I know, you wish there were photos. So do I...
It has been so much fun to go through all the fun stuff we got at Oto's Marketplace in Sacramento last week. I thought I would highlight a few of my favorite things.
Little ceramic rice bowls - Inventorying my kitchen cabinets, it would seem that typical American soup or cereal bowls have increased in volume over the last 50 years. The three sets that I have acquired in the last 10 years boast a volume of over three cups each. That might be acceptable for a main-dish salad or (a large single serving of) soup, but it can be pretty disappointing to be served one scoop of ice cream in one of those huge bowls. Most often I end up using them as serving bowls for side dishes; they are the perfect size for our family of four. By contrast, the bowls I inherited from my grandmother (which are at least 30 years old) hold approximately 2 cups of food. I find them to be the perfect size for soup or oatmeal. For smaller quantities--a scoop of ice cream, a serving of baby food, something to hold a small snack-- I resort to 1-cup Pyrex bowls and, okay, my two sets of ramekins. Wow, that's a lot of bowls! So maybe I didn't need this cute little set of rice bowls, but I love them. They are perfect for serving ice cream. That's how I remember my stepmother serving ice cream when I was little. Or, of course for serving rice.
Japanese food-whether in a restaurant or a home kitchen- is beautiful, because there is so much focus on fresh ingredients and presentation. Japanese home cooks take care to slice tofu, meats and fish evenly and to cut vegetables into pleasing shapes. It is traditionally a very healthful cuisine, with emphasis on vegetables, fruits, soy, fish and rice. And if served in Japanese-style dishes, it is naturally portion-controlled.
Chopsticks - Okay, I think all four of us--my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my husband and I--put chopsticks in the shopping basket, because we came home with over 20 pairs. (This is after I bought a set of 20 plain chopsticks when we had friends over for sushi for my husband's birthday last June.) But these new chopsticks are fun chopsticks. There's a pastel-checkered set, and bamboo striped set, and an individual pair that has some kind of decorative rock embedded in it. I know, we went a little overboard. But it is kind of fun when everybody can pick out their favorite set of chopsticks for each meal. And now we will always have plenty for guests. Wanna come over for a sushi party?
Nori Komi Furikaki Rice Seasoning - A mixture of toasted nori flakes, sesame seeds, sugar and salt, to sprinkle over rice (or, may I suggest, popcorn). Sweet, salty and nutty in a 1.7 ounce jar. (If you've ever had Trader Joe's Sprouted Brown Rice Bowl, this is the same mixture that is in that little seasoning packet.) Yum. They had other more exotic flavors of rice seasoning--one of them included salmon--but I stuck with what I was familiar with.
Mochi Ice Cream - yes, you can buy strawberry, mango and green tea at Trader Joes, but at Oto's we found Kona Coffee.
Rice Candy - My husband and I both picked up a couple boxes, saying they were for our 6 year old. And we were both irritated with each other when we gave our daughter the other person's candy. At Oto's these little boxes were 89 cents each. Elsewhere, I find them for $1.49 each.
Toasted Nori and Roasted Nori Snack - My daughter often takes a sheet of nori, the sushi wrapper, to school in her lunch box. After reading one Japanese author's account of having sea vegetables in her lunch box when she she was younger, I asked my daughter what the other kids think about her seaweed. I don't remember exactly how she responded, but my response was, "I'm sorry kids are making fun of you." To which she replied, "Mom, they are not making fun of me. They are making fun of my food. Who cares?" I suppose that means she is well-adjusted.
Dried Bonito Flakes - As I mentioned in my post on Miso Soup, I've looked all over for these. I think most Asian food markets sell them, it's just that they don't always have the translation to English on the label. (I've included a picture on the left...Why didn't I just Google Image Search it years ago?)
Bonito is a super-thinly-sliced, dried tuna that is used a great deal in Japanese cooking. When I first opened the package I noticed a really smoky, meaty smell, not unlike bacon. I am looking forward to getting more familiar with this ingredient.
Loacker Quadratini Wafers - True, these are not Japanese. And true, they don't fit into a Locavore diet unless you live in the Italian Alps, but I have a bit of an addiction to them. Think bite-size square Kit Kats without the chocolate coating! Oto's carries the Cappuccino, Hazelnut, Vanilla and Dark Chocolate varieties.
Sushi Rice - Yeah, you can buy it at many grocery stores, but a Japanese market has such a selection, that it is fun to get it there, even if you don't know anything about the differences in the various types and brands. And believe me, there are differences, but, no, I don't know what they are. Sushi rice is made with short grain rice, which cooks up to be pleasantly sweet and a bit sticky.
To Make Rice for Sushi:
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Cook 1 1/2 cups sushi rice according to the directions on the package. When the rice is almost finished, meat in a small saucepan, 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar and remove from heat. Transfer rice to a large shallow pan (such as a 13 x 9" baking pan or a large, shallow mixing bowl. Toss rice with a large spatula to cool it. While tossing it, sprinkle it with the sushi rice seasoning. Toss to thoroughly mix in the seasoning and to cool the rice. Do not stop tossing until rice is at room temperature.
Want some good homestyle Japanese recipes? Check out this book. The co-author grew up in Japan and now lives in New York City. All the recipes are things that she or her Japanese mother make in their own kitchens.