Food Subscriptions – A Box From Japan

Online subscriptions have been all the rage for quite some time. Whether it be a monthly subscription for tea lovers, a subscription to have handpicked ingredients delivered to your door, or even a mishmash of unique snacks from around the world, if there’s something you’re looking for it probably exists. Although I have never been able to commit to any subscriptions myself, my friend sent me a personalized box while on her travels which made it feel like I got a food subscription package. Similar to my reaction watching the movie Se7en with Brad Pitt, when he sees a mysterious box, I pondered: “What’s in the box?!?!”.

Polka_dotted_box

A mysterious polka dotted box

Thankfully it wasn’t a head or body part, but it was full of snacks my friend bought for me while she was in Japan.

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Snacks from Japan

The first thing I tried were these golden crispy sticks. I had no idea what I was eating at first and being unable to read Japanese, your guess would have been as good as mine.

Fish_Roe_Sticks

Despite the oblong looking wieners and cartoon cow, it’s not hot dog or beef flavored

It tasted a bit fishy, but seeing what resembled hot dogs and a cow on the front, it made me think my tastebuds were broken. I had to ask my friend and my hypothesis wasn’t far off.  She said they were fish roe flavoured fries….Interesting, to say the least! Crunchy, hard, and well….fishy!

Fish_Roe_Sticks

Fish roe flavored sticks

Next, I tried the package of fried edamame beans. For some reason, when I ate them, they reminded me of bananas, but also as if I was simultaneously eating beans.

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Crispy Edamame

They were crispy, green, and odd shaped little bites – square, round, big, small…I guess a healthy alternative to typical crisps, perhaps?

Then there was apple pie. What’s so special about this pie? Well, apparently the type of apples used! The package says they use “sweet and sour apples. Their sweet aroma and flavor of apple overwhelm your mouth”.  Surprisingly, for a pre-packaged pie, it really was full of flavor. The crust was soft and the apples were delightful. The apples had such a crunch that you would feel like you were biting straight out of a fresh apple covered in sauce. Although I’m sure popping it into the toaster over would have made it better, the rectangular snack would have been even better if it came with a crispy crust. So much that I would be willing to purchase a box full!

Then there’s the apple drink. Looking at the package, I thought it would have been similar to the apple tea I had back in Turkey which contained crystallized, apple flavored sugar. However, this actually contained tea bags…and actual apple! Taking a sniff from the canister also revealed a beautiful aroma of apples, like being at an apple orchard and smelling a freshly picked apples.

Apple tea from Japan

After steeping the tea for a bit, the dehydrated apple bits expanded and puffed up the tea bag. So it’s not imitation apple or just sugar crystals!

Apple tea

It says you can add sugar, but I had it plain. It was like drinking a hot apple cider, but less sweet and more aromatic. 

Overall, I love surprises and I think a food subscription would be fun. If only they weren’t so expensive! For now, I’ll just settle with what I can get. 🙂

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What the Offal?

Kawaii_Halloween_Pumpkins

Kawaii Halloween pumpkins

Today is Halloween. Although I didn’t get a chance to carve out a pumpkin this year, let alone visit a pumpkin patch, I think a festive way to get into the mood is through food. I’m not talking about all the candies, chips, and chocolate bars, but by eating things that scare the majority. Brains? Chicken feet? How about some hearts?

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A delicious plate of offal

In other words, offal. It’s a category that sums up the types of odds and ends in meats that either make you jump for joy or cringe towards a bucket for relief. In America, apparently this may be known as “organ meats” or variety meats”. The term originally included only the entrails of an animal, but in addition to the innards are now other extremities – brains, intestines, feet, ankles, heart, kidneys, cheeks, lungs, liver, marrow, stomach, tail, tongue, testicles…they can be all lumped together now. Are you feeling queasy yet?

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A Chiuchow style platter of offal

Although there are numerous ways to actually prepare offal, this particular time I had it prepared Chiuchow style. It’s marinated in a soy sauce-based marinade and included a variety of animals and parts – pig intestine, beef flank, eggs, duck feet, sausage, pig ears, tongue, etc. There are many different textures on this platter; from soft to hard, slimy to rough, and smooth to crunchy. All I can say is, if you open your mind and just close your eyes, you may enjoy it. Technically, all these things can be incorporated into your common day eats like sausages, hot dogs, and pâtĂ©s…not to ruin it for you or anything. Happy Halloween!!! 🙂

Laksa Lemak – Hot! Hot! Hot!

If you love spicy food, you will probably love laksa. It’s a type of Malaysian dish that consists of a hot, aromatic broth (sometimes known as gravy) that is served with noodles, meats, and veggies. Even though it is deemed Malaysian, it showcases the different influences of Malaysia – Chinese (noodles), Indian (curry), and Indigenous (coconut). There are different types of laksa dishes, but the one I had recently was called laksa lemak.

Laksa_Lemak

Laksa Lemak

Laksa Lemak is a coconut curry based dish. The one I ordered had rice vermicelli noodles that were mixed with chicken, bean sprouts, shrimp, and fish cake. However, like the Vietnamese pho, it can come in a variety of meat and veggie combos.

I found eating the round noodles on their own would render them quite bland, but taking them in with a spoonful of this soupy sauce created blasts of fireworks in my mouth. Although the broth is pretty spicy (to the point where my lips continued to burn well after an hour of eating it), it was a tasty type of spice that was full of flavour and was worth the minor burning sensations. However, it’s definitely not a dish for those who prefer to stay on the mild-to-no spicy side.

According to some sources, this type of laksa is considered a “fake” one, but it personally doesnt bother me. It’s such a good dish, filled with delicious, contrasting flavours – spicy, sweet, nutty, and aromatic. I highly recommend it, assuming your spice tolerance is decent. If not, I’d suggest bringing out the fire extinguisher. Enjoy! 🙂

 

Mid-Autumn Festival

It’s that time of the year again when summer starts to wane and fall arrives. Today is special though because it’s the Mid-Autumn Festival! Although my family doesn’t really have any special meals or big parties for this occasion, it’s a time to look forward to moon cakes!

Moon_Cake

Moon cake

A majority of people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the moon, but there is a famous legend that says a lady drank an elixir to save her husband, became a goddess, and ended up flying to the moon. The husband paid tribute to her “sacrifice” by giving her offerings.

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Moon cake with nuts and seeds

Although moon cakes can come in thousands of different designs (last year I showed some cuter versions), the ones I’m showing this year are more classic. The one above is filled with nuts and seeds. It’s not my favourite type, but I’d like to think it’s healthier than some other options. Here’s another typical design of a moon cake.

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A classic moon cake design

Unlike the other one, this one is filled with my favourite filling – classic lotus seed with salty egg. It’s sweet and savory, soft yet firm, and wrapped inside a delicate pastry. Yum! It’s quite rich, so I wouldn’t recommend inhaling a whole one on your own. It is best cut into several pieces and shared amongst friends and family, like a deliciously hot apple pie.

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The best moon cake – filled with lotus seed and salty egg.

Unfortunately, we have had a lot of bad weather recently so I can’t see the moon in it’s clear, big, bright, and round form. Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll get to see something! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

E-Fu Noodles/Yee Mein (Recipe)

I have mentioned before that one of my most favourite noodles in the world is e-fu noodles, which are also known as yee mein. These long, stringy noodles aren’t hard to prepare and the best part is they absorb flavours like a sponge. Today I’m sharing an easy recipe for this dish. The ingredients are very basic, but you can substitute/add other ingredients if you like (such as carrots, zucchini, crab meat, chicken, shiitake mushrooms, etc.).

*Ingredients:

  • 12 white mushrooms, cut into halves
  • 1/2 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 package of e-fu noodles
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 4 tsp oyster sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • 5 tbsp chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Oil

Boil the noodles until they soft, but still firm. Strain and set aside.

Add a bit of oil and cook the mushrooms first. Add sugar, 1 tsp of oyster sauce, and 2 tbsp of chicken broth. Toss the mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes. Then, add the zucchini, 2 pinches of salt and a bit of ground pepper. Set aside.

Add 1 tbsp oil. Add the strained noodles and pan fry (it helps to use chopsticks for this part). Add 3 tbsps of chicken broth, 3 tsp of oyster sauce, two pinches of salt, and 3 tbsp of soy sauce. Add 1 tsp sesame seed oil and continue tossing the noodles.

Place into a dish and it’s ready to serve.

*If you would like more flavour in the dish, you could add some sriracha sauce to make it spicy or increase the amount of sauces and seasonings into the dish. This recipe is a bit reduced because we have a tendency to minimize the amount of sodium in our food. Enjoy! 🙂

Winter Melon Soup (Recipe)

I was pretty disturbed when I first came to the realization that the price of buying groceries is almost equivalent to the amount of money you spend at a restaurant or on catering. The only difference between the former and the latter is convenience and healthiness. I guess I can understand why some people don’t even bother cooking since the hours in a day are limited, but I still think there is merit in cooking. This is why I’m sharing this recipe for an easy to make, healthy, winter melon soup. It just so happens that every year, I have family members that grow these huge melons in their backyard and share their harvest with us. This year we got two ginormous ones.

Winter_melon

Two winter melons fresh from the garden

All you need for this recipe is a handful of ingredients:

  • 1 winter melon
  • Variety of seafood (we used a frozen mix with baby squid, mussels, and octopus)
  • Chicken broth
  • Green onions, thinly sliced
  • Shiitaki mushrooms (optional)

First, cut the top of the melon off and scoop out the seeds. Place it on a flat dish that is big enough to hold the whole melon.

Winter_Melon

Bring a huge steamer pot to boil and gently put the melon into the pot with the dish (you may need to add a stand into the pot before you start steaming so that the melon isn’t sitting in boiling water). Steam until it is about 3/4 done (depending on the size of the melon, it can take up to an hour or so and the skin becomes lighter as it cooks).

Winter_melon

Once the melon is partially cooked, add chicken broth into the melon so that it fills the “bowl” halfway. Technically, you could also add shiitake mushrooms into the mix to make it tastier, but since the melon was so narrow we omitted it this time so that there would be more space for the other ingredients.

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Continue steaming and when the broth is heated, add the seafood. If you aren’t using baby pieces of seafood, I would recommend that you cut the seafood into smaller pieces so that there is variety in every scoop.

Continue to cook until the melon and seafood are done. Once it has cooled down a bit, remove the melon carefully by lifting the plate with a cloth or tongs or both (the last thing you want to do is burn yourself!). Scrape the sides of the melon bowl so that you can enjoy pieces of the winter melon along with the seafood and broth.

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Winter melon soup

Sorry, it didn’t evaporate this much. It was half eaten before I remembered to take a picture!

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A steaming bowl of winter melon soup

Serve into individual bowls and enjoy! 🙂

 

A Three Day Wedding

Have you ever been to a three day ceremony wedding before? Let alone experienced a three day Indian wedding? My friend recently got married and it was quite the experience. Each ceremony was different from the other, but being Yes! All Roads Lead to Food, it’s all about the journey of food too! First was the sanjeet which was the henna/mehndi ceremony, then came the two days of wedding ceremonies. The second day was a more intimate ceremony that took place outdoors. It was pretty cold being September, but we managed to survive to see the ceremony.

After, we went to an outdoor gazebo. I though we were going to freeze since the sun was going down, but they provided guests with some blankets and (thankfully!) there were heat lamps. I clung to those like Scrat clings to his acorns!

For food, we were offered a spread of sandwiches, wraps, a variety of cheese, fruit, chicken, pasta salad, assortment of grilled veggies, and a delicious salad filled with chunks of butternut squash and candied nuts. As you know, I’m not a huge fan of sandwiches but I loved the cheese platter and butternut squash salad. Yum!

The best part was the firepit. Not just for warmth and romantic mood lighting, but it was there so that guests could make smores! It was such a cute idea!

There was also the dessert tower with small donuts! These went fast! Of course, dancing followed for the remainder of the night.

The next ceremony was the big and formal one. We were served appetizers similar to the ones we had at the sanjeet, but this time I got pictures – fish pakora, aloo tikki (potato patties) and tandoori chicken with a side of green chutney, which tends to have mint and coriander in it.

For dinner, we were served a buffet spread of common Indian dishes like palak paneer, dal, butter chicken, naan, rice, etc. I love palak paneer and my partner loves butter chicken so we were in heaven!

Another favourite Indian food of mine is something I don’t have often, so I’m glad that they served it – burfi! It was under the cake (which was devoured within seconds) tower so that guests could just pick and choose what they wanted. For those who don’t know, burfi is an Indian confectionery treat that is made with milk. It tends to be rich and very sweet, so usually one or so suffices for most sweet addicts.

An interesting tradition I learned along the way is the stealing of the shoes. While most weddings have the garter toss and the bouquet toss, this was new to me. Basically the bridesmaids steal the groom’s shoes and the groomsmen have to pay them to get them back. It was pretty hilarious, given that the groom started with a $20 bill, then $100 bill, and then gave his car keys (though I’m sure he got them back). Also, the bride and groom tend to sit in this luxurious looking seat with a colourfully draped background while people go up to greet them.

It’s interesting because traditionally, my culture tends to go to each table to toast guests but hey! Why not have the guests come up to you as you lounge in luxury? 🙂 Anyway, it was fun but I’m glad it’s over. Three day weddings are exhausting! But before I go, I can finally say I got to wear a beautiful sari. I can now cross that off my bucket list! 🙂

A Sanjeet Celebration

I have been calling it a “san-jeet”, but it’s really called a “san-geet”. My first reaction was panic. What’s a sanjeet?!?! I was invited to one because one of my old classmates is getting married. As a first timer, here’s what I discovered. First, I walked into a room that was decorated with low lighting, cavalier chairs and cute little umbrellas. Great for photo ops and I’m sure the umbrellas had significant meaning.

We were fed appetizers to start, including fish pakoras, a cheese pastry, and a potato one. Then came some dancing entertainment and henna sessions. I haven’t done henna since the whole Madonna craze, but it’s said that the darker it comes out, the more your partner loves you.

After, we got to splurge on our buffet style meal. It was a spread of different vegetarian Indian dishes, including salad, rice, palak paneer (spinach and cheese) malai kofta (cheese and potato), raita (yogurt-cucumber dip), and chapati (bread).

There was also dal (a lentil dish), but I’m not a huge fan of that so I skipped it.

For dessert, I missed the photo opportunity since my camera battery died. However, there was my favourite – gulab jamun! There’s was also a white sweet called rasgulla (soft and spongy and super sweet!), and an interesting triangular treat wrapped in a leaf called paan that people kept telling me was a breath freshener with fennel seeds inside. Let’s just say you’re supposed to eat it with the leaf, but I just took a small piece of the filling to try. And I can attest! It was definitely a breath freshener, though definitely not a favourite of mine. It was filled with coconut, fennel seeds and more fennel seeds in a colourful candy coating.

There was a bit of dancing after dinner, but being a weekday we had to leave early. The groom’s father passed out some goody bags to us before we left and said “it’s an Indian tradition”.

When I got home, I opened it up to find a baggie of goodies containing ladoo and some deep fried snacks. Yum!

Going to a sanjeet was a fun experience. I’m glad I went. And look how the henna came out. 🙂

A Kamayan Feast – Not Your Average Dining Experience

They always say never play with your food, but I beg to differ because what they also say is food tastes better when you use your hands. In the Philippines, they have something called kamayan. “Kamay” means hands in Tagalog, so kamayan roughly translates as “eating with hands”. However, some also know this style of eating as a “boodle fight” (sometimes spelled “budol”) though this concept is a bit different. From what I gather, a boodle fight is where you literally fight to eat as much food as you can before it runs out (or perhaps a fight to stop yourself from eating so much…the struggle is real). Ironically, this term is apparently derived from the military but the feast is a form of camaraderie as opposed to just a battle.

The concept of a kamayan style meal is pretty simple. Tables are lined with sheets of banana leaves and various types of dishes are spread across on top for everyone to share. An authentic kamayan meal traditionally has lots of seafood and rice, which is no shock seeing as the Philippines is a country that loves rice and is surrounded by water (read: seafood :)). The restaurant offered the following set menu:

  • Inihaw skewer BBQ pork: Inihaw means grilled. The pork we ate had a sweet marinade that was full of smokey flavours. This was absolutely delicious and probably one of my favourites on the table.
  • Inihaw na liempo with atchara: This dish is grilled pork belly (liempo). It was accompanied with pickled papaya (atchara), which is meant to cleanse your palate and was quite refreshing to eat. It also came with cane vinegar, which is used to cut out the oiliness/greasiness.
  • Longanisa: They originally had mussels on the menu, but I asked to swap for these delicious little sausages because I love them so much. We couldn’t do a Filipino meal without longanisa!
  • Grilled shrimp: Naturally sweet and succulent crustaceans with shell and all!
  • Grilled squid: Although we are typically more familiar with larger sized calamari in the western world, Filipinos like to eat the smaller kind. It was a bit strange for us non-Filipinos because the insides weren’t cleaned out, so there was a gooey substance that popped out. However, I was told that this is the typical way of preparing squid in the Philippines.
  • Grilled tilapia: This fish was cooked in a banana leaf, so it came out very moist.
  • Grilled bangus: This is also known as milk fish and it is the national fish of the Philippines. The version we had was topped with tomatoes and onions. Just be careful because it tends to have a lot of bones.
  • Okra: Usually the sliminess of okra is a turnoff for many, but these were cooked perfectly – plain and simple.
  • Talong: This is eggplant in Tagalog. It was grilled, which made it super mushy and stringy. It was a bit strange for me to eat it plain like that and it was also slimy.
  • Lumpia: You can’t go wrong with these rolls. They are pork egg rolls that were deep fried into a crispy, golden-brown and stuffed with veggies. Yum!
  • A fruit mixture of mango and tomato cubes: Who doesn’t like something fresh to go along with their meal? The mangoes and tomatoes were a welcome addition to the meal.
  • Steamed rice: No Filipino meal is complete without some plain white rice to accompany it!
  • Bagoong: This is a shrimp paste condiment. I was blown away by the strong, salty flavours and amazed at how it made everything it touched super tasty. It definitely kicks your plain rice up several notches and it can be easily found in the Asian section of a grocery store.

I remember having a Filipino classmate back in high school that taught me a few phrases of Tagalog and the only one that stuck with me was this: “busog na ako”, which translates as “I am full”. All I can say was after this kamayan feast, busog na ako!!! I really enjoyed the experience. It was unique and different from your typical fine dining restaurant outing. Based on some of my Filipino friends, they said the table should have been overflowing with food to the point where you basically don’t see the table. However, being in a western country the restaurant owner informed me that they spaced out the meal like this for “sanitary” purposes since we use our hands to eat as opposed to the traditional Filipino way of kutsara’t tinidor (fork and spoon). I personally think it’s an economical decision as well because there would be a lot of leftovers and it would be ridiculously costly and wasteful for a restaurant to fill a table to the brim. However, preparing a feast like this at home with friends and family might be another story.

As a side note, to the shock of the restaurant staff we were a big diverse group. They cooked the meal believing that they were catering to a homogeneous group of Filipinos, so it was a more authentic experience. I’m glad because I would rather have that than some westernized version.

Although I know many cultures use banana leaves as platters for their food, I only recently found out about something called sadhya. I guess I’ll have to try and find a place that does this now. 🙂

Medovik – Honey Cake

There are only a handful of things I know about Russia – those fuzzy hats, Russian dolls, the capital is Moscow, Saint Basil’s Cathedral (I’m not going to lie, I had to Google the name of that colourful masterpiece) and the word “dah”. Suffice it to say, I was shocked when I went to a flea market and randomly stumbled upon something called Medovik in the food court, which is also known as “honey cake”. Sounds good already, right?

In addition to classifying medovik as a delicious Russian dessert, it is also a layered cake. The number of layers differ from recipe to recipe, but I’m going to assume more layers are added to make it appear more grand. It’s not your typical spongy cake, but rather layered with soft, flaky pastry/biscuit-like discs and in between those is a sweet, whipped cream filling. To give it texture, it is coated with roasted and chopped walnuts.

While the lady that made it was actually from Kazakhstan, I would like to think the one I had was pretty authentic given that the two countries are neighbours. She said that it’s a simple cake made with honey, eggs, walnuts, condensed milk, sugar, whipping cream and butter. However, given all the layers I would think she was being modest. There is also another Russian layered cake called smetannik, but it uses sour cream instead of condensed milk (also conveniently known as a sour cream cake). That might be a better option for those who want to reduce the sweetness in their desserts, not that medovic is sickningly sweet in any way! It’s just perfect.

If you have never tried medovik, I highly encourage you to look out for it. Wikipedia claims that the origins of this cake stems from a chef trying to impress an empress, so you know some thought was put into this. Whether it worked or not, I can’t confirm but I was personally seduced by the delicious, creamy layers of this cake. I think I can honestly say it’s one of the best cakes I have ever had. Have you ever tried a slice of medovik?