Friday, May 21, 2010

Los Angeles

Asparagus skinny enough to make it in LA. 
Our trip to California started out in LA, where we hit the farmer's market in Torrance like it took our parking space. (No, it's not Tokyo, but now and then I take time to devour other cities as well.) I love farmer's markets, especially now that slow food has given me a political license for gluttony. We do have markets in Japan, and a few in Tokyo, but the sheer abundance of a US one is striking.

And here is Japan's vulnerable underbelly: an aging population coupled with a low birth rate AND a profound lack of Mexican and South American food. Don't get defensive, Japan. The thing is, I know you would love it if only you tried the real deal. I once didn't get Mexican cuisine. My disinterest even made me think their pyramids were a little shoddy. Then I left the east coast and it's goopy, brown, red, and yellow combo plates and had my mind blown by soft tacos, tamales, and burritos. I mean it, Japan, just recruit some serious chefs and taco truck folks on some kind of diplomatic exchange. You will thank me later. Get a load of these beauties from the market.
Papusa! Wonderful stuffed tortilla-esque little Salvadorian pancakes that call to me from across the Pacific.
Frying up papusas--you are doing God's work, ladies.
Blue corn pork tamale with tomatillo sauce. I need a moment. Ok. 
There would be shots of our meals at El Burrito Jr. in Redondo Beach, but I lacked the self-control to photograph anything before eating it down to the foil wrapping. I may have eaten a little foil, which would explain my airport security delay.

My mom also got the lowdown on a truly good deli (something I never could find when I lived in Southern California) called New York Deli 2. Pastrami? Corned Beef? Why choose? She brought home the double decker and a side of potato latkes. Unbelievable. It's another thing you just can't get in Tokyo. Sure, there are a couple of lonely Kosher joints, but the sandwiches are delicate little things on mild bread. Mom used to actually schlepp rye bread from New York to Japan for her mother about forty years ago. Mashugana for the rye and Pumpernickel, my grandma.

The slaw on this was not bad, either. 
Rich and delicate--fabulous even without the sour cream and apple sauce. 
Monster Nidra in Bulgaria recently had an "Austro-Hungarian-huge" potato pancake that made me question my desire for more and larger latkes. Question, but not relinquish. I KNOW Japan would go latke crazy, since the potato croquette is so big here. Well, popular, not Russo-Chinese big.

And of course, it's not a trip to America without a burger. The Evil Genius and Robo-Cindy grilled up a feast of grass-fed goodness, including home-grown lettuce and tomatoes, and the crispiest oven fries ever. The burgers were stuffed with cheese and bacon, which Mini Z tried to suck out of the middle. It was not an Emily Post moment, but how could I scold her for that which I would do myself?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How We Roll

The usual suspects: toro, tai (sea bream), red clam, and roe.
So we are in California for a couple of weeks, enjoying the weather and lots of home cooking. But before we leave Tokyo, we always do a mini-farewell tour of our favorite Japanese foods. It's a little like junkies who binge before rehab. My dear friend Dango-ra, who knows all and shares all, had me over her place in Tsukiji for sushi the day before departure. Her apartment actually overlooks the famed Tsukiji fish market where die-hard fans go to see the frenzy and eat sushi at cramped counters before Starbuck's even starts grinding beans.

The big lacquer boxes from Sushi Iwa arrived stacked and wrapped at her apartment.  From the market, to the restaurant, to the table was probably about five miles. And it shows up so pretty every time. As usual, it rocked the house. We must not be the only ones getting our dose of sushi before a trip abroad, because Sushi Iwa has a shop in Narita airport. Just before you go through security, you can get your last fix.
The ikura and uni were so good I feel like I should have digitized the photo.
I know some of you don't love the salmon eggs and/or the sea urchin. But maybe you need to try it in Japan. Neither the Professor nor his brother, the Evil Genius, liked it on American soil. In the US, people tend to use words like 'bitter," "strange," and "acquired taste," the last of which translates to, "I am going to discreetly spit this into my napkin now and drink sake until I forget it was ever in my mouth. I hate you." And yet, on a recent trip to Tokyo, the Evil Genius declared uni "the butter of the sea."  The fishiness that troubles people when they eat ikura is also not present in the best of it here. Instead, creamy, delicate little globes.

Amai-ebi--again with the creaminess from the sea!
Sushi nazis will get you all nervous about what to order, how to dip, when to eat the ginger. Ignore them and relax.  Dango-ra, like many Japanese, picks her sushi up with her fingers. And there is no delicate way to eat futo-maki, or "fat rolls," which was our nickname for Mini Z when she was an infant, by the way. They are so stuffed with goodies like eel, egg, shrimp, and pickled vegetables, that you just have to take bites and hope your companions are looking at their own plates. The kids love them, but it ain't pretty.

Futo-maki are just the thing when you show up hungry.
When it's all over, you stack the empty trays, tie them up in a cloth, and leave them outside your door to be picked up by the delivery guy. What could be better? And yet I can't help but wonder how fast the trays would have disappeared in our old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Oh, like you wouldn't pick one up.

Sushi trays ready for pick-up. So much prettier than those pizza boxes that pile up accusingly in the kitchen.