Monday, 24 October 2016

October 2016 Favourites List

This month's pictures are from Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Spread over several streets in the Ginza area, it is a fun places to wander around, nibbling, taking in the sights and people watching. Stalls selling super fresh fish, sushi, blowtorch grilled seafood, miso, snacks and drinks are all around. Locals go about their regular shop, buying fish, seafood and other items for their evening meal. Tourists and groups of friends stop off for a spot of lunch. It is bustling and vibrant. 

Kitty dreams of sushi....

Many people wake up super early to catch the famous tuna auction at 5AM. I’m afraid that after the long journey and considerable trouble adjusting to the time difference, such an early start was not possible for me. I’m not a brilliant morning person at the best of times. So I hope you will forgive me for not having any pictures of beautiful, sleek silver tuna being sold to eager bidders in a frenzy of activity. 

The current market is due to be closed down and moved next year, sadly. It was good to have had the opportunity to experience the Tsukiji market in its current form. It will be relegated to memory all too soon. A little piece of Tokyo history will be lost. 


What we in the UK call a "tray bake" is called a "sheet pan supper" in the US. To-mayto, to-mahto. Here is a chicken and cabbage recipe which is a simple and efficient dinner time dish.

Love kale? Love chapatis? Deena Kakaya has a cool vegetarian recipe for Kale Chapatis:

Watch out! Nippy little trucks whizz around at speed around the market

Crispy little fried Namak (or Nimkin), perfect with a cup of tea! NB - Sooji is semolina flour, ghee is clarified butter, Ajwain is carrom seed; all available from an Indian grocer.

Simple supper dish for Autumnal evenings, easy enough for me to rustle up after work!

I'd prefer to use some boned chicken thighs. With skin on for an indulgent meal, without if I'm wanting it lean. But the spicing and flavours look great! Sumac roast cauliflower and chicken salad with mint yogurt:

Not sure what to have with your sushi?

Kashmiri style roast lamb shank with pistachios and almonds. Overnight marinading required.

Here are Guardian readers' top student recipes. The salmon noodle dish is a winner. I wonder if the Bourdain tomato soup spaghetti is a soon to become post hangover classic for Sunday mornings...

Crispy pancetta, thyme and chestnut pappardelle, ready in just 20 minutes:

Sweetcorn is still in season. Here's a simple supper recipe which can be reduced or increased easily depending on how many you are feeding. I recommend you use fresh sweetcorn rather than tinned. Take whole cobs of corn, shear off the niblets carefully with a sharp knife, boil for 7 minutes until tender.

Hawksmoor's Macaroni Cheese recipe, according to Olive Magazine, is a "best ever" student recipe. But with its three cheese indulgent white sauce, could it be too good for students alone?

Articles/Know How:

Originally brought to my attention by Kavey Eat's author Kavita, this is information worth knowing. Obviously, trying to get your essential vitamins and minerals through your diet is best.

The “Iron good luck Fish” – an ingenious way to help the poor in Cambodia avoid anaemia.

A food blog post about fasting? Like, literally starving yourself? Aaron Vallance considers religious fasting in a fascinating philosophical blog post:

A wonderful quote about travel and life by Maya Angelou:

What you might have missed at Snig's Kitchen:

Utsunomiya is dumpling heaven. Come with me on a journey to Gyoza nirvana!

Masterchef 2012 winner Chef Shelina Permalloo is working with Chef Shiran Fonseca to create an Island Fusion menu inspired by her native Mauritius.
My other writing:

All about Post Referendum Racism and Bullying in the workplace. A consideration of discrimination law and good industrial relations practice.  

Not food. But my recent writing on post-referendum racism and bullying in the workplace has been picked up in Germany.


Agnes Obel – Philharmonics
Agnes Obel – Aventine
Grimes – Art Angels
Stacey Kent - Tenderly

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Utsunomiya, Gyoza City

On my way to the cultural and historical city of Nikko, I passed through Utsunomiya, which appeared to be little more than a transport hub on the Japan Rail service and an industrial city. Nothing to see here, right? That was until I discovered Utsunomiya is famous throughout Japan as Gyoza City. Home to reportedly two hundred (yes, two HUNDRED) gyoza shops and restaurants, Utsunomiya is not just the capital of Tochigi Prefecture, but the Gyoza capital of the world!

Gyoza are originally from China, being similar to the Pot Sticker dumplings many of us in the UK enjoy when we go out for a Dim Sum fix. These Chinese “Jiaozi” dumplings were eaten by Japanese service personnel during World War Two, particularly those serving in Manchuria. Returning to Japan, people tried to make the little parcels of deliciousness they encountered on their travels when back home. Just like another WW2 import to Japan from China, Ramen, the dish has been tweaked a little after arriving on Japanese soil. Gyoza are smaller and have thinner pastry skin than Pot Stickers. 

Whilst it is renowned for Jazz and cocktails, Gyoza is the real claim to fame of Utsunomiya. You don’t believe me, do you? Well, what about the Venus Gyoza statue in the square outside the station? You can’t argue with a big stone gyoza, worthy of Botticelli himself!
Gyoza Venus

Gyoza is so important here that there is a “Good Gyoza Guide” and “Good Gyoza Map”! I’d tell you more about both of these, but they are written in Japanese, and my ability to read kanji and understand Japanese is severely underdeveloped. So I had to enlist a little bit of help. I was informed that the best two places to sample Utsunomiya Gyoza was the Famous Gyoza Min Min Restaurant and Gyoza Kan. Both were within stumbling distance of the main train station.

Gyoza Min Min

Utsunomiya Gyoza Min Min is an institution. Founded in 1958, their committed staff have provided beautiful gyoza to the people of Utsunomiya for decades, the business growing to 12 outlets in the city. 

Arriving at the Min Min Restaurant near the East exit of the main train station, we saw a hefty queue already in place. It was a sweltering hot day of 30 degrees C or so. Should we wait, or admit defeat? It was number one in the Good Gyoza Map, it was heartily recommended by both our landlady in Nikko and the Tourist Information Office. But how long would we be standing in the heat?

We decided to have faith, although 45 minutes of waiting on a hot and humid day wasn’t easy. The owners realise they are popular and have provided a gazebo and benches for customers at the final stage of the queueing process; very welcome in the conditions, I must say! When we were finally ushered in, we were relieved and more importantly, hungry.

The menu was brief. There is a rice vermicelli dish with pork saboro (lightly stewed minced pork) and vegetables available. But otherwise, there is gyoza. And only gyoza.

You can have your gyoza three ways here; steam-fried (the traditional way), boiled or deep fried. 
The boiled gyoza ordered by the people sitting next to me
You can have it alone or you can have a meal deal with rice and pickles. After that, the choice ends. There is only one filling available. Pork and vegetable. We ordered the traditional steam-fried gyoza at 230 Yen per portion with some Kirin beer. 

Sauces; chilli oil, soy and citrus
Our gyoza proved that food does not need to be fancy to be fantastic. These were superb! Thin, light pastry, with just the right ratio of filling to skin. You will see in the photo below that the browned tops of the gyoza are the surface which have been fried on a hot skillet, whilst the dumplings remained joined together. 

How the whole portion of gyoza are both steamed and fried whilst remaining connected, I don’t know. The contrast between the soft bottom and crispy-soft top fills me with delight. 

The pork and vegetable stuffing is well balanced, meaty, yielding and gorgeous. Queuing for restaurants is not normally my thing, but it was totally worth it!

Cute little gyoza keyrings and bag charms are on sale, in case you want to keep the dumpling love alive after your visit! 

Open 11am to 8pm. Take away and frozen gyoza to cook at home available too. If only I could have brought a couple of boxes home!

Gyoza Kan

Another recommended gyoza restaurant was Gyoza Kan, again well rated on the Good Gyoza guide and recommended by the city’s Tourist Information Office. Not to be outdone by Gyoza Min Min, Gyoza Kan have employed some razzle dazzle to entice punters to their dumpling deliciousness. Stone statues of Sumo wrestlers, terracotta warriors, Godzilla, Kannon (or Quan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy) stand guard outside....

They also have their own Gyoza statue, hewn from a hunk of rock. He’s a cute fella, isn’t he? 

You’ll find posters and signs with him all around town. And he’s emblazoned on the backs of the Gyoza Kan staff uniforms…

 …and pint glasses!

Office workers escaping the grind for a well earned lunch break

Gyoza Kan have a slightly different USP from Min Min. Whilst Min Min excel in just one type of dumpling excellently executed, Gyoza Kan have multiple fillings to their gyozas. Fourteen fillings, in total, to be exact! Pork, “stamina” kenta, perilla, cheese, shrimp, shark fin, small pork, garlic free, pork and vegetable, pork with Chinese leek, mushroom, spicy, garlic and finally, Maitake mushroom. 

You can eat your gyozas as they are or dipped in sauce, chilli oil, citrus, soy or a mix of soy and citrus, depending on your filling or your preference. 

I’m a sucker for prawn gyoza at home, so immediately opted for shrimp. Roughly chopped chunks of prawn filled my lightly browned steam-fried dumplings. Again, the skin to filling ratio carefully judged to avoid heaviness on one extreme and fragility at the other. 

The Maitake mushroom filling had a strong flavour more reminiscent of porcini than humble button mushrooms. They actually taste a little meaty, and go down a treat!

Pork and vegetable had to be ordered in order to compare with Min Min. The filling here was generous and full of piggy goodness, although the gyoza shell was not executed with the same level of skill. It is still a very pleasing, great quality gyoza that people in London would be crying out for. 

Garlic (and prawn) was Him Indoor’s choice as he loves all things garlicky. The garlic flavour and aroma is strong, but not overpowering. The hubby was rather disappointed that I enjoyed this gyoza filling as he didn’t really want to share them with me!

Like Min Min, Gyoza Kan have been successful enough to expand to a number of branches. Being pressed for time, we visited a branch close by the train station entrance, as it was a fair journey for us on our very last day in Japan to get to Narita Airport. But a wonderful final lunch!

I should mention that Masashi and Kirasse were also recommended to us as serving excellent gyoza. Had I the luxury of more time, we would have visited. Also, we didn’t have time to visit the castle here, which originally dates back from 1062, but has been substantially rebuilt in 2007. But when the best gyoza in the world are calling for you in the Gyoza capital of the world, what else can you do except for tuck in!

Snigdha and Him Indoors paid for their wonderful gyoza with crisp, clean Yen notes. This review represents Snigdha’s genuine opinions. Snigdha has not received any incentive for posting this review.