Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry and Busy Christmas Day

As one might expect, we closed SAKAYA and took the day off on Christmas Day. Expecting a leisurely start to the day, we were surprised to receive a 10 AM phone call from Rick's mother and brother saying that they were heading across the Verazzano Narrows Bridge and would be at our home in Brooklyn shortly. The plan had been for them to arrive around noon, but the holiday traffic from Pennsylvania had been so light that they had made record time. We jumped out of bed, showered, and hastily made coffee to kick us into gear.

Rick took them to the East Village to show them our store since they had not seen it before. Meanwhile, Hiroko cleaned the house and prepare for the Christmas meal. We had planned to make a roast pork recipe we found on the Food & Wine website. After inserting slivers of garlic into the meat, Hiroko wrapped the pork loin and sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme with slices of bacon; a simple and easy recipe.

Hiroko first baked the dessert, an apple pie, followed by some-lighter- than-air gougeres (parmesan and gruyere cheese puffs) for hors d'oeurves. It was
then time to put the meat in the oven. Once that had been accomplished, we were able to have a sake toast and relax for a while.

Cooked to perfection, the pork was moist and succulent.

Along with a wild rice and mushroom pilaf and fennel and celery salad, Hiroko also made a quick and easy side dish of sauteed tomatoes with a touch of garlic. We were then ready to sit down to the first course, a celery root soup with a "surprise" of vinegar and maple syrup to be stirred up from its hiding place at the bottom of the cup.

The result of Hiroko's daylong efforts was a delectable, healthy, and comforting feast that made for a tasty conclusion to a memorable and enjoyable Christmas Day.

Roast Bacon Wrapped Pork

One 3-pound boneless pork loin
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces thinly sliced bacon or pancetta
6 long rosemary springs
6 long thyme springs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Using a small knife, make 1-inch-deep slits all over the pork. Stuff each slit with a slice of garlic. Season the pork all over with salt and pepper and wrap with the bacon. Top with the herbs, tucking them under the bacon in several spots. Tie the roast at 1-inch intervals with kitchen string.
  2. Transfer the pork to a roasting pan and roast for 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loin registers 130°. Transfer the pork to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 15 minutes. Discard the string and herb sprigs. Carve the loin into thick slices and serve.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Katsuo-bushi or dried bonito is an indispensable ingredient in Japanese cooking. Today it is found in bags of pinkish brown flakes Kezuri-bushi (kezuri means to shave or shaven) in Japanese supermarkets. Traditionally, a large chunk of dried katsuo is shaved as needed using a wooden Katsuo-bushi shaver. Katsuo-bushi is used in dashi (the stock that is the basis for so many Japanese dishes) or as a garnish for tofu or ohitashi (boiled spinach). Its flavor is full of umami, the flavor that gives the dish a savory and satisfying taste.

Katsuo-bushi was created as means of preserving fish. The first step in curing the katsuo is to fillet the fish (a large fish yields about 4 fillets).
The pieces are then arranged in sieves and lowered into water that is kept at about 90°C. After simmering for 2 hours or so, the fish is removed from the water. Any remaining bones are removed and the pieces are trimmed to form blocks. Next, the blocks are smoked for several hours and then cooled to room temperature. They are then smoked and cooled again for 2 weeks to 3 weeks.

After shavi
ng off the natural tars from the surface and reshaping the blocks of smoked fish, it is time to cure the blocks. The blocks are placed in a room with tightly controlled temperature and humidity until a mold develops on the surface. They are then dried in the sun. The mold breaks down the fat in the fish and builds up the amino acid content which gives the katsuo-bushi its umami flavor. This fermentation will repeated about 4 to 5 times, the entire process taking about 4 to 6 months.

I had never thought of making my own Kezuri-bushi until I encountered a Katsuo-bushi shaver and some locally made Katsuo-bushi at Sunday market in Kochi. Since I don't have access to real katsuo-bushi in NYC, I thought, why not buy one and make authentic Kezuri-bushi?

I looked around the market and saw the traditional wooden shavers. One vendor showed me a more economical and an easy-to-use plastic shaver. The plastic shaver box was a little smaller in size, but it was easy to clean and you can put the shaver box in a refrigerator to keep the freshly shaved Kezuri-bushi. I liked the idea of it being easy to clean, so I decided to go for the plastic one instead of an authentic looking wooden shaver.

I opened the package with the block of Katsuo-bushi. The aroma was very strong and hit the nose immediately. It has the smell of a concentrated version of shaved Katsuo-bushi, almost similar to katsuo rice sprinkle smell. The Katsuo-bushi felt hard as a rock, and I had to press hard to shave it. I moved my hand back and forth couple times and saw the result of my shaving. I opened the box and saw thick ribbon-like Kezuri. The aroma was very strong, and I was surprised how aromatic the Kezuri-bushi was. I sprinkled the Kezuri on a prepared onion salad.

Onion Salad

1 Vidalia Onion
Sesame dressing (preferably)


1. Slice the onion using mandolin or benriner

2. Soak the onion into the ice cold water for 15 minutes.

3. Drain the onion, and place them in a bowl. Pour the sesame dressing or any other your favorite dressing and mix them.

4. Place the onion salad on a plate. And, sprinkle with Kezuri-bushi.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Understanding Umami

While attempting to describe the flavors of a particular sake to our customers at SAKAYA, we sometimes use the word "umami." What exactly is "umami"? The four basic elements of taste are sweetness, saltiness, sourness, and bitterness. Umami is a fifth element, whose taste is somewhat of a combination of the other four. Often referred to as "savory," it is easier to give examples of foods that have it than to describe it directly. Some umami flavored foods include dried shiitake, bonito flakes, Parmesan cheese, beef jerky, tomatoes, pepperoni, chorizo, and fish sauce.

Umami has a global history and is actually incorporated into a variety of dishes throughout world. In Asia, umami is mainly found in dried seafood products and dried mushrooms. In the West, umami is found in cured meats and cheeses. The ancient Romans used a fermented fish sauce called garem, which is similar to the fish sauce used in Southeast Asian cooking. The use of garem died out, but umami is still found in dishes using anchovies in pasta sauce, on pizza, etc.,

This distinctive umami taste was first identified specifically by a Japanese biochemist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. He had wondered about the distinctive flavor of kombu dashi (stock made from a form of seaweed), an indispensable part of Japanese cuisine. He believed that something in the kombu accounted for the unique flavor that the dashi imparted to the Japanese dishes in which it was used. He found that kombu was extremely high in glutamate, successfully isolated the component from kombu, and named the flavor of the substance "umami."

Umami is directly attributable to the properties of glutamate, a type of amino acid, as well as several nucleotides. Glutamate is abundant in nature, and is a natural component of protein-containing foods such as meat, fish, milk, and vegetables. Aside from glutamate, umami taste is also attributed to nucleotides such as inosinate, which is found in meat and fish, and guanylate, which is often found in mushrooms. Some examples of the high glutamate, inosinate, and guanylate content found in foods considered to have umami (100g each): Kombu (3190mg glutamate), Katsuo Bushi/bonito flakes (700mg inosinate), Oysters (137mg glutamate), dried shiitake mushroom (71mg guanylate), tomatoes (246mg glutamate), soy beans (66mg glutamate), Parmesan cheese (1200ml glutamate).

In sake or wine, it is hard to determine exact amount of glutamate due to alcohol content and also the lack of standardized method of measurement. The approximate content of glutamate in sake is 180mg/1000ml and wine is 20 to 60mg/1000ml.

In both East and West, the flavor of umami is nothing new to our palate. Its name might be new to many outside of Japan, but the world is now discovering more about this fifth element of taste and gaining better understanding of how it enhances flavor combination in all types of dishes and beverages.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Pom Juice Tirol Choco

"10 yen attara Tirol (chiroru) Choco" (if you have 10 yen, you can buy a Tirol Choco)

That's the jingle that many Japanese people have grown up with. On my recent visit to Shikoku in July, I came across an interesting variation of this chocolate, Pom Juice Tirol Choco. Yes, it's a Pom Juice Chocolate! Does the idea of pom juice (made from mikkan, a tangerine-like fruit) chocolate sound crazy? Not to me, I brought back a box of fifty of this delicious bite-sized confection.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Tirol Choco is a square-shaped chocolate that came onto market in 1979. At only 10 yen per individually wrapped piece, many Japanese people of a certain age remember singing the jingle and popping one into their mouth. The name Tirol came from Tyrol, a state located in western Austria. The name was chosen for its evocation of theTyrolian, "Sound of Music"-like imagery; green grass-covered, undulating hills under an azure blue sky against a backdrop of the majestic Alpine mountain range. The idea was to associate the enjoyable experience of eating Tirol Choco with a nostalgia for the beauty and simplicity of life in the past.

A surprise awaits those who expect this to be a dark or milk chocolate. It is in fact an apricot-hued "white" chocolate with a Pom Juice jelly center. Not only is this Tirol Choco unusual in its appearance, it also bursts with mikkan flavor. I bought the box of the Pom Juice Tirol Choco to give to friends or our SAKAYA customers, but Rick found it so tasty that he has been depleting the supply by eating one almost every day!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Pom Juice

Shikoku is a small island of four prefectures. Since the island was isolated from the main island of Honshu until the 1988 opening of Seto Ohashi (Great Seto Bridge), Shikoku has developed a strong sense of community and pride in each of its prefectures. Kagawa is the place of origin for Sanuki Udon of which its people are extremely proud (myself included). Tokushima is famous for Awa Odori or Awa Dance and Tai (fluke fish). Kochi is well known for drinkers and Katsuo (Bonito...see Katsuo no Tataki) and Ehime is known for mikan (Japanese orange/tangerine) and Pom Juice.

Pom Juice is the juice of the mikan that is extremely popular in Shikoku. I don't know about Kochi or Tokushima, but Pom Juice dominates the market in Kagawa and Ehime. As students, we were given a free 200ml pack of Pom Juice every week in school from kindergarten to high school. Even in my high school's school lunch, we had a Pom Juice Rice, where rice is cooked in Pom Juice. Sounds weird? I thought so, too. To make the matter even more ridiculous, there were a number of rumors that there are three kinds of faucet in Ehime: one for cold water, one for hot water, and the third for Pom Juice. To make the rumor into reality, the maker of Pom Juice created a Pom Juice faucet in Matsuyama Airport for three days in January 2008. The event was so successful that the maker decided to install the Pom Juice faucet on the third of Sunday from 10am to 2pm from June 2008 until March of 2009. If you happen to be in Matsuyama Airport during those times, check for yourself to find out if this is rumor or fact!

Pom Juice was born in 1952. The name "Pom" came from Nippon's "pon" (there is no distinction between "pom" and "pon" in Japanese). The mayor of Ehime Sadatake Hisamatsu at that time named the juice "Pom Juice," hoping that their mikan juice would become the #1 drink in Nippon/Japan.

For people grew up on Pom Juice like me, Pom Juice is not just the #1 orange juice in Japan, it is the only orange juice in the world.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kuroson Browbeating Gives New Meaning to "Tataki"

When I was researching on Katsuo noTataki in Kochi, I frequently came across the name of Izakaya Kuroson. Bloggers aplenty had cited Kuroson as serving the best tataki in Kochi. After eating some wonderful Katsuo no Tataki at Yairo-tei in Hirome Ichiba the night before, I was dying to try the dish at Kuroson.

The afternoon after eating at Yairo-tei, I visited Hamakawa Brewery the maker of Bijofu and Shintaro sake, in Tano-cho, in southern Kochi by the Pacific Ocean. The president (shacho) of the brewery was youngish looking man in his 50's, who took over his family business several years ago. He was a down-to-earth and easy-to-hang-out-with. After showing me his brewery and leading me through a tasting of their sake, he asked me what I was going to do afterwards. I told him that I made reservation at Kuroson. His voice changed as he asked me, "by yourself at Kuroson?" He continued, "the food is fantastic, but...." His manner had me curious. "What do you mean by... 'but..."?, I asked. He hesitantly described the nature of owner. Apparently, he barks and yells at customers. He said that even he was a bit scared by him. My face was half-frozen. "Should I go there?," I asked. He said, "I am sure you will be fine, but I will go with you anyway."

Kuroson is located a narrow alley behind a Mos Burger (a Japanese fast food chain). They don't have a menu. You eat what you are served. Their sake list consists soley of Hamakawa Brewery's sake. The taisho (owner) is in his late 50's or early 60's, with short peppery hair and with high energy and spirit. His wife works as a waitress and they have been in business for 20 years or so.

First, we were served a huge plate of sashimi with five or six varieties of fish including, snapper, sea
bream, squid, and octopus. The sashimi was the freshest fish could possibly be, and the cut was very thick. It was neither gooey nor chewy, they had a springy yet soft texture, bursting with freshness. It was incredibly delicious and I enjoyed it but, the portion was beyond generous and I was beginning to get full before I'd even had the tataki for which I had come. I was eating slowly and chatting with Hamakawa-shacho when the taisho started to yelled at me. "Hayaku Tabenka! (eat quickly)!" I thought he was joking, but soon realized that it was no joke. He was dead serious.

Next came the tataki which was sliced very thick. With crispy skin and reddish pink meat inside, it was served with sliced garlic and wasabi. I bit into one of the huge pieces. It was heavenly! The fish was very fresh and texture was crispy outside and soft inside. The skin was so crunchy and flavorful that I could have been happy just eat the crispy skin for my snack. The skin was crispier and smokier than Yajiro-tei, and the slices were thicker and more tender. I felt the tataki was better at Kuroson.

As I was sipping my sake, savoring the tataki, and talking with Hamakawa-shacho we were accosted again by the owner, "Shaberazu tabero (don't talk, just eat)!" Trying to appease him, I looked up and begged him, "I am eating, I am trying."

I wanted to ask the taisho if I could take pictures of him and his restaurant, but I had become apprehensive about asking him anything. Sweating and waiting to be scolded by the taisho, I took a quick photo of the tataki.

It was then that I noticed that the couple next to me was also having trouble with the taisho. They had asked for a menu, a salad, and rice. It seemed that they were being a bit demanding and it was clear that the taisho and his wife were getting irritated. I spoke with the couple and learned that they were visiting Kochi from Hiroshima.

Suddenly, I heard the taisho yelling at me again, "Sassato tabenka (eat now)!" This time, it wasn't just him harassing me. His wife was also giving me a nasty look! My stomach had expanded to the point where I had no room for any more food.
My dilemma was that the tataki was so delicious that I wanted to clean my plate, but the fish was so rich that I couldn't finish eating it. No matter how many times I was yelled at, my stomach was stubbornly refusing to accept any more food. No amount of barking and yelling could make my stomach accept more. Eating was no longer a pleasure, it had become a demanding ordeal. Kuroson was no longer a restaurant. It had now become a battle zone.

Hamakawa-shacho felt so bad for me that he started to help me finish the dish. I needed to drink more sake to wash down the sashimi and tataki,
but the wife told me I couldn't order any more sake. Hamakawa-shacho and I were speechless. We felt so unwelcome that we decided to leave Kuroson immediately.

Hamakawa-shacho was very apologetic even though it wasn't his fault that we were thrown out. It was me who made them grumpy. No matter how nasty and abusive the owners had been, I still felt that it was the best katsuo no tataki I had ever had and was willing to overlook the browbeating that I had endured to eat it. I had never dreamed that the word "tataki" which can mean "to beat" would relate something about this experience other than what was served on my plate.

Afterwards, Hamakawa-shacho and I, joined by his wife and a co-worker, went to a nearby bar to drink more and to commiserate about the self-sacrifice that comes with eating the best katsuo no tataki in Kochi at Kuroson.

3-4-18 Honmachi
Kochi City,
Kochi 780-0870

Phone: (Japan) 088-873-2624

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Katsuo no Tataki in Kochi

Katsuo is Japanese for bonito, a species of mackerel. When Japanese people hear "katsuo," they immediately think of Kochi prefecture. Annual consumption of katsuo in Kochi is nearly four times that of other prefectures. Between 2005 ~ 2007, the national average was 1351g/ 3 lbs per two person household, but in Kochi it was 5183g/ 11.4 lbs!

Before my recent trip to Japan, I was longing to eat the REAL Katsuo no Tataki in Kochi
. The origin of Katsuo no Tataki is not well documented. Legend has it that Yamauchi Kazutoyo (or Katsutoyo) (b.1545- -d.1605), who became feudal ruler of Kochi in 1600, forbade eating fresh katsuo due to the possibility of food poisoning. To prevent illness, he ordered people to grill the katsuo before eating it. The origin of word "tataki" is also not well defined. The word "tataki" or "tataku" means "to beat," "to slap," or "to pad" in Japanese. Therefore tataki is known to be a cooking technique where a blade is used to pad the fish with salt to tighten the flesh giving it a desirable texture.

When I was daydreaming about Katsuo no Tataki while working at SAKAYA (our sake store), I had a customer from Kochi city. As soon as I learned that he was from Kochi, I asked him where to go to find the best Katsuo no Tataki. He recommended that I visit Yairo-tei at Hirome Ichiba.

Hirome Ichiba (market) is a kind of food court, but it is a place where there are about 65 shops including green market, fish markets, butcher, souvenir shops, sake retail shops, snack shops, takeout food shops, bars, and izakaya jammed into a huge building. It opened 10 years ago to promote local products and business. With its casual, down-to-earth atmosphere, you can order a dish from any of the vendors and then eat at the centrally located tables.

Yairo-tei is a small izakaya-style shop next to a takoyaki shop. When I arrived it was around 6pm, and people were already drinking and eating in front of Yairo-tei. I peaked inside and saw two salarymen sitting at the bar drinking. I decided to sit at the bar, so that I could have better view of the taisho (the owner chef) cooking the tataki. I then ordered a cold beer to keep from salivating too profusely while waiting for my tataki to be served.

I learned that in Kochi, Shio Tataki (salt tataki) is the norm. The more common or well known version of Tataki is the Tare version where the tataki is served with a special tataki sauce (soy sauce with vinegar and citrus). In Kochi, Shio Tataki is the more popular type, slightly grilled over a straw fueled fire.

At Yairo-tei, I ordered Shio Tataki. The taisho took out the katsuo and started to place the straw in the handmade grill box. Slowly the place became smoky and as my eyes started to burn, he placed the fish on the grill. He seared the fish quickly and placed it on a cutting board.

With quick and rhythmic strokes, he sliced the tataki, and served it on a plate with sliced daikon, garlic, sudachi (type of citrus), and wasabi. Without a moment's hesitation, I picked up a piece with my chopsticks and put it in my mouth. It was delicious! It was sublimely tasty; slightly smoky, meaty in texture and super fresh. I could imagine it as being popular alternative to tuna steak. Crispy on the outside and rare on inside, it was tender and toothsome with just enough fattiness to stand up to the garlic and wasabi condiments which added just the right amount of complimentary kick to the dish. I savored every piece, hoping to secure the experience in my sensory memory as how the best katsuo no tataki should taste.

Yairo-tei at Hirome Ichiba was just what the SAKAYA customer promised. It was casual, homey,inexpensive, and made great katsuo no tataki! When I left Yairo-tei, I vowed to come back someday with Rick to have the katsuo no tataki and try some of their other food. And, to drink more too!

Hirome Ichiba

2-3-1 Obiya-machi, Kochi
Kochi 780-0841 (Japanese only)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Kagawa Udon Crawl

It has been over 7 months since we opened SAKAYA. And, since the business in the summer months has been a little quieter I (Hiroko) decided to go to Japan to visit my parents, relatives and some brewers in Shikoku where I am from.

The first thing to do on my list was to eat Sanuki Udon when I visited my parents in Kagawa Prefecture. As I mentioned in a previous post, udon shops are everywhere throughout Kagawa. Kagawa is the smallest prefecture in Japan, about 1876 km2 (724 square mile), and there are about 700 shops specializing udon. There are so many, we didn't know which udon shop to go to when driving down the street.

I will point out things to look for when you are driving around Kagawa to eat Sanuki Udon.

I met my father in Tadotsu station around 5pm which is a little late for udon shops. Point #1. Pay attention to the closing time. Usually, good udon shops close around 4pm or earlier. They close when they sell out their daily made supply of udon noodles. My father took me to the Kogane Noodle Shop near the station, the third Kogane shop in Kagawa. The place closes at 6pm, but we were not the only customers at that time. My favorite type of Sanuki Udon dish is Bukkake Udon, udon noodle with dash of dashi, sometimes grated daikon, ginger, and scallion. That's it. The simplest form of udon. Bukkake Udon here is 240 yen (about $2.30), and I heard that the price had gone up recently due to the increase in the cost of wheat. The Kogane udon was silky, chewy, and al dente, with a good dashi. I can see why the place is popular with a crowd eating at any given time.

For the next two days, we spent lunch hours eating udon, going from one place to another. I wanted to try the famous udon shop Miyatake which is located in the middle of
rice field (most good udon places are located in the middle of a field). Miyatake has been included in many guidebooks many times, and I was curious to find out if the udon lived up to its reputation.

The udon at Miyatake was 180 yen. I liked the price, but was disappointed as it was not chewy and al dente as other places. The noodle is a little slippery, the sign of not washing the noodle well (it's important to wash the noodle well to take off all the slippery cooking water.) I was surprised to find the Miyatake was still famous. Point #2. Pay attention to the customers in the shop. I saw young customers with a guidebook, not local salary men, which might indicate the decline of the taste.

My father and I were very upset that we had to try another place to eat good udon. I didn't come to Kagawa to eat Udon from NY. So, we started to drive and saw a shop Ichiya with a parking lot filled with cars and trucks with Kagawa license plates. Point #3. Local salary men and truck drivers know the good places. We entered the shop. I looked around and saw salary men and truck drivers with tired eyes. They looked into the bowl of noddle and kept slurping without looking up. We got on line and ordered the usual Bukkake Udon. The noodles were super al dente with springy a chewiness and silky texture. The noodles had been washed well with ice cold water to tighten the outer layer of udon noodle. They were not too thick and not too long, but had just the right weight and a nice "slurpiness." It was the best udon we had tasted in 3 days. My father and I were in agreement, and we cleared the bowl with happy smile.

I left Kagawa for Kochi with the best udon memory in my heart.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Travel & Leisure

We are tremendously excited about the "Destination: Sake" feature about SAKAYA in the June 2008 issue of Travel + Leisure. Thanks to the recommendation of our friend Lynn, we were selected by John HancockFinancial Services to be written about as part of their"Pivotal Conversations" campaign recognizing people who have achieved their dreams with the aid of a key advisor (in our case, our friend, sake expert John Gauntner).

If you’d like to read it and don’t have access to the issue, you can check out the piece here…. Travel & Leisure June 2008 Destination Sake.    And, if you think that picture in the story was a quick snapshot, below are some pictures of the photo shoot that produced it!

Monday, April 21, 2008

An Interesting Cab Ride

We usually write about our food and drink experiences but thought that this would be fun to share with you....

A few weeks ago we hailed a cab to take us to the fine Japanese restaurant Megu in Tribeca. No sooner had we told the driver our destination than without warning, we found ourselves surrounded by a frenzy of swirling, flashing lights....suddenly, we had become unwitting contestants in the Discovery Channel's urban game show on wheels, Cash Cab. Although the program has been on the air for three years, we had never heard of it. (Coincidentally, shortly after our experience, it was featured on The Today Show). After the introductory light show, our driver and host Ben Bailey explained the rules to us and off we went... Instead of paying the usual fare for our trip, we had a chance to win some cash. Our appearance aired about two weeks ago. How did we do? Take a look at the video!

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Whatever Nabe" and Atsukan...

The coldest weather of the winter so far had arrived which immediately set us to thinking about eating something comforting to stave off the chill. As the temperature plummeted, we knew what it was that we craved... a nabe (Japanese hot pot) dinner with atsukan (warmed) sake. Surrounded by sake in the store all day, Rick had his eye on a particular brew specifically suited to this very purpose....Kamoizumi Shusen Tokubetsu Junmai , a robust, big-boned sake from Hiroshima practically screamed "drink me!" from its top shelf perch.

As we closed the store and headed home with our Kamoizumi Shusen in hand, we speculated about the inventory of items our refrigerator might yield for our nabe. To our delight, Hiroko found some frozen gyoza (Chinese dumplings) and fish cakes in the freezer, and Rick uncovered some daikon, burdock, shiitake, and tofu in the fridge to go with some leftover hakusai (Chinese cabbage). We had the ingredients for our "Whatever Nabe!"

As the nabe was cooking on the tabletop burner, we warmed our sake in a Mini Kansuke (a contraption made specifically for the purpose) and decided to try the Kamoizumi Shusen at room temperature in the meantime. Not a sake for the die-hard delicate daiginjo drinker , this bold nihonshu had a sharp, earthy aroma with gamey, mushroom-like flavors. How would these aromatics and tastes change once the Mini Kansuke had performed its magic? We didn't have to wait long to find out...As the thermometer in the warming sake reached 110 degrees F, we poured it into bizen ceramic cups made by our friend John Ray and immediately were struck by the intense aroma of shiitake. The flavors had opened up and the sharp earthy sake had been transformed into a rich, mellow, nutty potion of glowing warmth that was the perfect match for the contents of the steaming pot before us.

In the thrall of the warm Kamoizumi Shusen, the mingling aromas of the pot's ingredients magnetically drew our chopsticks into the bubbling nabe. Carefully scooping up the soft dumplings, tofu, and vegetables we dipped them into Hiroko's homemade ponzu sauce, and savored our "Whatever Nabe" with the atsukan sake, by this time completely oblivious to the temperature outside.

Hiroko is not big fan of shiitake (and mushrooms in general) and although she didn't enjoy the sake as much as Rick, she didn't let that stand in the way of drinking this particular nihonshu. In fact, it was so deliciously mellow and complimented the food so well, that it was gone before we finished our "Whatever Nabe!"

Homemade Ponzu (Citrus Flavored Dipping) Sauce
1 cup Sake
4 inch length Kelp
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 tablespoon or more Yuzu or citrus juice

1. Place kelp and sake in the pan and cook in low heat until the alcohol is evaporate. Remove from the stove and take out the kelp, and let it cool.
2. Combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar and Yuzu juice. Taste it, and put more Yuzu juice if needed.