Archive for cuisine

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!


Yakisoba Soup in Kuroishi

Posted in Kuroishi-city with tags , , , , , , on February 21, 2010 by Christy

Have you ever delighted in yakisoba?  Japanese and foreigners alike seem to be quite the fan. Yakisoba is simply a stir-fry noodle mixed with vegetables and meat and topped with a variety of delicious Japanese flavors including aonori (seaweed powder) and beni shoga (shredded pickled ginger). It seems to be quite a popular dish at festivals here in Japan and many foreigners claim to have devoured the dish many of times.

Today in my adventures around Kuroishi City I happened to stumble upon a new variation of the dish.  “Tsuyu Yakisoba” or Yakisoba soup!!  It is the same noodles and flavor, but in a soup! It kind of reminded me of ramen or hot soba.

Tsuyu Yakisoba apparently has quite a history in quaint Kuroishi as it has been around since the 1950s. Today I tried out the original yakisoba flavor but I the dish is known to come in several variations as “scallop tsuyu yakisoba” and “curry tsuyu yakisoba” also are popular.

Here is how it is made:

the standard yakisoba is put in a bowl... is topped with soup...

...ta daa!! Here you have tsuyu yakisoba

It was quite tasty! And I recommend it to any foreigners wanting to try another Japanese food!  If you are looking for a place to enjoy some Tsuyu Yakisoba, Kuroishi has a great area called Tsugaru Denshou Kougeikan. It is a collection of shops with traditional Tsugaru arts and crafts.  There is also a wonderful “ashi-yu” (foot bath), and a few options if you are interested in trying Kuroishi Yakisoba.

Tsugaru Denshou Kougeikan

Tsugaru Denshou Kougeikan

ashi-yu foot bath

The area also has a small winter festival going on daily 10 – 4 through February 28. There is traditional art performance, snowmobiling and good food. Get out, enjoy the winter, and warm up with some Yakisoba soup!

Tsugaru Denshou Kougeikan
Free Parking
Bus running a few times daily from Kuroishi Station


Information on the winter festival:

Nambu Sembei

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , on December 14, 2009 by Zack

Winter is officially here in Aomori. It’s gotten really cold lately and we’ve had a few dustings of snow. The weather makes me want to curl up with a good book in the kotatsu (a heated table with a thick blanket cover) and drink warm tea all day.

Speaking of drinking tea… one of my favorite snacks in Aomori, Nambu Sembei, goes great with tea, so I thought I’d briefly introduce them today:

Nambu Sembei

Peanut Nambu Sembei (10 pack)

Nambu Sembei (sometimes written as Nanbu Senbei) are a traditional snack in Aomori Prefecture, and in parts of Iwate Prefecture- specifically where they originated, the old Nambu clan areas around what is present-day Hachinohe City. The name Nambu refers to this area, and sembei is a Japanese word for cracker, biscuit, or cookie. Nambu Sembei, unlike other sweets in Japan, are not made from rice but instead wheat and come in a wide variety of flavors, including apple, pistachio, etc., but the most common types have either sesame seeds or peanuts in them. The peanut flavored ones are my personal favorite. They have a very mild and slightly sweet slightly salty taste, making it a simple yet very Japanese flavor that goes great with tea. As you can see they have a unique saucer shape, with a crispy thin outer rim that is known as the “mimi” (ear). The “mimi” is made when Nambu Sembei are baked in their metal molds over a hot fire. You can see them being made a quite a lot of places throughout Aomori, including Aomori station, and other tourist hotspots.

But, another reason why Nambu Sembei are one of my favorite snacks is because you can buy them at almost any convenience store in the area.

Great with tea!

It’s a little hard to tell from this picture, but Nambu Sembei have a nice picture on the inner side. This brand has uses a pine tree design on their sembei. I really like the simple and natural peanut patterns in the sembei too.

Peanut Nambu Sembei

Nambu Sembei don’t weigh much at all, stay fresh for a long time, and their universal appeal make them an ideal souvenir. However since they are a little brittle they are prone to breaking into pieces so you need to take care when packing them. Some gift shops sell them in a strong collectible tin that will keep them from breaking so I recommend buying Nambu Sembei that come in a tin, especially if you are bringing them a long way for someone special.

So if you are trying to find the perfect gift for that certain somebody who has everything, or if you are just looking for a snack while exploring Aomori, try this lovely local speciality, Nambu Sembei.