All About Asian Food

May 2010 Archives

Lamune or Ramune Soda?

Popular Ramune SodaSummer is just around the corner and Asian Food Grocer has just what you need to quench your thirst, Japanese Ramune Soda! These incredibly iconic marble topped sodas are very popular in Japan during the warm summer months. Because they were so popular over there, they essentially exploded on the scene here in America. But what is a Ramune? You may be asking yourself this question if you happen live under a rock... or in a cave. So, let us give you the 411 on these fantastically fizzy fountain drinks. 

Ramune is a carbonated soft drink straight from the Land of The Rising Sun. The word "Ramune" is actually derived from the sound of the English word "Lemonade." As you may know, there is no "L" in the Japanese language. To compensate, the letter "R" is substituted in its place. Therefore Lemonade turns into Ramune! There are tons of flavors too. Here at AsianFoodGrocer.com we carry Original (it taste kind of like a bubble gummy lemon limey flavor), Strawberry, Lychee, Orange, Blueberry, Watermelon, Green Apple, Yuzu (Japanese Grapefruit), Muscat Grape, Raspberry, Pineapple, and more! We have 21 flavors in all, including our must try novelty flavor, Curry! Other novelty flavors include Beef Teriyaki, Wasabi, Octopus, and more. Another strikingly unique quality of these fabulous beverages is its oddly shaped bottle.

Known as the Codd-neck bottle, it was actually invented in Europe in the late 1800s by Hiram Codd. Around 1876, Lemonade and the Codd-necked bottled were both imported to Japan at the same time, making them linked with one another. Instead of using a cork or a bottle top, Codd-neck bottles use a glass marble and a rubber gasket as it was believed, at the time, to be able to contain high pressure carbonated drinks better than conventional methods. During the container's construction, the glass is pinched into a special shape to prevent the marble from falling deep into the bottle. This causes the marble to rattle around like a wind chime as the beverage is consumed, making the drink very well loved by children. To make sure that the marbles have a good seal, the bubbly liquid is pumped into the bottles upside down so that the weight and the pressure formed by the expanding CO2 pushes the marble tight against the seal. On the outside of the bottle there are two dimples, giving the bottle its "alien head" appearance (we think it looks more like an octopus). The two depressions in the bottle aren't just for decoration, they act as barriers to keep the marble from rolling back into the opening of the bottle, making it easier to drink from. Although there is a blockade to stop the marble, it still takes a bit of skill to drink from the ramune bottle. Shoot, it takes some skill just to open it!

Ramune Soda FlavorsIt can be a little tricky to open a Ramune Soda. What you want to do is remove the white plastic wrapper from around the top of the bottle. Important: DO NOT THROW AWAY THE GREEN PLASTIC CIRCLE! Or else you will have a very hard time opening the bottle. Punch out the plastic plunger from the perforated ring it's attached to, place it in the hole in the thick plastic mouthpiece, and use it to push the marble down into the bottle with gentle yet firm pressure. As soon as you hear the pop sound of the soda opening, remove your hand quickly. If you're not used to opening Ramune, make sure you've got a towel handy because your Ramune may fuzz out of the bottle. Drink chilled, and enjoy!

Mochi See, Mochi Do

We get a lot of customer emails here at AsianFoodGrocer.com. One of the most frequently asked questions that we receive is: What is a rice cake? Do you bake it in the oven? Is it soft and fluffy? Or are they those dried circle things that come in bread packages like at the grocery store? If you've ever asked yourself any of these questions, you're in luck! We're going to tell you exactly what they are!

Mochi Mixer - KineThe actual name for rice cakes is Mochi. Mochi is a very soft and extremely sticky food that is made out of short grain sweet rice and has the texture of raw cookie dough. To make mochi, polished sticky rice is soaked overnight in water. Once the rice has thoroughly absorbed the water, it is cooked and then pounded into a paste using a mortar and a giant wooden mallet called a kine.

Two people are needed to properly use the mortar and mallet. One continually turns and wets the mortar to keep the mallet strikes even and to insure that the paste has the right consistency. The other person wields the mallet. The two must work at a strict steady rhythm to make sure that they don't injure one another. Getting hit on the noggin with a very large wooden mallet would not make very good mochi, ouch! The super sticky paste is then shaped into various forms.

Mochi normally is shaped into rectangles or spheres then stored away for use later. But more often than not,  these sticky little buns are mixed with natural food colorings then shaped into beautiful flower shapes for special occasions like New Years. This style of edible art is called Wagashi, a traditional Japanese confection that focuses on the beauty of nature. Beautiful multicolored rice cakes are served alongside tea. Each skillfully crafted piece is filled with a number a sweet fillings like sweet adzuki red bean paste, lotus seed paste, and even sometimes fresh fruit. It doesn't have to be a special time of year to enjoy mochi however.

Japanese Rice SweetsFinding mochi rice cakes filled with red bean is no problem as long as you know where to look. (Cough, cough! Asian Food Grocer) But for a real treat, Mochi Ice Cream is the way to go. When frozen, sweet and sticky mochi paste takes on the consistency of a marshmallow, so it is no wonder they fill it with ice cream! Typical flavors include creamy vanilla, fresh strawberry, rich chocolate, mellow green tea, and juicy tropical mango. We don't carry them yet here at AFG, but we may in the near future! Mochi pieces are also eaten in a sweet red bean soup called Oshiruko. Dongo is another very popular dumpling that is fire roasted then covered in a syrup made of soy sauce, sugar, and sometimes topped with toasted sesame seeds. Mochi is such a versatile food but to the novice beware. It's so incredibly sticky that it can actually pose a choking hazard if large bites are taken, so stick to nibbling. If sweets foods aren't your thing, don't fret! Mochi can be eaten in salty dishes too.

Eating mochi fried is very common. In fact, that's what we call Rice Crackers! When mochi is cooked in hot oil or baked in an oven, it puffs up almost like popcorn and becomes hard and crunchy. Rice Crackers are then glazed in a thin soy sauce mixture and then left to dry. Mochi can also be found in soups like Zoni, a traditional New Year's meal. It can also be spotted in Shabu Shabu, the Japanese style hot pot.

So go ahead and get yourself into a sticky situation with these not so cake like rice cakes!

Boy's Day in Japan!

Happy Cinco de Mayo! While we're here in the states celebrating The Mexican Day of Independence, over in Japan its Tango no Sekku, Boys Day! Annually held on May 5th, the first day near summer, Boys Day is a festival celebrating the youthful personalities and happiness of children.

Boys Day Koi FlagsNo one actually knows when boy's day started. The furthest recorded time of the Boys Day celebration is around 593 A.D. Originally celebrated by Samurai warriors returning from battle, before it was known as a celebration for young men, it was a ritual. Samurai would return to their villages after a victory and erect flags and streamers in celebration. As time went on, the flags and streamers evolved into windsocks called Koinobori or Koi fish. There are usually multiple Koi windsocks hanging from each pole. Families will hang a flag for each boy in their house hold in order of eldest to youngest. The top fish is usually the largest fish and is the color black to symbolize power and strength. The cool thing about these flags is that as the wind blows, fish shaped flags, spring to life and actually appear to swim through the air! Holding a strong significance in many Asian cultures, the Koi represent the symbolic right of passage of a boy growing into a man. Highly respected because of their great strength and determination. Legend has it that if a Koi were to swim upstream, battling strong currents and seemingly impassible obstacles, it would be transformed into a majestic dragon at the end of its journey. No wonder why these energetic little fish hold such high regard! They turn into dragons!

In modern times, families will build small shrines at the entrance Dragon Guarding Templeof there households. The decorative arrangements include miniature helmets, samurai swords, suits of armor, bow and arrows, silk banner adorned with the families crest, and warrior dolls. It is placed in the first room of the house to ward off evil spirits that may try to enter, and also to remind the boys of the warrior inside of them. To complement the festivities, special foods are also eaten.

Sakura Mochi for Boys DaySweet glutinous rice treats called Chimaki and Kashiwa-mochi are filled with either sweet red beans or sweet rice paste. As a final touch, each mochi rice snack is wrapped in an oak leaf or a leaf for the Japanese iris. The iris leaf is long, narrow and kind of looks like a sword. Its name in Japanese, Shobu, means striving for success. Finley chopped iris leaves are also steeped in sake and warm baths as they are believed to cleanse evil spirits from the body. Of course the sake is only enjoyed by the fathers.

Happy Boy's Day everybody!