LUNCH

I will miss trying different foods. Tokyo is for the bold, in this case squid – with a little mushroom.

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I am quickly approaching the point where I will try anything. As my wife always taught, you have to try something 3 times before you are allowed to say you do not like it.

They were good, although I liked the tuna better.

UNHEALTHY

I was in North America for a few hours recently and I grabbed a quick bite in a food court – avoiding the fast food chains (which is really hard) and getting a scratch made sandwich. I walked down the drink aisle and found it depressing. Pop, a few vitamin waters, high sugar energy drinks – a wasteland of unhealthy drinks and obesity in a bottle.

Just so different to Japan where it is pretty clear that the vending machines are one of those secrets to long life and a low BMI.

Compare.

A North American drink shelf.

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Now Japan. In the country with a vending machine for every 13 people, the diversity is amazing. Coffees, green teas, hot – cold, jasmine tea, sparking water (in many flavors), flavored waters sweetened and unsweetened, this grape drink with aloe cubes and everything in between.

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Sure, you can buy a pop (I still love a cold Coke) or a different fizzy drink, but it makes up a very small percentage of the vending machine real estate.

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Lattes, vitamin C, milk tea, fiber drinks …

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This is a pretty common sight, 4 or 5 vending machines in a row. They are everywhere.

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Here is my current favorite drink, the “Green Shower”. It is humulus lupulus sparkling water – and has an herbal taste to it.

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For those of you who do not know what Humulus Lupulus is (I certainly did not):

Humulus lupulus (common hop or hop) is a species of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family, native to Europe, western Asia and North America. It is a dioecious, perennial, herbaceous climbing plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to a cold-hardy rhizome in autumn. Strictly speaking it is a bine rather than a vine, using its own shoots to act as supports for new growth.

Who are the companies that make all of those healthy, amazing Japanese drinks? Ironically, the same ones that delivery very little choice in North America. Or perhaps, they are delivering what the market wants – which is too bad.

AFTER DINNER SEEDS, INDIA

I had never experienced this before; the tradition of an after meal palate cleanse.

At our first (and probably best) lunch during our stay in India they brought out this serving set filled with rock candy, anise seeds and fennel. Mix them in your hand and pop in your mouth.

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Surprisingly refreshing and a wonderful tradition.

It must be said, the food in India was spectacular. I miss it very much. The problem is that as tourists we had to be incredibly careful. Their food has microbes and spices that we simply are not use to resulting in the infamous Delhi Belly, which we did not avoid even though our guide did everything he could to ensure we ate at respectable restaurants.

We so desperately wanted to try to the street drinks and foods, but refrained.

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SAKE

Narda has been taking cooking courses in Japan and become friends with a sake expert.

Personally, unlike many Japan expats who embrace the “after work” culture, alcohol does not make up a big part of our lives. But I have started to really enjoy sake and sparkling sake, especially during the 40C Tokyo summer.

A favourite is an all natural sparkling sake, Suzune Sparkling Sake, best described in this review:

Several years ago in Japan, I tasted a sparkling sake. At the time I was saying to my dinner partner who happens to be an owner of a sake brewery that I thought sparkling sakes were sort of like wine coolers – a novelty to get people to drink sake. Well, I wasn’t far off base, as I will touch upon in a second. The first sip of Ichinokura’s “Suzune” was an eye-opening experience. I was completely taken aback by the refreshingly light and flavorful sake. What impressed me most was the fact that it was very “Champagne” like but in an honest to goodness sake sense. It was so unique that I found myself trying as many sparkling sakes as possible on that trip and subsequent visits. I immediately approached my exporting contacts in Japan and urged them to start sending sparkling sakes to the US, because I felt that they would speak to a large portion of established and new sake drinkers.

The problem is that Suzune is a limited run and many sakes do not have the same shelf life as wine. In Japan you can pick it up at Meida-ya (A higher end grocery store) for Y750 or Amazon.jp, and if you are lucky, you can find it in North America for about 4X that cost.

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We will enjoy it while we are here.

A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

If you like pineapple, this kitchen gadget works great. I am surprised. Seriously – great. End of message :)

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SUSHI IN JAPAN

 

Tokyo is filled with great restaurants, the most Michelin stars in the world. But it isn’t all about expensive places, there are amazing small restaurants for all budgets and as the Japanese BMI demonstrates, very few western style fast food places.

I took a couple quick snaps of my favourite “fast food” take-out sushi place near Hiroo station. Great prices (I think it might be lower cost than North America) and super fresh.

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Y380 for 4 pieces maguro (tuna). I could eat sushi everyday.

IT IS ABOUT THE COFFEE

 

I am a big coffee fan. Not really the Starbucks kind, more of the ‘hanging out at home using my machine’ kind.

Last week I made a big upgrade purchase – a Jura C9 – as my old Jura (circa 2007) has a UK power supply and when we move, I am not sure I can jerry-rig a solution. My impression? Amazing. I bought my first Jura for the automatic milk frother. Personally, I find frothing milk an arduous task that rarely turns our right and I am not about to get a part-time job at Starbucks so that I can learn to do it the right way on their $20,000 machine.

Not so with a Jura, it is a no brainer. Place the tube into a milk container, turn the dial and voila – a perfectly made cappuccino. The C9 takes it a step further; simply press the button and it froths the milk and then drops in the shot of espresso, following it up with an automatic clean cycle. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

Along the way I came across another find – Bodum double walled glasses. The issue with a traditional coffee mug is that the porcelain absorbs the heat from the coffee – cooling it quickly. The new double wall mugs keep the heat just like a thermos – no loss from a cold hand or from the side wall materials. I bought the espresso and the Pavina glasses/mugs – a cappuccino through a clear glass mug looks fantastic.

Now, where is that guilty pleasure – the Guardian – lying? (smile)

A COUPLE ENGLISH FAVORITES

 

The summer has finally arrived in Canada and 30C weather is here this week. We are not big drinkers at home, but when the summer hits I admit that we do have a few favourites; a good German Riesling and two distinctly English favourites:

  • The first is PIMM’s. Distinctly English and enjoyed at a good polo match, the race track or by the pool. My first lessons with PIMM’s is that you must follow the recipe or it will turn out too ‘syrupy’ and that to the English – lemonade is 7UP or Sprite. I prefer a good sparkling lemonade, it isn’t quite as sweet. We have 6 pots with herbs and one has 4 types of mint in it, so I am prepared for the summer.

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  • The second is a good G&T. And not all G&T’s are the same. While in England, I came across a Scottish gin (I know, it seems odd) while out shopping one Saturday. As only the English do, the store manager was running a tasting of Hendrick’s. Nothing like a small G&T at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. After one taste, I was hooked (and have converted a few friends in the process). The only problem was that in Canada there is only one type of tonic – Schweppes, which is just too sweet for me. I finally found the tonic that I use to find in Waitrose at the local health food store, Fever Tree. Natural, not sugared to death and a perfect match for a unique gin that is not for everyone .. especially when you ask the tender to ensure that it is garnished with a cucumber.

Let the summer begin.

SKINOS

 

While in Crete a while back (quite a while now) we stayed in a little fishing village, and enjoyed the coast. While at dinner one night the waiter offered us an after dinner drink. Not the local Raki (which is pretty hard to digest), and not the customary Greek ouzo. It was called Mastiha and came from a local tree. Very unique tasting and one I really enjoyed (I am not one to drink very often).

Mastiha starts as a semi-transparent sap from lentisk trees (actually evergreen bushes) found only in certain areas of the Greek island of Chios. As resinous granules, it was the original chewing gum, and the name "mastiha" is the root word of "masticate," meaning "to chew."

At the market, look for "mastiha," "mastihi," or "mastic tears" and it might also be available in powdered form.

Mastiha is used as a spice in sweets and cooking, as a flavoring for liqueurs, and in soap-making, cosmetics, and toothpaste, among others. Recent evidence of its positive effect on ulcers has resulted in a boom in purchases by large pharmaceutical companies.

Before we left I stopped at the local liquor store but could not find it. In fact, since then I have been unable to find it despite inquiring at the local speciality spirits shop while in the UK or in Canada, until now. Last week when I happened across it in the LCBO.

A Greek company has revived the mass appeal and is spreading the drink around the world under the brand Skinos, and it is exactly as I remember it. Enjoy.

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