I think I’m turning Japanese…

Unagi Don over rice served with pickled radish

Remember that song from the 80’s? I seem to be singing it a lot lately. I’ve made no secret of my love for Japanese food especially their donburi fare. I always tell the “Hungry” Hubby that I must have been Japanese in a previous life. However, trying my hand in cooking this cuisine has been a stop and go cycle for me.
You see, I have the classic book, Japanese Cooking: a simple art by Shizuo Tsuji, for a while now, yet the pages have remained unfamiliar. I am embarrassed to say that the only recipe I used in this book was for dashi. A tome that intimidates me? Or is it because most recipes sound so foreign to my ears – after all sashimi and sushi make up such a miniscule part of this book. This adds to the mystique that seem to shroud each recipe, like a discipline that must be learned before one can even begin to cook the Japanese way, not unlike the training of legendary samurai warriors.

I know…I know…just jump right in, right?

Although Richmond, Va boasts a huge Asian supermarket with an impressive variety of items, finding help in navigating the aisles that are bursting with 10 brands of seaweed, 30 types of soy sauce or 40 kinds of vinegar, is wishful thinking. The most information you are going to get is an aisle #. I usually have no trouble when shopping for Chinese or Filipino goods but for some reason Japanese groceries are challenging.

Kombu seaweed and Bonito Flakes are the cornerstone ingredients for making dashi.

Enter Tokyo Market, a cozy little shop on West Cary st. in the hip Carytown neighborhood. The owner, Chong Park, is a cheerful petite woman..and very helpful. Items were neatly lined on the shelves and as much as I wanted to browse through them one by one, most were all in Nippongo, a language I could not read.

Brown rice Onigiri. Great for portion control and delicious to boot!

Bento-making was my goal when I stepped into the store and so Chong proceeded to help me with spices to make onigiris – rice balls. I quickly got distracted as I hopped over in glee to the area that held all the Japanese-style kitchen implements like mortars, ladles and pans. One thing the Japanese are experts of is the idea of cuteness- and this is evident specially in the design of their food storage containers…an element of “Kawaii”. Heck, I bought a plastic steamer simply because it was adorable.

I also purchased a side of frozen unagi – bought one previously from another grocery and it was disgustingly “fishy”. Chong told me she gets her broiled eel every two weeks and that even if it was frozen it should not stay in the freezer for long. Pork gyoza soon joined the rest of the items in my basket along with some pickled radishes.

And yes, I soon left the store with three bags of groceries and was already plotting my return.

1. Soba sauce 2. Japanese soy sauce 3. Sake 4. Mirin 5. Kabayaki sauce 6. Soba (Buckwheat noodles) 7. Bamboo rolling mat 8. Omelet pan

So no recipes right now, but I would like to report that the Unagi was one of the best I have ever tasted. A mere 12 minutes in 325 convection oven turned the semi-thawed fillet into a melt in your mouth morsel of delight! It took all of my will power not to gobble the whole thing up in 15 seconds flat.
Top the unagi over rice, drizzle with kabayaki sauce and toasted sesame seeds, serve with a side of pickled radish and you are all set! Quick, simple and totally rewarding.

I’ve also joined the group Washoku Warriors, founded by Rachael of  La Fuji Mama! The objective is to cook our way through Elizabeth Andoh’s Japanese cookbook. Exciting, huh!

Oh, and in case you are all wondering what happened to my wok cooking, I’ve done several stir frys but as usual, food is devoured before picture is taken. πŸ™‚

Tokyo Market

2820 West Cary Street #B

Richmond, VA 23221


31 thoughts on “I think I’m turning Japanese…

  1. Wow, this is just so unfair. *You* might have nice well-stocked ethnic groceries there in VA, but WI is somewhat lacking πŸ˜› And yes, the Japanese have cute down like no other.

  2. You’re so lucky to live near a great Japanese market. Our markets here in RI and also in Boston are more pan-Asian, which means Chinese primarily. The specialized cookware and sushi molds are nowhere in evidence. I do like to stock up when I go to Washington DC, where there are entire malls devoted to any cuisine you can think of. But then again, I would stagger out of these markets completely laden with ingredients that would overtake my pantry! No self control….

  3. Almost everything I know about Japanese cooking I learned from a fellow culinary school student-it was a friendship cemented by wasabi!

    We’re lucky to have wonderful Japanese markets in the Portland area, and I just love shopping at them. I get in so much trouble, though, because I cannot resist the cookware section. Alas, self control has never been my strength.

    Your Unagi Don looks scrumptious!

  4. Abowlofmush – welcome to the club. I think of Japanese food all the time.
    Thanks Caitlin! I don’t mean to brag :). But I do understand the lack of availabilty of authentic ingredients when you like to cook the cuisine the real way.
    Thanks Lydia! I know, I love going to DC. Have you been to the Korean Market over there, it’s huge!
    Hi T.W. I love my omelet pan…haven’t used it yet…but it is so cute and well-made :).
    Thanks Lucy! You are lucky to have a friend to learn Japanese cuisine with. Yes, I can go crazy in the cookware section.
    Thanks Helene! Give cooking it a try…and we’ll compare notes!
    Thanks Erica! they do look lovely don’t they? Presentation is part of their cooking, I think.

  5. I’m really into Japanese-style foods, too… When I take the time to really cook, that’s how I usually prepare my meals. Love the onigiri maker, what a cute little tool! How I wish I lived closer to an Asian market…!

  6. Well now I guess I know why I discovered the huge Dallas Asian market two years ago. No doubt you will show me something that I’m going to have to go on an explore to come up with the ingredients to make. I see Japanese in my future. Sounds like a very cool group you’ve joined and I look forward to your explore.

  7. I love losing myself in the Japanese groceries here too! And “losing myself” is an apt description as I can’t understand the words on the packages either — but all looks so interesing and most are, as you said, so cute! πŸ™‚ Love unagi too and we also sometimes have the frozen ones at home…mmm!

  8. Hi Hannah – yes, japanese food is fantastic. They also have this special container for tofu that you can lift it up from the liquid and slice it evenly.
    Thanks Tanna – I envy big cities with dedicated markets to a specific cuisine, I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding ingredients.
    Hi Deborah – That’s why I cleaned out my pantry yesterday. Need space for more ingredients!
    Hi Joey – Yes, I bet they have awesome Japanese groceries in the Philippines and hard to find items. Unagi, I think comes only frozen even in restaurants but I could be wrong. One thing I heard from the proprietor is unagi is good for stamina and the Japanese eat it a lot in the month of August when it gets too hot.

  9. OMG! you just slap my face with my favourite food, UNAGI! how did you know that? you so so really bad, can’t find any at this time nearly 11pm! 😦 lol!

  10. I adore japanese food and can’t wait to see what you make! And I totally agree with you on the japanese being masters of kawai, everything it just so adorable!

  11. Mmmmmmh! Making me crave onigiri already. Makes me sad I have no ready-to-go rice right now….

    I noticed you’re using an onigiri mold? Making onigiri by hand isn’t too hard, but it is pretty hard on your wrists unless you’re used to it. AND the hot rice will burn the skin right off of your palms unless you let it cool down sufficiently. Ah, the banes of short-grained sticky rice….

    A really simple flavoring for onigiri is “umeboshi”, sour pickled plums. It’s really an acquired taste and I know very few non-Japanese people who like. I think its appeal is all in the nostalgia. Anyway, I’m sure your Tokyo Market would have a small jar (or a little plastic container) for a nice price just in case you don’t like it. They’re the little red to reddish-brown balls with the other pickles. You simply mix it in with the blazing hot rice to taste. I strongly advise you to pit them and chop them a bit first. I have no idea how my dad does it so well when he makes them. Then some of the small rectangles of nori as a handle so you don’t get sticky fingers. =3

    I wish you good luck in your Japanese cooking! It’s a real jungle out there.

  12. Thanks Luney – For encouraging me to try onigiri by hand. i think I’ve seen instructions for this somewhere. I’ll be sure to look for pickled plums. I might actually like them. I know I’ve been devouring the pickled radish and sprouts like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll sure to include nori next time when I make the rice balls.

  13. I forgot how I came across your page months ago, when I left a comment about Full Kee– but came back today and found you had an entire blog!

    Anyway, most Japanese in Richmond would agree that the best restaurant for Japanese home cooking is Wasabi in Midlothian. It’s a slow wait from order to food delivery, but I understand it’s pretty good. As for Sushi– despite what Richmond Magazine says– Umi in Short Pump is the favorite for Japanese here.

  14. Hi John! I have tried Wasabi upon recommendation by the proprietor of Tokyo Market and I agree that it is the best for Japanese home cooking. I don’t mind the wait at all. I intend to go back soon to try their Teriyaki and hopefully it will not be the saucy mess that I get at most other Japanese restaurants. And yes, for sushi, I only go to Umi nowadays.

  15. Pingback: ‘Coz that’s the way I roll… | Kitchen Musings

  16. I was just trying to find a place in Richmond that sold Unagi, and I was thinking about the Tokyo Market but I wasn’t sure.
    I am so happy that I came across your blog because now I know that they do have what I need.
    THANK YOU!!!!

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