My knowledge of Japanese cuisine is somehow limited that revolved around sushi, miso, teriyaki, udon, soba, and matcha. In fact, I used to enjoy onigiri (rice ball) during lunch break back when working in Auckland, New Zealand – pretty much every day. Then after, living in the Middle East did not help much to expand the knowledge on this cuisine as I didn’t eat much Japanese, despite knowing extensive health benefit about Japanese diet.
Now, thanks to a significant number of Japanese expat residing here in Singapore and growing interest in this cuisine among local, Japanese food is widely available. SOTG stumbled across this event at Isetan Scotts’ front door courtyard while on the way to catch Spectre (the latest Bond movie for you non-movie goers).
‘Fresh strawberries from Japan will be distributed, please come to front desk’ – loud and clear from the speaker. Never heard about strawberry from Japan at all, so this enticed me. At the time, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries – Mr Hiroshi Moriyama handed in the strawberries to the public where I joined the small crowd eager to taste.
This event is called “ WAZA – Enjoy Taste of Japan “Oishii” to your home” held from 9th to 10th January to mark 50th Anniversary of Singapore-Japan Diplomatic Relations (SJ50) and also as a Project by Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Japan. ‘Oishi’ means delicious and I certainly sampled 4 types of delicious, fresh and juicy strawberries: Kumamoto Benihoppe and Saga-honoka (both from Kyushu island); Shizuoka Benihoppe and Miyagi Tochiotome (both from Honshu island). Wagyu and sake are also demonstrated for sampling and tasting, including a cooking demonstration.
Further reading about the event revealed SOTG’s to ‘Producer Direct Order Service’ – a brand new service that delivers Japanese produce including frozen meals immediately from Japanese suppliers to end consumers in Singapore. A keen believer on buying fresh produce locally or within the closer geography of a country I live in for freshness, nutrient value and cost-effective; SOTG does not prefer on buying fresh produce that have to travel millions of miles. Therefore, I am curious to see how this service work at the ‘instant’ delivery promised for end customers as well as in term of the efficiency and cutting down on distribution costs. Checking Isetan website here, SOTG found that Amaou strawberry from Fukuoka can be ordered online for ‘instant’ delivery. According to the website, the logistic managed by Yamato Transport enables products to reach Singapore on Day 4 after the order being made via air cargo (All Nippon Airways), and then a customer will enjoy the purchase within one to two days delivered by Ta-Q-Bin. No delivery fee is charged but be prepared to pay a premium of 32 Singapore Dollars for 600g (2 packs of strawberry).
Following this 2 days event, SOTG came across that Isetan on Scott also organizing the All Kansai Festival – part of the series of Japanese Food Market. This is open to the public event where suppliers and producers mostly from Kansai region (southern-central region of Japan’s main island Honshu) gather to showcase their products. Besides that, you can also find products from the Tohoku region (the northeastern portion of Honshu).
So there I was spending hours at the Isetan’s hall; tasting, learning and gathering information about interesting items of which some I never have seen or heard before. These are the quality product and the suppliers flew here once a year for this event as I was told. Please find a list (note – this is not a full listing of what available there) and check the pictorial guide if you fancy visual stimulation.
- Seaweeds: sea lettuce (seaweed leaves), kuki wakame (seaweed stem), kombu (king of all the seaweed normally grow in Hokkaido ocean), and kombu powder (from kombu seaweed). I’ve tried a few cups of seaweed broth.
- Snack or Dried items: crunchy dried baby crabs, dried kombu snack with wasabi flavor (love this!), fried squid, dried scallop (chewy on its own but nice on congee or soup), umeboshi (dried Japanese plum) from Kishu in Wakayama region.
- Frozen Items: abalone, crab (King and Snow), and scallop. Various type of fish cakes.
- Tea: Variety of green tea depending on type of leaves, how plant grow, picked and process involved in making the tea, such as; Sencha (standard ‘uncovered’ plant exposed to full sun), Fukamushicha (from leaves that being steamed longer) Genmaicha (medium grade Sencha with roasted brown rice – which I love the nutty flavour), Gyokuro (top-graded from shaded plant few weeks before picking), and Hojicha (from roasted Sencha). I learnt about different type of matcha as it differ based on usage (tea ceremony or culinary), quality of Tencha leaves (those made from Sencha should not be called matcha at all), whole leaves include stems vs deveined leaves as well as how leaves being grounded into powder (on stone-milled or machine). There was also kombu tea with plum powder and matcha au lait (matcha with milk).
- Sweets and desserts: apple flavoured kombu jelly, warabimochi (starchy soft jelly made from edible plant braken-starch coat with either matcha or roasted soy milk – famous in Kyoto), matcha youkan (thick jelly made from agar with matcha flavour), kyo-baum chocolate (layered ring-shaped with matcha flavoured and soy milk), and yatsuhashi (cinnamon rice cookies). Tried both yatsuhashi chocolates – prefer the less sweet one with the face of Otabe-chan.
- Dressing: yuzu kombu kelp ponzhu (citrus-based sauce with kombu), and shottsuro (Japanese fish sauce).
- Drink: perilla drink (from red colour shiso leave), and Japanese plum drink.
- Other: yaki shishamo (grilled willow fish), marinated salmon roe, glazed sardine in sweet-salty sauce, garlic pickled in miso and umeboshi (dried Japanese plum). Amazed at health benefit Japanese plum offer as I was told this is a staple to Japanese diet.
Credit to the Isetan ladies who were not tired of my questions. Instead of only passing sample items, some are genuinely knowledgeable about the products and dedicated a good time to talk. On one occasion, a sales lady translated Japanese to English as the Japanese supplier elaborated further to me.
Items bought that proudly sit on SOTG’s kitchen bench are: 3 kind of seaweeds (buy 3 packets get one free), matcha soba buckwheat noodle (buy one get one free), matcha powder from Uji region (ceremonial type for drinking) plus I received a free green tea powder (for cooking). Expect some healthy recipe posts on Japanese cuisine soon!
The All Kansai Festival ended yesterday. Next event at Isetan Scotts is Hokkaido Fair starts today from 19th January to 1st February which I love to pop by – to extend my love affair for all Japanese fare. That’s where you will find me.
What are the Japanese staple in your kitchen? Where do you usually get ingredients for Japanese cooking?
Matane (See you soon in Japanese).