Cultural Tastes

Exploring the world of food, culture, and personal experience

Parfait (パフェ)

While ice cream is still ice cream in Japan, you might not have seen a parfait this size before:

Can you eat it all?

This little gem was discovered and enjoyed in a cafe in Fukuoka called Edokko. These places usually target young female groups who have a sweet tooth. For example, this cafe is located in a shopping center in the middle of town.

Of course, you don’t eat all of it yourself. As with Asian eating custom, you share with a group of friends. Each person gets a little spoon and then you dig in! These pitchers cost usually 1500 yen and up (but worth it if you split the cost within the group).

…Then, as you get nearer to the end, the whole thing starts to become an unattractive sticky ordeal…. (and, if you have a good eye, you can see that a Polaroid photo was made of us by the staff to commemorate the occasion, which they put up on their wall of fame)

Well, that was easy!

November 2, 2012 Japanese Foods ,

Schweinsbraten mit Semmelknödel (Roast pork with dumplings)

Germans love pork. According to a recent survey in 2010, Germans eat close to 90kg meat per year, and of that, 54kg is pig meat (in contrast, the recommended total of consumed meat is 15.6kg). I think it’s interesting, because where I come from, Calgary, the city is famous for beef and you can get a steak practically anywhere. In Germany you have to pay a very generous amount to obtain a decent steak dinner.

One of staple pork dishes is Schweinsbraten, or roast pork. Although there are various ways to prepare the sauce, in Bavaria (where I tried my first one), it is commonly a mix of dark beer and meat broth. Celery, carrots, and onions are commonly added. The meat is commonly a cut from the shoulder, neck, back, or hindquarters (in the picture below, the shoulder).

Traditional German

But what’s that beside the meat? I was confused at first. It was explained to me that it is a Semmelknödel, or dumpling. They must be the biggest dumplings ever! They are made of mashed bread, egg, flour, and spices. For North Americans, you would think it’s turkey stuffing shaped into a huge ball. They are rather bland and expand in your stomach. A lot of my friends visiting Germany don’t seem to like them, claiming they dry out your mouth, but I don’t think they’re bad at all. It’s just the shape! Why is it so huge?

The picture was taken at a restaurant in Munich, the Weisses Bräuhaus.

October 30, 2012 German Foods , , , ,

Tonkotsu Ramen (豚骨ラーメン) / Restaurant: Ichiran (一蘭)

Ramen, noodles in soup, is an extremely popular dish both inside and outside of Japan. It is quick to eat, filling, and very tasty, particular if you are drunk. There are ramen stalls all across Japan, open late night, and stereotypically eaten by business men (salarymen as they are known in Japan) on their way back home from work. As you may know, you are expected to slurp up the noodles noisily from your chopsticks (even with the time spent in Japan, I never did learn how to slurp noodles). Today I will introduce Tonkatsu ramen, or pork bone ramen, which is particularly famous where I lived, in Fukuoka. As they originate from that region, they are also called Hakata Ramen.

Not just for overworked businessmen!

Tonkatsu Ramen contains broth made with pork bones and collagen (claiming that it is good for your skin). Because it is broth it is filling and an extremely appropriate dish during cold weather. My favorite ramen place in Fukuoka was Ichiran. It’s a very interesting restaurant. Allow me to explain:

  1. First you stand outside of the restaurant and select and pay for the item you would like from a ticket machine (it’s like a vending machine
  2. Then you wait in line with your party until they have room for you
  3. When they have room they rush you in, yelling, as in standard Japanese practice, that there are new guests here. All the staff will yell their welcome.
  4. You are led past rows of stalls. They are like work cubicles. You sit in one and your companions sit in others. Basically, you can’t see your friends and you are isolated in a stall.
  5. Right in front of your cubicle is a curtain. Behind the curtain is the kitchen. You slip your ticket through the curtain.
  6. The person behind takes it. You can grab water at your personal water fountain in your stall.
  7. After a while, the curtain opens briefly and your food comes in.
  8. The rest of your meal is eaten by yourself in silence. Even if your friends are right beside you (it’s all walled).
  9. If you want more, or refills, you fill in a form, ring the buzzer in your cubicle, and the person behind the curtain will take your order

The first time I went there I thought it was totally bizarre!!!

October 24, 2012 Japanese Foods ,

Rabbit Stew (Estofado de Conejo / Stuffat tal-fenek)

Although not commonly consumed in North America, rabbit is a common dish in Europe, especially Spain, and South America. The dish shown in the picture is one I tried in Malta. It seems that both Spanish and Maltese recipes are quite common- a tomato-based sauce with added vegetables and greens in the stew.

A healthy meat dish

Rabbit is actually one of the healthiest meats one can eat- high in protein and low in fat. See here for a comparison of rabbit meat versus others such as turkey, pork, beef, and chicken. Admittedly, I don’t find rabbit meat so tasty, but a bowl of stew is both delicious and very filling. And definitely a traditional dish you must try in Spain!

October 22, 2012 Spanish Foods , ,

Unagi-don (うな丼)

Unagi-donburi, Unadon for short, or literally ‘eel rice bowl’ in English, is one of the many popular rice dishes in Japan. It consists of a bed of rice topped with grilled eel in tare (a kind of soy sauce), often accompanied on the side with pickled radishes. It is normally served in a beautiful lacquered black and red bowl. This dish is thought to have originated in the 1800s.

When I staying in Fukuoka, I traveled to a small city called Yanagawa that was close by. Yanagawa is full of canals, and people ride through with gondolas (imagine a smaller, more rustic Venice). I took the boat tour on a chilly April day, but it was very nice (to my dismay the dialect here is so strong that any Japanese I could understand flew out the window).

Unadon is normally pretty expensive. I don’t think I’ve paid anything less than $20 in Canada nor 20Euro in Europe for them. Since it’s the signature dish in Yanagawa, I paid something like 2400Yen. But since it’s my favorite Japanese fish dish I would say that it’s worth it!

I used to dislike eel when I was younger (my mom used to boil it whole so that it coiled around the dish and looked extremely worm-like) but after trying Unadon, I recanted. And I also have a better understanding of the tastes of Marshwiggles.

October 18, 2012 Japanese Foods , ,

Taiyaki(たい焼き)

I love fish, but even foods that are fish-shaped are fun!

A tasty sweet snack

Taiyaki is a Japanese snack which is comprised of a fish-shaped waffle filled with sweet red bean paste inside. Although red bean paste is traditionally used, other fillings such as custard, chocolate, and vanilla also exist. They are best eaten freshly made, hot from the street vendor.

I’ve only eaten Taiyaki in Japan, but I’m sure Taiyaki is available in areas with a sizable Japanese population. This snack originates from over 100 years ago.

As an odd fact, the band Aerosmith loves Taiyaki (as I have read on the Japanese Wikipedia entry)!

October 11, 2012 Japanese Foods , ,

Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle)

To celebrate Oktoberfest season, here is a dish that is always available in a beer tent- Schweinshaxe! Or, in plain terms, pork knuckle marinated and roasted so that its skin is super crisp, served with some usual side dishes such as a bun (as in the picture), sauerkraut, or potato dumplings. It is often served with mustard on the side. It is a rather temperamental dish – depending on how it is prepared and cooked, it can either be super delicious (crispy on the outside, tender on the inside), or extremely unpleasant (bad meat, too much fat, etc). I paid 15 Euro for mine yesterday (which I did not finish):

A traditional German dish

It is an extremely filling dish, to say the least. For those who want to opt for a lighter fare, the beer tents have half-chicken meals that most people usually eat instead (you can also see it in the picture above, behind the Schweinshaxe). Cuisine isn’t usually the focus of Oktoberfest, per say. It’s just there to help you down more beer!

And for those who don’t know, it’s normal to drink at least 3 Maß, or litres, of beer!

Unfortunately you would need to find a German restaurant if you want to try this outside of Germany, and hope that it’s prepared right. If you want to try it and live far away I would encourage you to taste it only when you have the opportunity to visit Germany!!

Prost! (cheers)

October 9, 2012 German Foods , ,

Haw Flakes (山楂餅)

Any person who has parent(s) from Hong Kong will have eaten this snack in their childhood.

Essential part of every childhood

What are haw flakes? They are candy made from the Chinese hawthorn plant, circularly shaped and cut into 1mm thick slices. They are packaged with inexpensive paper in a tubular design which is clearly distinctive and recognizable. Opening a tube is like opening a bag of new coins! The taste is sweet (since its other main ingredient is sugar), and fresh haw flakes tend to be slightly chewy. Sometimes the bottom slice sticks to the paper and unfortunately then you’ll have to discard it or eat the paper itself!

You can buy these candies in any Chinese food store. In a time where new snack foods are invented around the clock, it’s refreshing to try something with a recipe that hasn’t been changed for decades!

October 7, 2012 Chinese Foods , ,

Kaiserschmarrn

The pancake is a universal European dish, but in Austria (also Hungary), it is done somewhat different.

Kaiserschmarrn is a pancake shredded into pieces and often eaten with jam or applesauce, sometimes topped with chopped nuts and powdered sugar. It can either be a full meal (for example, it is served sometimes at cafeterias near my work for lunch) or a dessert. According to legend, it was first created for Emperor Franz Joseph I by his cook in 1854 for his wedding with Elisabeth of Bayern (nicknamed Sissi here). It is now much loved by Austrians (and might I add, Germans).

Kaiserscharrn is extremely easy to make. Unlike a regular pancake, where you have to worry about its shape, here you just mash it up in the pan. So, to add more of a challenge, I recommend that you make your own applesauce too! Don’t worry, that is also simple, and both don’t take much time. You can find recipes for both here and here (this is a German recipe site, but you can easily translate with Google).

Austrian Foods , ,

Dried Mangoes (Philippine Brand)

On the same topic of mangoes, let’s hop a few countries eastward from India to the Philippines, whose people may love mangoes even more than the Indians…

Something any Asian food store will have in your neighborhood – Philippine Brand Dried Mangoes. They are addictive, plain and simple. Sweet, chewy, and bursting with mango flavour.

Foodfacts.com says they are: high in sugars, contain controversial ingredient (sulfer dioxide as preservative) BUT low in fat and sodium, contains lots of vitamin C and other vitamins/minerals, and fibre.

But believe me, as soon as you start a bag, you can’t stop.

September 30, 2012 Filipino Foods , ,