Washington Post: How it feels when white people shame your [Asian] culture’s food, then make it trendy

Washington Post (by Ruth Tam):

When I’m craving comfort food, I’ll take my father’s ngau lam over mac and cheese any day. Although it takes the better part of a day to prepare, his Cantonese braised brisket stew always soothes my stomach and my soul.

I love the cooking process almost more than the flavor. My father cuts a square of cheesecloth and adds cinnamon, star anise, cloves, peppercorn, ginger, orange peel and a sweet root with no English name to its center. He ties it into a neat bundle and lets me hold it to my nose before dropping it into a rich broth in which brisket, tripe and tendon simmer for hours until tender.

Before all the ngau lam ingredients converge in a giant pot, the brisket, tripe and tendon must be blanched. It gives off a hot, heavy stench that permeates every room of the house and adheres to every fiber.

My childhood home in suburban Chicago always smelled like whatever we were cooking. Visiting us meant cloaking yourself in the scent of haam daan ju yoke beng, a dish of steamed pork and salted egg, or the perfume of mapodoufu, tofu and minced pork with a spicy chili and fermented black bean sauce.

I didn’t mind the smells growing up because I wasn’t aware of them. That is, until a high school friend declared my house smelled of “Chinese grossness.”

The comment clung to me like the smell in my home. My embarrassment hit a peak when my father installed a 5-foot-long fish tank in our family room so he could steam fish at home — extra fresh. I tried to pretend the blue fish swimming around in the murky green water were pets, but the lack of tank accessories gave away our true intentions, stunning my white friends.

My hunger for my family’s food was overpowered by my desire to fit in, so I minimized Chinese food’s role in my life and learned to make pasta instead. Little did I know that Americans would come to embrace the dishes and cooking styles that once mortified me. The Cantonese foods of my childhood have reappeared in trendy restaurants that fill their menus with perfectly plated fine-dining versions of our traditional cuisine. In some cases, this shift has been heartening. But in too many others, the trend has reduced staples of our culture to fleeting fetishes.

The shame associated with immigrant foods (until they become foodies’ favorites) isn’t unique to me or Chinese dishes. In her new book, “Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking,” Korean cook and YouTube star Maangchi writes fondly of Korean soup soy sauce. In South Korea, all of her neighbors would boil their own. In the United States, though, the soup was received differently:

“I remember boiling my Korean soup soy sauce when I lived in Missouri, and my apartment manager knocked on my door. ‘What’s that smell? I got a complaint from your neighbor.’ I was so embarrassed that I didn’t make soup soy sauce again for a long time, even after I moved back to Korea.”

Even now, as an accomplished cook in New York City, Maangchi doesn’t boil soup soy sauce in her home. Instead, she takes it to a creek at the base of the Henry Hudson Bridge and boils it in a portable gas burner “where no one will complain.”

This experience is so universal that it recently became canonized in pop culture. New York chef Eddie Huang retold the story of his daily lunchroom shaming in a scene from “Fresh Off the Boat,” an ABC sitcom based on his memoir. When young Eddie takes a carton of noodles out of his lunchbox, his white classmates react with disgust: “Ying Ming’s eating worms! Dude, that smells nasty!” Back at home, Eddie demands his parents start packing him “white people lunch.”

The lengths to which immigrant families have gone to hide the way we feed ourselves break my heart. But something has changed. In cities big and small, Asian dishes and flavors have become popular among foodies at chic eateries. Foods that were once considered too strong, too spicy, too smelly or too obviously-from-an-animal for my white friends are now on Restaurant Week menus nationwide.

A month ago, I saw a kimchi burger on the menu at Macintyre’s, a new bar in Washington’s upscale Woodley Park neighborhood. It’s just two miles north of Drafting Table, which sells a duck-and-hoisin-sauce grilled cheese. And a few blocks from there is Masa 14, which features crispy chicken wings and meatballs on its “Dim Sum” menu. Downtown, Wolfgang Puck’s The Source offers lobster bao buns and “Chinoise-style” chicken salad.

In one way, this is a positive change. Now that I’ve gotten over my fear of stinking up my kitchen, the growing number of Asian grocery stores means I don’t have to visit home to get ingredients for homemade Chinese food. Greater acceptance of international eateries allows immigrants, professional chefs and otherwise to explore their culture and dual identity proudly, instead of behind closed doors or at the edge of the Henry Hudson Bridge.

Gravitating toward “new” cuisines is understandable, and when done well, immigrant food can provoke discussions about personal history and shared diasporas. I’ve seen this happen at restaurants such as China Chilcano, which describes the history of Chinese and Peruvian fusion that influences its menu, a bare minimum that many restaurants ignore.

But while some eateries get it right, the United States’s take on “ethnic” food often leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Recently, I discovered I can order bone broth, like my grandmother used to make, in New York City — the same way I would order a cold-pressed juice.

“2015 is the year of bone broth!”  the “Today” show declared in January. “These days, the hottest food trend is a steaming cup of soup.” The morning show touted bone broth as a newly discovered wonder food of “Paleo dieters and wellness enthusiasts,” making no mention of its grounding in Chinese culture.

In the United States, immigrant food is often treated like discount tourism — a cheap means for foodies to feel worldly without leaving the comfort of their neighborhood — or high-minded fusion — a stylish way for American chefs to use other cultures’ cuisines to reap profit. The dishes of America’s recent immigrants have become check marks on a cultural scavenger hunt for society’s elite. One conspicuous example is an upcoming eatery in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood that packages discount tourism and high-minded fusion into one menu. The as-yet-unnamed restaurant seeks to re-create Southeast Asia’s “expat experience” — not for Asian residents in D.C. but for D.C. residents who crave the feeling of visiting Asia with other foreigners.

“When you travel in Southeast Asia, you have two experiences: the cultural experiences with the temples, food, and people, and then a phenomenal traveler’s culture, too,” chef Alex McCoy told Washingtonian. “That’s the inspiration for this place. We want to introduce people to Thai cuisine, but frame it in the eye of a traveler.”

This cultural appropriation stings because the same dishes hyped as “authentic” on trendy menus were scorned when cooked in the homes of the immigrants who brought them here. Fashionable food from foreign cultures may satisfy a temporary hunger, but if you’re trying it for shallow reasons, you’ll be culturally unfulfilled in the long run.

Instead of attempting to expand our palates with best-restaurant lists and foodie fads, we should find deeper ways to explore the diversity of dishes that have come to the United States.

We need food writers like Monica Bhide, who appreciate not only diverse tastes, but also the cultures that produced them. We need more cookbook authors like Maangchi, who documents traditional recipes so fans of Korean food can participate in culinary rituals. We need more publications like Lucky Peach, which treats immigrant food with the same complexity that is bestowed on the all-American burger. And we need more films like “The Search for General Tso” that examine our relationship with “ethnic” food.

Americans are increasingly interested in where food is sourced. Surely, that interest should extend to a meal’s cultural roots as well as its biological origins.

My dad’s ngau lam is not gross, but I never want it to be given the “fad” treatment. You should try it the way he likes to prepare it — after he blanches the cow stomach, adds the bag of spices and lets it cook for hours.

The best meals are more than the sum of their ingredients; their flavors tell the stories of the rich cultures that created them. When the same respect is afforded to immigrant food as traditional “American” food, eating it will sate us in more ways than one.

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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McDonald’s Japan busts out Tofu Nuggets following expired meat scandal

 

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FoodBeast:

 

McDonald’s Corp. found itself in quite a bind after an investigation revealed that chicken nugget supplier OSI Group LLC. had been mixing expired meat with newer supplies. As a result of the scandal, McDonald’s pulled all chicken and other items from menus at several locations throughout China and Japan.

But now it would seem Japan’s highest grossing restaurant chain wants to make up for taking away people’s poultry, by offering them tofu nuggets instead.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the new Tofu Shinjo Nuggets will be made from ingredients that include “onions, soybeans, carrots, and minced fish.”

It will also be lower in calories than the chicken nuggets and served with a ginger dipping sauce. A McDonald’s spokesperson said the tofu nuggets had been in development prior to the expired meat scandal. The timing of their release, it’s assumed, was pure “luck.

 

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9 utterly bizarre Japanese cartoons about cooking and food

 

1. Chuuka Ichiban!

A “cooking war” rages in 19th Century China. Expert chefs duel each other by vomiting up the perfect golden fried rice, finding legendary cooking knives, and making dumplings the size of tables. Tofu glistens like a billion suns. There’s also a underground society of 108 evil chefs who want to control all of China.

Sashimi pieces sail through the air as patrons scream into their own reflection. Just another day in anime cooking school.

2. Ben-To

Everyone beats the living hell out of each other to get half-priced bento lunch boxes at a supermarket. Our hapless protagonists unwittingly stumbled into this supermarket and wins the brawl. He’s then invited to a secret society of warriors who fight each other for discount supermarket food.

9 Utterly Bizarre Japanese Cartoons About Cooking And Food

3. Yakitate!!

A boy genius struggles to invent “Ja-Pan,” a national bread for Japan. He also possess a legendary pair of “solar hands” — hands that can warm dough to hasten the yeast fermentation process. The whole series pokes fun of the melodramaticshonen fighter comic genre.

Yakitate!!

4. Drops of God

Kanzaki Shizuku has never tasted wine before, but when his estranged father dies, he discovers that his dad was a world-class wine critic, and he must compete with master sommeliers from across the world to identify 13 bottles of wine called “The Twelve Apostles” and “Drops of God” to inherit his estate.

This comic was so acclaimed in Asia that it boosted wine imports in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

 

5. Akikan (Empty Can)

A high school boy discovers soda cans that can actually transform into… girls?? These anthropomorphic soda cans need carbonation to survive. They also must battle each other until the superior type of soda can is revealed.

Akikan (Empty Can)

6. Toriko

Toriko roams the earth battling, cooking, and eating rare monsters. He fights against an evil Gourmet Corp in the race to find GOD, a cooking ingredient so powerful that it could end wars for hundreds of years.

7. Shirokuma Cafe

A lazy, half-employed panda hangs out at a cafe run by a polar bear. They cook delicious-looking cartoon food. Humans drop in sometimes and talk to them too, and no one finds it weird that a polar bear can cook and talk. This series is actually really adorable.

Shirokuma Cafe

8. Addicted to Curry

A schoolgirl feeds a streetside punk a life-changing dollop of curry rice. They work together to revive her father’s failing restaurant, and cook heavenly, face-melting curry, trouncing all their evil curry-rivals in cooking battles. He turns out to be a huge pervert.

9. Kuitan (Gluttonous Detective)

Detective Seiya Takano solves high-level cases by compulsively swallowing all the food at the scene of the crime, and finding clues with his gourmet tastebuds.

Link

Centuries-old Japanese cookbooks give a peek at the dinner tables of the samurai

RocketNews 24:

 

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One thing that surprises many recent arrivals to Japan is that chefs put as much effort into the presentation of their food as they do the flavor. This has got to be a recent development though, right? Being able to take the time to delicately craft your meal into a feast for the eyes is a luxury that must be born out of the ease and convenience of a stable, technologically advanced, modern society.

It turns out, though, that Japan’s appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of cooking stretch back hundreds of years, as proven by these dishes made from centuries-old cookbooks.

While Japan has plenty of cooking shows and recipe-sharing websites, the desire to prepare meals that look as good as they taste predates both television and the Internet, and for that matter, even the use of electricity in Japan. So during the Edo Period, the last era of feudal government, aspiring chefs turned to cookbooks to learn the tricks of the trade.

Since Japan was still under a policy of political and cultural isolation at the time, these texts focused on traditional Japanese dishes. One of the most popular Edo cookbooks was the Tofu Hyakuchin, or One Hundred Unique Types of Tofu, which was published way back in 1782.

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The cookbook’s author is listed as Suikyodojin Kahitsujun, an obvious pen name given its outlandish length even by the ostentatious standards of the time. True to its name, the cookbook contains 100 different tofu recipes, including whirlpool tofu, which is made by wrapping a layer of suizenji seaweed around a slice of tofu.

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For those looking for a little visual trickery, there’s also egg tofu, which is actually a ring of cream-colored bean curd surrounding a cross-section of carrot which stands in for the yolk.

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Even more vibrantly colored is the ice tofu, which is mixed with agar to provide consistency and shape.

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The castella tofu may not look so outlandish to Western eyes, but to Japanese citizens at the time, its fluffy texture, evocative of the castella cakes introduced by Portuguese traders, gave it a high novelty factor. The dish’s appearance is the result of soaking the tofu in sake overnight, then boiling it for four hours.

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Some recipes earned a spot in the Tofu Hyakuchin purely on the merit of their flavor, though, such as this miso pickled tofu, the cooking process for which imparts it with an almost cheese-like richness.

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The cookbook was released during the first extended period of peace following centuries of civil war in Japan, and was an immediate hit with cooks caught up in the cultural renaissance taking place at the time. One reason for its success was that it offered more than just recipes, also going into the history of tofu and explaining how the bean curd itself is made. The Tofu Hyakuchin was so popular that a follow-up with even more tofu recipes was later published.

▼ The original edition (right) and follow-up (left)

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Tofu wasn’t the only thing on an Edo Period dinner table, of course, and the 18th Century cooking enthusiast could also find texts on how to cook with ingredients such as sweet potato, eel, or the citrus fruit yuzu. Proving that marketing has always been an important part of a successful business venture, many of these cookbooks were bestowed with impressive titles. After all, what shopper would go for something ordinary like How to Cook Vegetables when he could instead pick up a copy of the Daikon Isshiki Ryori Himitsubako, or The Complete Box of 100 Secrets for Cooking Daikon Radish.

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Its most eye-catching recipe is for chain daikon, a set of interlocking rings cut out from a single radish, as shown in this illustration.

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Of course, that’s just a drawing, There’s no way you could actually slice up a whole daikon like that, right?

▼ Wrong.

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Another specialized cooking tome dealt entirely on how to cook with sea bream, the highly prized saltwater fish regularly served at celebrations, since its Japanese name, tai, is similar to the word omedetai, or congratulations.

▼ Omedetai

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The Tai Hyakuchin Ryori Himitsubako (Box of 100 Secrets for Cooking Sea Bream) shows how to make a dish called tai no tororojiru. The chef begins by grilling the sea bream whole, then removing the skin and bones before grinding the fish into a paste with a pestle and mixing in the sticky, grated yam called yama imo.

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But while sea bream is a highly prized, and highly priced, ingredient, Edo Period cookbooks didn’t ignore humbler cooking components.

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The Manbo Ryori Himitsubako may not mathematically deliver on the promise inherent in its name, which translates as The Box of 10,000 Secret Cooking Treasures. It does, however, provide a whopping 103 egg recipes, including one for reversed eggs, with a yellow outer player and white core.

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Finally, there’s some good news for those of you wanting to try your hand at Edo Period cooking. The Tofu Hyakuchin’s first edition may have come out more than two centuries ago, but reprints are readily available from online booksellers for about 1,500 yen (US$14.45), making a copy far cheaper than building your own time machine to travel back to the age of the samurai.

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Source: Naver Matome

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Centuries-old Japanese cookbooks give a peek at the dinner tables of the samurai

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

 

RocketNews 24: 

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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

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Hello Kitty gets turned into inarizushi (fried tofu stuffed with rice)

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We can always count on Hello Kitty to be an adorable culinary inspiration, from pancake makers to pumpkin donuts. The Sanrio character turns the big 4-0 next year; so in premature celebration, HK has been turned into a favorite Japanese snack – inarizushi.

Inarizushi is typically a thin outer layer of fried tofu with peaked corners and stuffed with rice. The dish naturally resembles Hello Kitty’s face shape, so the Tokyo-based company Sazae Shokuhin is adding Hello Kitty-esque features (bow included) to their inarizushi.

Unfortunately, it’s only available at Sazae Shops in northern Japan. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, we highly suggest getting your hands on these adorable treats.

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Hello Kitty gets turned into inarizushi (fried tofu stuffed with rice)