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  • Bettina Applewhite

Corona Chronicles: Trip to Japan

I've been wanting to go back to Japan for awhile. I was able to visit family who lived in Japan a few years ago. The summer Olympic games were going to be a great excuse to visit again. Corona messed that up for everyone. Instead of athletes showing us their best work, we're all shut indoors... only to dream of delicious Japanese dishes.

spicy tuna onigir, miso soup, shrimp and vegetable tempura, sake, Japanese feast during Corona quarantine; Bites With Applewhite travel
My Mini Japanese Feast

I've had the pleasure of traveling to Tokyo, Yokohama, and the sights of Mt. Fuji. But there are so many other places to visit. I want to go back because it was some of the most fun I've had visiting family and exploring. It's always good when you have a local guide.

I was able to visit Great Buddha in Kamakura. On the way to the Great Buddha was a food stall where the vendors were putting a whole octopus in this pressing type of machine. A whole octopus would come out as a cracker. This cracker was paper thin and you could see the outline of the entire octopus through the cracker. I have no idea how they did it but they were able to do it right before my eyes.

Most people think of sushi and teriyaki when they think of Japanese cuisine. I think sushi is probably in my top 3 favorite things to eat. I'm usually eating sushi at least once a week. Possibly more when my favorite local place has otoro (raw fatty tuna belly). It's not always on the menu so I gobble it up when it's offered. Sushi is traditionally raw fish (sashimi) or raw fish over rice (sushi). There are maki rolls which are raw or cooked fish combinations with fresh vegetables rolled with rice and seaweed. I don't discriminate. I eat them all.

Japanese cuisine is more than sushi. It's also ramen and yakitori (meat on a stick) and so many fun snack foods like onigiri. We're used to meat on a stick in the U.S. It's usually a choice between marinated chicken or beef. When I went to Japan, I saw that there were so many options. Unusual options but so tasty. There were street vendors and restaurants dedicated to yakitori. Traditionally the meat or vegetables are grilled on a specialized grill perfectly sized for the job. Binchotan is a special type of coal that is used for yakitori. Binchotan burns clean with little smoke. So instead of a smoky type of BBQ, you'll taste the flavors of your meats and marinades. This charcoal is hard to find here and is pricier than your usual briquettes of charcoal. These little skewers of meat have more variety than chicken breast or beef steak. Some of the skewers I noticed around Japan included liver, gizzards, intestine, chicken tail, and even pork products. If you're adventurous try them all.

Onigiri is a rice snack that's found all over Japan. Onigiri is rice stuffed with a filling of fish, meat, or vegetables and wrapped in seaweed. I was first introduced to onigiri at a 7-Eleven in Japan. That's right. The convenient stores there are over the top in offerings. The food quality at convenient stores in the U.S. is known to be questionable. The quality of the foods in the convenient stores in Japan is pretty top notch. It's a difference of night and day. I recreated my onigiri treat during quarantine and was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to make. I like the salty taste from the seaweed. It's also great to have carbs and protein all in a handheld but even easier to manage than a sandwich. Maybe that's why it's so popular in Japan. They're on to something there.

Spicy Tuna Filled Onigiri by Bites With Applewhite
My Try at Onigiri

Ramen is a labor of love. It took me a few days to create my version shown here. I'm not talking about the college dorm room cup of noodles here. This isn't a boil water and cook in 3 minutes type of meal. The noodles may be the same but that's about it. There are many different kinds of broths. Tonkotsu broth is made from pork bones so it gives lots of flavor and collagen. This broth is distinct in color. As the bone cooks it releases a creamy white color. This process happens over hours. Miso broth is just like it sounds. The broth is flavored with a white miso paste. Shoyu broth is a broth based on soy sauce. All are very tasty broths. It's best to keep trying them all to see which one you like best.

Shrimp, Pork Chashu belly ramen with bean sprouts, green onion, ekoni mushrooms, Ramen egg soyu marinated egg
My Homemade Shrimp and Pork Ramen

Japanese ramen is bright with fresh vegetables. I love bok choy so I add bok choy and raw bean sprouts to my dish. A nice slice of seaweed brings a chewy, salty flavor. There are both straight and curly noodles. Both are great for slurping so I don't think you can go wrong.

Japenese Ramen in Japan, Asahi beer, chashu pork
Ramen in Japan. How did I compare?

My favorite parts of the ramen is a tie between the slow roasted pork called chashu and the soy marinated egg. I like the creaminess the soft boiled yolk brings. It also helps to cool off the soup because I like my ramen with a lot of spice. The chashu is also a labor of love. The recipe I followed took almost a whole day and a half to make the perfect chashu. Worth it? Definitely.

Homemade Japense shrimp and vegetable tempura made during Coronavirus quarantine; Bites With Applewhite
Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura

While I was in the kitchen reminiscing about Japan, I decided to go ahead and try my hand at tempura. I made shrimp and vegetable tempura. If I'm going to make it myself I'm going to use all my favorite vegetables: broccoli, sweet potato, and onion. I must admit that I was a very happy individual.

A lady in traditional dress waiting for the train in Japan
A lady in traditional dress waiting for the train in Japan

At this point in the game, I sure do miss traveling. I miss the people and the food. I'm glad that I can indulge just a little bit through these food adventures. Try out some Japanese recipes or visit your local restaurant to help them during this time. Whatever you do, it's time to break into something different. We've been in quarantine for a long time now.

Bettina Applewhite eating a sushi bowl for breakfast in a Japanese market
Me eating a sushi bowl for breakfast in a Japanese market

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