the fish’s fatty underbelly; otoro is the fattiest and most highly prized cut, and chutoro is the next grade down. Toro has an incredible, melt-in-your-mouth texture and, as you might have guessed, is priced accordingly:
In my defense, I would like to note that this amount of fish is plenty for two meals. So, the price here came out to be just about $10 a meal, which is totally reasonable, considering the price of bluefin toro in sushi restaurants.
Here’s how complicated it is to prepare sashimi:
Easy! Also: YUM.
One of our favorite sashimi accompaniments is tamago, a sweetened, rolled omelette that you may have had in sushi form–that is to say, with a hunk of rice attached to it. There are a lot of ins and outs and what-have-yous when it comes to sushi terminology, but it’s probably sufficient to know that nigiri sushi is the kind with rice on the bottom and sashimi is raw fish served by itself. We eat tamago sashimi-style, in slices. You can probably find tamago pre-made at your local Japanese market, but the Mister likes to do things the hard way–I mean, “the right way”–and make it by hand.
He also really likes it when I take pictures of him and threaten to post them on the Internet.
So that pretty much covers our main course. We usually have a few little side dishes with sashimi too, such as kamaboko.
Kamaboko is a steamed or fried fish cake. If you’ve ever had Japanese soup and it had fishy stuff in it that came in half-moon-shaped slices that were white on the inside and pink on the outside and looked like this
I also really like seaweed salad.
The Mister and I used to go to a sushi bar that served us seaweed salad with ika sansai (seasoned squid) in it. So we started preparing it that way at home.
We like to fancy this up with La-Yu chili oil and regular old sesame oil, and sometimes rice vinegar.
It’s also nice to have a few kinds of pickles with sashimi. The Mister’s favorite kind is hari hari zuke, a bright yellow pickle that’s usually made with daikon radish but can also include other kinds of vegetables, such as lotus root.
I myself am partial to pirikara daikon, which is somewhat similar to the yellow pickles in flavor, but saltier and more gingery.
Speaking of which, can’t have sushi or sashimi without pickled ginger!
Beverage-wise, I like to pick up Japanese sodas and vitamin jellys at Marukai.
The Mister generally gets a beverage or two of his own.
That’s sake on the right. He insisted I include this picture so you know that he does, in fact, drink decent alcohol from time to time, not just Natural Light.
And then we eat!
With plenty of steamed white rice on the side, of course.
More Japanese food to come later this week, so stay tuned if you’re into that kinda thing.