Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Salted Peanuts & Mini Soda Cans

What's up readers!? First off, I haven't forgotten about you. Things here have gotten quite hectic, so I haven't been able to post this past week. I know I promised a tentative outline of what I'll be doing during my trip to China & Thailand, but I'll have to take a bit of a detour on that plan. As I'm sure you can imagine, moving from one country to another is quite a hassle. That being said, I'm still dealing with shipping goods and making sure I have all of the necessary items for my trip. So, here's my new plan. I'll bid farewell for the next 3 weeks, enjoy my time, eat as much food as I can and completely soak in everything these great countries have to offer. By doing so, I'll be able to provide a much more vivid recount of my journey for you! Yeah... a rather lame justification for not posting as promised, I know. But anyway, once I touch down in the states, I'll have tons of things to say, a bunch of pictures for you to look at and FINALLY, some home-cooking of my own to display. Don't miss me too much! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2 & 1/2 Weeks Left: The Chicken or The Egg, Little Boxes & Good-Fry Japan!

Bite 9: As time continues to fly by and my departure gets closer and closer, I'm trying to get one last bite of all the flavors I've come to enjoy or find interesting while in Japan. Instead of going on and on about ingredients or my opinion of the dishes (which you could very easily find from other reliable sources,) I'd like to share my thoughts about some typical Japanese food and how strikingly similar the everyday cuisine is to the culture here.

First up, Oyakodon.

Oyakodon is one of my favorite dishes here. It is simple to make and most people usually have all of the ingredients on hand (eggs, chicken, green onion, rice, dashi and mirin.) As a matter of fact, you can even find pre-made oyakodon in most convenient stores here (I ate this one standing outside of a 7-11 today.) Anyway, the really cool thing about this dish is its name: Oya (parent) ko (child) don (bowl.) Maybe I'm over-thinking something so simple. But, one can't deny how truly amazing it is that one animal can be utilized to create two completely versatile foods. For me, eating this dish makes me so much more thankful for simple, delicious comfort food. 

The idea of combining chicken and eggs in a dish isn't necessarily Japanese, but adding only dashi and some green onion to it is somewhat befitting of their propensity for eating very neutral tasting food. Also, the existential nature of the "chicken or the egg" causality dilemma, in my opinion, is tied in very closely to Japanese Buddhist culture. A Japanese monk might choose his words wisely when speaking, but would answer the question "Which came first?" by saying something along the lines of "Neither." Which is great for me. That way I won't feel guilty about eating both of them!

Once again, I apologize for not having any pics of my own cooking yet. I actually sent most of my belongings back to the states yesterday, so my apartment is nearly empty. Once I return, Oyakodon is definitely something I intend to cook often. I think I'll kick it up with some Sriracha, white onions, red peppers and potatoes. It'll be called "Mother and Child Fight the Dragon."

Now, let's take a deep breath together and chill out for just a second. I didn't mean to get all Nietzsche on you, but if we're not thinking about where our food comes from, we're walking into an art museum with shades on. We all know that's only ok if you're completely hungover... Speaking of where our food comes from. Japanese people are always very mindful of that and are avid supporters of using whatever local ingredients they can get their hands on. In fact, one of the teachers I used to work with once told me that a dish is only complete if it uses at least 15 ingredients.  That may seem like a lot. Well,  It is. Now, let's compare that with the average American lunch. How about a tuna salad sandwich with a simple macaroni salad. I come up with about 8, maybe 10 ingredients that are necessary to complete this lunch. Now, let's take a look at the $5 bento I purchased from my local supermarket the other day.

If you look closely (I'll buy a better camera as soon as I can,) you should be able to count upwards of 20 different ingredients. I forget how many were in the rice alone, but I do remember some carrot and konyaku being in there. The reason Japanese people are so caught up on this idea is because they believe that even though you can get the same basic nutrients from two different ingredients, i.e. protein from both shrimp and fish cake, receiving those nutrients  from as many different sources as possible is better for you. I concur. If you ask any pro body builder or olympic athlete about this, they'll tell you that their is no shortcut to elite performance. Although there are many successful athletes who use nutritional supplements, they do not substitute them for quality food intake. Check out this link and count the ingredients that were in the most popular dish at the U.S. Olympic Team training center in 2012: Keep in mind, that was just their main dish!

Another way of perceiving the bento is through the concept of balance, or Wa in Japanese. Wa can mean peace, harmony or balance depending on how it's used. If I had to, I could sit here and try to tell you how each and every one of those ingredients in that lunch box relate to one another, but I won't. Ok... I'll do a few. Fish & beef = Land & sea. Sliced fish & Fish cake = Something old & Something new. Or how about how all of the proteins (aside from beef) are all from the ocean. They're all water creatures, yet they can all be classified into different species. To be honest, you can relate anything to anything. But, when taking a look at such a beautifully composed meal, it's hard not to think that there are hundreds of years worth of thought and tradition that help form such a complex, yet simple web of culinary balance and harmony.

And finally:

This is what happens when the bento maker goes to work after a night of drinking. I'm not gonna lie, I really couldn't think of a way to fit this picture into the post and have it make sense. But, I figured I'd toss it in anyway. I call it "Good-fry, Japan." First and foremost, it was good. It was damn good. In addition to that, I rarely eat deep-fried food (for obvious reasons.) So, this will probably be the very last meal of this type that I'll eat during the rest of my time here. Good-fry, Japan. Good-fry.

For those that are curious, the two pieces of saturated fat coated unsaturated fat are tonkatsu and a pork croquette. The tonkatsu (top left) is made from pork loin and the croquette has a ham and potato filling. 

Note 1: Tonkatsu shouldn't be confused with tonkotsu (pig bone broth.) My last post featured a tonkotsu ramen dish, so I just wanted to clarify for those who are unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine. Also, I'm completely aware that this meal is by no means healthy. But, since I'll be leaving Japan soon and have recently completed a full marathon, I felt I deserved to loosen up the belt for once. Buen Provecho!

Note 2: I'm aware I've fallen a bit off the tentative posting schedule, but I figured it was better to post my most recent material before posting more details about my trip to China and Thailand. Once I've laid out concrete plans, I'll definitely write about them and let you know what my intentions are. The lack of social media access I'll have for a couple of weeks won't be fun, but I think you guys can survive without me for a while.

Next time on Ten Thousand Bites: Opened jar's long awaited China/Thailand food challenge itinerary!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Palate Cleanser 1: Oodles of Noodles & Automated Service

Konbanwa! (Good evening!) It is now 20 days until my departure and it has been a little while since I've updated this blog. Not much has changed since my last post, but I figured I'd write something new anyway. For those of you who've spent some time in Japan, you may be familiar with this post's contents, so enjoy the pictures. For those of you who haven't, I'd like to tell you a little bit about two things; the vending machine culture in Japan and tonkotsu broth.

Bite 8: First off, many people think of Japan as a very technology-friendly place to be. However true or untrue that may be, Japan does have the highest ratio of vending machines to humans in the world (approximately 24 machines per person living here.) Some of them talk to you, have touch-screens, play video, or all of the above.

Personally, I think the abundance of vending machines here is rather great. Not only because they're frikkin cool to look at, but also because the majority of them only contain beverages. As you'll notice above, only a couple of those drinks are soft-drinks. Most of them are tea, coffee, or vitamin supplements. That, my friends, is the direction we should be going in.

Although most of these machines are located outdoors, many can be found inside restaurants, where they are used to expedite service. Owners of ramen shops usually have a predilection towards using these machines, as they usually experience a high volume  of costumers during peak meal hours. This evening, I had dinner at Ichiran Ramen, where they use several different kinds of machines to help move the swarms of people that are fond of eating there. I'll walk you through the process.

Step 1: Prepare yourself for the delicious ramen that awaits you while staring at the cool sign outside.

Step 2: Walk in and select everything you'll need to leave you comatose. Pay.

Step 3: Check seat availability and proceed to the nearest vacant spot.

Step 4: Observe how the personal eating areas slightly resemble voting polls. This is for optimum flavor appreciation. Ichiran Ramen believes that one must fully concentrate on the complex flavors that a serving of their delectable noodles has to offer. I concur.

Step 5: Slide your ticket from the vending machine located at the entrance under the opening in your booth. Wait for all hell to break loose in your mouth.

Step 6: Follow the instructions on the panel. Repeat as needed.

There you have it. You are now fully capable of ordering ramen at about half of all noodle establishments in Japan. If there's no English print and you can't read Japanese, just press some buttons. Chances are whatever you get is going to rock anyway.

Now that I've given my version of a ramen shop tour, I'd like to pose some questions. Do you think this would work in a similar setting in the US? I'm curious to know what you foodies out there think about it. Your comments would be much appreciated. I happen to think this could be a very helpful tool for young entrepreneurs who are interested in opening up a casual dining restaurant and are trying to cut back on service costs. What do you think? In what kind of establishment would you appreciate ordering from a machine? Keep in mind that there will always be an employee around that can answer questions and make slight adjustments to your order, so you wouldn't be facing any "404: page not found" situations.

Some extra thoughts. For those of you who don't know exactly what tonkotsu ramen is, I'll elaborate. Tonkotsu is a broth made from boiling down pig bones, fat and collagen for many hours, over high heat. The resulting taste is quite buttery, almost milky. Pardon my language, but it's fucking delicious. Anyway, if you have the chance to try some, go for it. I'm thinking about using tonkotsu in a variety of ways once I get back to the states. Maybe a tonkotsu stew. I feel like hearty potatoes, carrots and maybe rabbit or some kind of game might fuse well with the broth. What do you think? What kind of spin would you put on this popular Japanese dish?

And just for fun, I had this little piece of awesomeness for desert:

I actually paid about $1.50 for this at a 7-eleven (yet another convenience Japan is fond of.) Mont Blancs seem to be all the rage over here. I can see why. They're amazing. I wonder why they're so uncommon back in the states. Hm, food for thought.

Friday, March 1, 2013

T-30 days: The Countdown Begins

It is now officially 30 days until my departure from Japan and to be honest, I'm excited as hell. For the most part, my time here has been awesome. But after 2 years, I've started to miss a lot of things most Americans take for granted. Great food is one of them. Although Japan has its share of imported food markets and a decent culinary scene outside of Japanese food, this country is ranked as one of the most expensive in the world, making good quality foreign food a luxury item. I actually live 25 minutes outside of Tokyo, which is said to be this year's most expensive city in the world. Check out this survey if you're interested in reading more about how Tokyo stacks up against other cities:

Upon arriving here, paying student debt, traveling and partying were my top financial priorities. Actually, traveling and partying were the only two on the list that I accomplished during my first year here. I've just now started to put a dent in my student loans... I guess there's always time for that. Anyway, because my funds were allocated towards cultural experiences and debauchery,  I found myself left with very little money for anything else. This helped me to become acquainted with several Japanese foods that are both popular amongst budget conscious Japanese people and relatively unknown to those who haven't spent much time in Japan.

Bite 7: In celebration of my upcoming departure, here is a list of some of my favorites.

1) Natto

Natto is basically fermented soy beans mixed with soy sauce and a Japanese mustard called karashi. Although many foreigners won't eat it because of its potent odor, it is quite popular amongst the Japanese. This dish is commonly served with breakfast and is usually eaten over rice. I prefer to eat it on its own.

2) Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki literally translates to "cooked whatever you like." It is basically an omelette consisting of eggs, batter, cabbage and dashi. An addition to those four main ingredients, green onion, pork belly, squid and octopus are all things you're likely to find in any variation of the dish. More often than not, okonomiyaki is coated with a thick worcestershire-like sauce, topped with bonito flakes and drizzled with mayonnaise. The picture above was taken in Hiroshima, where they add Chinese-style noodles to the bottom of the dish.

3) Miso ramen

Ramen are Chinese style noodles that can be served in a variety of broths. My favorite is miso ramen, which is said to have originated in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the most northern island of Japan and has a very harsh winter climate. If you keep that in mind while eating miso ramen, you can see why many people enjoy this rich and hearty dish. Also, chili paste is often seen at tables in noodle shops where this item is sold. Adding some of that to your ramen will definitely make you take off that extra layer you're wearing.

4) Sakura mochi

Sakura mochi consists of Japanese sticky rice infused with cherry blossoms, anko (sweet azuki bean paste) and a cherry blossom leaf. The sticky rice is first infused with the flavor and color from the cherry blossom, giving it a beautiful pink color. Azuki bean paste is then added to the rice and formed into a ball, which is then placed on top of a sakura leaf. This treat can be purchased year-round, but is most delicious during the spring, when cherry blossoms begin to bloom.

5) Kuromame spread

I love this stuff. It's the Japanese equivalent of peanut butter in my mind. Kuromame is the Japanese name for black soybean. A somewhat grainy (but delicious) spread is made from the beans and then lightly sweetened. This spread works well with nearly anything. I've actually gone through entire containers with nothing but a butter knife and my fingers!

6) Japanese curry

Japanese curry resembles a very dark, warm diarrhea. I'm sorry to be so vulgar, but if you can't see the resemblance, you must be blind. Having eaten this dish with other foreigners here in Japan, I feel obligated to tell you that the curry here has a joke of a reputation. The Brits here are especially fond of mocking it and then bragging about the abundance of delicious Indian curry available in their home country. In comparison, it may be true that Japanese curry lacks some of the bold flavors that curries from other countries have, but this hearty dish definitely hits the spot after a night full of beer. Since most Japanese people tend to have a proclivity towards very neutral tastes, their curry is usually quite mild. This gives the dishes earthy flavors an opportunity to shine and for the person eating the dish to not wake up with both a hangover and diarrhea resembling the curry they ate last night. An endless, brown cycle.

7) Takoyaki

I call'em octopus balls in English! These balls are made of a wheat flour-based batter containing octopus, pickled ginger and green onions. The mixture is then cooked on a special griddle with spherical compartments and topped with condiments similar to those found on Okonomiyaki. Takoyaki is most commonly sold as a street food in Japan and is very popular in Osaka.


Kaitenzushi or conveyor belt sushi is exactly what you would think it is. Grab a seat at the counter, wait to see what you like, grab it & eat it. Each dish is given a colored label, signifying price and can range anywhere from about $1.10 to $6.

9) Gyudon

This is fast food at its best. gyudon literally translates to "beef bowl." Japan has a gyudon chain called "Suki-ya." There are over a thousand of them in this small country and I can see why. It's hard to beat decent meat, served on decent rice, in under a minute, for under $4. I usually go for the cheese gyudon if I have a beer or two in me.

10) Matcha

Although matcha is really a drink, it is used as a flavoring quite often in Japan. Hello, my name is Bob and I'm a matcha-holic. For those who think matcha is the same as green tea, it's not. When making green tea, one simply steeps the tea leaves in hot water. Matcha is made by taking high quality green tea leaves, grinding them into a fine powder and then adding hot water. The end result being a darker, richer and much more nutritious drink. I love drinking matcha and occasionally eating some of the unhealthy treats flavored with this awesome green powder.

There you have it. My list of cheap treats here in Japan. I hope this is enough to hold you over for a bit. I'll probably be a bit busy tying up some ends here over the next few weeks, but I'll definitely post again before I leave to China. いただきます!

Next time on Ten Thousand Bites: More about the 100+ food challenge I'll undertake while in China and Thailand!

Monday, February 25, 2013


Hello to all new readers and anyone who has been following this blog since its conception. Your time is much appreciated. First of all, I just want to mention my new Twitter account. Please check it out and follow me! I'll be posting a bunch of interesting tweets and pics from my last month here in Japan and upcoming trips to China and Thailand. So for all of you foodies who love Asian cuisine, I hope you'll tag along for the ride! Now that I'll have readers to enjoy the adventures with, I really want to challenge myself and expand my palette during my all of my new dining experiences. So once again, follow Opened Jar@10ThousandBites on Twitter. There's a link in the right sidebar.

Bite 4: As I promised before, I'd like to reveal a little bit more about myself and how it relates to my future endeavors as a culinary artist. I think it'll be easier if I work my way backwards. As you know, I've been teaching English in Japan for nearly two years now. You may be wondering how I wound up half way across the world. Long story, not so short, I decided to withdraw from a master's program at the University of Miami when I felt I no longer had a burning passion for what I was doing. I had been enrolled for less than a full semester. "What kind of program?" and "I should stop reading now because this dude's a quitter." are all things you're probably thinking. That's ok, I'll continue anyway. Before moving back down to Miami to pursue a master's in musicology, I studied orchestral performance at The Juilliard School in NYC. It was there that I received my bachelor's degree after four grueling years of sitting in the back of an orchestra, pumping out tectonic waves of godly sound from a Tuba. All exaggeration aside, the experience of going to such a prestigious performing arts school was absolutely unforgettable. How does this all relate to food? Well, I believe many artistic principles are completely transferable. The way a musician tries to blend sounds with the person sitting next to them in an orchestra is quite similar to the idea of flavor pairing. Or how about a complex rhythmical passage? Try thinking of someone manning a grill. In order to achieve the perfect state of tenderness for your meat, one must be able to calculate temperature, cook times and flip frequency, all while drinking beer, brushing on sauce, controlling a hazardous flame and having a semi-intellectual conversation (about half of that was serious.) Since I'm starting to rant, I'll 86 the music jargon and leave out the fluff about arts high school for now.

Bite 5: Now we can get down to business. I haven't posted any pics of my recent cooking due to a severe lack of anything that resembles a real kitchen in my apartment. No excuse, I know. But take a look and have mercy on my soul.

Notice how the electric burners are similar to an Easy-Bake oven in both size and wattage. Oh, wait! The baby pink Easy-Bake wins! Why? Because I don't even have a damn oven!

I was able to make due with a fridge this size in college, but it doesn't matter what's inside if there's nothing to cook with. At least the rice cooker is top notch!

On the bright side, I've been able to hone in on my sushi and sashimi skills.

Bite 6: Now that I've got you up to speed, I want to continue moving forward. As I mentioned before, I'll be finishing up here in Japan in a month. After that, I'll be heading over to China and Thailand for 3 weeks. I really want to take advantage of being around awesome food while I'm over there, so I've decided to do a "checklist challenge." I'm compiling a list of about 100-150 different dishes and delicacies that I feel I must try during my stay. Scorpion and genitalia are on the list, for all of you Bizarre Eats fans. As we get closer to my departure, I'll post the checklist. I'll then update you during my trip as I start checking things off. I promise, it'll be worth your reading time.

When I get back to the states and settle back into NYC, I'll gradually start introducing some of my culinary creations, classic dish attempts, reviews and all kinds of refreshing palate cleansers between those posts. So from here on forward, I humbly ask for your comments and creative criticism. Even though you can't taste these posts, creative thoughts are always valued. 

Next time on Ten Thousand Bites: The 30 day countdown to departure begins. Stay tuned for a top ten list of the Japanese budget-friendly meals and treats I've become a bit too familiar with during my time here! 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The First Few Bites

I've decided to keep this blog somewhat anonymous in order to put as much emphasis as possible on the food itself. That being said, it is impossible to define yourself as a chef without first defining yourself as a person. As time goes on and as I prepare more and more bites for my readers, I will explain more about myself as a person and how those traits translate into my food. For the first few bites, we have a little family culinary history, a small serving of my personal taste and an amuse-bouche of goals, desires and thoughts. Enjoy!

Bite 1: I don't come from a family of people who enjoy expanding their palettes, neither food-wise nor in terms of exciting new experiences. That may have sounded a bit blunt, but it's the truth and that was the deck of cards I was dealt as a curious child. My family is Puerto-Rican American and completely proud of it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having pride in your heritage, I just wasn't on the same page as them. That being said, I was fortunate enough to have a very diverse upbringing and go to many different schools with many different kinds of people. Although, I was born into a Puerto Rican family from NYC, I grew up in Miami. This further highlighted the hispanic flavor of my family, creating a kind of Puerto Rican-Cuban-South American fusion of a childhood. As for the food, I should say that my family stuffed my stomach full of the same 4 or 5 dishes every week, but I guess it's better to make a few things well than a lot of things terribly. If I had to pick some favorites, the list would definitely consist of the typical cuisine of Puerto Rico, referred to as cocina criolla and a few Cuban selections. Since Puerto Rican culture has roots in a lot of different places, such as Spain, Africa and the island itself, cocina criolla contains a very wide spectrum of flavors and ingredients. Mixed together, they form a delicious combo of hearty legumes, flavorful herbs and well marinated meats & poultry:

...and thanks to the influence of the kick*** Cubans of Miami, the Cubano:

Bite 2: Moving on to our next course, I'd like to clear you palates by reminding you that although my family is Puerto Rican, I was fortunate enough to have friends from all over the world who had different lifestyles and various tastes. If you combine that with a hint of my curious personality, you get someone who loves to travel and try just about everything. Currently (I'm aware that I'm ranting...I won't make this a habit,)  I've been teaching English in Japan for almost 2 years now. I've dabbled across Europe, Canada, the States and blah blah blah... What's important is that these experiences will directly impact my culinary output.

Aside from certain ethnic staples and the occasional indulgences of artery clogging rations, I tend to lead a healthy life style when it comes to my food intake. I've been running marathons for the past 4 years and have a PR of 3 hours and 11 minutes. You can do the math. On a less fortunate note, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis several years back, which has ultimately changed the way I think about my health and the things that I put into my body. As you will see, much of the food I cook will be on the lean and clean side.

Bite 3: You may be wondering why I've decided to create this blog. As I said before, I'll give you more and more details as time goes on. But for now, an appetizer must suffice as I'm quite sure you can't stomach all of my life's details in one sitting. Today's goal-appetizer: I want to become a culinary artist. Well, that's vague. I know. What I can say more concretely is: I want to make delicious, healthy and wholesome food, then sell it. I can go on and talk about restaurants, food trucks, catering and so forth. But I won't. I've decided that in order to become a great culinary artist, no matter what the venue may be, one must first master technique, conceptualization, and the refinement of one's own palette. Which is why I've decided that I will go to culinary school after I return to the states. All of this is just wishful thinking if I can't create something that people like. That's where this blog comes into play.

Next time on Ten Thousand Bites: A peak into my artistic past and how it relates to my culinary future, a call for critiques and a tentative timeline for this spring's posts. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Opened Jar

I’ve just opened a jar
with ten thousand bites
each better than the last
each building on its past

I’ve just opened a jar
with flavors just right
familiar yet new
for me and for you

I’ve just opened a jar
a jar with new life
life leading to the best
both simple and complex

I’ve just opened a jar
with but so many bites
each better than the last
each building on its past

Ten Thousand Bites is opened jar's attempt to apply Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule to the art of cooking. Although this blog will not track time, this opened jar's contents will be served in bites of experience. These bites will vary in flavor and texture, ranging from attempts at mastering classic dishes to innovative culinary creations and critical commentary. The jar is open and there are many bites to be had. Taste, enjoy, comment and come back for more as often as you please. Bon appétit!

Total Pageviews