Japan Travel Diary – North to South
Ice fishing for wakasagi on Lake Akan, Hokkaido.

Ice fishing for wakasagi on Lake Akan, Hokkaido.

Over the past 3 months I’ve been traveling the entire length of Japan, exploring its cuisine from north to south – from the ice and snow in Hokkaido in February, through the riot of the cherry blossom season, and on to the sun and sand (and rain) of Okinawa in May.

It was an amazing trip exploring food and culture, and of course huge thanks must go to the entire support team that saw it through months of pre-production and a lot of travel on just about every form of transport possible.

There are a number of BIG projects coming out of this trip (one of which may be obvious from the photo above), but the first is a weekly Japan Travel Diary I wrote along the way as part of my regular “Around the Table” column for The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia.

Tsurunoyu Onsen

Tsurunoyu Onsen, Akita prefecture

I’ve collected all of the articles together here for you, so if you want to follow my trip from start to finish, just read on!

Hokkaido, Week 1: Off Script in Hokkaido

Tohoku, Week 2: Onsen Dining: Come for the Hot Springs, Stay for the Food

Ishikawa, Week 3: The Secrets of Perfect Sushi

Fukui, Week 4: Understanding Umami Part 1: The Kombu Code and Part 2: Bringing Balance to the MSG Debate

Tokyo, Week 5: Back to School with Ramen

Tokyo II, Week 6: Yakitori and Negative Space

Kyoto, Week 7: Sweet Treats, and Tea, in Kyoto

Osaka, Week 8: When the B-List is Best

Fukuoka, Week 9: Saving Fukuoka’s Street Food

Okinawa, Week 10: Okinawa’s Gourmet Revival

You can stay tuned with the rest of my Around the Table columns for Scene Asia here. And of course, keep in touch for the SBS TV series and much more coming out of my trip over the next few months.

Wagashi traditional sweets. This one's called "Azaleas growning out of a stone".

Wagashi traditional sweets in Kyoto. This one’s called “Azaleas growning out of a stone”.

Hand made Japanese knives in Osaka

Hand made Japanese knives in Osaka

Maiko (apprentice geisha) in Kyoto

Maiko (apprentice geisha) in Kyoto

A Fukuoka yatai stall selling Hakata-style ramen.

A Fukuoka yatai stall selling Hakata-style ramen.

Taco rice from King Tacos, Okinawa.

Taco rice from King Tacos, Okinawa.

2012: Some Stuff That Happened

2012 is nearly done and I have to say it was a big year!

When the end of a year comes around I think our first reaction is to gasp at how quickly it all rushed past; but I think if we spend a few minutes thinking about everything we’ve done, we realise that we actually pack a lot into just 365 little days. Here’s some stuff that whizzed by this year:

Filming for South Africa’s Top Billing in Kruger National Park.

I got to meet a lot of you! It was really fantastic to meet so many people in person who have been so supportive. Thanks to everyone who came along to the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, Johannesburg Good Food and Wine Show, events in Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and of course here in Australia. Thanks also to all of you (more than 125,000!) who have connected on facebook and Twitter from Portugal, Finland, The Netherlands, the US, UK and Latin America. (I hope I haven’t missed anyone!)

Riding a boat on a burning river for the Hakui Matsuri, Ishikawa Prefecture.

I ate a lot of good food (and here are some of the highlights.) Maybe a little too much if I’m to be honest. I think an exercise plan is definitely on the cards. Who’s with me?

I’ve written a lot more this year and really enjoyed it. Spending a lot of time on the road it’s great to have something to do while I’m away from home. I wrote for a bunch of magazines and started Around the Table, my regular column for The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia. My first book “Two Asian Kitchens” came out in Dutch, and also in paperback here in Australia. Lots more interesting things to come in 2013, and a new book out later in the year as well – watch this space!

Oysters fresh from the water in Freycinet, Tasmania for Destination Flavour.

I came back to TV! I appeared as a guest judge on both MasterChef Malaysia and MasterChef Australia, plus joined SBS co-hosting the first season of Destination Flavour. I had a ball traveling around and getting to know more about where our food comes from. Destination Flavour was really well received so thank you so much for all your support! It ended up being the highest rating food program on SBS for 2012, and I’ve even been nominated for a TV Week Logie for “Best New Male Talent”, so if you want to vote for me you can do so here. (But I’m up against people like Joel Madden and Seal, so let’s not get our hopes up…)

Singing at the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s Starry Starry Night ball to raise money for children in violent situations.

I was able to support a lot of organisations that I think are doing really fantastic things in our communities. I played soccer (badly) for UNICEF and got to meet Alessandro Del Piero, played basketball (badly) for the Sydney Kings, and even sang in front of thousands of people for The Alannah and Madeline Foundation! I am very proud to support OzHarvest, Foodbank Victoria, The Cancer Council, The Crows Foundation, Diabetes Australia and many others. If I can ask anything of you for 2013, it would be to spend a little time helping any organisations in your own community that you think are doing good work to help those that need it.

Pulling on the boots for UNICEF.

On the “Year of the Dragon” float in the Sydney Chinese New Year Parade.

It was great being one of Sydney’s Chinese New Year Ambassadors for 2012. Sydney holds the largest Chinese New Year celebrations anywhere in the world outside of mainland China, but best of all I got to ride on a parade float just like Ferris Bueller. I was also an Adelaide Crows ambassador for our great 2012 season (expecting big things for 2013 boys!)

Last but definitely not least, I got married!

2012 was definitely a great year, but 2013 is already looking like a lot of fun. See you next year!

My wedding: Happo-en, Tokyo.

11 Memorable Things I Ate In 2012

King Tacos, Okinawa

I’m not much one for keeping score, but as another year goes by it’s nice to spend a few moments thinking about all the things we’ve done, the places we’ve been, and especially all the delicious things we’ve eaten.

I ate a lot of good stuff this year and here, in no particular order, are a few that stuck in my mind.

  1. No. 2 Burger – Pearl’s Diner, Adelaide
  2. Springbok, corn, pap and apple – The Saxon, Johannesburg
  3. Kuruma-ebi nigiri sushi – Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ginza
  4. Chicago-style deep-dish sausage pizza – made by my sister-in-law who lives in Ohio
  5. Oysters and Succulents – Attica, Ripponlea
  6. Banana leaf – Nirvana, Bangsar
  7. Taco rice cheese yasai – King Tacos, Okinawa
  8. Lantern yakitori – Torishiki, Meguro
  9. King George Whiting usuzukuri – Sokyo, Sydney
  10. Injera and wat – Abyssinia, Indianapolis
  11. Congee with ham, yolk and Earl Grey tea – Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney
Any dishes, meals or experiences that stand out in 2012 for you?

No. 2 Burger – Pearl’s Diner, Adelaide (photo: White Wall Photography)

Kuruma-ebi nigiri sushi – Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo

Chicago-style deep-dish sausage pizza – made by my sister-in-law

Taco rice cheese yasai – King Tacos, Okinawa

Lantern yakitori – Torishiki, Meguro

Clockwise from top left – Nirvana, Attica, Sokyo, The Saxon and Momfuku Seiobo

Injera and wat – Abyssinia, Indianapolis

 

Thanks for the memories, Jozi!

I’ve just landed back in Australia from another great Good Food and Wine Show in Johannesburg and just wanted to write a quick note to say thank you to everyone who came along to the show, watched the demonstrations, said hello, or took photos. I had an absolute ball! The picture above is just a selection of photos from Twitter and Facebook that I’ve grabbed.

If you want the recipe for the Sriracha Hot Wings that were part of my demonstration in the Chefs in Action Theatre, you can find that here.

My highlights were working with the wonderful team at the Good Food and Wine Show again (and great talent such as Levi RootsAnjum Anand, Sid Sloane and of course, my old mate George), eating A LOT of fantastic food (particularly a great meal of springbok at The Saxon), and of course meeting all of you.

I didn’t take too many photos myself this time because I was so busy at the show, but if you want to see photos of my 2011 trip to South Africa, you can see them here.

Destination Flavour premieres on SBS

Oysters fresh from the water – Coles Bay, Tasmania

I’m really excited to announce the launch tonight of Destination Flavour on SBS here in Australia. It’s a new food and travel show I have been filming together with Renee Lim and Lily Serna.

Renee, Lily and I travel Australia to find the people who devote their lives to producing the best food around – everyone from potato farmers to world-acclaimed chefs. I really hope you guys enjoy the show.

If you miss an episode, or if you want full recipes of anything you’ve seen on there, you can  visit the Destination Flavour website.  The recipes will be there to print out, as well as longer and more detailed “extended cut” videos that can walk you through them.

http://www.sbs.com.au/shows/destinationflavour

I’ve loved filming the first season of Destination Flavour, and I hope you all enjoy watching!

Unfortunately, my filming schedule for Destination Flavour overlapped completely with the filming schedule for MasterChef All Stars, so that’s why I wasn’t able to take part in that one. Still, I wish those guys all the best and it’s fantastic that they’re able to raise so much money for charity. I’m involved with a lot of the charities that they are competing for and I know how much good work they do in communities in Australia and around the world.

 

Hainanese Chicken Rice

I’m really proud to announce my new Asian food and culture column for The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia – Around the Table.

Here’s my first post, Chicken Rice for the Soul, about my favourite dish and how it shaped my first cookbook. And if that’s left you with a taste for Hainanese Chicken Rice. Here’s my grandma’s recipe for you as it appears in Two Asian Kitchens.

Photograph by Steve Brown

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Serves 4
Preparation: 1 hour
Cooking: 50 minutes plus 30 minutes resting

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (about 1.5kg), at room temperature
  • 5 whole cloves garlic, plus 2 cloves, chopped
  • 7 thick slices ginger, unpeeled
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 675g jasmine rice
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
  •  1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • coriander, sliced cucumber and spring onion, to serve

Chilli Sauce

  • 6 red birds-eye chillies
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Spring onion and ginger oil

  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 3 tbsp peanut oil

Dressing

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce

Trim any visible fat from the chicken. Roughly chop the fat and put in a small saucepan. Cook over very low heat for about 1 hour until the liquid fat renders away. Pour off and keep the liquid fat as it pools. (You do not need the crispy pieces of fried fat for this dish, but they are excellent served over cooked noodles.)

Meanwhile, put the whole garlic cloves and 5 slices of ginger in the cavity of the chicken and place breast-side down in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to just below a simmer. The water should be steaming well, but not bubbling. Keep the heat at this stage for 20 minutes, then cover the pot and turn off the heat. Leave for 30 minutes, then lift out the chicken, keeping the poaching stock. Brush the chicken skin with sesame oil and wrap with plastic wrap. The chicken should be cooked very lightly, pink inside the bones and with a gelatinous skin.

Heat 1 tbsp of the chicken fat in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and remaining 2 slices of ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the rice and toss until well coated and turning opaque. Add 1.25 litres of the reserved chicken stock, the salt and soy sauce. You can also add a few pandan leaves, tied in a knot (if you have them). Cook in a rice cooker or by your preferred method of cooking rice.

To make the chilli sauce, combine chillies, ginger, garlic, sugar and salt in a mortar and pound to a paste. Add the lemon juice and 1-2 tablespoons of hot chicken stock and pound again. Set aside.

To make the spring onion and ginger oil, add the spring onion, ginger and salt to a heatproof mortar and pound lightly with the pestle. Heat the oil in a small frying pan until smoking and pour onto the mixture. Once the sizzling stops, combine lightly with the pestle and leave to infuse for a few minutes.

To make the dressing, mix the sesame oil and soy sauce with 60ml of the chicken stock. If you have any remaining chicken stock after that, you can season it and add a few onion slices. This can be served as a light broth to accompany the meal.

Slice the chicken Chinese-style and pour the dressing over it. Scatter with a little coriander and serve with the rice, condiments, broth and garnishes.

 

5 More Favourite Kitchen Tools

Following on from My 10 Favourite Kitchen Tools, here are a few more things that I love in my own kitchen. Have a look and, if you like, let me know what some of your favourite kitchen tools are!

A real kettle
I know that electric kettles are perfectly fine, but there’s something very romantic about boiling water over a flame. My sister gave me this vintage kettle a couple of years ago, and it’s become one of my favourite things. The act of filling the kettle is almost ceremonial each morning and when the water is boiled, instead of an impotent plastic click, it vibrates with a low, musical hum that fills the whole house.

Rasp graters
They weren’t even around 10 years ago, but these guys are the business. They’re magical with garlic, ginger, spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, citrus zests and even hard cheeses like parmesan or pecorino. They don’t stay sharp forever, though, so make sure you change them when they wear down.

An oil jug
I do all of my deep frying in a wok, and one of these oil jugs is perfect for dealing with the litres of oil needed. The top is fitted with a fine sieve to strain out any bits, and the oil can be easily poured both in and out. A little cold oil into hot oil in a wok is the best way to reduce oil temperature quickly, and having your frying oil on hand makes oil blanching, shallow frying and deep frying incredibly simple. I think of this as the domestic equivalent of the big oil cauldrons that professional wok chefs use for their stations. Just make sure to change your oil every week or two as it burns, takes on flavor or oxidises.

Pizza trays
Any commercial kitchen in the world will have dozens of these strategically stacked around it, and for good reason. They’re incredibly versatile and can be used for grilling, resting meats, covering frypans, arranging prep or basically anything else you can think of. I don’t even use them for pizza. I do that in the oven on a terracotta tile.

Enamel bowls and trays
I love enameled metal bowls and trays. The bowls are sturdy, light and non-reactive. The rectangular trays are perfect for domestic prep and they are the permanent must-have items in Japanese domestic kitchens. Having a good prep tray is as important at home as it is in a restaurant. It’s amazing how just having something as simple as a dedicated prep tray can make such a big difference to the way you cook.

What are some of your favourite things?

Sriracha Hot Wings with Avocado Kewpie

This is a really simple recipe that I make all the time when I have friends around. The heat of Sriracha and the richness of butter is a fantastic contrast to the cooling avocado and mayonnaise. These wings are a perfect match for a couple of ice-cold beers and a game of football on the TV.

Sriracha Hot Wings with Avocado Kewpie

Wings
1.5kg chicken wings (about 12-15 wings)
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt

Sriracha Wing Sauce
75g unsalted butter
4 tbsp Sriracha chilli sauce
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
½ tsp Worchestershire sauce
¼ tsp mustard powder
¼ tsp onion powder
1 tsp caster sugar

Avocado Kewpie
1 ripe avocado
3 tbsp Kewpie mayonnaise
1 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt to taste

Cut the wings through the joints into the drumette, winglette and wing-tips. Keep the wing-tips for stock (don’t throw them out) and toss the drumettes and winglettes in the garlic powder, onion powder, sugar and salt. Cover and leave for at least 30 minutes, or put in the fridge overnight. (If keeping them in the fridge , return the wings to room temperature before roasting.)

Preheat the oven to 220C (fan forced) and grease an oven tray or rack with peanut oil. Roast the wings for 30 minutes, turning once until browned and crispy. Meanwhile, make the Sriracha Wing Sauce by whisking together all the ingredients in a saucepan until it is well combined and just simmering. Remove from the heat and toss the wings in the sauce until well coated.

For the Avocado Dip, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and then adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle the dip and wings with a little black pepper and serve.

Malaysian Lamb Shank Curry

Hearty lamb shank dishes are a winter staple in Australia, but this dish is a great one for times like now just as the weather starts to warm. We often think of lamb shanks as a hearty winter dish, but lamb curries in South East Asia work fantastically well in warmer weather.  This dish crosses the boundary of the seasons and takes advantage of the great spring lamb that we have in Australia, and matches it with the nostalgic Malaysian flavours I grew up with.

Malaysian Lamb Shank Curry

Curry Paste

  • 3 brown onions (or 6-8 red schallots)
  • 15 small dried red chillies, seeds removed and soaked in hot water until soft
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp belacan
  • 5 candlenuts
Curry Ingredients
  • ½ cup neutrally flavoured oil
  • 1.75kg lamb shanks (about 6 shanks), (Alternatively, you could use 1.5kg lamb chops, or 1kg boneless lamb leg, cubed)
  • 400ml coconut cream
  • 400ml water or White Chicken Stock
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • a handful of curry leaves, picked

Make the curry paste by processing all the paste ingredients together to a fine paste. If you have time, I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe freezing the paste in portions for later use.

Heat the oil in a large casserole dish and fry the paste for 5-10 minutes until it is coloured and fragrant, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add the lamb shanks to the paste and oil and lightly brown on all sides. Add all the remaining ingredients to the pot, bring to the boil and simmer covered for about 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and simmer for a further 1 to 1.5 hours until the meat is very tender, pulls away easily from the bone and the liquid has reduced to a thick gravy.

Cover the curry and allow it to cool on the stove. Refrigerate overnight if possible. Reheat and adjust seasoning before serving. Serve with white rice and sliced cucumbers.

“Food for Thought”

On March 14th I’ll be at Foodbank Victoria cooking for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. It should be a great event and all proceeds go to assisting the amazing work that Foodbank does.

Every year, Foodbank helps distribute 4 million kilograms of food to those in need around Victoria. People affected by bushfires and floods; people living below the poverty line; victims of domestic abuse and many others. The work they do is so important to our society and I’m really glad to be helping out.

If you want a Melbourne Food & Wine Festival event with a difference, please do come along. I’ll be guiding you through some of my favourite dishes using ingredients from Foodbank’s warehouse. We’ll also have the chance to talk a little bit about food security in Australia, which is an issue that’s very important to me.

For more information or to book tickets, head to http://www.foodbankvictoria.org.au.

Hope to see you there!