Culinary Memoirs of A Biologist Who Loves Food

Posts tagged “japan

Sea Pineapple Sashimi – When You’re Eating Plant-like Animal

Some people might asked me, “What is your strangest meal you’ve ever had?”

A decade ago, I might answer swordfish. It has chicken-like texture while has a fish like flavor, so I mentioned it like when you eat a chicken in the sea. Five years ago, I might answer sea urchin roe. It has a creamy, pasty, like consistency with there are some sea-like flavor you might be confused to imagine. Even I wrote an article about it (in Bahasa Indonesia).

Now? Whatever I mentioned, it felt just nothing.

Nope, I’m not eating some random insects nor worms (although it might be considered staple food in some part of Asia, for example the sago worm in West Papua region), but no, even I’m not eating insect… whatever I’ll show you, will probably make you think that insects are something normal. And for God’s sake, it is not poop!

Brace yourself…

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That red thing…

That thing’s called sea pineapple. No, it’s not SpongeBob’s home. It is actually a tunicate (Urochordata), in Japan some people mentioned it as Hoya (ホヤ), scientifically called Halocynthia roretzi (Von Drasche). If you wondered what is tunicate, it is also called “sea squirt” and called to be the ancestor of modern fish.

Let me say this straight: That thing is rooting (you can see the root above) on the ocean floor and has a single-spaced heart, it was told so… later it evolved a capability to swam freely, and become fish. Mind blown, right?

Enough with the scientific things, how about its taste? More importantly, how could we eat it?

I found this alien-like fauna in Tsukiji Market, Tokyo, Japan, in the morning, when I had sightseeing around the place with my little brother. Amongst some indulgent produces like oyster, unagi or eel, premium cantaloupe, then… you see this. At first, I was reluctant to buy it. Aside to save my money, I also had a “conflicted feeling” when I see it. But then my wacky part of my brain took action, and this conversation happened…

Me: Excuse me, can I have this and eat it here?

Shellfish Monger: Sashimi?

Me: *kinda shocked, but what else could possibly done to eat it in its original form* Yes

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The sashimi form looks even more bizarre…

In disclosed way (the view was blocked because the distance and the fact that they put a barrier in the chopping area, probably to prevent any mess), I just wondered how do he managed to turn it into some kind of delicacy. All I heard was the sound of shell peeling by knife, then he added a splash of soy sauce, and put some toothpicks on it. And there you go…

Me and my little brother were never feel more confused that time. But we decided sooner to just simply dig it an sink it (as Rhett and Link said).

The verdict about the taste, it has some similar texture and taste like when you eat oyster. However it was a bit more chewy, but not rubbery, you can still bit it and flow it through your mouth. The taste was stronger, but weirder, I’m not sure, but it was a bit metallic but I’m not sure up till now. It was told that this unique flavor comes from unsaturated alcohol substance called cynthiaol (Nguyen et al., 2007).

To conclude everything, it was a unique, bizarre, and awesome at the same time to had this as something you could it in the morning during your trip in Japan!

Reference

Nguyen, T., Taniguchi, N., Nakajima, M., Na-Nakorn, U., Sukumasavin, N. and Yamamoto, K., 2007. Aquaculture of sea-pineapple, Halocynthia roretzi in Japan. AQUACULTURE ASIA, 12(2), p.21.

Where to buy:

Tsukiji Market, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan.

Price: JPY 600 per piece.

-AW-


Yubari King Melon – World’s Most Expensive Melon!

Everybody loves melon. They are sweet, some are crunchy, some are soft and melts when you take a sip in your spoon. Did you know that there is a melon so expensive, it was once sold in auction for USD 23.5k?? Guess what, Yubari King Melon from Japan.

The melon is a hybrid cultivar (Cucumis melo ‘Yubari King’ – Hybrid between Earl’s Favourite x Burpee’s “Spicy” Cantaloupe. When you can see below, the coloration is golden orange, and it’s beautiful… and also you can see there is only small part of subdermal flesh is available, contrast to normal melons.

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Sliced Yubari melon in Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

Yubari King Melon is one of the fruits produced in Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan. As you can tell, the climate is dramatic.

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Fruits of Hokkaido in Tsukiji Market, Tokyo. You can see some specials: Yubari King Melon (JPY 800 per cut) and Pink Strawberry (JPY 800 per stick)

I made a quick research today (here and here) : It was said that the plant was kept in unfriendly climate of Hokkaido so it grown specially in the greenhouse. Only one fruit grown per plant, maximizing the sugary photosynthetic input only to one fruit. The farmer cut the badly grown female flower and pollinate it manually using paintbrush. To prevent sunburn, EACH fruit was capped with “hats”.  In the end, it was said that only the “strongest” fruit survive until harvesting time. The harvested fruit stem was sniped nicely by the farmer to keep it aesthetically appealing, to complement the perfectly round fruit.

Okay, for the taste…

It was crunchy and sweet, very sweet! Although honestly it is not as sweet as Indonesian melon I bought in my home country, the flavor is very consistent. I believe that you will get the same premium sweetness if you buy another Yubari melon, while in here, you may get the plain one or the sweet one. Another aspect is the subdermal flesh to main fruit flesh ratio. Normal melon has larger subdermal flesh, Yubari melon has smaller part of subdermal flesh. You can basically eat the flesh to the nearest bites next to the rind! Well, it is worth it the price.

Where to buy:

I bought it on Tsukiji Market, Tokyo, Japan. Some recommendations say to check it on Sembikiya Market in Tokyo.

-AW-


Unagi Hashimoto, Tokyo

I love to eat unagi ever since my first try a long time ago. If you ever wonder what unagi is, it is a Japanese term for eel, specifically, grilled eel (unagi kabayaki, うなぎ蒲焼). I remembered the first time eating it on Sushi Tei Indonesia in around 2009ish, the moment when the quality of restaurant is still very good (now most of the unagi is chewy, and sliced thinly in smaller portion). And now it is very very hard to find a good unagi, and probably if you found one, the price will suck your wallet dry. The declining population of freshwater eel is also contributing to this rarity.

I know that the best unagi is served in Tokyo and Shizuoka area. The question was, where to buy it?

Thank God, last November I had a chance to visit Japan! My goals are food, study, and family. To have a remarkable culinary trip, to meet my potential professor for PhD and for research collaboration, and to walk with my brother and my new family (me and my new siblings, long story to tell).

And then, I found this:

There are only few traditional restaurants on this planet made their mark to The Michelin Guide, and even has certified with one star! So then me and my little brother, Arif, went to the Chuo neighborhood, we went to the designated location using Google Map, commuted along Yurakucho Line from Ikebukuro Station to Edogawabashi Station, and ended up in the exit no. 4.

It was our last day to travel in Tokyo before we went back to Indonesia again. The day was already getting darker, and cold. Then we walked and walked, and we arrived in the restaurant. There was a warm feeling by seeing it. It is, not only a restaurant, I said, it looks more like a house, a home for someone.

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The warm front door

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It looks and feels like a home, right?

Then we went in through the sliding door, it was quiet. Some men and a couple talked in their seats in farther distance.

“いっらしゃいませ!(Irrashaimase! – Welcome!)”

An old lady greets us, then she leaded us to our seats, “Is it okay if you seat on tatami?” We nodded as we agreed, and she smiled when we made an attempt to seat in (painful) Japanese manner, “Sit normally, it is okay” then she showed us the English menu of the restaurant. There was normal unagi don or grilled unagi over rice bowl (うなぎ丼), unagi kabayaki or grilled unagi served without rice (うなぎ蒲焼), and unagi shioyaki (shio means salt – 塩, yaki means grilled 焼き) or unagi served without the sweet tare (たれ) sauce, more to the unagi original taste – suitable if you want to try the real taste of the eel. We ordered the medium sized unagi don. Then the old lady handed us a warm wet towel and a cup of lukewarm green tea. We feel so much at home.

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The restaurant interior, seen from my little brother seat perspective

It was quite long, it maybe took 20-30 minutes to serve, but we understood since they grilled the eel from scratch, we know that it would gonna worth every yen we spend there. Then, the renown dish arrived. We glanced, we gulped, and we were amazed… so much.

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The Unagi Don (うなぎ丼) Set with Various Pickles, and (not included but given for free) The Green Tea

The dish was so simple, so humble, yet appears so majestic. You can tell it was properly grilled and done by a very passionate person in a kitchen.

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The grilled unagi over the rice

The rice was so uniform, sticky, and in perfect consistency, you can grip them while using a chopsticks no matter it was already glazed with the sauce on the top. The eel meat was so fluffy yet melted like butter when you cut them with chopsticks. As I grow in Indonesia, we always thought that unagi is sweet. We were wrong. It has deep flavor comes from both the fat of the unagi, and the soy sauce or shoyu (which normally salty) but added with some sugar to make a tare sauce which sweetness only tasted for a bit. There was only one downside for the dish, we had some eel spines, but we managed to pick them and we’re fine to continue.

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The various pickles

When we eat unagi, we are normally also served with pickles or a dried spice called sansho (山椒) or Japanese pepper from a plant called Zanthoxylum piperitum (L.) DC. As sansho is for addition of peppery flavor, the pickles are for neutralizing the taste bud. Here, they have one salty pickles made of cabbage, and two from radish or daikon – one in original taste (a bit salty) and one in sweeter taste. If you eat the unagi and the pickles in returns, you can relive the flavor of unagi for again and again. It was fantastic!

Then we finished our meal, in the same time, we were thankful for the meal! I said to the old lady, “This is the best unagi (we ever had)!” (“これは最高なうなぎです!!”) and she thanked us and she said that she’s glad. Then we paid the meal and leave. We wish to have the experience again one day in the future for more!

UNAGI HASHIMOTO (うなぎはし本)

Michelin Guide Star: 1 out of 3

2-5-7 Suido, Bunkyo-ku, Chuo, Tokyo. Phone: +81 33811 4850. Website: Link

Closest Station: Edogawabashi (Gate 4), Yurakucho Line

Open Hours:

Everyday except Thursday – Lunch: 11:30 am – 02:00 pm, Dinner: 04:30 pm – 08:00 pm (last order at 07:30 pm)

Price Range:

Small Dish: JPY 250 – 700

Main Dish: JPY 700 – 4000 (Unagi ranged from JPY 2600 – 4000)

Beverage: Green tea (Ocha) is free, the rest JPY 550 – 900

Foursquare: Link

TripAdvisor: Link

Notes: It is a quiet restaurant, it is a nice place for romantic or easy dining. Not for family visit.

-AW-