Thursday, April 4, 2013

Guest Post from Japan

My friend Hiroko returned to Japan last year after several years in New York. Since then, I’ve been pestering her for her take on produce in Japan.

Are the fruits really presented like jewels?

Does everything cost a fortune?

Do they have fruits and vegetables that we’d be hard-pressed to identify?

I know that Hiroko misses shopping at the Union Square Market but evidently doesn’t miss some of our grown-to-be-shipped tasteless fruit. 

Here is Hiroko’s guest blog entry:

Japanese can be very picky about their berries. In Japan, you'll find these red strawberries neatly lined up in a container as if they are something really precious.

Oooh, comfy!

Do you see how "pampered" these strawberries are? They're sitting on a fluffy foam bed.

I saw a Japanese strawberry farmer on TV the other day -- he dedicates his life to "Strawberry Breed Improvements" -- and finally created "Skyberry," big, tart, sweet and juicy kind that costs $20 for 600 grams!

I remember strawberries I found in the supermarkets in the US were usually very big but practically had no flavor -- they had no sweetness, no tartness, no smell, just kind of cold, dry "something look red outside.”

The only good thing about them was that I could find them throughout a year, and were totally different from what we saw in Green Market in spring time -- farm strawberries were small, sweet, juicy, but their season was really short!

I found that Japanese strawberries are like hybrid of those two strawberries. They are medium sized, nice and ripe, have lots of flavor -- but rather expensive. I would say one container -- bit less than that one pound container of Driscoll's -- can cost 4 dollars (regular kind) to 10 dollars (premium kind). I can find probably 4 to 6 different kind of strawberries in one store -- because some like it small and tart and  some like it big and sweet.

The strawberries in my photo are called "Tochi Otome" (Belle of Tochigi). They were a gift from my dinner guest. They were very sweet and had a great aroma that filled the room immediately.

How is the Green Market at Union Square doing? Is it still too cold for berries?

Hiroko also provided this information about this springtime delicacy. (And I will try to ignore the mention of mayonnaise, which I know is extremely popular in Japan, much to my chagrin.)

"Nano Hana" (field mustard) is a delicacy of springtime.

I like the way they are wrapped, in old fashioned paper and rubber band!

If you go to countryside out of Tokyo in early spring, you'll see field of this plant blooming -- thousands of yellow flowers swaying in the wind -- some poet described it as "Mustard green field, scrambled eggs for a million people.” It is kind of rustic scenery of springtime in Japan.

I guess the seeds are used to make Canola oil, but some make it to our table before they start to bloom! [Note: I googled "Nano hana" and learned that yes, it is indeed the same as rapeseed, whose seed's oil was the original basis of "Canadian oil, low acid," or Canola.]

The Nano Hana tastes a bit bitter -- like broccolini or broccoli rabe, but much more tender than them. It cooks rather quickly, so you've have to be watchful not to overcook!

We usually boil it crisp-tender, and season lightly with dressing of your choice, such as a mixture of dashi-broth and soy sauce, mustard and soy sauce, etc. My favorite is a mixture of mayo, roasted sesame paste (like tahini) and soy sauce. The key is not to overpower the green with too much dressing, as we need to feel that slight bitterness. The flavor says "Spring!!!" to us. Soon, the season for Nano Hana will be over :(.

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