The “Kiwi Brothers” take Japan

Go into any Japanese supermarket’s “Fruit and Vegetable” section and I guarantee that you’ll find a stack of kiwifruits larger than that of cherries, apples and oranges combined. Over the last couple of years overall fruit sales have fallen by 10% in Japan. But according to the Fresh Fruit Portal, kiwifruit sales have grown by a third in two seasons. In fact the Japanese market accounts for 16% of global sales.

In Japan, fruit isn’t cheap. It’s actually a bloody ripoff. A single apple can cost anywhere from 150 yen (£1.02) to 400 yen (£2.72). Meanwhile a decent melon can cost up to 3000 yen (£20) and even higher. But do these steep prices account for a tastier fruit? Not really, and that’s why many Japanese people don’t buy much fresh fruit these days. Even cakes topped with strawberries are noticeably more expensive than those without. 

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It’s The Small Things: Fish and Chips

I’m going back to the UK for the Summer Holidays. So when I recently called home, my mother asked what I wanted to eat when I arrived. I instantaneously answered with “Fish and Chips”. Whether it be sitting in the garden of our family house back when I was a kid, or in the pub before an away football game, I have fond and delicious memories of eating them. In Japan, it’s not uncommon to find a rather underwhelming offering in Irish Pubs. But for a nation that slaps tempura batter on everything from prawns to asparagus, it’s strange that they’ve yet to understand the beautiful romance between the potato and white fish. That’s not to say the Japanese have no idea about the dish. On the contrary, if there’s one thing that Japanese people know about the UK aside from the Queen, Peter Rabbit and David Beckham, it’s “Fish and Chips”.

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Hiroshima and the Momiji Manju

If you have lived or traveled around Japan, then you will have undoubtably sampled Japanese wagashi at some point. Usually enjoyed with green tea, wagashi are traditional confectionary that have been an iconic piece of Japanese food culture since the Edo Period (1603-1868). There is a dizzying amount of variety, ranging from Dorayaki to the bewildering world of Mochi, far from the realms of Butter Shortbread and Victoria Sponge Cake found back home.

As I previously explained, Hiroshima is famous for its variation on okonomiyaki. But when it comes to sweet treats, there’s nothing more popular than momiji manju. Every time I board the afternoon train, I can expect to see at least five people carrying bags containing souvenir boxes of them. And if you happen to be a salaryman taking a business trip to Hiroshima, you’ll definitely be expected to bring some back to the office. I usually buy them as a gift when travelling to friends’ houses. It’s a safe option if you’ve no idea what to get.  Continue reading “Hiroshima and the Momiji Manju”

Time To Lose Some Weight!

In an attempt to control my ever-growing stomach, I’ve decided to restart my “jogging” routine and start to control my diet. Though it’s not an aggressive, “superhero” lifestyle change, I hope to lose a few kilos over the next couple of months. The late autumn and winter season are a gourmet delight in Japan with a custom of comfort cuisine. And as a result, I’ve let myself go. I weigh myself daily on the scales, though I’m constantly adjusting the dial settings to make sure it’s “100% accurate”. And I can tell you that I’m a little shocked. This isn’t the worst shape I’ve been, but that’s not something to be proud of.

It was bought to attention when I recently visited my girlfriend’s house during the Golden Week holiday. With nothing to do, we decided to take advantage of the bigger kitchen and bake apple pie. I was handed an apron, a lady’s apron, to which her mother commented that it looked like the equivalent of a man-baby’s bib. The usual questions of weight were thrown around like my days at school, I smiled it off but deep down it was  a rather embarrassing moment. The pie turned out fantastic by the way.

I’ve cut down on the amount of sugar that I’m eating. Soft drinks have been booted off the shopping list, and dessert has unfortunately been limited to once a week. With temperatures reaching 30°C already, it’ll take some self-control not to visit the ice cream section of the supermarket. Jogging at night has proven to be the best option, as I can avoid the summer heat and the embarrassing gazes from high school students. My chubby tummy or “pon-pon”, as my girlfriend has dubbed it, dances like an anthropomorphic lava lamp while I struggle uphill. Hypnotic, if not a little reminiscent of those “Belly’s gonna get you” adverts for Reebok. We’ll just have to see what happens in the coming months.

It’s The Small Things: Hot Cross Buns

Easter has long passed, and I managed to avoid the overly abundant marketing and consumerism found back home. Japan has failed to join the Easter train. And for a nation that loves it’s gimmicks, sweet treats and cute imagery, it’s surprising that the material side of the festival hasn’t become a hit over here. This year saw Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu release her single entitled “Easter”. This bizarre acid trip of a music video, complete with dancing eggs and UFO’s doesn’t really clarify the religious holiday, instead opting to further confuse the Japanese masses and everyone else for that matter.

As a kid, I fondly remember gathering a substantial collection of chocolate eggs from relatives and friends. But the one thing I really crave around Easter are hot cross buns. The sweet smell of cinnamon and orange zest, the butter slowly melting and the iconic cross decoration are a quintessential part of England’s baking heritage. That being said, the exact origins of the hot cross bun aren’t well defined. Some have linked it back to the Roman period, others to the Saxons, with many connecting them with 14th Century monks of St Albans Abbey. In fact, Elizabeth I is believed to have banned the sale of hot cross buns and spiced breads during Good Friday and Christmas due to its Catholic connotations. But the first real, documented record of the baked good can be found in the Poor Robin’s Almanak back in 1733.

Similarly, the hot cross buns connection to Easter, both in terms of its recipe and general existence are shrouded in historiographical and religious mystery. With the Church of England’s incessant need to relate every baked good to a Christian context, the bread seems to represent communion, the spice related to those used to wrap Jesus’ body, and the cross obvious represents his crucifixion. But the atheist in me simply sees them as a seasonal treat with a cute design. Though I’ll admit that I rarely ponder the significance of my afternoon treat.

Unlike baking pies or cakes, I lack the patience, methodical thinking and precision that’s required in crafting a beautiful sourdough or crusty whole-wheat loaf. So I usually buy hot cross buns from the supermarket. My particular favourite have been Marks and Spencer’s Apple-Cinnamon variety. They might be more expensive than those from Tesco or Sainsbury, but they’re worth it.

God damn it, I wish I had some now.

Hiroshima and Okonomiyaki

If there’s one thing that Japanese people love to talk about it’s food. During my first year in Japan whenever I’d talk with teachers or friends about my travels around the country, I’d be met with recommendations on local cuisine rather than famous sights. I actually made this the theme of my Japanese speech in a local contest. I came third place, somehow. Anyway, while individual localities around Hiroshima Prefecture are known for local produce (oysters, lemons, oranges…etc), Hiroshima is widely know for okonomiyaki.

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New Years in Japan

Well the New Year’s celebrations are long over and most people are back to work and school. Looking back at my winter vacation, it seemed to disappear in a flash. I shouldn’t really be complaining seen as though most of Japan’s workforce can only dream about two weeks of holiday. But while I didn’t travel anywhere particularly special, it was a relaxing end to the year.

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