Monthly Archives: December 2008

Pasta, Japanese Style

Spaghetti Hashiya's pasta master, Iwata Harumasa (photo by leslie scurry)

Spaghetti Hashiya’s pasta master, Iwata Harumasa (photo by leslie scurry)

Mention the term “Japanese food” to just about anyone and invariably you’ll get “sushi” as a response. And while that’s a perfectly delicious response, Japan has more than sushi, and other typical foods that are associated with that country. In large metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, the variety of foods stretch available touch all parts of the globe. There are amazing Indian restaurants, an African restaurant in Shinjuku, superb French bistros, tapas…and pasta.

Pasta. It’s popularity is natural as it is the kissin’ cousin to ramen and udon. Those who crave the chewy, ropey noodles swimming in rich, pork-laden broth also quest for plates of pasta. While marinara is popular, the Japanese take on pasta sauces is as dynamic as the Japanese versions of French bakery goods and Indian curry. Tarako (marinated roe), uni (sea urchin), ika (squid) and natto (fermented soy beans) are just some of the unique foods that adorn Japanese pasta. For sheer pasta and sauce variety, Spaghetti Hashiya takes the prize.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

Hashiya has a staggering three-page list of pasta/sauce varieties ranging from traditional to solidly Japanese. Each plate of fresh pasta is cooked and sauced to order. There are sauces based with butter, tomato, meat, garlic and olive oil, and dressed with mushrooms, more meat, fresh vegetables and a large variety of seafood, so your options at Hashiya are many. Although you could go the traditional route and walk away very satisfied, it’s the Japanese versions that hold the most interest. “…but the devil”stopped in at Hashiya last month for a quick lunch and found the pasta as excellent as ever.

Our target dish for the day at Hashiya was a bowl of their uni/tarako/ika spaghetti. When we gave our order, owner/chef Iwata-san said “but that’s a Japanese style sauce…”. Certainly the combination of these ingredients in the sauce would make some Westerners flinch which is why we were asked but once we nodded our acknowledgment, Iwata-san smiled and got to work.

Tarako comes in a couple of forms commonly used in Japanese pasta dishes. Plain tarako is pollock (cod) roe and has quite a rich but strong fishy taste when eaten alone. It can be used in it’s raw form or roasted. Spicy tarako, called mentaiko, is marinated pollock roe and is both Korean in origin and often used in “spicy” sushi rolls, such as spicy tuna roll. (Some restaurants opt for Mexican hot sauce like Tapatio for their spicy rolls as mentaiko retains a strong fishy taste…it is fish roe after all…). This strong taste is mellowed by adding it to other ingredients making it pleasant, albeit briny, tasting. Eating tarako or mentaiko alone or with rice follows some traditional Japanese tastes and can be challenging to those not used to strong ocean flavors.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

Hashiya’s rendition of this pasta dish uses the creamy uni as the base of the sauce. Uni typically has a sweet-ish, slightly briny taste and soft polenta-like texture. When it’s whisked it liquefies just enough to count as a thick sauce. Hashiya adds plain tarako to this and that results in an orange coloured sauce with little flecks of light pink tarako eggs. Cooked thin strips of ika (akin to ika somen) are added at the last minute, then the bowl of sauce is turned out and mixed into the bowl of freshly cooked pasta. A handful of nori seaweed shards are piled on top and you’re ready to rock.

The overall taste is creamy, faintly sweet and tastes of fresh ocean. The ika plays a bit of crunch into the nicely al dente pasta and the nori adds a bit of earthiness. If you’ve ever had each of the components of the sauce separately, you will be stunned at the transformation of them mixed together and warmed by the pasta. For hesitant fledgling foodies, this is a bowl of unique and excellent tastes that is well worth seeking out. And if Iwata-san expresses concern about this dish being a “Japanese” pasta, nod and say “daijobu” then get ready to eat.

Hashiya has three locations in Tokyo:
in Hatagaya: 2-49-2 Hatagaya, Shibuya-ku. Ph: 03-3373-2660 (take the Keio train line to the Hatagaya station)
in Yoyogi: 1-3-10 Yoyogi-Hachiman, Shibuya-ku. Ph: 03-3466-1576 (take the Odakyu Odawara Line to the Yoyogi-hachiman station)
in Shinjuku: 1-26-2, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, on the Basement floor of Shinjuku Nomura Building (near the West exit of the Shinjuku station)

Honey. Butter. Walnuts. Filo.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

Christmas to me means one thing: baklava. Forget the chocolates (for the moment), forget the egg nog and the tree trimming and all that. Turn your attention to wrapping the gifts. In many ways, making baklava is like wrapping a bunch of tiny presents. You wrap up finely chopped nuts in filo sheets and seal the package up with melted butter then cut it into 30 or so packages of honey-ed joy.

I have no idea why this has become a tradition for me. I do know that one of the first cookbooks I bought was the basic Doubleday white edition and that, one day when I was marveling at the squirrel fricassee recipe, the book fell off my lap and when I picked it up the page it landed on was the one with the baklava recipe on it.

sheet o' goodness (photo by wm. christman)

sheet o’ goodness (photo by wm. christman)

Many years ago, my father did volunteer work for the annual Santa Clara County Fair. The perks of that job was that he got to bring the family to the fair for free where we got to spend the day looking at all of the handmade/homemade baked goods, preserves, quilts. When we tired of that, we walked the entire set of food booths offering everything from linguica sandwiches to indian fry bread to Orange Julius drinks. But by far my favorite was the Hun-I-Nut booth with their tooth-meltingly sweet baklava.

So when the cookbook opened to that page, I thought of Hun-I-Nut and the fact that it was mid-December and I would have to wait until the following July to get a piece of my favorite pastry. Impatience is a godsend sometimes and I dove into making baklava.

I made just about every single mistake that one could make in the process of making baklava. Didn’t thaw the filo dough enough? Check. Didn’t use unsalted butter? Check. Didn’t have enough nuts or didn’t chop them enough? Check and check. Burnt the butter while browning it for the final drizzle before baking? Check. But over the years, I made less and less mistakes, and from the requests I get each year from co-workers and friends, I can actually make a pretty good sheet of baklava. Not too sweet, a nice blend of nuts, some secret ingredients to round out the flavor…yeah, pretty good.

But I still really don’t know why I make baklava at Christmas. I just do.

France Reloaded

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

Bay Area French food fans should rejoice. We’ve got our warehouse back!

The Village Imports warehouse in Brisbane, CA. suddenly stopped having their once-a-month warehouse sales several months ago. They held the warehouse sales for well over two years. All kinds of French cheeses, butter, yogurts, meats and patés were plentiful and the prices reasonable. There was also dry goods of all sorts. And for the chef, plenty of kitchen staples in large quantities.

This week we received an email announcing the opening of The Gourmet Corner store in San Mateo. It looked suspiciously like a old Village Imports email. Sure enough, the folks who used to run Village Imports (and sold it earlier this year), have resurfaced. Their store is just on the edge of being stocked completely but nearly all of the refrigerated items (the cheese, the patés and the yogurt(!) ) are stocked and ready to go.

In a few weeks, …but the devil… will have a more complete run-down of what The Gourmet Corner offers but for now French food lovers in the Bay Area can get their fix once again. Me? I’m just happy to have a few cartons of Mamie Nova yogurt back in my refrigerator.

The Gourmet Corner is at 873 North San Mateo Drive in San Mateo, CA. and is open 7 days a week from 9 am to 7 pm. Ph: 650.340.6370

Holiday Grab Bag

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

Need to create something new? Thinking about revisiting an old favorite? Have the urge to start putting up supplies for 2009? Since we’re in the middle of the 2008 holiday season, there’s an extra helping of inspiration out there for any need.

Something New
Pasta making is a bit of an undertaking if you haven’t done it very much or even at all. But doing it once or twice will either turn you into a pasta-experimenting machine or cure you of ever wanting to do it again. If you’re one of the former, then consider chocolate pasta. Yes, chocolate pasta. Tagliatelle to be specific.

There are a boatload of recipes and opinion about making this type of dessert pasta but the photos on this recent posting on Leonor de Sousa Bastos’ flagrante delicia blog may just push you whip out the pasta machine. The added bonus is that de Sousa Bastos also includes a recipe for both the pasta and the sauce:
Read about: flagrante delicia – Chocolate tagliatelle with chocolate sauce

Old Favorites
You may have heard more about sous vide in the past few weeks and it’s mostly becauseThomas Keller’s sous vide cookbook Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide was released. The sous vide method is cooking food in vacuum sealed bags in low(er) temperature water to preserve a food’s color, flavor and texture.

The chef and co-owner of Chicago’s Alinea restaurant, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, posted a 2-part YouTube video of a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner (with dessert too!) cooked with the sous vide method. Although there are some interesting debates about the safety of sous vide without the “proper” equipment, these two videos just demonstrate that you can do your own sous vide using some pretty simple kitchen items. The comments on these pages also have some info to guide you as well, notably the water temperature being kept at 175 degrees and potential cooking times, that trying this for a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa dinner seems entirely achievable.
View: Achatz ThanksGiving, Part 1
View: Achatz ThanksGiving, Part 2

Getting ready for 2009
The reason that Michael Ruhlman’s Notes From The Food World blog is featured in the food sites area to your right is that it is a consistently excellent read. Literate and insightful, this is a blog that deserves a page reload several times a week.

The subject of slaughtering your own animal (cow, pig, chicken, et al…) is sensitive for some people. It makes me a bit squeamish too but I believe that actually knowing where your food comes from is an important part of understanding why we eat the things we eat. I may have to opportunity to participate in this early next year and Ruhlman’s post comes at the right time and now has me really thinking about the mental (as well as physical) preparation for this.
Read about: Notes From The Food World – Pig Day

As an extra bit of inspiration, No Salad As Dinner posted about dining at The French Laundry. Although The French Laundry has been written about many times in blogs, newspapers, and magazines, the descriptions and thoughts in postings like this one always spur me on to: 1) plan to make that call to get on their waiting list and 2) continue to dream about eating there some day.

Read about: No Salad As Dinner – The French Laundry

Bourdain’s Tour

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

Make no mistake. Nearly all of the restaurants that were targeted for Hong Kong were featured on the Hong Kong episode of No Reservations. The selections were done shamelessly – Bourdain seems to know great food so why should there be any reluctance at all? However when it comes to food, I can whore-up with the best of them. Although there were food destinations and discoveries beyond the initial list (and maybe they’ll appear here at some point), six of nine on the Bourdain list were conquered:

  – Yat Lok Barbecue Restaurant
Bo Innovation
Lin Heung Teahouse
Under the Bridge Spicy Crab
– Tung Po Seafood Restaurant
– Four Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant

The final two were tagged in a frenzied “must-have-two-dinners-on-the-last-night-in-Hong-Kong” food run. And the hectic dining pace that the Lin Heung Teahouse set was more than present at both the Tung Po Seafood Restaurant and at Four Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant.

Tung Po Seafood Restuarant

Tung Po sits on the second floor “dai pai dong” (food court) of the Java Road Food Centre. Java Road Food Centre is one of many multi-level food markets in Hong Kong that offer everything from meat and vegetables to herbs and spices for home use. And most of them have dai pai dong for instant food gratification. Robby is Tung Po’s main man and runs nearly every aspect of Tung Po Seafood. He acts as official greeter, restaurant traffic cop, table coordinator and kitchen motivator, and always seems to have a wry smile on his face.

many happy Tung Po diners (photo by wm. christman)

many happy Tung Po diners (photo by wm. christman)

At lunch however, Tung Po is closed. Eight or nine of the other food stalls in Java Road dai pai dong are open for lunch, and their customers spread out to use the communal tables in the Tung Po area. But at dinner time, Tung Po takes over nearly half of the floor with it’s many large communal tables. If that sounds packed in, you’re right, it is. But as with most food experiences in Hong Kong, it’s all part of the deal. And sitting with other folks who are enjoying the food as much as you is an added, and educational, bonus.

Although flash-fried mantis shrimp were the focus of this dinner (they’re a special order, not on the menu and we neglected to ask…), the squid balls cooked in their own ink over pasta were the true highlight. The formidable bowl of inky blackness with several large-ish and tender ground squid balls and nicely al-dente pasta was creamy and delicious. It’s difficult to describe the squid ink taste – it’s somewhere between a rich Alfredo and prawn butter sauce. It’s both a taste delight and and visual one because if you smile in the middle of a mouthful (plenty of that while eating this…it’s SO good), you look like an early 17th century Japanese lord with traditional blacked-out teeth.

much too much rice... (photo by wm. christman)

much too much rice… (photo by wm. christman)

Since the plan was to have two dinners, we chose to eat lightly at Tung Po. To round out the meal, a rice dish that appeared to be “small” was ordered, and it ended up being an enormous bamboo steamer of rice cooked in an equally large te leaf with chicken, pork and mushrooms. It was a deliciously simple dish that was instantly warming and filling. And knowing that we’d be facing two more rice dishes this evening there was no desire to eat all of it in one sitting. We opted for the takeaway carton. You know, “for later”.

Four Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant

OK, dinner number one was done. Waddling away from Tung Po required some thought on how to kill some time to spur digestion. Since Four Seasons is at one end of the infamous Temple Street Night Market, starting at the opposite end of the market seemed to be a good idea. Since there are 14+ blocks of merchandise (real and counterfeit), numerous fortune tellers (“Come in! I speak English!”), truly dreadful outdoor karaoke stalls, and other perverse distractions, the chance to make room for another dinner was looking good.

four seasons clay pot rice (photo by wm. christman)

four seasons clay pot restaurant (photo by wm. christman)

Four Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant is on a parallel block just off of Temple Street and if you blink for a moment too long, you’ll miss it. But once you see the bright yellow signs and shiny, heavy plastic sheets that suffice for an outer wall, you are in for, at the very least, an interesting meal. The yellow signs are really menus so you can decide while standing in line and during the later hours of the night there seems to always be a line. But because everyone shares tables, you won’t be waiting for long. And while you wait, you can catch a bit of the earthy scents coming from a stewed offal stall just a few doors away. Most of the folks waiting in line for Four Seasons made these little bits of intestine and liver, eaten off a Styrofoam tray with toothpicks, their starter.

The inside of Four Seasons is very spartan – people are there to eat not dine. Like Lin Heung, there is constant motion – clay pots being slung around, wait staff running back and forth taking orders, people leaving and arriving. You can have tea if you wish (and you’ll want to wash your utensils and cups in some of the tea first) but lots of folks choose to walk 100 yards away to buy bottled tea, soda or water. Ordering is easy. Choose the clay pot with your choice of meat(s) and you’re done.

very, very hot clay pot (photo by wm. christman)

very, very hot clay pot (photo by wm. christman)

Your blindingly hot clay pot arrives and all that’s left is to carefully remove the lid without burning yourself (the table’s thin napkins are the best you’ll get for this if you don’t have anything else…), squirt some of the bottled soy sauce into the steaming rice then put the lid back on. You wait a minute or two to let it steam a bit more then remove the lid and dive in.

and then the top came off... (photo by wm. christman)

and then the top came off… (photo by wm. christman)

The rice is partly soft and partly crispy (around the edges and bottom of the pot) and the meats add their flavor to the party. The meats themselves, especially the chinese sausage, are tender and fragrant. At first glance, it looks like a small-ish amount of food but in the end, the whole bowl is simple, hearty, warming and very filling. It’s more than enough fuel to keep you warm on your way back home on a chilly fall Hong Kong night. And for all that comfort? About $1.70US per bowl.


Food in Hong Kong is king. There is so much, the activity at most places is frenetic, and you can eat just about anything you crave for a very reasonable, if not downright cheap, price. It’s the perfect city to kick off a truly amazing food tour.

Gimme Shelter Crab

(photo by leslie scurry)

(photo by leslie scurry)

When I first saw it, it looked like a mirage. Piles and piles of garlic sand with a little stray vegetation and some discarded well-cooked shells. The image waved in and out of my vision and then it was gone. I was snapped out of my reverie by the blank television screen and the sound of the TiVo going completely off it’s rails; all that was left was a smoking pile of DVR machinery.

Once Mr. TiVo regained it’s composure and a new hard disk, the image reappeared and I realized that it looked too real to be a mirage. I knew that I had get to Under Bridge Spicy Crab to witness the huge pile of fried garlic and scallions heaped up around irregular chunks of crab shell filled with ocean-sweet crab meat for myself pronto. But how? I wasn’t even planning a trip to China let alone Hong Kong. So it was relegated to that set of food fever-dreams that I get every three weeks or so…

(photo by don louv)

(photo by don louv)

Given all this, it was hard to imagine that I’d get to experience this dish at all this year let alone twice. The first time was on business and the second on “…but the devil’s…”staff excuse to stuff face in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Truth be told, I was too overwhelmed the first time to write about Under Bridge. I didn’t want to think about anything else but devouring whatever was put on the table. I’m positive that the words were there but they simply wouldn’t work their way down to my fingers. The feasting was all there was.

The second time around, there was plenty to gab about: the clams with black bean and chili sauce, the gai lan with chili and garlic and the huge plate of deep fried crab/garlic/scallions that literally brought tears to my eyes – all that chili oil tends to “float” – the whole shebang was worth every soaked napkin, spilled spot of sauce and crab shell shrapnel that didn’t end up in a mouth.

Under Bridge has got quite an extensive seafood menu and you could get away without eating their crab and still be very, very satisfied. But the crab is really the star of the show and not ordering it would be the equivalent of going to Cut or Craftsteak and ordering a Textured-Soy-Protein “steak”. And from the time that your crab is presented to you (before it is cooked) to the pile of shell discards and stray garlic bits that are left when you are done, it’s a real experience.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

The warm up to the crab event consisted of two plates: the clams and the gai lan. I’m pretty sure that I could eat several plates of the clams on a regular basis. The slightly briny clams are coated with a pungent black bean sauce with a chili smack that doesn’t sneak up on you and much as knock you in the head with slurp after slurp. Half way through this dish and you quickly realize that it’s going to be a messy evening. And since it’s going in that direction, why not grab some juicy gai lan with your bean-sauce-coated fingers and shove those in there for good measure. OOG…CAVEMAN FOOD EAT GOOD.

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

When the crab arrives, you feel yourself mentally buckling a bit under the fact that you’re going to dive into this molten plate of goodness way before it has cooled a little bit, risking tongue and hands, because it just smells so damn good. The garlic is so heaped up that it’s the natural thing to start with. Deep frying browns it without burning it and drives off all of the bitter oils (like roasting garlic cloves does) and leaves sweet and crunchy bits. The chili oil provides the impetus to grab forkful after forkful, and you’ve got the greatest excuse to do that because that is how you get to the crab.

Even though the crab is fresh (it is presented to you, live and wrapped in what looks like a fundoshi (a sumo wrestler’s loin cloth) for your approval before it is cooked), deep frying tends to weld the meat to the insides of the shells so you’re going to do some work to get at that succulent meat. But you’re not dipping it into any sort of sauce, save for chili oil that ends up at the bottom of the plate which you’ll go back to again and again, so sit back, and start digging away. Remember the part about this being a messy meal? Don’t be shy. Dive right in. You’ll need/want a shower afterward. Maybe even a post-crab cigarette…

Before you know it, the crab shells are all that is left, the scallions are a mere memory and the plate is nearly licked clean of garlic. You may even find yourself rooting around in the shell debris for extra morsels. The clams and gai lan, if you didn’t polish them off before the crab, are take out candidates for eating a few hours later when you need to fix yourself up. And like with so many other places in Hong Kong, you’re left wondering “when am I going to get back here next…”.

Under Bridge Spicy Crab, Shop 6-9, G/F, 429 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, ph. 2573 7698