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Mom's yummy houtou noodles

2012-04-08

Margaret and her yummy houtou noodles

When you look at the Nagomi Kitchen site you might only see the two of us, Megumi Kusunoki and myself, Alisa Sanada, on the about us page, but we are actually supported by many amazing advisors. Among these wonderful advisors is Megumi Kusunoki’s mother. If you are a past participant in one of our cooking programs, then you might have met her. She’s the one with the camera snapping away making you feel like a superstar during our sessions. And if you are going to be participating in the near future, make sure to get all your Japanese food and Bali scuba diving questions ready because she sure knows a lot about both and is ready to share.

She is from Yamanashi Prefecture, most famous for Mount Fuji. However, in my eyes it’s the land of the yummy regional dish houtou. It's a flat udon noodle dish with vegetables in a miso soup broth that is normally eaten at a restaurant if you are not from the region. But of course the locals eat it at their homes and mmm-hmm it sure is delicious!

Margaret and her yummy houtou noodles

I had the pleasure to try her homemade houtou, which was my first one outside of a restaurant. What I liked about it most was the fact that we were eating it nabe hot pot style instead of each person with an individual bowl. It was great seeing the soup get thicker and thicker because you cook the noodles still covered with flour unlike other noodle dishes where you need to pre-cook using another pot. That combined with the broth that comes from the ingredients like chicken, kabocha pumpkin, onions, fried tofu, carrots, mushrooms, daikon radish and of course miso, mmm-hmm is all I can keep on saying! Even if you can’t get a hold of houtou noodles, at least try making it with udon noodles. You will understand how great miso is, and how it is not just for miso soup!

Lots of fun with food - Character Lunch Box

2012-04-06

3 guests joined our Kyaraben lesson yesterday and made a Picachu bento box.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Olivia and Dylan from Canada, it was their first day in Japan of their two weeks journey. And Rex from Hong Kong, it was the last day for his second trip to Japan. They have a big interesting to making Kyaraben. (Character bento.)

Olivia wondered that "Is threre any restaurant where people can eat Kyaraben in Japan?" The answer is no, but I think it's a very nice idea if people can eat Kyaraben at restaurant.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

But now, Olivia, Dylan and Rex became a Kyaraben master so they don't have to go to Kyaraben restaurant!

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

"It's first time to having a lot of fun with food" said Olivia when she arranging her own Picachu on her bento box as final step. I was very glad to hear it.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Thank you Olivia, Dylan and Rex!

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.

Yep! We did a Futurama Kyaraben class!

2012-03-29

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Last Sunday we had a very cool guest from the Canary Islands that requested that we do a kyaraben class where we make the Futurama character Nibbler instead of our usual characters. Apparently her nephew loves the character so she came to train with us so she could make the bento back home.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

We used the same ingredients as the usual kyaraben we make in our classes but because the parts for Nibbler were more complex compared to our usual class, it was a bit more of a challenge.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

However, our guest worked her magic and the end result was amazing! I’m honestly not sure if I could have the same patience she had when making the very small parts, especially for the eyes, but she did it!

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Actually all during the session we had a tv crew taping on and off and at the end we had a short interview.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Megumi was interviewed too but it seemed like the camera was making everyone laugh instead of talk. But I guess that's okay.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

If any of you would like to try something out for our kyaraben class, let us know and we will see what we can do. Just be ready for the challenge!

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.

An old Nagomi Kitchen friend comes back

2012-03-20

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Last Sunday we had a past participant from our kyaraben class from December come back for our Japanese basic cooking class. What was great was that her Japanese husband came with her to participate in the program this time! Like our other expat participants, she told us that it’s the basic things that are part of a person’s daily routine like grocery shopping or cooking that are some of the most difficult obstacles to overcome when you first settle into a new country.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Having personally experienced trying to cook in various countries where I could not speak nor read the language, I can understand how it is difficult to adjust. During the lesson it was great to see her pause and reconfirm from time to time to make sure she was understanding and remembering everything.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

Learning how to cook the dishes that are part of the Japanese basic cooking class is important but getting familiar with the ingredients is what really opens you up to new dishes so we really hope all our participants will not hesitate to ask us anything and everything. Not only will we do our best to give you the best answers and advice during the program but please always feel free to contact us afterwards. We are always here to help.

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.

Nagomi Kitchen is expat friendly too!

2012-03-11

Nagomi Kitchen is expat friendly

Last Wednesday we had two very friendly expats from Poland and Malaysia participate in our cooking program. Right now most of the Nagomi Kitchen program participants are travelers visiting Japan so not only was it great to see that we are attracting a wider audience but it was fantastic for personal reasons since they reminded me of when I first started living in Japan.

When I first started living in Japan, although I know I had an upper hand compared to others since my cultural upbringing was Japanese, I still had a lot to learn to navigate through the supermarkets in Japan. Even simple tasks like choosing the right miso was very difficult at first. Where I grew up in the States, there were only a couple of brands to choose from so seeing all the options of white, red, and mixed miso was quite overwhelming at first. Watching lots of cooking shows, searching the Internet, ravaging through food magazines, and attending classes that taught me the basics of dashi soup stock, soy sauce, sake, Japanese vegetables and many other topics were what helped me in the kitchen.

Nagomi Kitchen is expat friendly

When one of our cooking program participants asked about all the basic mushrooms that are sold in Japanese supermarkets and how it was difficult to figure out which one was a shitake mushroom, I could very much understand her struggle. Since I ate shitake, enoki, and nameko mushrooms when I was growing up in Texas, I could at least distinguish those three at the supermarket. But the others like the eringi king trumpet mushroom, the maitake Hen-of-the-Woods mushroom, the buna shimeji brown beech mushroom, and the bunapi shimeji white beech mushrooms, I learned about while living in Japan.

I also noticed that the Nagomi Kitchen cooking program helps expats to learn the Japanese words and packaging of familiar ingredients like sesame oil or potato starch. A lot of them struggle trying to find the ingredients they need to make food from back home so by the end of the lesson they know what to look for and also know how to use those same ingredients to make at least one or two Japanese dishes.

So my hope for the Nagomi Kitchen program is to not only be a program for those visiting Japan to get exposed to Japanese food, but to support new expats in Japan so they can get a head start and become more comfortable in their new kitchen.

We’ve actually had a few people in the past participate in our program because it was given to them as a gift from friends or family so maybe the Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson might be a good gift idea to welcome fellow expats to their new life in Japan?

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.

Kyaraben request

2012-03-10

Before I started Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson, I was thinking a lot about the lesson menus.

"What menu will be fun for tourist to experience Japanese cooking during their stay in Japan?" "How can I provide the enjoyable cooking time to them?"

And when I was considering it, I believed that making kyaraben will be a one of fun thing for almost participant because I have enjoyed by myself very much. (To be honest I have never cook kyaraben for a real lunchbox though but I knew taking photos of own creation was really exciting!)

So, I started kyaraben lesson from last year and many participants have already created their own kyaraben.

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

And few days ago, I received a request from guest who booked our kyaraben lesson for end of this month. She want to create different kyaraben. Do you know it?

Actually it was first time for me to receive this kind of request, (in addition I have never seen this character before!) but I tried to make it. How do you think about this kyaraben?

Nagomi Kitchen cooking lesson

I will cook it together with guest on end of March, and will pass the recipe for it.

I love try to make new kyaraben, so if you want to make your favorite character with us, please let me know when you booking.

Of course I want to try but I guess there is some character which is completely impossible to create as kyaraben so I will inform you if I can do that or not after receiving a request!

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.

Just give natto another try

2012-03-09

Just give natto another try

When it comes to the topic of Japanese food with travelers, I know everyone loves to talk about the fermented soybean dish natto, since it is the quintessential weird food of Japan with it’s gooeyness and smelliness. But I am honestly tired of hearing Japanese people always asking non-Japanese travelers if they have tried natto during their travels in Japan and if they liked it or not. I mean doesn’t every Japanese person already know that even some Japanese people born and raised in Japan can dislike natto? And I get more annoyed when people go bonkers with disbelief when the traveler actually does like it. Seriously, I wish people would come up with other things to ask like have you tried shirako fish milt, because although it might sound disgusting it sure is terrific!

Well, that said, I never was much of a fan of natto while growing up as a Japanese-American in Texas. Although I still don’t go out of my way to buy natto at my local supermarket in Tokyo, that doesn’t mean I haven’t grown to like it. When I first tried good natto, it was when my Japanese aunt introduced me to natto made in Ibaraki prefecture. I’m still no expert at this point when it comes to natto specifics, but I could really tell the difference because the flavors from the soybean itself was stronger than the pungent smell you often hear about making the natto quite pleasant to eat.

The way you eat the natto might also change your perspective. Depending on how much more sliminess you can embrace, you can mix and match raw egg, yamaimo mountain yam, okra, green onions, cucumbers, dried seaweed, shiso leaves or even kimchi and cheese. Natto maki rolls are very common but you can also find natto omelets, tempura, and even pasta.

So for those who have already given up on natto on your first try, it might just be that you haven’t found your best match. There are so many different kinds of natto from different regions, brands, and well even the size of the natto will affect the taste. Your local supermarket might have a good selection but make sure to check out a nearby depachika (the basemet floor of a large department store) or other specialty food stores you may stumble upon while you wonder the streets of Japan. Hopefully you will finally find your best match.

Kyaraben: Japanese character lunch box lesson March 4th

2012-03-05

Nagomi Kitchen Kyaraben Cooking Lesson

I have to be honest. I was always in awe of the pictures circulating the internet of bento boxes decorated like album covers like Radiohead and Lady Gaga, but was never a loyal follower of all things kyaraben before participating in the Nagomi Kitchen Kyaraben Cooking Lesson. It just looked too time consuming! However after going through the steps of making the head and ears, little tofu ball faces, and cherry tomato and sausage flowers with our charming guest from Malaysia last Sunday, although I might not make these character bento boxes everyday, I now know that I actually like making them.

Nagomi Kitchen Kyaraben Cooking Lesson

The goal of the class is of course to make this kyaraben but you will be introduced to recipes and techniques that can be used for normal bento making when you are too busy to go through all the kyaraben making steps. The tofu balls are a great example of some good basic bento side dishes.

Nagomi Kitchen Kyaraben Cooking Lesson

Bento making in general has become quite popular around the world so we’re hoping to recruit more here at Nagomi Kitchen!

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.

Basic Japanese Cooking lesson Feb. 23rd

2012-02-25

Nagomi Visit home cooking

This Thursday we had a lovely guest from the US and his father participate in our Basic Japanese Cooking lesson. They were such fun and enthusiastic guests that I, myself, very much enjoyed my time with them.

Nagomi Visit home cooking

It was fantastic seeing families like them really trying to dig deep into Japanese culture during their short stay in Japan. Especially the father, who although it was his first time in Asia, he really made an effort to learn Japanese by listening to language CDs. Honestly I’m never usually that easily impressed by people being able to speak Japanese but this time it was special since every now and then he would blurt out a Japanese word or phrase he learned and it wasn’t just once or twice! Subarashii! Very good.

“Food was great and the staff exceptional. I had a lot of fun and was very comfortable. If I am ever in Japan again, I will sign up again.” we were told! Hopefully their Home Visit experience, which they booked at the same time, will be as good or maybe even better?

Nagomi Visit home cooking

Recently we have been receiving a lot of requests where the same people participate in both the cooking and Home Visit programs during their stays so we’re working hard right now at Nagomi Kitchen to increase the number of host families so more people will be able to participate in both programs. Definitely great to hear.

Nagomi Visit home cooking

As a Japanese-American, I'm always glad when people are interested in learning about Japanese culture since I feel like they are learning about a part of my identity. This is especially true of course when visitors are from the US so hopefully see you next time at Nagomi Kitchen! Matane!

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.

Bacon...it's what's for dinner

2012-02-22

Nagomi Visit home cooking

Today I made a Japanese style soup with bacon for dinner. I suppose if I still were in the States I might have made the soup with potatoes, cheese, leeks, or beans but this time since I am in Japan using Japanese bacon, the soup had a light chicken broth base with mizuna, enoki mushrooms, and green onions.

I suppose everyone has their opinion of Japanese bacon depending on where they come from. Coming from the States you might be surprised at how it tastes more like ham. But as long as you know how to cook with it, I’m hoping you will crave more of these new set of flavors rather than just longing for whatever is back home.

Using bacon with ingredients like asparagus, spinach, potatoes, and cheese is quite common in Japan but I love it when I find bacon recipes that really have an obvious Japanese twist to it like bacon and nanohana blossoms pasta. You can either make a simple version with just basic flavors like olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and of course salt and pepper, but a cream sauce would work well too. Add any sort of Japanese mushroom you find at the supermarket that day that is cheap like maitake mushrooms and voila!

I honestly cannot imagine my Japanese mother making this dish at home since it definitely is the younger generation that has incorporated this new ingredient into their diet for better or for worse. However, it is not uncommon for quick and easy East meets West types of dishes like these to appear in a modern Japanese home cooked meal.

So although it is definitely good to learn about purely Japanese ingredients, sometimes it is fun to learn how these perhaps more familiar ingredients are used in Japanese home cooked meals.

Make sure to ask us about seasonal vegetables like nanohana during our Nagomi Kitchen cooking lessons because spring is coming to Japan and it’s definitely an exciting time for food here!

Note: we no longer conduct Nagomi Kitchen cooking classes but feel free to look for Nagomi Visit hosts who are interested in cooking with you by checking their profile pages. Nagomi Visits are not cooking classes but it will be an enjoyable experience like cooking with a friend.