Archive for apples

Finally Aomori’s Own Apple Cider!

Posted in Aomori-city with tags , , on May 10, 2010 by Zack

Aomori’s apples have a reputation for being some of the best tasting, highest quality gourmet apples in the world. Being fortunate to live here, Aomori has given me countless occasions to enjoy apples, whole and raw, baked in desserts, stewed, made into chilled cream soups, candied and just about every culinary creation you can imagine.

But one apple dish that I really missed from home that I thought would do well here was apple cider. The fresh tart taste of apples combined with the unfiltered natural appearance is something which has a universal appeal. Unfortunately, nobody in Japan or Aomori had ever heard of apple cider. In Japanese, the word “saidaa” (cider) generally refers to a light carbonated soda like beverage, so it was rather difficult to explain how delicious it is… until now!

Enter PaSaPa, a volunteer group from the apple producing Namioka area of Aomori City. One of their most active members, a cheery lady with an apple-red smile developed Aomori’s (and Japan’s) first ever apple cider last year. I had the pleasure of meeting her earlier this year at work and got to sample her excellent brew. She told me that she got the idea to start apple cider after hearing that it is a popular autumn and winter beverage in New York from an American visiting her home. I wish I could take the credit, but what’s more important is the result… this amazing apple cider.

PaSaPa has been serving  their delicious apple cider hot and on the rocks at ASPAM, the prefectural tourism building near Aomori Station on select Saturdays and holidays. They are also serving it at Apple Hill, the Michi-no-Eki in Namioka, and one of my favorite ice cream shops and cafes in Aomori, Rashinban.

PaSaPa's Apple Cider has beautiful packaging reminiscent of Munakata Shiko

Hot apple cider comes with cinnamon and cloves if you prefer, and something that I had not seen before in the USA, whipped cream. Adding whipped cream makes it taste like a nice warm apple pie.

This past winter they served hot apple cider in Tokyo’s fashionable Omotesando district where they got a very good response. I’m hoping that Aomori’s own apple cider will catch on all over the prefecture and Japan, so keep your eyes open for it!

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Nagaimo: The Wonderful Japanese Vegetable

Posted in Aomori-city with tags , , , , on March 1, 2010 by Zack

Do you know what this is?

No, it’s not Bamm-Bamm’s club from the Flintstones… it’s the super vegetable known as the Nagaimo. Nagaimo is a type of yam that is highly nutritious and versatile in its usage. You can’t talk about Nagaimo without mentioning Aomori, as the prefecture is the top producer of Nagaimo in Japan, and Nagaimo can be found just about any produce section of the grocery store here. Peel away the tan skin and small hair-like roots of this vegetable to see its inner milky-white porous beauty that makes it a highly prized ingredient all over Japan. Most commonly grated to make tororo, a type of slimy white goo that is added to buckwheat noodles, soups, or bowls of warm steamed rice, Nagaimo can also be diced into cubes and added to salads to give it an interesting almost water chestnut like texture. Nagaimo can also be fried, roasted, stewed, and just about anything else you can imagine. It has a very fresh and less starchy taste when compared with a potato, so one of my favorite ways to enjoy it is by grinding it up with vanilla ice cream and milk to make a thick healthy milkshake. Nagaimo is rich in vitamin B1, dietary fiber, and many other nutrients. I’ve also heard that Nagaimo has a protein that may be useful in preventing the flu.

Anyway, I had heard about a restaurant in Aomori City that specializes in Nagaimo dishes: Tefūkin, so I was excited when I finally got the opportunity to try this place out. The chef is a master of Nagaimo cuisine and has published an excellent cookbook of just Nagaimo recipes.

Here is the sign, it reads “Tefūkin” – which is a strange name. The three Chinese characters mean hand, wind, and zither-like instrument (koto). What could it possibly mean?

Inside a charming interior welcomes you with old lanterns and antiques, giving a Taisho Romantic (the Japanese equivalent to Victorian) feel to the restaurant.

The owner has many season flowers and plants, as well as birds decorating the restaurant. There was even a recording of birds chirping in the background making for a calming, light, airy atmosphere.

This is Kogin Embroidery, a famous needlework tradition of the Tsugaru area.

A nice kettle keeps warm on a kerosene stove. A very heart and hand warming winter Japanese sight. A hot cup of tea is only a moment’s notice away.

I also noticed an antique accordion and a painting of an accordion. It turns out that the name Tefūkin, (hand-wind-zither), is an archaic word for accordion. You learn something new everyday, and at least the mystery behind the name of the restaurant was solved. Now it was time to eat… there were several dishes to choose from and since I went with a few friends, we choose to try all 3 dishes featuring Nagaimo. Each lunch special was a steal for 1000 yen.

“Cheese Gohan” (Nagaimo and Rice with Melted Cheese) Lunch. Complete with salad, soup, and pickles.

The aroma, color, texture and flavor of this is pure heaven for any cheese junky.

This is the “Korori Ishikoro” (Nagaimo sauteed in butter with croquette). Very savory and flavorful.

Now don’t let your eyes deceive you, this sushi dish “Hatsukoi” is not raw fish but in fact thin slices of Nagaimo painted with a clear, light, sweet sauce. According to the chef, it is the most popular dish and a must-try for the Nagaimo aficionado.

This dish, the “Mushi Buta” or Steamed Pork & Vegetables is made with Garlic Pork, a variety of pork raised in Aomori on a diet including the locally grown speciality, garlic. I thought I could taste the garlic, but I’m not 100% certain, it was amazingly tasty however. It wasn’t made with Nagaimo but is highly recommended anyway.

And what Japanese meal wouldn’t be complete without pickles? Here we have pickled radish and apple from Aomori Prefecture. The sweet and sour tastes were a refreshing match.

And for desert, a warm cup of fresh apple juice from Onizawa, a part of Hirosaki next to Mount Iwaki that produces excellent apples. Served in a square Tsugaru Laquerware coaster. It doesn’t get more Aomori than this…

For more information:

About Aomori Nagaimo (Aomori Prefecture)

Aomori Nagaimo (Aomori Products Export Promotion Council)

Restaurant Name: Tefūkin

Address: 368-8 Sawabe, Sannai, Aomori City

Getting There: Take a taxi from Shin-Aomori Station (5 minutes) or walk on foot (15 minutes)

Lunch Hours: 11 am to 2 pm

Dinner Hours: 5 pm to 9 pm (Reservation made 1 day in advance is required)

Closed on: Mondays

No English menu but you should be able to order any of the above dishes without any problems!

Apple…Curry?

Posted in Aomori-city with tags , , , on January 12, 2010 by Zack

This past weekend, Yuko and myself went to a Curry Festival at ASPAM, (the Aomori Tourist Center) which is located a 5 minute walk from JR Aomori Station in Aomori City.

I went to the 1st Curry Festival they had 2 years ago, and because it was such a hit, it has grown to the point of attracting massive crowds and long lines each time. This time it was the 5th Curry Festival they had in the past 2 years. If you aren’t too familiar with Japanese curry, or “curry rice” as it is often called, it has become a regular part of the Japanese diet since being introduced to Japan about over 100 years ago. It is mainly different from Indian curry in the fact that its has a mild less-spicy taste, and is somewhat similar to beef stew. Japanese curry is enjoyed by all ages and is a frequent favorite on the school lunch menu.

In the past two decades, local varieties of curry have sprung up all over Japan. Many places have come up with a unique curry featuring its famous local foods. Aomori has a lot of different foods it is famous for, so it is only natural that it would also have a lot of curries to be sampled, hence the start of this festival!

Anyway, I had heard that there are long lines of people gathered to try all the different curries so we decided to get there early. It started at 10 am, but we thought 10 am was still a bit too early for curry so we got there at 11am, and lo and behold, a crowd was already gathering!

Long lines for curry

By 11am there was already a long line!

14 different flavors of curry

Like I said, Aomori has a lot of famous foods, so they have 14 different curries to sample. Each plate of curry had a rather good helping of curry poured of hot steamed Japanese rice, a pretty good serving for only 200 Yen a plate! Here is just a sample of the great curries we sampled.

Jonathan Apple Curry

As you probably know, Aomori is the apple capital of Japan. Kogyoku or as it is known in English, the Jonathan Apple, is a well-loved cultivar here in Aomori for its tart taste. It’s often used in cooking apple pies and other baked goods, and well sometimes it is even made into curry! There were actually a whole bunch of different apple curries, but the nice rich red color of the Jonathan Apple Curry is my personal favorite.

Scallop Curry

Aomori is also famous for its scallops, making Scallop Curry a must-try item! Scallops definitely go well with curry, but I think if you are going to eat Aomori scallops, be sure to also try them sashimi style, they are simply to die for. Anyway, moving on to my favorite curry they had… Garlic Curry! I figure that if you are going to end up with curry breath, you might as well go all out and eat it with plenty of garlic! This curry was made with garlic from Takko, a small town in Aomori Prefecture that is famous for its garlic, earning it the status of being the garlic capital of Japan. If you ever have a chance to visit, please go! If you time it right, you can go when the sweet aroma of garlic permeates the entire town!

Takko Garlic Curry (I added dried garlic chips to make it extra garlicky)

This time there was also a major attraction added to the menu, “Hokki-gai Domburi” or simply said in English, a clam rice bowl. While not curry, this dish from Misawa City has been very popular in the past few years, and a lot of people travel to Misawa to eat it. A bowl containing rice, nori seaweed, pickled mountain vegetables, thinly sliced nagaimo yams (another speciality of Aomori), is topped off with fresh hokki-gai clams (a type of surf clam native to Northern Japan up through Siberia). They did have some of these clams in curry, but eating this was the perfect finish to the several plates of curry we devoured.

Clam Rice Bowl

And if that wasn’t enough, they had a lottery game where you could turn a wheel for a chance to win some curry sauces to enjoy at home. So we each gave it a spin…

A tiny ball comes out and if it is the right color you're a winner!

Unfortunately, we didn’t win anything, but we felt like we won enough already after feasting on all of these great curries of Aomori. I also had was in dire need of a breath mint, proof of another excellent Curry Festival.

Autumn in Aomori

Posted in Aomori-city with tags , , on October 26, 2009 by Christy

The air in Aomori has a certain autumn crisp to it, the leaves are changing colors, and people are starting to enjoy the delicious autumn cuisine that Japan has to offer.

A few weekends ago, I went to Hakkoda to enjoy the beautiful autumn leaves. Hakkoda mountain, located just south of Aomori City by 20 kilometers, is a great day trip. For 1,800 yen round trip you can take the ropeway to part way up the mountain.

Hakkoda Ropeway ticket

Hakkoda Ropeway ticket

The view going up the ropway is gorgeous. Get a window spot to snap some photos! If you are feeling ambitious, dress warm and enjoy some hiking in the area!

The beautiful view headed up the ropeway

The beautiful view headed up the ropeway

However, it doesn’t take a mountain trek to find autumn around Aomori. The narrow roads throughout Asamushi Onsen (featured in a previous blog by Yuko) are littered with fall color and one of the hot springs, Tsubaki-kan offers delightful soaking under the foliage rainbow.

In Asamushi Onsen - this small road leads to several hot springs and a somewhat hidden footbath

In Asamushi Onsen - this small road leads to several hot springs and a somewhat hidden footbath

 Even the main road through Aomori City, Route 4, has a few trees here and there changing colors over night.

Just your everyday Aomori City - the bus stop near Gappo Park

Just your everyday Aomori City - the bus stop near Gappo Park

If enjoying the tastes of autumn interests you, apple hunting and chestnut gathering are also great ways to enjoy autumn in Aomori. There are several apples farms scattered around Aomori Prefecture where locals and visitors alike can enjoy apple picking. For around a few hundred yen, you can choose the most delicious apples to delight in. Most of the farms are accessable by bus making them easy for even out-of-towners to enjoy.

delicious Aomori apples

delicious Aomori apples

My friend, visiting from Tokyo, and I went to Kawamura Ringo-en located in Aomori City.

my friend reaching for the best Aomori apple!

my friend reaching for the best Aomori apple!

 For those interested in exploring even more, Moya Hills (also located in Aomori City) offers even more autumn beauty.

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You can see the green foliage changing..

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...while other trees boast full autumn color

In addition to the autumn foliage, Moya Hills is also covered in colorful Kosmos fields where you can even enjoy a maze!

Kosmos fields

Kosmos fields

 Last, if you’re looking for something yummy – the autumn dish at a local cafe near Aomori Station, Qudrille , is one great option.  Enjoy the true seasonal flavors and you will have completed a Aomori autumn.

Chestnut rice along with a Japanese soup and side dishes

Chestnut rice along with a Japanese soup and side dishes

With just weeks of autumn left, get out there and enjoy all activity before the winter starts to roll around!