A Food Lover’s Tour of Japan – Hokkaido Prefecture with Rich, Savory Genghis Khan

We’re exploring Hokkaido Prefecture this month on our Food Lover’s Tour!

Hokkaido Prefecture is the northernmost prefecture in Japan, covering the entire island of Hokkaido. Hokkaido Prefecture is home to incredible natural landscapes, thriving metropolises and the ancestral home of the indigenous Ainu people.

Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, and serves as the prefecture’s capital. Sapporo is located on the island’s west coast, serving as a center for the academia, finance, government and trading companies in the northern part of Japan. More popularly, Sapporo is known of its beer and festivals. One of the highlights of a visit to Sapporo includes Odori Park, which stretches from east to west along the city center. Odori Park is the perfect representation of Sapporo, and Hokkaido as a whole, full of art, nature and culture.

One of the best ways to experience Hokkaido is to travel around the island, and in our post this month, we take a virtual trip along the coast. The natural landscape has defined Hokkaido Prefecture for hundreds of years. One of the most volcanic areas in Japan, lakes that never freeze and onsen hot springs abound, along with fertile areas inland and off the shores. Traveling up the west coast of the island leads us to Wakkanai, the northernmost city in Japan. Wakkanai is sandwiched by the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk, serving as a port city and launching point to Hokkaido’s outer islands of Rebun and Rishiri, as well as Cape Noshappu and Cape Soya. These areas, all the way southeast to Mombetsu and Abashiri, are where ice floes float in the ocean. Inland is Asahikawa, where both traditional and modern arts and crafts are practiced, and where travelers can launch their explorations into the surrounding Furano and Sounkyo Gorge areas, is lush with wildflowers, forests and mountains. Japan’s unique fauna can also be experienced in the Kushiro area, along the eastern coast of the island. And as we travel to the southern areas, visitors can view seals frolicking along foggy and windy Cape Erimo. The southern coast of Hokkaido is an area full of volcanic activity, especially onsen hot springs, and the Noboribetsu Primeval Forest. Visiting Hokadate is a must when in Hokkaido, as this trading port is a showcase of Japanese, British and Russian culture and architecture.

If a trip around the coast isn’t possible, then visiting the Matsumae area, where feudal history abounds, and the Shakotan area, where you can see down to the sea bed, are highlights. The Notsuke Peninsula offers ghostly landscapes of fir straw woods, and the central region of Biei, famous for landscapes full of multicolored flowers, trees, and hills.

Spending time in Hokkaido means enjoying the bounty of nature… and of eating well. Ramen, cod roe and other dishes are expertly prepared in this prefecture, but it is also famous for its signature dish, the Genghis Khan!

The Genghis Khan is a grilled lamb or mutton dish, made in dome-shaped grills reminiscent of Mongolian warrior helmets. The meat is sliced and cut to grill well, and is basted in a special sauce. Onions are usually grilled with this dish, and all of it is washed down with pints of beer.

Summer is a great time to for barbeque, and we highly recommend adding the Genghis Khan to your repertoire. Check out our recipe, which can be easily made using our indoor electric grills.

We hope you enjoyed learning about Hokkaido Prefecture and as always, share your comments below!

Product Inspirations – Fresh Brew Plus 12-Cup Coffee Maker (EC-YGC120)

Want a tall glass of delicious iced coffee today? With cream added just the way you like it? And a touch of cinnamon or chocolate powder just the way you want it? And brewed fresh with your favorite coffee?

With our Fresh Brew Plus 12-Cup Coffee Maker (EC-YGC120), you can brew your favorite coffee, iced or hot, at home, just the way you like it.

This stylish coffee maker can brew a minimum of 2 cups up to 12 cups of hot coffee or up to 6 cups of iced coffee. It has smart, versatile features that ensure coffee is brewed perfectly. Brewing temperature is set at 200°F to maximize flavor, and the HI, MED, LOW and OFF settings for the warming plate keep coffee warm or let it cool to make iced coffee. The filter basket swings out and is easy to load with ground coffee with the included measuring spoon, and the removable water tank with two sets of markings for hot or iced coffee makes filling the machine with fresh water easy and accurate. The glass carafe comes with an included Ice Basket. And the machine lets you set a timer for brewing.

The Fresh Brew Plus 12-Cup Coffee Maker also comes with convenience features like a drip prevention mechanism so that when the carafe is momentarily removed, the machine inhibits messes. The clean spout design of the glass carafe makes pouring smooth and easy, helping to avoid dribbles and dripping. The Clean Indicator notifies you when cleaning is recommended, and the filter basket is easily removed for washing in the sink. All surfaces that come into contact with water and coffee are BPA-free.

The best thing about this coffee maker is that you can use it to make more than just hot or iced coffee. Summer wouldn’t be summer without ice cream, and this machine is great to brew coffee for Creamy Coffee Ice Cream. Milk, sugar, iced coffee and even a favorite liqueur of your choice… blended all together and frozen for a few hours… and voila! Ice cream!

We know you’ll love this new coffee maker as much as we do, and you can find out more at our website. As always, we’d love to hear about your favorite recipes… and don’t forget to post pictures!

Japanese Bento – Kyaraben!

We’ve saved the best for our final post in our Japanese Bento series… kyaraben!

Character bento, or kyaraben, are famous for their style, originality, fun and creativity. Initially created to entice children to eat their lunch, kyaraben focus on the concept of “kawaii”, or cuteness, to present a well-balanced meal in a convenient, portable bento box.

Kyaraben come in an endless variety, all depending on the creativity and wherewithal of the maker. The simplest kyaraben showcase cars, trains, airplanes, stars, hearts and flowers. As the kyaraben artist makes more sophisticated bento, they add cute animal shapes to the bento, including grinning panda bear patties, smiling penguin rice balls, octopus-shaped sausages with flapping arms, porky pigs and small rabbit-eared eggs.

The most popular types of kyaraben, in Japan and internationally, are ones that showcase characters from Japanese anime and manga as well as from Western animated TV shows and movies. Imagine eating a nutritious lunch with Hello Kitty or Gudetama! And how about Doraemon and Pikachu, stacked with fried chicken and sausages! And let’s not forget Totoro and Anpanman on a bed of fried rice surrounded by colorful carrots and edamame! And for kids who love American cartoons, Disney’s Tsum Tsum characters and Winnie the Pooh are big favorites!

Kyaraben artists use both everyday kitchen tools along with special tools made for creating character bento. Plastic wrap is generally used to shape rice balls, but special shapes can also be made using rice molds. Vegetables can be julienned with a sharp knife and also cut into flowers, stars and clouds using miniature veggie cutters. And meats, poultry and seafood are served in bite-sized pieces. Rice and other items are decorated with cutouts of nori seaweed or with designed using powdered seaweed sprinkled through stencils. So elaborate are kyaraben designs that numerous books have been published and popular blogs such as Little Miss Bento are visited by foodies from all over the world!

Ready to try your hand at kyaraben? Check out our ideas for these beautifully-shaped fun bento. And as always, be sure to share your pictures with us!

NYC My Way

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to New York on business. Actually I’ve been going there for the past several years on a regular basis, but this time I decided to pay attention to the details–to this amazing city that never sleeps. Anybody who has lived here probably says there’s no other city like it in the world, but I lived in Tokyo as a younger man, and I think there are as many similarities as there are differences–if that makes any sense. It’s the similarities that I see that allows me to imagine what it would be like to live in New York; maybe not quite as fast as Tokyo, but equally as intense and alive with millions of stories being told at the same time.

I’m not gonna lie–I go to New York to eat. I always go to visit my favorite restaurant, the Yakitori Totto on 55th near Broadway. Their kushiyaki (skewers) is better than anything I’ve ever had in L.A., and to me it gets close to Tokyo. Of course, in Tokyo even the street food stands are impressive. But this gets close, like I said, so Yakitori Totto gets my props.

Some highlights:
Asparagus Bacon (top left) is exactly what it says, tender asparagus wrapped in bacon–the combination is wonderful.
Tsukune (top right) is ground chicken basted with a teriyaki sauce, usually served in meatball shapes, but at Totto they do it in one piece.
Kalbi (bottom left) is Korean style short ribs, which I had with salt instead of the traditional marinade. Excellent choice with the way it brought out the real taste of the beef.
Shishito (center) is a Japanese green pepper, mildly sharp when delicately grilled. This one is served with a dab of miso paste, which gives it quite the flavor blast.
Negi-Pon (bottom right) is a creative concoction of pork pieces topped with scallions and flavored with ponzu sauce, a tangy soy sauce thinned with citrus juice.

By the way, if this gets you craving…I’ll bet you didn’t know Zojirushi has their own recipes for kushiyaki. You should check them out:
Miso Chicken
Stuffed Potato Mushroom

Takin’ it to the streets…
One thing you do in New York is walk a lot–it’s not really a lot, but coming from Los Angeles where you almost never walk, it seems like a lot. And on ground level, you notice a lot.

There are street vendors everywhere, sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians–selling produce, cellphone cases and baseball caps. Why not? It’s easier to pick up a bunch of bananas on the streets when you’re walking home, than it is to find a supermarket.

Here’s a typical traffic scene with a bunch of school buses getting ready to leave, right?

Wrong! These buses are not moving–they’re parked! This street is (I’m guessing) a temporary parking lot for these buses. I stood at this corner waiting to cross for a full minute, before I realized there weren’t any drivers inside the buses. Then it took me another 15 seconds to figure out why they were just stopped there. I guess you find parking where you can in mid-town Manhattan.

I love finding street signs that show the personality of the city. They’re usually worth a double-take.

That statistic about pedestrian deaths has got to be true. New Yorkers do not bother to wait for the “WALK” signal at the crosswalk. As soon as there’s a gap in the car traffic, even in the middle of a green light, New Yorkers start across the street. I’m sure the only ones that wait patiently for the light to change are tourists. I mean, we’re not as fearless as the natives.

Ever since 9/11, the FDNY are the most heroic fire fighters in America. You’ve gotta love their way with words though–they truly have their own language that only they understand. I’d never heard of a “Siamese Connection”, but now I know it’s a twin-fitting water source for the fire department. And being a professional writer, I’m pretty sure there’s no such word as “sprinklered”. But hey, it’s the FDNY–I’ll give them a break.

OK, back to food! Here’s another thing about walking the city–you don’t need Yelp to find good places to eat. You can stumble across them by serendipity and be pleasantly surprised. This place caught my attention from across the street because of the name, Meatball Obsession. How am I supposed to pass that up?

This is my kind of place–quite literally a “hole-in-the-wall”, where the kitchen was behind the order window, inside the building. It’s a meatball in a cup; 2 of them for $9 with pasta at the bottom, your choice of toppings and cheese, then filled to the brim with tangy tomatoey marinara sauce. Mine has  mozzarella pearls, grated parmesan, sauteed mushrooms and fresh basil. With a stick of focaccia dipping bread, this was a fantastic deal! After I ordered, I was asked, “take out or walking?” So I naturally chose to eat and walk, like any normal New Yorker would. It was delicious!

On my last night, I did what I always do when I’m in New York. I took a walk through the city a bit—It’s always more fun at nighttime, especially Times Square, which is kinda like a circus like Venice Beach is for Angelenos.

Saw Doc Brown and his DeLorean…

NYPD on horseback. So cool!

Evening pick-up ping pong match at Bryant Park. Nice!

But at the end of the day, it was still a relief to be back in L.A.


photo credits: All photos by Bert Tanimoto