Foreign Foods in Japan – Chanpon (ちゃんぽん)

Students. Hungry and poor. The history of higher education is irrevocably intertwined with the history of starving students and the cooks who figure out innovative ways to feed them healthful, nutritious foods for very little money. Chanpon is one of those perfect student meals, and now, a great regional dish from Nagasaki, Japan that was originally created for Chinese students visiting Dejima Island in the area.

As with many beloved foreign foods in Japan, chanpon was developed during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). During this era, Japan had opened its borders to the world, sharing knowledge and information, along with culture and food. Students from China would visit Nagasaki, a port city, and head to a local Chinese restaurant called Shikairo. According to the restaurant, the dish was based on a Fujian specialty called tonniishiimen. Korean jjamppong is very similar!

Chanpon is made with pork meat, seafood pieces, and seasonal vegetables, served in a bone broth with noodles. The meat, seafood, and vegetables are sautéed in lard, and the soup base is made using pig bones and whole chickens. The meat, seafood, and vegetables are fried first, then the broth is added directly to the pot. Finally, the thick, chewy noodles are added to the broth mixture and everything is cooked together to seal in the flavor.

Chanpon has become such a popular dish in Japan that different regions have created their own versions. In Shimane and Hyogo Prefectures, a version called ankake chanpon is made using a thick soy sauce soup base while in Akita Prefecture, the soup base is made with miso broth.

Have you ever tried chanpon? Ready to cook packages are available in most Japanese grocery stores in the US, so we hope you decide to make it one day! Be sure to share your story with us in the comments below.

Product Inspirations – Toaster Oven (ET-WMC22)

We’ve got it! We’ve designed a brand new, stylish Toaster Oven – and it’s just as practical and packed with features as all of our other great small appliances.

Our Toaster Oven (ET-WMC22) is a compact machine, able to toast two large slices of bread, making it ideal for individuals and small families. It fits beautifully on any counter top and comes in a sleek and glossy black finish.

The Toaster Oven lets you cook and reheat various foods effortlessly, along with toasting bread and mochi. The cooking settings are controlled by two dials on the Toaster Oven – one that sets the cooking temperature and one that sets the cooking time. The temperature dial adjusts the cooking temperature from 175°F to 450°F, perfect for cooking or reheating various foods like cookies, pizza, and mochi rice cakes. The timer dial can be set up to 30 minutes. Cooking guidelines for foods commonly cooked in a toaster oven are imprinted on the door and indicate the appropriate dial settings for these foods…super easy when you want to make something quickly!

Food is placed on a mesh rack which helps foods cook more evenly while also reducing grill marks on foods. The mesh rack is especially useful when cooking mochi rice cakes, as it minimizes dripping through the rack. Foods can also be put on the Baking Tray accessory, which is great for roasting vegetables. Both the rack and tray are pulled out automatically when the glass door of the Toaster Oven is opened.

Whenever the Toaster Oven is on, a bright light indicates that it is in operation, and an audible bell signals when the course is completed.

One of the great features of this Toaster Oven is Zojirushi’s commitment to Safe Design. All surfaces that come into contact with food are BPA free. The heater guard at the top of the Toaster Oven prevents accidental contact, while a guard on the bottom directs fallen foods away from the heater. The auto pull-out rack reduces the risk of burns when removing foods.

And as with our other appliances, the Toaster Oven is easy to maintain. The glass door, mesh rack, and crumb tray can all be removed and washed for thorough cleaning.

Our Toaster Oven comes with an instruction manual that has some delicious and simple recipes including Roasted Vegetables and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Keep checking back on our website for more recipes and definitely checkout the beautiful Toaster Oven (ET-WMC22) in our product video.

Design Explained – Mesh Safety Nets in Our Water Boilers

When designing our products, we choose our materials very carefully. We also consider how these materials are put together, with an eye towards functionality, practicality, ease of use, and maintenance. We’ve designed a mesh Safety Net into our water boilers, and this small component protects the dispensing mechanism in a smart way.

The Safety Net is a small, basket-shaped piece of metal mesh, fixed to the bottom of the inner containers of our water boilers upside-down. It prevents pieces of limescale or other debris from entering the dispensing mechanism, which pumps water so it can be dispensed. Limescale, which is generally comprised of calcium and other minerals naturally found in water, can build up inside the water boiler through normal use. Over time, limescale flakes off into small pieces that can get into the dispensing mechanism of the water boiler, preventing the machine from working properly. The machine makes a “grinding” sound when water is dispensed and eventually breaks. The mesh Safety Net acts as a filter that blocks rogue flakes of limescale from entering the water boilers’ dispensing mechanisms, and as a result, protects it.

Aside from making sure the filter is always in place when in use, we recommend treating your water boiler with our Citric Acid Cleaner once every three months. Doing so will remove limescale even before they flake off. Simply dissolve one packet of the Citric Acid Cleaner in a cup of warm water. Pour the mixture into your empty water boiler and fill the inner container with water. Close the lid and turn the machine onto the cleaning cycle, as per the instruction manual. Once the cycle finishes – usually about an hour later – unplug the machine and empty out the water. The final step is to rinse and dispense resulting in your water boiler becoming just like new! Check out our instructional video and if you ever lose your Safety Net, remember that a replacement can always be purchased from our Parts & Accessories store!

Stay tuned for next month’s Design Explained, where we talk about more smart and innovative features built into our products!

Kitchen Tool Quiz

What is this? I’ll give you a hint: they’re used in pairs, usually; and they’re used to cook these, affectionately known as “Japanese pancakes.” A friend of mine used to give me a tutorial on how to handle these, and he was able to flip his massive creations in one quick, skillful motion. After mixing the batter and all the ingredients, we would pour it on the teppan, or steel griddle, then wait patiently for it to cook. Armed with one of these tools in each hand, he would slide it under the pancake on each side and deftly flip the whole thing on the first try, to cook the other side. Did you guess we were cooking Okonomiyaki? If you want to try cooking your own, you can see the Zojirushi recipe. Then go to your Asian supermarket to find the right tools for the fun of flipping them over! (This is called a “kote” in the Kansai (western) area of Japan, where okonomiyaki was born)

How about this? A piece of string? Sticks? Why are they tied together? You’ve seen these before and probably used them at home or in a restaurant, but yours were probably much shorter. In Japan, these are used for cooking when you don’t want to get too close to the hot stove or hot oil, like when deep frying. It takes a bit of skill to handle these, so if you’re not that confident, I would recommend tongs instead—no embarrassment in that. So why are they tied together? Just to keep from losing one, I think. But it’s also handy for hanging them from a hook. If you want to learn more about chopsticks, you can read more about how they’re made.

This one is easy—just paper, right? But how is it used in cooking? Since the Japanese do a lot of deep fry cooking, this paper is used to blot the excess oil that comes off of just-fried tempura or ebi fry (fried prawn). Americans deep fry a lot too, but we seem less concerned with making our fried chicken look good on the table—we’d probably just lay it on paper towels. It serves the same purpose, but these papers make tempura look so much better. Learn how Zojirushi does it.

This device can be found in American kitchens as well, but this happens to be a very small personal one that can be placed right along side your sushi, grilled fish or maybe tofu. Think about it—what condiment is normally served with sushi? The answer is wasabi—and if you’re a fan, you haven’t had great wasabi until you’ve had the fresh version that doesn’t come in a tube. How about grilled fish? Many people love fish (myself included), but the oiliness can sometimes get to be too much, so you’ll often see it served with a small mound of white daikon radish, which not only enhances the flavor of the fish but also aids in digestion. And tofu? Small blocks of tofu served chilled (hiyayakko) or hot (yudofu) are sometimes dressed with a bit of ginger paste to give it additional spice. What do all these condiments have in common? If you figured out that they all need to be grated, you win the prize. If you want to make yudofu at home, here’s a simple recipe from Zojirushi.

Obviously this is what you probably think it is. But why is it so flat and shallow? In Japanese cooking, many recipes call for hot pots or nabe dishes. As the ingredients cook, scum or foam rises to the surface of the water from the protein produced by the soup stock. Skimming this off keeps the stock nice and clear, and not cloudy. This handy gadget is more indispensable than you think, when you’re making a traditional Mizutaki hot pot.

What th-? It’s so groovy, man. Did you know that Japan is a huge consumer of the sesame seed, importing almost 160,000 tons every year from Latin America? There are 3 different kinds of sesame used in various ways in Japanese cuisine. White Sesame is the most common and the most popular because it has the lightest taste and can be used in salad dressings or to garnish salads. Black Sesame is more distinctive, with a nutty taste, so it’s often used for marinades or crushed to a paste to enhance salads and desserts. Golden Sesame is found in what we might call “rice sprinkles”, or furikake, a very popular seasoning for white rice and onigiri (rice balls). You can buy crushed sesame seeds in packages, but it’s always more fragrant and tastes better if you use this simple tool and do it yourself.

For more crazy and exotic kitchen gadgets found only in Japanese cooking, check this out.




photo credits: Bert Tanimoto