Road Trip Part Three (Amore And More? Part Four)

Our story so far involves J dating again, and in response I planned a trip to meet a guy I’ve known a while but only online. As part of the trip, I figured I would stop in Edgewater, NJ so I could go to Mitsuwa Marketplace once again.

After my stop to the bookstore and the shop that sells almost everything else you would want from Japan, I headed into the supermarket. My goal was to only buy things I wanted or might need, things that I couldn’t easily get in Syracuse at one of the local Asian grocery stores, and since I was far from home I couldn’t get anything that required some kind of refrigeration.

I got some makings for okonomiyaki, such as the powdery nori (basically seaweed sprinkles) and fried flour bits (think of it as tiny batter drippings that are fried). The special okonomiyaki flour was about the same price as what I pay around here, so there was no point in buying more.

There are hard candies flavored like some of Suntory’s beverages such as Dekavita C and CC Lemon, which I first bought from Mitsuwa though I never tried looking for some of the other beverage flavors. I couldn’t buy any more CC Lemon while I was there, but I did get another bottle of Dekavita C, and I found the cherry drink and the honey and lemon drink that are also featured flavors of the hard candies. The cherry drink was good, but of course I enjoy the hard candy as well.

I found Hello Kitty Pasta! Unlike the Rilakuma spaghetti I’ve purchased previously (which I didn’t find this time), the Hello Kitty pasta is shaped like Hello Kitty and flowers. It was $4, and it’s not even a pound of pasta, so I’m not sure if I want to eat it or keep it around for looks.

About $75 later, once it was all back home and in the pantry and elsewhere, I was asking myself what I bought. And yet, it’s been two weeks and I still haven’t consumed all of it.

Before I got back to the car, I got myself something for lunch. Previously when I’ve visited Mitsuwa, I was in the mindset that I only lived about 40 minutes away so there was easily a next time and it could be sooner than I could imagine. With that mindset, it didn’t matter what I bought to eat for lunch, because I’d be back again to try something else. This time, since it had been over a year since the last time I was at Mitsowa (which is hard to believe that time really passed that quickly), I figured that I had to get something worth the visit. I paced from one eatery to the next, trying to figure what I wanted. I settled on ramen, but I went for the combo that included natto. Oh yes, I was going for natto.

From what I’ve gathered, natto is pretty much the Vegemite of Japan. It’s an acquired taste that is seldom enjoyed by foreigners. Let me put it this way: imagine you’re eating beans, like kidney beans, but they’re in a sauce that requires fermentation… oh, and the sauce looks like the thin, stringy slime they use in movies depicting alien lifeforms. Natto is supposed to have a strong scent, from what I’ve heard, but my natto served on rice and topped with green onions was rather mild in taste and aroma. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it, and ended up not finishing my ramen because I just couldn’t eat anything else.

But then I got dessert on my way out the door, most of which traveled back to Syracuse with me. I ate the coffee jelly when I got to the storage unit, which was dumb of me because it was topped with ice cream. I knew it was topped with ice cream. For whatever reason, my brain thought it would be fine to wait that long before eating it. The ice cream was soup, of course, but it didn’t make a mess and was quite tasty as anticipated.

At the storage unit, it was lightly raining. As I packed the car, it seemed like a lot of things I had in storage were affected by the moisture in the air, as boxes seemed slightly damp and such. Well, my goal is to empty out the storage unit by the end of this year, maybe, so aside from a  few things I desperately wanted to get out to make sure they survived, I just loaded up the car with whatever was nearby. Within an hour, I was back on the road, and this time I was heading for home.

The whole trip was exhausting, but exciting. And I did find love, as I had hoped.

It wasn’t for my date, which I’m sorry to say and yet I don’t regret it. Being around him feels like being around my exes, which is only a bad thing because I wouldn’t be giving him the chance that Mr Smith probably deserves. And yet, maybe it’s just my inner workings being hyper vigilant and trying to avoid a repeat of the past, a past where I wasn’t happy, where the relationship I had really wasn’t what I wanted.

If anything, the love I found was for myself. I focused on what I wanted and what I needed to do. I did what made me happy. And I told people about it, because I wanted them to know that I found something that made me happy and they might enjoy it as well. I did things so that I wouldn’t walk away with regrets, or at least that I could say I tried. I met Mr Smith, and I had been wanting to meet him for a while, but now I know I like him as a friend and I don’t want to lose that. I tried natto. Heck, I spoke three words of Japanese to a vendor, which always made me nervous because I never wanted to assume that any Asian person was Japanese or could speak Japanese (and yes, it was a positive experience, or so it seemed).

Maybe it’s for the best if J’s house is just my home base for now. I can’t imagine it’s going to help my love life, as potential suitors might think J and I already have some kind of relationship and they might decide to not invest much time with me. But maybe I’m not supposed to be in love with anyone here, not even J. Maybe J exists to keep me from feeling lonely, to get me back on my feet and figure out where my life should go from here.

And maybe there’s an adventure in my future, a trip to Japan and not just a Japanese restaurant or supermarket. Why do I feel like I’m being called there?

And why have I really been brought back here to Syracuse? Because I could do without living with an unrequited love while he dates someone else. I never would have remembered I had a thing for him if I hadn’t moved back here. But I do have a good environment now, where I can think critically about anyone in my life. I know that J isn’t perfect, Mr Smith isn’t perfect, even J’s date isn’t all that wonderful.

Since I do have love for J, I do want him to be happy, and if it’s with his date and not me, it might be for the best. After all, getting tied down with J would only keep me in Syracuse. If I’m meant to be in Japan, then I need to be ready and willing for the opportunity when it comes my way.

So that was February, or at least the major parts of it. My birthday comes at the end of this month, and hopefully something exciting will happen between now and then. If not, I’ll find something to get excited about. Mark my words.


Japanese Food Is Expensive In The States?

I have, on numerous occasions, had people advise me not to shop at the Asian food stores that I might visit once a month. This advice comes after I’ve been to the Asian food stores and have picked up a few things for myself.

Their reasoning is simple. My friends don’t want me spending more money on food than what’s necessary. They’re not wrong, there are some things that are on the pricier side in regards to imported food. However, I manage to keep my shopping trips under $50 by buying food items that I’ll make last longer than a week.

And yet, lately it’s like I’ve been eating Japanese food for about half of my meals.

I’ve been making the same three things in rotation: okonomiyaki, omuraisu (omelette rice), and curry. That’s not to say I’ve eaten the same three things all the time, or that there aren’t variations to keep things interesting. Besides, the ingredients for each can be used for other recipes, and some ingredients are probably in most kitchens already.

Your basic shopping list will look like:

  • flour
  • eggs
  • sugar
  • baking powder
  • cabbage
  • cooking oil (extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, your choice)
  • ketchup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • rice
  • carrots
  • green onions/scallions
  • cooking onions
  • potatoes
  • chicken
  • bacon
  • mayonaise (in a squeeze container)
  • Japanese curry mix (I’ve seen Walmart and Wegmans carry Golden Curry in their Asian food section, so it is possible to buy it at a regular grocery store)
  • instant ramen, any flavor (the brick form, not cup, and you won’t be using the flavor packet anyway)

If you want to get fancy, and by fancy I mean you have an Asian market near where you live, then look for these items:

  • okonomiyaki flour (you won’t need the flour, baking powder, and sugar from the above list if you choose to get okonomiyaki flour instead)
  • okonomi sauce (you won’t need Worcestershire sauce)
  • straight ramen noodles
  • udon noodles
  • Japanese mayonaise
  • yakisoba sauce
  • nori sheets (yes, dried seaweed sheets used for sushi and such)

Chances are, you probably have many of these things already, making a run to the store even less expensive.

If you already have rice, eggs, ketchup, cooking onions, and chicken, you can make omelette rice! That’s probably the simplest recipe I could pass along, not to mention that it might be the only one where you already have everything you need. Start by making a lot of rice, maybe about 2 or 3 cups of cooked rice. Honestly you could make 10 cups of cooked rice for all I care, but unless you’re making a lot of omuraisu, you won’t be using it all right now and can save it for some of the other recipes. Once you have some cooked rice, even if you just cooked it or it was left over from another recipe or last night’s Chinese takeout, set it aside. Chop about half of an onion, more if you’d like, less if you don’t like onion. Cut a chicken breast into small pieces, then cook the chicken with the chopped onion in a pan with a tablespoon or two of cooking oil until the chicken is cooked. Add about two cups of rice, and maybe about two or three tablespoons of ketchup, in with the chicken and rice and stir it all together. Add more ketchup until it’s light pink, but not too much because you want it to hold together. If you add too much ketchup and the mix won’t hold together, add the other cup of rice if you reserved any. Put this mix aside and get out a skillet. Grease the skillet with butter, cooking oil, or nonstick cooking spray, your choice. In a small bowl, beat two eggs until scrambled. Fry the eggs in the skillet, though I personally recommend only cooking the eggs halfway and leaving a tiny bit of runny egg. The next part, you can do this as you’re supposed to or you can do my lazy technique. You’re supposed to press the rice mixture into a bowl so it takes on that shape, then flip the bowl onto a plate, and then put the omelette on top of the now-shaped rice. Trying to cut down on dishes, or maybe I’m boxing it up for work, I just press the rice mixture into a bowl and then put the egg on top of the bowl (runny side down, so the egg mixes in with the rice a bit). With some extra ketchup, you can draw on top of the omelette, or just add a little bit as a topping.

That’s the most basic way to make omuraisu. You can also add peppers or other vegetables to your liking, or you can use spicy ketchup instead of regular ketchup. There’s also a bacon omuraisu recipe on the internet, which I’ve tried and approve of (at that point, you’re eating breakfast because you’ve got bacon and eggs). You did buy bacon for the okonomiyaki, right?

One head of regular green cabbage will make about 6 to 8 cabbage pancakes, or okonomiyaki. It’s not difficult to find the recipe, either: if you bought the okonomiyaki flour, the recipe is on the package. If you bought the okonomi sauce, the recipe is on the package. If you bought an okonomiyaki kit, the recipe is on the package and your portions are measured out. But there’s so many recipes out there, depending on how you want to make okonomiyaki, and this is one I haven’t done completely from scratch before. Start by chopping your cabbage into short, narrow strips. To that, add okonomiyaki flour, water, eggs, and scallions, and mix everything together. Grease a skillet or griddle, then put some of the cabbage mix onto the heated skillet, press it down until it’s about an inch thick and top with bacon. After a few minutes, flip the okonomiyaki and let the bacon get cooked. Serve it bacon-side-up after topping with mayo and okonomi sauce.

Hiroshima-yaki is okonomiyaki cooked in layers. Instead of mixing everything together, you make a circle of pancake batter and put the shredded cabbage on top of that, and then other toppings including your bacon, then put some of the batter on top so it holds everything together when you flip everything. Don’t make Hiroshima-yaki if you’re trying to impress someone, at least not until you’ve made it a few times without making a mess of your stove.

Modan-yaki is easy to make and is quite good. Start with the regular Osaka-style okonomiyaki, but before you throw down your bacon, cook some noodles (ramen, udon, soba, whatever you have) and then mix those noodles with either some okonomi sauce or even yakisoba sauce. Put that noodle mixture on top of the cabbage mix in the skillet and spread it out to cover the cabbage, and then put the bacon on top of that. Once everything has cooked and you put it on a plate, fry an egg or two (scrambled, over-easy, I personally don’t care. It’s supposed to be over-easy, I believe) and then put the egg on top of the bacon and noodles. Finish by drizzling the mayo and okonomi sauce over the top of everything.

Since we’ve been neglecting the rest of the rice you made, because you insisted on making 10 cups earlier, we’ll serve it with the curry. Mild Japanese curry is really mild, so if you’re worried about spiciness, I can assure you that you will enjoy it. But first, chop an entire onion. One onion is supposedly not enough based on the directions, but my friends keep telling me it’s too much onion because you can smell it across the house. Anyway, one diced onion is enough unless you want more onion, I’m not going to stop you. Cut a chicken breast into small pieces, or you can use beef or seafood instead. Cook the onion with the meat until browned, at the very least. Next, chop up some potatoes, carrots, and any other vegetables you want to add. Pour in the recommended amount of water, although I suggest adding a bit more than that because my curry always seems to be between a stew and barbecue pulled pork. Cook everything together until your potatoes are tender, and then add in the curry seasoning and remove from heat. Once the curry seasoning has dissolved and everything is mixed together, it’s ready to serve alongside rice or udon.

Do you still have rice? Make onigiri, or rice balls. Basic onigiri is rice that’s shaped into a triangular ball, and a rectangle of nori is wrapped around the bottom. You can also fill the rice balls with chicken or seafood, you can mix seasonings into the rice, and you can make the balls as large or as small as you want.

Do you still have cabbage, noodles, carrots, and some yakisoba or okonomi sauce? Make yakisoba! It’s like Chinese lo mein, but the flavor is a bit different. Also, if you’re starting with okonomi sauce, add more soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce or it might taste too sweet.

And now you’re making Japanese food! And unless you bought ingredients from a specialty store, you made Japanese food for cheap!

Okay, I’ll admit I kept the necessary ingredients to a minimum. To make some of these things so they’re closer in taste to what’s in Japan, there are some harder-to-find ingredients involved, and your costs will also go up. Also, if you substitute ingredients because of allergies or dietary restrictions, it will change the cost of the ingredients as well. But if you stick with what I’ve listed, then you can make simple Japanese food without spending too much money.

Do you already cook Japanese food? Leave a comment with any other simple recipes you wish to share, because I’d like to make a few more things but don’t know where to begin. And if you do shop at Asian grocery stores, leave a comment about what you like to buy most often that you can’t seem to get just anywhere.

I Suck At Chopsticks – Mitsuba

I have had an amazing week!

Although I was coached at work, I did have a 92 percent score on a “harshly graded” audit of one of the calls I made. After that, I tweaked the rhythm and tone that I use when I recite the introduction script, and I went from having one or two completed surveys a day to having five completes on Friday and six completes today!

Not only that, but I called someone who greeted me by saying, “Moshi moshi!” After my introduction, the woman said a few things, and it wasn’t until I heard her say “nihongo” that it dawned on me that she was speaking Japanese! I apologized, explaining that I don’t know much Nihongo, and I ended the call by saying “gomen nasai” and “sayounara.” I was so hyped about that call! I think my supervisor was about as interested in hearing that I’m learning Japanese and that I got that call, that I could have told him what I ate for breakfast and he would be just as interested. I asked if I could get a copy of the recording, even if someone had to censor out the introduction or something, but I was told that it wouldn’t be allowed. I feel like no one would believe that I had such luck, which is why I wanted a copy of the recording.

I made a trip to New Jersey this week, and one of the errands I made while down there was to return the internet equipment to my former service provider. Two days later, I received a call from the debt collection agency that was handling that account, and I scheduled the payment for the remaining balance. So, that takes care of one of my many debts!

When I got home from work tonight, the house was empty. My friend’s daughter was at her prom, and I assume the rest of the family was off taking pictures and talking to other parents. There was nothing made for dinner and left behind, and I didn’t have enough ingredients to make anything worthwhile. The idea of conveyer belt sushi danced in my mind, but the one conveyer belt sushi restaurant in the area that I’m aware of has mediocre Yelp reviews. I couldn’t get the thought of Japanese food out of my mind, despite having the ability to get free American food from TGI Friday’s, so I decided to go to someplace close by for whatever they offered.

If you’ve been here a while or have perused the archives, then you know I’m not a fan of the abundance of hibachi-style Japanese restaurants in the area. Seriously, the only way a restaurant seems to qualify as a Japanese restaurant is if it has hibachi, which is western-style Asian food, and rolled sushi, which is also western-style (california rolls are not Japanese in any way). That being said, you would think that I would be avoiding all Japanese restaurants, turning my nose up at the mere mention of hibachi. If I did that, I’d have to make my own Japanese food all the time, which takes away from being able to just relax and enjoy myself.

While I was working on moving to New Jersey, there was a vacant lot of land that was in the process of being renovated. At the time, there was barely anything built. I did visit the new Costco one time before I had finished moving out of the area. When I returned to the area, that location was filled with new restaurants, a movie theater, a bank, and a few other little shops. Among the restaurants was a place called Mitsuba, which was yet another hibachi/sushi place. I never vowed I wouldn’t go there, and tonight, that’s where I went.

Now, this isn’t a food blog. I’m not here to analyze the presentation, and I don’t consider myself to be a foodie so I won’t be judging the way things tasted. I’m just a girl who is celebrating life, who isn’t about to be held back by bad times. So then, let’s have some fun!

I walked in and was seated quickly, which was pretty good for a Saturday night around 7 at night. I also didn’t have a seating preference, so I didn’t mind when I was given a regular table instead of being escorted to the hibachi tables.

Before I had a chance to look through the menu, a waitress came to the table and asked if I wanted a hot towel, which I accepted. After she walked away, my mind was reeling – what do I do with this? All I could think was to not use it on the face, the hot towel is not meant to wash the face and that’s frowned upon in Japan. Okay, so what… do… I… do? I actually pulled out my phone and looked it up on Google, just to confirm that it’s for washing the hands before eating. The downside was, there was nothing saying if I should leave it wadded up when I was done using it, or if I should neatly fold it, or if that much even mattered.

I flipped through the menu to find something to drink, and while I was going to ask for the free rice tea, I reminded myself that I was treating myself. I decided on ordering a Thai tea, which interested an older woman dining at the table next to mine later on in the evening. After she asked what I was drinking, I told her what it was, that it’s black tea with other spices added which gives the tea its unique orange color, and then milk and ice are added to the steeped tea. She thought I might have had something fruit-flavored, which is understandable considering the coloration of the drink.

After placing my entire order, one of the waiters placed a small square plate in front of me. The plate had what looked like rice rolled up inside of nori, then topped with a drizzle of sriracha mayonnaise. I was told that the dish was on the house, which made me feel special. They probably give that dish to everyone, but please just let me have my moment.

I opened up my chopsticks so I could use them to eat my free food. I thought about what I had learned from Joe Inoue, because I had otherwise built up a “this kinda works for me” mentality when trying to eat with chopsticks. The funny thing is, when I put Joe’s lesson into practice, I realized I had to do one more thing to make it work… I had to press the stationary chopstick into the padding between my thumb and index finger, and press it deeply until I felt it. I also had to press the tip of my ring finger against the chopstick to keep it stationary. But, I made it work, and I ate my rice rolls with ease!

Not long after finishing those rice rolls, my shumai appetizer came out of the kitchen. Awesome, right? That’s good timing. So once again, I put my chopstick skills to use, lifting the shrimp dumplings and dipping them into the horseradish-based sauce. I cleared out my sinuses, but it was delicious!

After that, I had a bit of a wait for my main dish. When I was looking over the menu, I went back and forth between pages, debating whether I wanted sushi or tempura or katsudon. I finally decided on the house nabe, which was a soup-style dish with thinly-sliced steak and seafood with noodles and vegetables in a soy broth. I couldn’t help but think of Great Teacher Onizuka, with the title character Onizuka’s voice in my head, shouting “NABE!” There is a part in the series where he demands that his students make nabe, and if I’m wrong, then I’m confusing it with The Wallflower. However, if I remember correctly, The Wallflower has a scene where one of the guys demands shabu-shabu in the winter, not nabe. I’ve digressed to the point where I know I’m going to watch anime tomorrow to prove to myself that I was right.

Anyway, NABE! And the waiter or manager came over to me, not long after I placed my order, to tell me they were out of the noodles that normally go into the nabe. He asked if I would mind if they substituted udon instead, and I said that was all right. Unfortunately, that reminded me of my ex-fiance, but it made me appreciate the fact that he and I don’t have a relationship anymore. His family is “cursed,” in that they can’t go to a restaurant without something going wrong. If the kitchen runs out of an ingredient, “OH NO, THE CURSE HAS STRUCK AGAIN!” Me? They substituted something, that’s fine. I’d rather have a kitchen run out of ingredients from time to time, because it means they have to replace them, and if they’re replacing ingredients, they’re not letting anything spoil or rot. Besides, it also means I’m probably eating something that other people enjoy or would recommend, so I must have chosen well for my dinner.

That nabe was delicious! The steak was tender, the seafood was done well, and the broth wasn’t too salty. I was halfway done when two things happened.

First, I was starting to think I had eaten enough. I could tell by the counter in front of me, which held various supplies for dining and such, that this establishment would allow you to take food home. However, that’s not something that’s done in Japan. “But Luna, you’re not in Japan!” Yeah, I know that. In fact, I wondered if I was eating an American portion of nabe, if I was actually trying to eat more than I would be given if I were in Japan. I decided to press on, going so far as to finish all of my noodles and all of the meat. I left quite a bit of broth and some of the vegetables in the dish.

Second, the waiter came over while I was adjusting my chopsticks and trying to grasp a noodle. He asked if I wanted a fork. I smiled, even laughed a bit, as I explained to him that I could use chopsticks just fine, but that my hand would sometimes move the stationary chopstick out of place. I was willing to struggle with chopsticks for the sake of trying to improve my skill, possibly even my dexterity. I would say I succeeded! I mean, I did struggle, but I also ate well without using my bare hands.

Dessert was half of an orange, which was cut into quarters and impaled with a toothpick. The bill was handed to me as I ate my orange, and because I downloaded Mitsuba’s app onto my phone, I got $5 off my total. I wanted to leave a note on the restaurant’s copy of the receipt, but I thought I probably shouldn’t. I wanted to say something along the lines of, “In Japan, they don’t leave a tip. When I finally go to Japan, I hope the restaurant service is as good as it was here.” I thought of adding more words to that, or maybe not, because it might not be understood in the same way as what I was trying to say. However, I did leave a 20% tip because the service was worth it. The staff was attentive, checking on me to see that I was ready to order or if my order was already placed, making sure everything was enjoyed by me, even offering me a fork so that I didn’t have too many issues.

I left the restaurant and walked back to my car, which was parked about a hundred feet away from the establishment. Maybe it was closer than that, possibly only eighty feet away, but it had been the best parking spot I could find. The movie theater was nearby, so I assumed that most of the spots were taken by movie-goers. Past the movie theater was a frozen yogurt shop, but my stomach didn’t feel like I had any room left for dessert.

When I got to my car, I got in and drove to the grocery store. I still needed to get a few things so I could make actual meals for the week, most of which would be my lunch at work. With a full stomach, I was sure to buy only what I absolutely needed.

I might have purchased Akira as well, which I absolutely didn’t need, but it was $5. I basically took myself out for dinner and a movie. I’m dating myself. I think I’m going to make it a long-term relationship, because I see some potential. Should I wait until three days have passed before calling myself? I don’t want to seem too eager.

All joking aside, it was the perfect ending to an already amazing week! I don’t know if the next week could get any better, but I’ll take whatever comes my way.

Sugar And Fire

One of my favorite chocolate treats in the world is the KitKat. For me, KitKat bars and Reece’s peanut butter cups are equally ranked, with Snickers candy bars following closely behind, and most other cheap chocolate candies are inferior to these.

But I’m an American, and only in recent years did the American KitKat have a flavor other than the basic chocolate flavor. Though harder to find, sometimes appearing
only for holidays, you can buy white chocolate, dark chocolate, and mint KitKat bars.

If you haven’t heard about Japan’s KitKat collection, you’re in for a real treat.

Japan’s KitKat bars can be found in flavors ranging from matcha green tea, regular tea, sake, sakura (cherry blossom), wasabi, strawberry, purple sweet potato, and so many more. Some flavors are region-specific, and other flavors are seasonal.

One seasonal flavor for this year was the sugar cookie KitKat. Like any sugar cookie, it’s supposed to be baked. Well, I’m not going to heat up an entire oven for one tiny, little, fun-size candy bar. I don’t have access to a toaster oven, either, which would be equally useful for this purpose.

Since they only ever show the top part of the KitKat getting browned, I decided to do it creme brûlée-style, or as close as I could get to that. I took out one of my candle lighters, then opened one of the KitKats and set it on top of its wrapper.

“Ooh, can I have one?” asked my friend’s 16-year-old daughter. I gave in and let her have the first one I made, which toasted quite easily because the flame from the lighter was shooting out at over an inch long and I could cover the width of the candy. It seemed like it took about a minute for the chocolate to go from melting to toasting, but eventually it turned a golden brown like roasting a marshmallow. Coincidentally enough, she said it tasted like a s’more.

I toasted mine next, and I had to turn the flame size up from the bare minimum to mid-range before I had a flame equal to what I had for the last KitKat. My KitKat seemed to take a little longer to toast, but eventually I managed to roast it. I lifted it up by the wrapper and saw that the chocolate from the KitKat had pooled around the edges along the bottom. Not wanting to burn my tongue, I took my time and I took a picture before I even took a bite.

The first thing I could taste was the white chocolate base, but it’s definitely sweeter than regular white chocolate. Doing anything to heat the top part of the KitKat makes it taste like comfort food, because gastronomy and things. Yes, there’s a long scientific explanation, but the short version is that toasting the chocolate makes it taste like s’mores or fresh-baked cookies, and it triggers a part of the brain that thinks of times when eating such things was a comfort. If you eat the sugar cookie KitKat straight out of the package, you’re missing out on something that would delight your taste buds.

If setting candy on fire doesn’t interest you, you and I probably won’t get along, because I can’t understand anyone who wouldn’t want to indulge their pyromanic side on occasion. But that’s okay, because there’s plenty of other KitKat flavors for you to try, such as the cranberry almond one I also had, which has a dark chocolate base. Sadly I consumed all of those in a fit of not giving any hoots, but since chocolate causes a mood-lifting biochemical to be released in the body, I don’t even feel guilty or sad about eating what was left in the bag. The cranberry almond KitKat bars tasted like gourmet chocolate, like springing for the $3 chocolate bar instead of the $1 Hershey’s bar.

Why am I eating Christmastime KitKat bars in March? This was the first time I saw them at my local Asian grocers, so my guess is that it either took this long to get them shipped to the Syracuse area or they were acquired at a discounted price because it was after the holiday season. I won’t complain, because chocolate doesn’t just expire after a short amount of time. Changes in heat or humidity can alter the taste and texture of chocolate, however. My KitKats were in excellent condition, as the chocolate was smooth and glossy as it’s supposed to be.

If you want to try any of the Japanese KitKat flavors, you can go on Amazon and order any of the ones that interest you. If you happen to have an Asian grocery store near you, drop in sometime and see if they have any of the KitKats you’re looking for. If you happen to live in Japan already, I’m quite jealous of you, but I’m letting that jealousy fuel me so that I might be in Japan as well someday.

Tous les Jours, or How I Survived My Own Bad Decisions

Near Han’s Oriental Grocery and the Asian-styled karaoke joint Palace Music Studio, there’s a bakery. There’s a theme to this, and that is to say that it’s an Asian-style bakery. With a French name, which translates to “everyday.”

Yeah, I know. I can’t go every day, though, so I picked up enough things for a few days.

img_4018And then I brought them back, and didn’t eat anything until the next day.

Being that they’re baked goods, it didn’t dawn on me to put any of the items  into the fridge. I thought of them as bread, not food that could go bad.

Nothing spoiled, of course. I just happened to think that I should’ve chilled a few things  as I bit into the first croquette I’ve ever had and realized there was meat and vegetables inside. The outside was pretty greasy, and I understood why I’ve always seen croquettes eaten with chopsticks while I’ve watched anime and such. I didn’t get sick or anything, so I survived the day-old meat croquette.

Later that day, I also ate the chocolate-filled unicorn horn-shaped thing. The bread part of that had the taste and consistency of challah bread, complete with the egg wash on the top. The chocolate filling was like eating fudge, as it was soft and delicious, not too sweet at all.

I don’t remember when I had the curry croquette. It was either on the first or second day, but I think I waited until the second day because of how greasy the croquettes are in general. It wasn’t a really spicy curry filling, though it did have a bit of fire but only enough for flavor. For reference, I don’t crave spicy food but I don’t mind eating it, but I do have limits when it comes to spiciness, so consider my tolerance for spicy food to be about average for an American.

The chocolate bread thing was dreamy, for lack of a relevant description in regards to flavor. It was sliced in the middle and then filled with chocolate custard and topped with chocolate curls. I probably should’ve refrigerated it for the custard, but it tasted lovely and I lived. Oh, I’d live on those if only I could!

The last of my croquettes was the one I felt the most remorse over not sticking anything into the refrigerator. I forgot I had a croquette with shrimp inside of it! Surely that one would be the one that should’ve been kept cold! It still tasted fine, but we were pushing three days’ worth of not being stored properly. It was shrimp and dumpling filled, which tasted like comfort food.

So I was down to the last item, and I was easily on Day 4 of leaving things out in the open. It was fine, because I figured the last thing was just an almond-topped pull-apart breakfast bread. I forgot what the description card said for it while I was in the bakery, other than to say it was a breakfast bread. I opened up the wrapper and pulled one of the chunks away from the rest. I noticed it was cut in the middle, so I separated the top and bottom halves and found that it was filled with a strawberry jam-like filling layered with a cream cheese-flavored spread that must have been baked inside, maybe, hopefully. It tasted like it would pair well with coffee, but I didn’t have any coffee at the time.

To keep saying I lived through these baked goods sounds like they were made in a questionable manner, but they really weren’t. Tous les Jours is kept clean, and the staff was quite friendly to me. The only issue with everything I bought was my own stupidity, because I somehow survived after failing at food safety. I apologize for not remembering the exact name for everything, but I highly suggest trying anything that appeals to the taste of whoever is buying any kind of goods. Therefore, don’t worry so much about what I had, but if it sounded good to you, find something like it if you can and enjoy!

And don’t forget to use the refrigerator when you buy meat-filled croquettes.

If you live in the Syracuse area, do a one-stop trip on Erie Boulevard and go to Han’s, Tous les Jours, and stop into Palace Music Studio if you’re there when they’re open. If you’re not into Asian things as much as I am, then just go to the bakery because you will definitely find something appealing.

Maybe I Don’t Want Hibachi

Growing up in central New York, I’ve been to quite a few restaurants. Some of those restaurants don’t even exist anymore, such as Carmella’s Cafe, Galveston’s, Fresno’s and TJ’s Big Boy. Some restaurants have stood the test of time, like Twin Trees and Ichiban.

The Syracuse area is saturated by Italian restaurants, Irish pubs, and Chinese take-out. If you want a sandwich for lunch, I could name three places within walking distance of where you might work. We also have all the chain restaurants you’ll find elsewhere, so you can get your Applebee’s fix or hang out at TGI Friday’s. If you sneeze, however, you might miss one of the few Thai food places. And if you blink, it seems like another Japanese restaurant will open its doors.

When I was growing up, there was only one Japanese restaurant in the area. Perhaps there were others, hiding in neighborhoods that I never went through. If you asked a local resident where you could get Japanese food, they would likely tell you about Ichiban Steakhouse. The only time they wouldn’t tell you about Ichiban is because they couldn’t think of an answer, but they’ll remember Ichiban at 2 in the morning when random thoughts come to mind.

Ichiban is a hibachi-style restaurant which also serves sushi. You can pick up decent sushi from any of the Wegmans grocery stores in the area, so unless you’re going to try a particular sushi roll or certain ingredients, Ichiban shouldn’t be your destination. Instead, go to Ichiban for something else, like the hibachi.

Unfortuantely, hibachi-style dining is more of an American thing. Just like we made fortune cookies a part of the Chinese dining experience, we made hibachi a part of the Japanese dining experience. Way to go, America! What we know as hibachi-style is called teppanyaki in Japan. The style did originate in Japan, but us foreigners popularized it because of the entertainment value. Not to mention, the hibachi dishes were foods that were familiar to us.

If you want to avoid the hibachi, your menu options become limited. You can get yakisoba, which is going to be stir fried noodles like what you could have from the hibachi. There’s also udon, which is like ramen but the noodles are about three times as thick as regular spaghetti. Filet mignon and NY strip steak are on the menu as well, because Ichiban does refer to itself as a Japanese steakhouse.

If it’s another dish you seek, you’ll have to find a cookbook and make it for yourself. There is chicken katsu, but not pork katsu. There’s no rice omelettes, or omuraisu. You won’t even find onigiri, and personally I think rice balls would make an excellent appetizer. Since they serve udon, I would think that bowls of genuine ramen would also be on the menu.

I feel like Ichiban has been around longer than I have, so I really can’t complain about the decisions made by management if they’ve stayed in business. Another thing to mention is that most of the people who are from Japan and who currently live in Syracuse are probably Syracuse University students, because this area does not have a very strong Asian population at all. Therefore, most of the people going to Ichiban will be white people who probably don’t realize there’s more to Japanese food than just hibachi and sushi. If the management ever expands the menu, I don’t think the locals would equally expand their tastes.

For more information about Ichiban, visit their website at or just drive into Liverpool. Their sign is unmistakeably Japanese in its style, so you can’t miss the place.

I’ve noticed that a few other Japanese restaurants have opened in recent years. Not far from Ichiban is Koto, located near the carousel in Carousel Center. I don’t even care that the building is now Destiny USA, because I’m always going to call it Carousel. Koto is located in the space where Hooters once occupied along with the local comic shop Play The Game Read The Story (formerly Altered States), however Hooters and the comic shop occupied the space at different times. Koto is also a hibachi-style restaurant, but its location in the food court inspired the building designers to give it a section where they could sell take-out for diners who just want to grab a quick bite. There’s another Japanese restaurant in the Camillus/Fairmount area just off West Genesee Street, whose name I don’t recall. I was flipping through a booklet of coupons for the area and saw an advertisement for that restaurant and one or two other hibachi-style restaurants in the area.

Yes, every Japanese restaurant in the area is a hibachi restaurant. Surprisingly, we don’t have a Benihana in the area, but I’m sure there will be one in the expanded area of Destiny USA if I wait long enough. In the meantime, I’ll flip through the cookbooks I have and choose some non-hibachi recipes to cook for myself.