Wasabi and sashimi bagels on sale now in Japan!

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RocketNews 24:

I’ve never been much of a bagel fan. It’s got nothing to do with a dislike of carbs, as I’ll happily chow down on sandwiches, rice bowls, and noodles. Bagels, though, have always struck me as sort of bland.

Sure, I realize there are ways to make bagels more flavorful, but a lot of the most common additions, like berries or cream cheese, don’t really do much for me. But when I found out that one of Japan’s most popular bagel chains was adding a kick to their offerings with a wasabi bagel, my interest was piqued. Then, when I learned that they also offered a bagel sandwich with tuna sashimi, my next meal was planned.

These Japanese-style bagels come courtesy of Bagel & Bagel, the redundantly named chain that’s much more creative with their product lineup than their company’s moniker. Like their watermelon bagels we tried last summer, the wasabi and sashimi versions are part of a limited time lineup, this time collectively called the Japanese Fair menu and available until February 22.

▼ The Yokohama Lumine branch of Bagel & Bagel

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Joining the non-sandwich wasabi bagel in the Japanese Fair are varieties made with mochi rice cake, edamame soybeans and hijiki (a type of seaweed), nori (yet another type of seaweed), shiitake mushroom with sesame, and kinako (a cinnamon-like flavoring) with white chocolate.

▼ Mochi (left) and hijiki edamame (right)

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▼ Nori (left) and wasabi (right)

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Intriguing as they all sound, there’re only so many bagels you can plow through in one sitting, and for this taste-test, the two that made the cut were the 200-yen (US $1.70) wasabi bagel and 490-yen (US $4.15) tuna marinated with soy sauce and wasabi mayonnaise (which sounds slightly more eloquent in Japanese as tzuke maguro to wasabi mayonezu).

▼ The wrapper says “New York style bagels,” but I don’t recall seeing any with sashimi when I visited the Big Apple.

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Initially, I was a little disappointed, since I’d expected opening the package to produce a blast of sinus-clearing wasabi aroma. No such luck, as it smelled pretty much like any other bagel. Still, I wasn’t giving up hope yet. Even with no wasabi experience for the olfactory senses, the ring-shaped piece of bread’s green color promised one for the taste buds, as did the ingredient list that mentioned both wasabi paste and powder.

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I took a bite, and found that the bagel is pleasantly chewy. Initially, there’s not a whole lot of flavor going on, but as you continue to chew, the spiciness starts to kick in. While it’s not nearly as spicy as the dollop of wasabi you’ll find served along with your meal in a sushi restaurant, it’s still tasty. This would actually go pretty well with a glass of beer, producing an effect that’s sort of a combination between a soft pretzel and spicy kakipisoy crackers.

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Now it was time for the main event, the tuna sashimi bagel, which uses the same dough as the plain wasabi bagel. This one comes wrapped in butcher paper, just like Japanese restaurants serve their hamburgers.

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Although it isn’t mentioned in the already too-long-for-its-own-good official name of the tuna marinated with soy sauce and wasabi mayonnaise bagel, the first thing that greets your eyes is the heaping helping of mizuna. While mizuna translates as potherb mustard, it doesn’t taste anything like the yellow condiment or the seeds its made from. Instead, mizuna is a crisp leaf vegetable that’s commonly found in salads and hot pots in Japan, with a flavor that’s just a touch on the sharp and bitter side but far milder than, say, arugula.

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▼ Some of the wasabi-infused mayo

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Remove the wrapper entirely, and you’ll see the tuna sashimi peeking out at you through the middle of the bagel. You’ll also notice another ingredient that’s left off the marque in the form of small strips of nori seaweed. Nori is commonly added to rice bowls topped with marinated tuna sashimi, though, so some Japanese diners might assume it’ll be included in the sandwich even without being told about its presence.

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As for the tuna itself, it’s concentrated towards the center of the sandwich and coarsely diced. It’s not as soft as the tuna in negi toro sushi, though. If you’ve ever had the variety of sashimi called naka ochi, you’ll know what to expect here, as the texture is still substantial enough to make this feel like a proper sandwich filling, and not just a bagel with a paste spread on it.

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So how does it taste? Pretty good, actually. All of the mizuna gives you the impression that you’re eating something incredibly healthy, and with a calorie count of just 286 for the entire sandwich, you really are. However, there’s so much mizuna that in your first bite, you’re likely to not even notice the tuna. The wasabi mayonnaise is there to add some variety though, with a creamy yet spicy flavor that makes the first mouthful resemble a handheld salad.

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Things start to get sashimi-style soon, though. Having most of the tuna packed towards the center means a decidedly different flavor profile between the first and second bites. It’s not just the taste that changes, either, as the sashimi provides a lot more moisture than the mizuna, even with the wasabi mayonnaise helping out the veggies.

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On the plus side, the shift in flavor and moistness makes eating the sashimi bagel almost feel like a multi-course meal. Still, since there’s only a modest amount of wasabi mayonnaise mixed in with the mizuna, as you move from one end to the center and then on through to the other side, it means you’re going from dry to moist to back to dry again.

If that ending doesn’t sound like your preferred way to finish a meal, you might find yourself hoping for a little extra moisture at the tail end. I suppose you could go to the fridge, grab a jar of mayo, and add a little to supplement what’s already there, but that seems like it would just dilute the wasabi flavor and run contrary to the bagel’s Japanese influences.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, where the restaurant Philippe’s has been serving up delicious French dip sandwiches for over a hundred years, I’m no stranger to the benefits of dunking an already assembled sandwich in a bit of extra sauce. Instead of au jus, though, a mixture of wasabi and soy sauce seemed more appropriate.

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So in the end, while the tuna sashimi bagel is just fine on its own, it’s even better if you turn it into a Japanese dip.

Ariana Grande is learning hiragana and Japan can’t stop talking about it

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RocketNews 24:

Ariana Grande is a rising star that many are calling a “mini-Mariah Carey.”

Launching onto the world stage after an incredibly successful run on the Nickelodeon show, Victorious, she is quickly gaining fans around the world with her solo music career. She has quite the following in Japan too, with her most recent album, My Everything, peaking at #3 on the weekly Oricon Music charts. And while Japan can’t get enough of her songs and her extremely long hair (extensions), there is something else that her Japanese fans are talking about these days: Ariana Grande is learning hiragana.

Though she has a reputation of being a diva, there is only one word that Japanese fans use to describe her: KAWAIIIIIIIIIII (CUUUUUUTE)

And having been to Japan many times herself, Ariana Grande is very familiar with the concept of “kawaii.” In fact she’s quite fond of Japan, proudly claiming on Japanese TV that she loves edamame, tofu and the eclectic Japanese singer, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. And Ariana Grande is making sure her fans know that her love of Japan extends beyond her screaming Arianators. Her recent Instagram post conclusively separates her from all the other young female singers from America.

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ARIANA IS STUDYING JAPANESE!!! Countless news outlets and fans have written about how she is studying Japanese since that pictured was posted. She seems dedicated to her studies as well, having downloaded a Japanese keyboard on her phone.

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But, whether she is seriously studying Japanese during her busy schedule or just taking a swing at learning hiragana, her Japanese fans can’t get enough of it.

Ariana Grande has definitely captured the hearts of her Japanese fans, and she assures them that she will be back in Japan soon.

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Who knows how far Ariana’s foray into the Japanese language will go. Perhaps she will surprise her fans with a homemade handwritten sign professing her love for Japan at her next concert.

▼”I love Japan!”

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New Japanese karaoke parlor welcomes Muslims by introducing traditional halal menu

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RocketNews 24:

Anyone with dietary restrictions who has been to Japan will know that it can be quite frustrating. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll be shocked to hear that the fish head in your miso soup “isn’t meat.” And if you don’t drink, well, good luck at the nomikai (drinking parties).

For Muslims who follow a halal diet of no pork, alcohol, and other restrictions, it can be extremely difficult. Pork-broth is very common in Japan, alcoholic mirin and sake are often used in cooking, and in Japan animals who have been slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines are about as rare as a mosque. But thanks to a halal-friendly karaoke parlor that’s just opened in Tokyo’s Yotsuya, Muslim customers finally have a place to kick back, belt some tunes, and not worry about dictionary-checking every ingredient.

The Manekineko karaoke parlor in Yotsuya – which opened its doors on December 25 – may just be one of many Manekineko chain karaoke parlors all over Japan, but it’s still a first of its kind in the country. In addition to the normal menu available at all of its locations, it also offers an entire selection of food and drinks that strictly adhere to the halal guidelines set forth in Islam.

▼ Now Muslims in Japan can finally experience the joy of doing this for hours.

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On December 24, just in time for the parlor’s opening, the Malaysia Halal Corporation (MHC) inspected Manekineko and gave them a “Local Halal” certification after verifying that everything was done according to proper halal standards. This was no mean feat: not only can the items on the halal menu not contain pork, alcohol, or anything else that goes against the MHC’s requirements, but none of the food or drinks can even be prepared in the same area or be served using the same utensils as non-halal food. This means there are separate glasses for halal drinks,separate trays to bring food, and even an entirely separate kitchen for preparing the halal food in.

 

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Now having halal food is all fine and dandy, but is it any good? Just looking at the menu it seems to offer most of the typical karaoke parlor fare: there’s ramen, udon, yakisoba, edamame and more, which is great since it allows Muslim customers to get a taste of Japan without worrying if it’s something they can even eat. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of Middle-Eastern food like lamb, hummus, or (oddly enough) curry, but it’s still a great first step.

▼ The menu also contains a generous helping of Engrish, including “corny pizza” and “fried t corn.”

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And it’s not just the menu that’s accommodating of Muslim customers. The new Manekineko also includes a whole prayer room inside the building as well, to be used by anyone who wants to perform one of their five daily prayers. The room faces toward Mecca, and can comfortably fit four people, allowing Muslim customers to stay at karaoke longer and not worry about having to leave and go somewhere else to pray.

Apparently Manekineko has big plans to attract even more Muslim customers. Aside from expanding their halal menu to more parlors, they’re aiming to offer party plans during Ramadan for customers to break their fasting with, start a “Muslim student discount” to entice students studying abroad in Japan from Islamic countries, and expand into Southeast Asia using what they’ve learned.

“We want to create an environment where our Muslim customers, and our regular customers, feel comfortable enough to stay and have fun for a long time,” said Manekineko PR representative Takayuki Ezawa. They’ve certainly gone above and beyond in that respect, and it’s always nice to see the sometimes slightly xenophobic Japan open up its mind, and its karaoke boxes, to welcome other cultures.

Parlor Information
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. (the following day)
Price: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., 150 yen (US$1.25)/30 minutes
6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., 300 yen ($2.50)/30 minutes (holidays/weekends are 350 yen ($3.00)/30 minutes)
Requires signing up for a 200 ($1.50) yen membership.

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Design: Edamame bottle-cleaning sponges by Marna (Japan)

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Japan’s Marna make these playful little sponges for cleaning bottles. The edamame-shaped sponges clean plastic, metal and glass bottles with balls of ceramic and alumina that attack hard-to-reach stains. Heat-resistant and reusable, simply fill a bottle with a little bit of water and shake.

Shop them online or at the MoMa stores in New York.

Photography: Thomas Welch/Selectism.com

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Design: Edamame bottle-cleaning sponges by Marna (Japan)

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Foreign residents pick their favorite snacks to pair with Japanese beer

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A few years ago, I was hanging out with a friend in Tokyo. Being recently married meant that for the first time in several years I was living in an apartment more spacious and comfortable than a bunker, and I invited my buddy back to my place for a beer.

I called my wife to give her a heads-up that I was bringing home a guest, and when we arrived, I was surprised to see she’d gone down the block to the store and picked up a selection of snacks for our impromptu drinking session. In hindsight, this really shouldn’t have been so unexpected, as beer is almost always accompanied by food in Japan.

Our memories are a little hazy, but we seem to remember being taught, “When in Rome, drink as the Romans.” Taking this to heart, recently a group of foreign residents in Japan shared their favorite munchies to pair with Japanese beer.

While most people who relocate to Japan eventually adapt to the local cuisine, some dishes can be an acquired taste, such as spicy cod roe or chicken cartilage (both are outstanding, by the way). Japanese beer has no such learning curve, however, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an expat here who likes a drink now and then but doesn’t appreciate the local brews.

It’s always seemed fitting that Ebisu beer shares its name with a full-fledged god.

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Japanese beer received kind praise in general from the 20 foreign residents polled, with fans citing its smooth, rich flavor. Brewers in Japan often roll out limited-time versions of their products with the change of seasons, such as amber beers in the fall and whites in winter, which participants also said they enjoyed.

Asahi’s packaging asserts that it is “the beer for all seasons,” however.

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Still, the focus group did have a few quibbles about Japanese beers. One American male lamented the lack of Japanese-produced ales, likely a byproduct of the country’s relative lack of the hard water preferred for their brewing process. An arrival from Tunisia grumbled that Japanese beer’s alcohol content wasn’t quite as high as he’d like.

This is an extremely simple problem to rectify.

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But when foreigners in Japan are pounding down a few cold ones, what do they chow down on? One man from Brazil said he goes for either umeboshi (pickled plums) or chocolate. Actually, neither of these are completely unheard of in Japan, with umeboshi being a popular at-home snack for older men, and chocolate often being on the menu at bars, particularly upscale ones.

▼ Umeboshi and Premium Malt’s: affordable luxuries.

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If neither sour nor sweet is what you’re looking for, you could follow the lead of the Greek man who suggested Pote Long, a popular brand of crispy potato chip-like snack sticks. Regular potato chips are also a common beer partner, and Japan has a ton of unique flavors.

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Of course, sometimes you crave a little protein, in which case there’s no better choice than meat. Respondents mentioned the Japanese-style fried chicken karaage, which is usually seasoned with garlic, soy, and/or ginger, as well as the chicken skewers known as yakitori. And if it’s right after payday, you could take the advice of the Taiwanese man who gave his answer as yakiniku, or Korean barbeque.

We’re sort of blurring the line between “snack” and “meal” here, though.

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By far the group’s favorite snack to have with beer, though, was edamame, also known as soybeans. Yes, the same edamame that get recommended by nutritionists and show up in vegetarian eating guides. Toss a little salt on them, chill before serving if it’s summer, and you’ve got a light, tasty, healthy snack that you can eat with your fingers.

Edamame are essentially the Japanese version of crunchy mini pretzels. You don’t have to be drinking a beer to enjoy their flavor, but the combination is highly recommended.

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Source: Nico Nico News

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Foreign residents pick their favorite snacks to pair with Japanese beer

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Why you should eat wasabi with your sushi – the secrets behind 10 Japanese food pairings

 

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Traditions are taken very seriously in Japan, and one of the most noticeable examples is Japanese food. Certain foods and seasonings are always paired together, and while it may be tempting to dismiss this as just another example of the cultural homogeneity of an island nation, in several cases there are legitimate health benefits to these standard combinations.

Following are 10 culinary collaborations that won’t just fill you up and satisfy your taste buds, but leave you a little healthier, too:

Sushi and wasabi

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Let’s start with one of the most iconic teams in Japanese cuisine, sushi and the fiery paste that is wasabi.

Ordinarily, diners get a double punch of wasabi with each piece of sushi, as a dab of the condiment is placed in the rice, which is then dipped into a mixture of soy sauce blended with yet another dollop of wasabi. Although purists can’t imagine eating raw fish without it, some more casual sushi fans can’t handle the heat, and ask the chef to make their orderssabi nuki, or without wasabi.

But you’re actually missing out on a number of benefits if you’re passing on the wasabi, which helps to soften the smell of the fish, as well as drawing out more of its flavor. More importantly, wasabi is effective in suppressing microbes and bacteria that can cause food poisoning. So if you’re worried about eating your food raw, bear with the spiciness of the wasabi. It’s got a job to do.

Miso soup and seaweed

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Almost as ubiquitous as sushi and wasabi is the combination of miso soup with seaweed. Given its flimsy texture and near total lack of flavor, you’d be forgiven for assuming the seaweed isn’t there for anything other than aesthetic purposes.

It turns out, though, that seaweed helps compensate for one of the only health drawbacks to miso soup: its high sodium content. Nutrients in seaweed help to reduce both blood pressure and sodium levels in the body.

Rice balls and laver

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While we’re on the subject of plants from the ocean, what about the type of seaweed called laver that’s used to wrap onigiri, or rice balls?

At first this seems like something done strictly for the sake of convenience. You eat onigiri with your hands (nigiru is the Japanese word for “grab”), so if you don’t want to get rice all over them, you need some kind of covering. Onigiri predate plastic though, and the rice would stick to paper, depriving you of a few morsels when you unwrapped one. A thin strip of dried laver just seems like a natural, edible solution.

While that’s true, the laver also provides a huge nutritional benefit. Rice balls, by their nature, are almost entirely carbohydrates. In order to convert those carbs into energy, the body needs vitamin B, which laver is packed with. Conveniently, the quantity of vitamins in the B group necessary for one onigiri’s worth of carbohydrates is almost exactly equal to that contained in the amount of laver it takes to wrap one.

Raw tuna and yam

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Seafood makes up a large part of the Japanese diet, with tuna being one of the nation’s favorite fish. Raw tuna is often served with grated yam, which adds a little variety to its visual presentation (and also makes for a more economical meal than trying to fill up completely on pricey sashimi-grade fish).

The stickiness of Japanese yam takes some getting used to, and not even everyone born and raised in the country cares for it. The reason for its polarizing texture, though is the protein mucin, which helps the body to absorb the other proteins which tuna is rich in.

Saury and grated daikon radish

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Saury is another commonly eaten saltwater fish in Japan, which is almost always accompanied by grated daikon radish.

The saury is a small, slender fish, and since it’s usually grilled, you tend to end up with a lot of char on the skin. In general, the skin of fish are eaten in Japan, both for their flavor and their nutrients. However, that char isn’t exactly the healthiest thing, as it contains carcinogens. The grated daikon, usually mixed with a bit of soy sauce, helps to purge those carcinogens from the body.

Tofu and bonito flakes

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Saury and grated daikon is a decidedly old-school combo. They often appear as part of a traditional Japanese meal that involves several side dishes, one of which is likely to be tofu topped with bonito flakes.

Like the laver in miso soup, this again seems like a cosmetic choice at first. But while tofu has a plethora of amino acids, one that it’s decidedly lacking in is methionine. Methionine is essential for maintaining hair color as you age, as well as numerous other things we’re too vain and unintelligent to understand or care about. Thankfully, dried bonito is packed with the stuff, making it the prefect finishing touch for this amino acid cocktail.

Freshwater eel and sansho

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All of this talk of dainty health foods is making us hungry, so let’s move on to heartier fare, like unagi, or freshwater eel.

Unagi is usually butterflied, slathered with sauce, grilled, then topped with a dash of the slightly bitter, pepper-like powdered seasoning sansho. Aside from giving the unagi a little color, sansho helps cut down on the eel’s smell, and the condiment is also said to warm the digestive organs and help in breaking down the oils of the unagi, both of which aid in digestion.

Pork cutlet and cabbage

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But if you’re really hungry, nothing will fill you up quite like tonkatsu, or pork cutletTonkatsu always comes with a pile of shredded cabbage, which we assumed was simply the closest someone ordering a hunk of deep-fried pig could come to eating a salad.

Once again, though, the cabbage has a vital role to play. The vegetable is rich in vitamin U (something we honestly didn’t know existed), which helps prevent gastric hyperacidity. In other words, that cabbage will keep you from getting a tummy ache. There are limits to what even cabbage can do, though, so don’t assume you can chow down on a second cutlet with no ill effects as long as you finish the cabbage served with it.

Pork curry and pickled shallots

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Still hungry? Then how about some curry. At just about any curry restaurant in Japan, you’ll find a jar of pickled shallots on the table, from which diners can take as much as they want. On the surface, this may seem like some ill-thought out method to improve your breath, reasoning that the combined negative effects of curry, onions, and the pickling process will somehow wrap the scale back around and make your breath smell fresh and clean again.

The bad news is that no matter how many pickled shallots (called rakkyo in Japanese) you put away, you’re still going to need a breath mint or four. The good news is that those shallots have plenty of allysine, an amino acid that promotes absorption of the vitamin B1 in pork.

Beer and edamame

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Last, and by no means least, one of our favorite pairings in Japan: ice-cold beer and a bowl of edamame, or soybeans.

Edamame are lightly salted and served in the shell. Aside from the fun of popping them directly into your mouth, they’re a much lower calorie beer companion than peanuts or potato chips. Best of all, edamame contain methionine, like the bonito flakes mentioned above, plus vitamins B1 and C, which together help the liver in processing alcohol.

Of course, you could sidestep the whole problem of having to process alcohol by simply not consuming it in the first place. You could easily make the argument that pairing edamame with beer isn’t any better than edamame and tea, or edamame and juice.

And now, with a rebuttal, is beer.

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Why you should eat wasabi with your sushi – the secrets behind 10 Japanese food pairings

Source: Naver Matome