Category Archives: Japan

Mugicha, Barley Tea: The Taste of Summer Heat

barley tea mugichaI lived in Tokyo for a year and when summer came I heard people speaking dire warnings about tsuyu, the rainy season which was supposed to last about a month.  How bad can it be, I thought.  Little did I know.  For a girl from hot, dry Idaho, the stifling heat and unbearable humidity was a horrible new experience.  Then, a few years later, I moved to Houston.  Houston, where about 3-4 months of the year feel exactly like tsuyu.  We’re right in the middle of it right now, with 100+ degree weather and high, high humidity.

But unless you live in some magical land where it’s beautiful all summer long (oh Hawaii, I miss you), you probably have your own version of summer suffering, be it hot and humid or scorching and dry.  Well, I have a secret tsuyu pro tip for you to deal with the summer heat:  barley tea, a.k.a. mugicha. Continue reading Mugicha, Barley Tea: The Taste of Summer Heat

Onigirazu, Texas style

onigirazuThis week Nami, the author of one of my favorite cooking blogs, Just One Cookbook, posted about a new take on Japanese onigiri — onigirazu.  I’d never heard of these before, but they’re basically like a sandwich mixed with an onigiri.  Interesting, I thought, and went on about my life…but thoughts of “What would I put in an onigirazu?” kept sneaking into my thoughts.  All week.

So there was nothing to do but make my own.  And I wanted to make them with fillings that were more Texas-style. Continue reading Onigirazu, Texas style

Anko, a.k.a. Mysterious Sweetened Beans

Tsubu an
The finished tsubu an

Sweet beans?  Sounds a little weird maybe if you’re used to beans being only used in savory dishes.  My first introduction to sweetened red bean was at the house of a friend from Taiwan and my thought was “…sweet beans?  Yuck, no thanks.”  But I eventually learned how delicious they can be and now I’m a big fan of anko, also known by the rather unattractive name of “red bean paste.” Continue reading Anko, a.k.a. Mysterious Sweetened Beans


Are you supposed to store the rice cup here? I do.

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about cooking rice and so I thought I would give this deceptively complex topic a go on The Spice!

As a kid, we ate instant Minute Rice and it was my favorite thing, with lots of butter.  When I got older I lived in Japan for a year and experienced the cultural and culinary institution that is Japanese rice.  I still remember my host family having a conversation for over an hour about different types of rice and how they differed based on their origins.  This was not an exciting conversation, particularly since I could only half follow it. Continue reading Rice

Quick Pickles

Quick pickles
The pressure is on!

My first experience with Japanese pickles, tsukemono, was at a family restaurant in Kyoto, definitely nothing fancy. I don’t even remember what the pickles were except that they were kind of slimy, strong tasting, and definitely gross. Even though I try to be open minded and adventurous with new foods, I kept a wary distance of tsukemono after that.

Pickle press
Pickle press

Many years later, a friend recommended a Japanese cookbook to me, Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh. She had met the author and also knew that my favorite kind of Japanese food is more “home cooking” style, not sushi or tempura.  It’s ended up being my favorite Japanese cookbook and makes just the kind of food I love in the from-scratch style I like to cook in. Continue reading Quick Pickles

Tiramisu cupcakes

Tiramisu cupcake
Tiramisu cupcake!

I began studying Japanese in 2000 and one thing I heard as a recent-ish current event about Japan was that there was a craze for tiramisu.  A lot of my information about cutting edge Japan was influenced by books about Japanese culture written in the early 90s or late 80s when Japan was a big mysterious deal.  Lots of business etiquette, flashy hair bands, street fashion, and tiramisu.  Turns out tiramisu really hit its peak of chicness in Japan in 1991, so my information was more than a little behind the times and the hair-band-and-street-fashion scene was pretty drastically different when I went there a few years later in 2003. Continue reading Tiramisu cupcakes

Summer foods: Unagi


The past few years I’ve stepped up my study of Japanese and along with it I’ve also tried to become better at cooking Japanese dishes. I tend to enjoy “homestyle” Japanese food or things that aren’t the iconic sushi. Unadon, okonomiyaki, onigiri, mabodofu, ramen, curry rice, omuraisu, zarusoba… All of them are way above sushi on my list of Japanese food I love. And there’s also a wide array of “Oh that’s so good, but I can’t remember what it is…” type side dishes and salad I’ve yet to conquer.

I’m fortunate that Houston has a Japanese grocery store, Nippon Daido. But it’s a long drive for me and a little expensive, so it’s not somewhere I go outside of specially planned trips. I get key ingredients there (mirin, konbu, katsuobushi, miso, special soy sauces, etc.) and then make a lot of the various sauces I need at home. I can make my own dashi, mentsuyu (a.k.a. dip for zarusoba), and eel sauce.

Last weekend I decided to devote to cooking “summer foods.” Continue reading Summer foods: Unagi