Homemade Umeshu with Don Papa Rum

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Last weekend, a client told me about how she recently made her own umeshu (plum wine). It seemed pretty easy make, and it’s now the season for ume (plums), so I figured I should give it a go.

Around this time of the year, most supermarkets have a section with all the materials and ingredients needed to make umeshu. The stuff you see above (minus the rum), were actually all on the same aisle. Very convenient.

The only thing I didn’t get from the supermarket was the alcohol that people usually use for plum wine, which is this:

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Why not? Well, because I had a better idea. I was going to make it with rum! And not just any rum, but Don Papa Rum. Check out the reviews.

Now before actually buying the ingredients, I wanted to be absolutely sure that it was fine to use rum to make umeshu.

Googled it. Read it was okay. Great! Went to the grocery and bought all the stuff you see on the photo at the top of the post.

Okay, I’ll post the picture again here…

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That’s a 5 liter jar, a 1 liter bag of ume, a bottle of Don Papa Rum, and rock sugar. The ume, as you can see, aren’t all exactly green anymore. But that’s alright. I read that it was all good.

Making it is fairly simple. You put in a layer of ume, then a layer of sugar, then repeat till you run out of plums. After that you pour in the alcohol.

I ran into a bit of a problem though. The rum wasn’t enough. I needed the rum to cover the topmost layer of plums. And so it was with a heavy heart that I had to sacrifice my other bottle of rum, which was actually a more expensive one. It was a bottle of Don Papa Rum 10 years.

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A sad day indeed. Just look at how awesome that bottle looks!

So, I poured the rum into the jar. Luckily, it was exactly the amount I needed.

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And now all I have to do is wait! You need to let it sit for at least 3 months before you can drink it. The best time to drink it is after 2 years, but who the hell can wait that long, right? I’m going to bust this open after 3 months and just have a shot of it now and then.

In the meantime, it’ll be sitting under the kitchen sink…

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Green Tea Beer (Matcha Beer)

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Quick post!

This is “Japanese Green Tea with Fresh Beer”, or Matcha Beer (抹茶ビール). Had dinner and a couple of drinks with an old friend who just moved to Tokyo. We were at a small restaurant in Tokyo station called Japanese Wine Kitchen Tika Tika (国産ワインキッチン Tikatika), saw this on the menu…

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…and ordered it. Because weird.

Fresh beer? As opposed to old beer? Actually, that’s probably just the wrong translation for what should have been “Draft Beer”

It looks like this when served:

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Then you stir the drink and it’ll look like the the odd green brew on the top of this post.

It’s basically just local beer mixed with some green tea powder/leaves concoction. Not terrible, not that good either. Just a novelty drink you try once and likely never order again.

Sorry for the picture quality. I was using an old smartphone in low light.

A Night Out at Kabukicho – Tokyo’s Red Light District

 

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First of all, we didn’t do go to any stripclubs or any places like that, so if you’re here to look for some racy stories, then sorry, you’ll be disappointed. My friend and I had a (mostly) wholesome night in Kabukicho. Although the area is known as a red light district, it does offer a lot of non-sex related activities.

Kabukicho, a district of Shinjuku, is one of my favorite places in Tokyo. This is the only place in that Japan that feels a little dangerous, and I like having a bit of danger in my life. Puts a little excitement in my boring life. But take note that I said it “feels” dangerous because in reality, it isn’t. Unless you do something stupid or go into the more suspicious looking dens of entertainment. This is, after all, yakuza and triad territory.

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Kabukicho sign at the entrance of the district

There’s an interesting audio tour (in English) you can buy that takes you around Kabukicho. Through the tour, I learned that the area is called Kabukicho because one of the first mayors of that district actually wanted to turn it into a center for culture and the arts. Kabukicho, or in Japanese, 歌舞伎町, is basically made up of two words… Kabuki (歌舞伎), a form of Japanese theater, and Cho(町), which means district or city. To his chagrin, his plan never really worked out and today it is still a place known for strip clubs, love hotels, and the Japanese mafia. But as I mentioned, there are some areas that are pretty wholesome. There’s a bowling alley, a batting center, arcades, a movie theater, and other family-oriented recreational establishments.

A friend of mine visited Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, and I took him to Kabukicho to go drinking. We first dropped by Wataminchi (わたみん家), a well-known chain of izakaya (Japanese pubs). They had 90-minute all-you-can drink for only 800 yen, which is dirt cheap. That’s why that place was our first stop.

The next joint we visited was another izakaya called Kabaya (九州料理かば屋), which serves dishes and drinks from Kyushu. I wanted my friend to try raw horse, or basashi (馬刺し). There’s a prefecture in Kyushu called Kumamoto (which was hit by a major earthquake a few weeks ago), and they’re known for good basashi among other things. However, I wouldn’t come here to try it. It wasn’t that good, the slices were very thin, and it was quite expensive.


If you’re a guy walking around Kabukicho at night, there is no escape from the dozens of men standing around trying to get people to watch a peepshop or visit a whorehouse. I’ve been here several times and am quite used to it. Usually I just smile and say “No thanks” and that’d be the end of it. Occasionally though you’ll get people who just won’t give up.

That night we had some very interesting encounters with these guys.

The first was an old Japanese lady, who was maybe in her 70s. She looked like an ordinary sweet-looking elderly woman… only she was trying to pimp her girls to us. Wow.

Next was an African guy who followed us for an entire block trying to convince us to go check out his girls. I tried to make a joke and said “Sorry, but my friend is a good Christian”, and to this he stopped in his tracks, looked at me with a confused/offended look on his face and said “I’m a Christian too!” He then continued with, “There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun!”

Finally there was a Japanese dude who approached us and said just one word.

“SEX”

Well, that was pretty direct, I thought. It wasn’t even a question. He just looked at us, emotionless, and said “SEX”. We replied, “No thanks”, and respecting our decision, he turned around and walked away.


Before I go, here’s a random picture from Golden-gai, a section of Kabukicho with lots of tiny 5 to 6-seat bars famous for being visited by artists, especially from the movie world. They say Quentin Tarantino frequents the place when he’s in Japan.

Incidentally, there was a fire here the very next day. It wasn’t us.

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“Life is a bitch, but I love bitch and bitch love me” – words to live be.

This is the door to a bar in Golden-gai. I can’t tell if the name of the bar is Love & Peace Bar or Mother Fucker.

B by B: Fancy-Pants Cafe in Ginza

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Not my picture. From the “B by B” website: bbyb.jp

I’m not really a cafe kind of guy. First of all, I can’t drink coffee. It gives me a stomachache. And generally, I avoid spending money whenever possible (i.e. I’m cheap (or poor?)), so even if I wanted some tea, for example, I’d just have some at home.

However, today I was with my girlfriend, and since we hardly see each other these days I figured we should go to nice places and eat nice things. One of those places we went to was the chocolate shop and cafe called “B by B” in the Ginza district, on a backstreet behind the Apple Store. They sell chocolates made by Michelin-star chef Bart Desmidt and master chocolatier Jan Verleye, though honestly I had never heard of them before as I’m not really in-the-know with regard to the world of gastronomy.

I saw this cafe on TV a year ago and had been planning to take my girlfriend there, but never had the chance until today. The cafe, which was at the back of the store, was smaller than I thought it would be. There were basically only about 6-ish seats. That picture you see above, that’s almost the entire cafe.

The main thing I wanted to try at B by B was this heavenly-looking dessert called Babelutte Ice Cream (900 yen, or roughly $8.50):

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Babelutte Ice Cream (picture from bbyb.jp)

The presentation is amazing. Like you see in the picture, two scoops of ice cream are in a glass container with a flat piece of chocolate on top, and then warm chocolate is poured over it until it melts and drips onto the ice cream. Below is a video my girlfriend took of how it’s served:

Pretty fancy-schmancy, eh? With matching fancy-schmancy music to boot. Yet all this fanciness would have been for naught if it were not delicious, so it is very fortunate that the Babelutte Ice Cream was actually really really good!

I’m sorry, I’m not a food critic. “Really really good” is all I got for ya.

With that wonderful treat we also ordered some Flemish Waffles (700 yen, or about $6.50) which are basically stroopwafel, but instead of the regular syrup used in stroopwafel, it’s filled with babelutte. And if you’re wondering what babelutte is, it’s apparently a kind of caramel.

No one was at the cafe when we were there. It doesn’t seem to be very popular, unfortunately. It is a pretty expensive place though, so I suppose the store usually doesn’t get a lot of customers.

There were still a couple other items on the menu I’d like to try. I think I’ll be back.

Nihonshu ( Japanese Sake) Kit Kat

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Last month, Nestle launched the Nihonshu (or “sake”) Kit Kat, and I saw it making the rounds on social media.

This and other exotic Kit Kat flavors are actually quite hard to find. Green tea is probably the only one that is easily available at convenience stores and supermarkets. To find the more interesting ones, your best bet is the airport or souvenir shops, or at a certain store in Ueno that specializes in Japanese snacks and candy called Nikinokashi (二木の菓子). It’s a big store located in a popular district in Ueno known as Ameyoko, a market town and one of very few places where you can haggle with shopkeepers in Tokyo.

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Ameyoko – I took this photo about three and a half years ago

Anyway, back to the Kit Kat…

So I was at Ameyoko last week (Actually, I go to Ameyoko every week. That’s where I do some of my grocery shopping) and found it at Nikinokashi. The box contains only 9 individually-wrapped “mini” Kit Kat bars. It’s a pretty big box for very little Kit Kat. The packaging is just for show, and kind of makes you think there’s a bottle inside it. Since it’s a big box anyway, I wonder why they decided on putting in just 9 bars instead of 10. It’s not like you couldn’t fit another one in there.

Here’s the packaging of one bar:

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This is how it looks undressed. It’s white, of course, to match the image of nihonshu:

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And finally, how it looks when cut in half. It basically looks like a white chocolate Kit Kat:

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The box says that it contains 0.8% alcohol. You’re going to have to eat several boxes full of this stuff to get drunk on it.

As for the taste, it really does taste like nihonshu! I can’t quite tell if the nihonshu flavor comes from the chocolate or the wafer (or both), but essentially it tastes like chocolate with nihonshu… which I actually don’t really like. It’s not bad, but I’m not into chocolates with alcohol.

I’m glad I picked it up though because today when I dropped by to do some groceries, they were sold out.

 

 

 

 

The BEST Sushi You’ve (Probably) Never Tried Before

THIS is what you’ve been looking for all your life:

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Picture from http://obokaza.exblog.jp/i4/

We call this culinary masterpiece “ABURI ENGAWA” (炙りえんがわ).

Seriously, if you haven’t tried it, you are missing out massively.

What is it exactly?

Aburi is a way of preparing sushi in which the fish/seafood is burned slightly with a cooking torch, like the one they use for making Creme Brûlée.

Engawa is, according to Sushi Encyclopedia, “the thin muscle of the dorsal fin which is located on the side of the Halibut.” The article also says that engawa has a higher fat content compared to the rest of the fish. (Which is probably why it’s so damn good.)

Here’s how halibut/flounder looks like before the journey into your mouth. They’re not pretty:

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“Paralichthys-olivaceus-Federal-Way-3583” by User: Vmenkov – Own work (Own photo). Licensed under CC BY -SA 3.0 via Commons

This isn’t the only sushi that can be done “aburi” style. One popular sushi that can be served “aburi” is salmon. It’s pretty good, too!

What’s it taste like?

When the fish meat is lightly torched, the fat from the fish comes out, giving it a soft, juicy texture, and a somewhat buttery taste. It’s absolutely fantastic!

I’m not really great at explaining how food is like, but trust me, you HAVE to try it.

BONUS: Most Popular Types of Sushi in Japan and the US

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Infographic by ilovecoffee.jp

No love for aburi engawa on that list. How sad.

Tsunagu Japan has a list of the “20 most common types of sushi in Japan”, but engawa is also nowhere in sight.

I haven’t really seen a lot of info online (in English) about this wonderful dish, so I’m thinking it probably isn’t that popular among foreigners. And if that’s the case, well, that has got to change!


Pro Tip 1: Don’t order just engawa. Make sure to order ABURI engawaRegular engawa sushi is the standard option, but the aburi version is a completely different (and far more superior) experience. Fo sho.

Pro Tip 2: Sometimes you might see “engawa” on the menu, but you don’t see “aburi engawa“. Fear not. Any decent sushi place should be able to “aburi-fy” the fish. Just order it!

Pro Tip 3: Please, please, please… do NOT go to a cheap conveyor belt sushi place. Go to a REAL sushi place. On a budget? Try Sushizanmai. Yes, it’s not the cheapest, but they have reasonable prices compared to other sushi restaurants. Plus they have great service, good quality food, and English menus, too.

 

Japanese hangover remedies

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Passed out at Nippori Station on a Friday night.

Well, I guess this is kind of late being it’s already January 2nd. Right now, you’ve either already gotten over your hangover, or you’re in the hospital recovering from alcohol poisoning. Still, thought it might be interesting to write about.

These aren’t “traditional” remedies. I actually don’t know of any. And except for the second one, they’re more for hangover prevention.

UKON NO CHIKARA (ウコンの力)

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I actually have one of these in my refrigerator.

I found out about this years ago through TV. I don’t see that many ads anymore, but they used to show commercials all the time. “Ukon no Chikara” in English means “Turmeric power”. As you can probably tell, the active ingredient here is turmeric.

You’re supposed to take this about an hour to 30 minutes before going drinking, and doing so supposedly protects your liver from some of the damage, which somehow helps prevent hangovers. Or something like that.

Most Japanese people I’ve talked to about this say it doesn’t really work.

SHIJIMI JIRU (しじみ汁)

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This is the instant version, but of course this can also be homemade.

A couple of Japanese guys I know swear by this. “Shijimi jiu” is clam soup, though specifically this is miso soup with clams. You take this after drinking. When the drinking party is done, folks go to a convenience store to pick this up.

My friends say that clam soup wakes you up and reduces the effects of hangovers. I can see how it can wake someone up… it has a pretty strong flavor. Not sure though about how it is effective for hangovers.

HEPARIZE (ヘパリーゼ)

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Liver extract! Yum yum!

This I just discovered a few months ago. I was asking someone if he takes Ukon no Chikara before drinking. He said that Ukon doesn’t work for him, but what he finds really effective is Heparize.

Like Ukon, you take this before drinking. The idea is similar: it helps protect your liver from the alcohol binging you are about to engage in. The active ingredient is “liver hydrolysate”, which seems to be some kind of liver extract. So yeah, I guess you’re drinking liver juice!

I’m not quite sure what Heparize means. I guess “hepa” comes from liver, but I don’t know what “rize” stands for.

Here’s a commercial of the “sparkling” (carbonated) version of Heparize:

I don’t really drink that often, and when I do, I make sure to stop before getting plastered, so I don’t find the need to take any of these. If you’re in town and plan to get wasted, you might want to give these a go. They’re all readily available at any convenience store in Japan.