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Meet Your Matcha Green Tea

What is green and nearly worth its weight in gold? That's a slight exaggeration, but the answer is matcha. Of the wide and varied Japanese tea culture, the most sought after tea may very well be matcha (also spelled maccha), a finely milled green tea in powder form. 

Matcha stands out from the other teas because it is not prepared by steeping. Instead, the fine powder is mixed into the water, much like instant coffee or Ovaltine. In a traditional Japanese matcha tea ceremony, the matcha scooped out with a bamboo device, placed into a special matcha ceremonial bowl, and mixed into hot water with a bamboo whisk. Once dissolved, a nice layer of frothy bubbles will lay on top.

The culprit behind green tea's towering stature as a healthy superfood is an antioxidant called catechin. Of all teas, green tea has the highest concentration of this antioxidant, due it it being less processed and fermented than other varieties such as oolong and black teas. The resultant effect is a milder taste and a more healthy brew.

Over the past ten years, the beneficial effects of green tea has been studied ad infinitum. One 2005 study found that subjects who drank a daily bottle of tea with 690 mg of catechin content over 12 weeks experienced a loss of body fat compared to a control group who ingested 22 mg of catechin daily. Catechin has also been linked to slowing the activity of harmful free radicals.

Though matcha enjoys a long history, it's gain recent traction as a trendy flavor and ingredient. Nowadays, many treats are available in green tea or matcha flavors. If you've eaten at a Japanese restaurant in the past decade, chances are you've come across matcha green tea ice cream as a dessert offering. This venerable component is also seen in snack products such as the always popular Green Tea Pocky and the Maccha Collon shown below.

For the most bang for your buck, check out our blowout deal on over two pounds (2.2 lb.) of premium matcha powder. With this large portion of matcha, you'll be brewing green tea for all your guests year round and using it to flavor many baked goodies. One such baked goody is the delightful green tea cheese cake, and you can find the recipe here.

Using matcha powder in your baking adds an instant eye-catching burst of green. It also imparts a unique astringent tea flavor that works well in many application. Try experimenting with green tea cookies, mousse, cakes, and whatever else your mind can conjure up.

The most unique product we have with matcha powder is not even a food item. Instead, it is a toothpaste. Yes, this is a green tea toothpaste, infused with matcha powder. The catechins in green tea slows down the activity of the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Green tea is also a natural anti-inflammatory, which help stave off painful inflammations. The benefits of green tea never ceases to amaze.

I hope you'd come to enjoy the many uses that matcha green tea has, both as a drink and in cooking. It really earns its reputation as a superfood. Drink your way to a healthier you and leave others green with envy. 

Recently I've blogged about the elusive fifth taste, umami. If you've ever had salad at a Japanese restaurant, you may gotten a taste of the addictive salad dressing.The secret ingredient (well not so secret, as it is actually a point of emphasis) is miso paste. No longer relegated to soups, miso is a flavor that enhances any food that it touches. And Nago Foods have applies this concept to salad dressings, harnessing the rich umami flavor of miso to produce a unique taste experience.

The essence of this line of gourmet salad dressing is miso paste. This revered Japanese ingredient is culinary gold in paste form. Miso has really come on lately as a "superfood," and one can see why given its health benefits that are renowned in Japan. First, it is incredibly nutritious, being rich in vitamin B2, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, iron, and other nutrients that are good for you. As a product of its fermentation, miso has a high volume of "good" bacteria that bolsters the health of your digestive tract. The most tangible benefit of miso is that it taste delicious, which makes you happy. Happiness is what leads to long lifespans, after all (or so I've read.)

In addition to miso's health benefits, the entire line is gluten free. Whether you're trying to cut out avoiding wheat for health or dietary reasons, rest assure that Nago's dressings with play well with just about any form of diet. Four of the six available dressings eschew eggs, so they're fully vegan as well. This is the dressing to grab if you're looking to eat healthy but unwilling to lose out on flavor. With the inclusion of miso as the main flavor component, you'll get a big taste without a guilty conscience. And I haven't even mentioned how it's low-fat and low-calories.

All that healthy talk does not mean a thing if this dressing didn't taste good, but believe me it does. The miso paste imparts a creaminess that goes great on salads, but is not overly fatty. The use of natural and organic ingredients aid in keeping the flavors of these dressings clear and focused.

Founded in 2009, Nago has steadily rolled out their miso salad dressings to the delight of healthy-conscious customers in the Bay Area. Nago can be found in various farmer's markets around the Bay, bringing it your dinner table straight from their kitchen in San Francisco. Each dressing is handcrafted and bottled individually-no 100-gallon drums or conveyor belts here.

The dressing slowly expanding into local markets in the Bay Area and all over California. Now you can get this tasty dressing anywhere else in the world. We are proud this carry this product line that is making waves in the food scene. The Ginger Sesame Miso Dressing won the Silver sofi Award in 2011, an honor bestowed upon the best gourmet and specialty foods. This is your opportunity to try a truly world-class condiment.

Find out more about this exciting line of products from Nago Foods by visiting their manufacturer's page here. But really, the best way to learn about this great new item is to try some yourself. 

Hot Pot/Shabu-Shabu

Some know it as Chinese hot pot. The Japanese call it shabu-shabu. Others still refer to it as Chinese fondue. Whatever you call it, it is an event that celebrates food and communal love. Just like Americans love to get together to barbeque, it is an Asian tradition to gather around a hot pot during the winter. The simple act of boiling food in water brings a sense of warmth and joy to the folk who eat this meal regularly. With its easy preparation and promises of good times, you too should gather some loved ones together for a hot pot.

When it comes to hot pot or shabu shabu ingredients, the utmost importance goes to the freshness of the food. Beef, thinly sliced, is often the prime example of this principle. Have meat sliced thinly, so it would not require much time in the hot water to cook. As you hold the beef between your chopsticks and dip it into the water, move it around to get all the surface of the meat cooked. The resulting swish-swish sound is the where shabu-shabu got its name.

Required Hardware

You may have seen shabu-shabu and hot pot restaurants cropping up around your area, but it it really easy to get these meals set up in your own home. You'll need a pot, first and foremost. Here's where the magic happens. Any pot that will fit liters of water and a lot of food would work. For shabu-shabu, something like this wok will be ideal.

What you need next is a heating element. For this, you may use either an portable electric or gas stove. Burners using butane canisters, such as the shown on on the left, are preferred for its high heat output and adjustability. Or get this Oyama Hot Pot, an all-in-one solution, and call it a day. Lastly, you would need a big table and plenty of chairs.

Broth


The next element, and perhaps the most important, is the broth. This is where all your ingredients will be submerged. However, there is no wrong ways to go about the broth, only many right ways.

Different regions in China prefer different style of broths in their hot pot. There is also ma la, or numbingly spicy, broth, from the province of Sichuan. The power of peppercorns impart a heat so intense that it coats your tongue literally numbs your tongue due to the spiciness. Sounds tortuous, but it has its (fervent) followers.

Shabu-shabu broths also have many variations, but it can be as simple as adding some kombu dashi into the water as it boils. You can add as piece of kombu, or dried seaweed to the water to get the broth a savory flavor that will round out your cooked ingredients.

It's in the Dip

Once you've got the meats and veggies cooked, it's time to focus on your dipping sauces. Sure beef can taste good medium rare straight out of the broth, but a good dipping sauce can make it divine. The sauces can differ depending on if you're doing a Japanese shabu-shabu or a Chinese-style hot pot, as the culinary traditions differ in their taste preferences. 

On the Chinese spectrum, you seen many sauces packing a savory punch with the help of bean paste. Hoisin sauce, a sweet and savory sauce, is also a good component for a dipping sauce. Anyone looking for a bit of spice will be remiss not to include either chili paste or Sriracha sauce. The old standbys of soy sauce and sesame oil provide a pared-down taste for which to dip your cooked meats and veggies.

Shabu-shabu purists will lean towards a ponzu sauce, a light and tangy soy dressing cut with sake, or goma-dare, a savory sesame sauce. Since shabu-shabu is less chaotic flavor wise, diners tends to stick to the tried-and-true flavors, which compliments the beef very well.

Shopping List

After hitting up Asian Food Grocer, hit up your local grocers for the necessary meat and vegetables. Here's a list of items suitable for hot pot, by no means exhaustive.

Vegetables
Firm Tofu
Assorted mushrooms (shiitake, button, enoki)
Napa cabbage
Spinach
Chinese greens

Meat
Thin slices of beef
Beef balls
Tripe
Lamb

Seafood
Uncooked shrimp
Calamari
Oysters
Mussels
 
Noodles 
Rice Noodles 
Vermicelli
Cellophane noodles / bean thread noodles

 

Laid out on the table, the spread will look inviting and scrumptious to your dinner guests. Time to dip in and swish-swish your way to deliciousness! There is no rhyme or reason for choosing what to put in the pot and what to eat in what order. The only thing you have to pay attention to is to not leave the meat in there to cook for too long, as certain things can get chewy if overdone. In a way, hot pot becomes a game of time-management. Dig out the morsels of food at the peak of its doneness for maximum points!

Slotted spoons or strainers are handy tools for fishing morsels out of the broth for consumption, without getting liquid into your sauce and risk dilution. Some items cook very quick. Thin slices of beef especially; it is at its most tender when there is still some pink showing. It shouldn't take more than a few second for a slice of beef to be ready to eat.

Finally, savor the broth that. It has been infused with all the flavor of all the greens, meat, and seafood that has been cooked in it. Enjoy! By the end of the meal, lasting upwards of an hour or more, you would have enjoyed a wide range of foods right in front of your eyes. And you would've enjoyed the company of your family and friends. And isn't that what matters most?  

Ahh ramen. The meal of many a bygone day. As much as I'd like to characterize it as a quintessential college staple, truth is I'm still eating instant ramen a few times a month. It is a comfort food, cheap and easy to make, a known quantity. Whether in a packet or in a styrofoam cup, I know what I'm getting with instant ramen. Fueled by frugality, it's easy to develop a taste for this much-maligned institution.

But one must not sustain solely on fried noodles and soup base. We know what you're up to. You're having ramen for dinner every night, in between marathon-ing episodes of Ghost in the Shell and Code Geass. Salad Pretz isn't really vegetables, despite what the name may say. With the aims of making instant ramen more exciting and, dare I say, healthy, let's take a look at some ways to quickly enhance your bowl of noodles.

Flavor Thy Broth

The broth is the most important part of ramen. Ramen shops are judged on the quality of their broths. I recommend you to not let the broth hinge on the soup base. You don't have to boil pork bones for hours; little things can make a difference and turn your broth into something worth savoring.

The use of miso paste can quickly impart a complex taste to the proceedings. It can be hard to dissolve miso paste in the pot, so you should stir it up in a bowl with a bit of hot water before pouring it into the broth. Because of the high levels of sodium in miso paste, you can cut back on the seasoning packet.

Another way to add flavor to your broth is to put in a squirt of toasted sesame oil. The intense flavor of sesame oil means a little bit goes a long way. A final suggestion would be to crack an egg into the broth and stir it in about 40 seconds before you take the noodles off of the heat. This creates an egg drop effect and thickens the broth considerably. Read on for more egg ideas.

Eggs Ideas


The egg is the MVP of ramen in terms of being able to be used in multiple ways to enhance instant noodles. Hard-boiled eggs are the easiest way to add protein and heft to a bowl of instant noodles.Sliced up, it adds a nice visual element to your bowl as well. With its softer yolk, a soft boiled egg offers even more pleasures. A fried egg is also a no-brainer, especially with a runny yolk that can be broken and mixed into the soup.

For the true egg mastery, you can even attempt the onsen tamago, or hot spring egg, otherwise known as a slow-cooked egg. This preparation is similar to soft-boiling, but it produces an egg that has silky egg whites with a firm yet creamy yolk. If a perfect soft-boiled egg is shooting for the moon, onsen tamago is shooting for the stars.

To make an egg hot spring style, heat the egg in water over low heat for 20 minutes. The water should not boil; you're aiming for a temperature under 160 degrees (a thermometer helps a lot). Yes, this isn't the most logical choice when looking for "quick" ways to spruce up your instant ramen, but give it a try, as the result is amazing. Take a look at the hot spring egg in the picture to the left. It looks so soft and delicate, and if you were to puncture the soft egg white, the yolk will burst forth in creamy goodness.

Greens and Protein


Here is where you can really make an impact on a lowly bowl of ramen. Give it some veggies and meat and the meal goes from collegiate slumming to something you'd actually feel good about eating. The amount of effort and time you want to commit to adding veggies is really up to you. 

If you have quick wilting vegetables such as Napa cabbage or spinach, it doesn't take long at all to incorporate some greens into the bowl. Frozen vegetables can also work well, as it can warm up at the same time as your noodles. Sweet buttered corn is another staple of ramen shops that you can easily duplicate with a can from the grocery store.

As for meats, you can quickly chop up slices of ham or Spam to add some meaty goodness with little thought or effort. Or you can take the time to prepare actual slices of pork, or chasu, like they do in the ramen-yas. Even leftover chicken can taste great when paired up with ramen noodles. 

Chewy slices of bacon, ground pork, etc. The mind reels with the possibilities. But to keep to the instantaneous nature of this meal, let's stick to ready-to-eat meats for tossing in the noodles.

Toppings


So you've got the base of your ramen noodles all ready. You could just dig in now, but one final step can kick your noodles into the stratosphere in terms of taste.

Furikake seasoning is a quick way to spice up a bowl of rice, and it can do the same for your instant ramen. A mix of sesame seeds, dried bonito, and nori, among other ingredients, furikake is highly versatile and adds a toasty taste to your ramen. In lieu of furikake, plain sesame seeds work just as well.

If you have sheets of seaweed lying around (don't we all?), toss a sheet on top. Anyone of these seaweed varieties will fit well on a bowl of ramen.

Another great addition is shichimi togorashi, a condiment found in many ramen shops in Japan. A blend of seven spices, togorashi is essentially a chili powder, but with added complexity from orange peel, sesame seeds, ginger, peppercorn, and bits of nori. A dash on top of eggs really kicks things up a notch.

One final thing! Sprinkle some chopped green onions or scallions to complete the for a bit of fragrance and crunch. Now you're ready to eat!

And Enjoy!


And those are my tips on enhancing instant ramen. Don't take this as necessary additions in order to make instant ramen palatable, because ramen is delicious in its own right. Think of this blog instead as a page of audibles that you can turn to to change it up at times. You can do just of the additions, or all of them at once. Remember, the essence of instant ramen is convenience.

Voila! You have a meal worthy of a ramen shop. Just don't let any ramen snobs read this. If you think these additions are too ambitious, feel free to stick to plain instant ramen, because it's fine as is. If these additions aren't ambitious enough, then it's time for you to do some stretches and start pulling fresh ramen. But for the rest of you, I hope you'll breathe new life into the humble bowl of instant ramen.

For over 5000 years sesame seeds have been cultivated for its culinary value. It imparts a nuttiness onto dishes that is rich and complex. In western cooking, sesame seeds are often relegated to use in confectioneries, usually as topping for buns or bagels; you may recall this jingle: "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun!" Sesame seeds are also added onto crackers and other snacks as a crunchy element. But there is much untapped potential in sesame seeds, way beyond a mere garnish or topping.

To make the full use of sesame seeds, we have to look towards the East and study how it is deployed in Chinese and Japanese cooking. Sesame seeds is suitable in both savory and sweet applications. Discover what this ingredient can do for your cooking and add a whole new robust flavor into your repertoire.

Super Sesame


As mentioned above, sesame seeds were first cultivated over 5000 years ago. It is one of the first crops to be pressed for its oil. Sesame has its origin in the subcontinent of India. From there, the seed spread to East Asian and the Middle East. For a small seed, sesame contains high amounts of calcium and magnesium, making it an mineral-rich option for healthy-conscious eaters.

Additionally, sesame oil contain two natural preservatives, sesamol and sesamin, that are known to fight free radicals, reducing the risk of cancer and other maladies. As you can tell by their names, sesamol and sesamin are compounds found only in sesame seeds. Behind its unassuming exterior, sesame seeds have quietly gained a well-deserved reputation as a superfood.

Beyond Oriental


For those unfamiliar with the ingredient, sesame is usually identified with "Asian" flavor. An Asian salad dressing is likely a sesame dressing. Sesame seeds is also widely used in Japanese cooking. It is one of the components of furikake, a rice seasoning topper. If you ever find rice a bit too bland, sprinkle some furikake over the top of it and be amazed at appetizing it suddenly becomes. The combination of sesame seeds, seaweed, and bonito flakes add a dose of tasty umami, making you wolf down whatever is in front of you. Sesame seeds are also found on the the popular California roll. When used in such a way, the impact of sesame seeds are subtle but pleasant. It does not overwhelm the dish, but takes a backseat instead and complement the other flavors while adding complexity and a toasty robustness to each bite. Being as such, there is no reason sesame cannot be used in more applications other than Asian cooking. Toss some in your pasta. Sprinkle it on your pizza. Put it in your oatmeal. It will taste good, not out of place, while bringing you its superfood benefits.

Black and White


Sesame seeds come in two varieties: black and white. There are little differences between the two in taste. Mostly an aesthetic difference, though some claim that black sesame seeds have a richer flavor. One observable difference between the two seeds is how they're used in cooking. White sesame seeds are used on savory dishes and as garnish, whereas black sesame seeds are sweetened and used in dessert. This is most likely due the fact that black sesame paste looks more dramatic, especially when oozing out of a mochi rice dumpling.

In addition to the seeds themselves, sesame oil also comes in two major varieties. Light sesame oil is pressed from untoasted seeds, while dark sesame oil is pressed from roasted seeds. Predictably, dark sesame oil has a stronger flavor, but it can overpower a dish with its intense nutty aroma. You may stir-fry in light sesame oil; dark sesame oil is more suited for making sauces.

Sweet Sweet Sesame


Black sesame plays a big part in Chinese desserts. One particular dessert that gives you a full frontal sesame taste is Black Sesame Soup. Yes, soups aren't known to be sweet, but the Cantonese tradition of tong sui (literally "sweet water") is one such sweet soup, and it simply works. Much like a hot chocolate on a winter evening, a hot bowl of black sesame tong sui warms the tummyh and soothes the soul. It is a comfort food of the highest order, and the sweet gritty texture of sesame paste plays no small role in that joy.

It is worth mentioning that sesame paste differs from tahini, a sesame condiment widely used in Middle Eastern and Greek cuisines. Tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds, whereas sesame paste as found in Asian cuisine uses whole seeds that are roasted prior to being ground. While tahini sits outside the scope of Asian Food Grocer, I can say it is plenty tasty on a gyro or as part of a creamy hummus. Goes to show that the appeal of sesame is universal, or global at least.

Now You're Cooking with The Power of Sesame


So you've got your sesame seeds, sesame oil, and sesame paste: the full complement of sesame goods. Now to start cooking with this new entrant to your cupboard. Start off easy simply by incorporating sesame seeds as a garnish. Think anytime you would add crushed peanuts or bread crumbs to a dish, and substitute it with sesame seeds. Just like that you've added a toasty and crunchy element.

If you have untoasted sesame seeds, you can quickly toast them for a stronger flavor by putting them in a skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. No need to grease the skillet. Once toasted, it gains a new level of flavor that bursts out when you bite into a seed.

Next, begin to incorporate sesame as the main flavor component of your dish. This is most easily accomplished through the use of sesame paste and sesame oil. Sesame paste is useful when making thick sauces. By combining chili and soy sauce into sesame paste, you have a savory sauce that will work wonders as a marinade or grill sauce. Similarly, sesame oil is great as the base for a vinaigrette or salad dressing. Simply replace the olive oil in most recipes and you'll end up with a stronger flavored dressing. For more ideas on how to use sesame in your cooking, take a look at all these recipes in our recipe section.

We hope that by reading this article, you have learned about some of the benefits and applications of using sesame seeds or sesame oil in your cooking. It is a highly versatile ingredient that deserves to get out of its relative obscurity. There was a reason why "Open Sesame" was the password to a treasure trove in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieve. Indeed, sesame holds the key to a world of flavor.

Umami: A Primer

You may be aware of the four basic tastes, as taught by the following (since debunked) tongue map: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But there is an elusive fifth taste that many Asian chefs try to stimulate through their food. That taste is umami. The word umami in Japanese means "pleasant savory taste," which is about as good a description as you're going to get, as the taste is hard to pinpoint. But let me try describing it anyways.

At its most basic, umami is a sensation. It is a savory mouth feel. At its most concentrated, umami will cause your mouth to involuntarily salivate. It is literally mouthwatering. People have described umami as being "meaty." In my estimation, it is what makes food taste good.

The taste was first isolated by Kikunae Ikeda, a chemistry professor in Tokyo. He noticed how the addictive taste of kombu, or seaweed, cannot be attributed directly to any of the four known primary taste. There is a certain savoriness that escaped description. He investigated into the matter by looking at the chemical makeup of the food and discovered seaweed has an abundance of glutamates, an amino acid. As it turns out, our tongues have specific receptor for glutamate, which cemented umami as a basic taste within the scientific community.

The taste of umami derives chiefly from the breakdown of protein, whether through the process of fermentation, aging, or drying. Such processes increase the pungency of a certain flavor to the point where the essence is felt both on the tongue and in the back of the throat. It is more of a complementary flavor, working to enhance other present tastes. Subtle in impact but noticeable when it is absent, umami is an intrinsic part of any Asian meal.

The foremost purveyor of the umami effect comes from a chemical that has become a bit of a bugaboo among eaters: monosodium glutamate. Yes, MSG. You may be asking, isn't MSG bad for you? Well yes, in the way sugar and salt can be bad for you. When consumed moderately, MSG is no more nefarious that the common sugar or salt. There has not been any conclusive link between MSG and headaches. Nevertheless, many people swear off the additive and Chinese restaurants go out of their way to advertise not using the additive. MSG sensitivity is a real phenomenon, but it's not nearly as widespread as it may seem. If you don't suffer any outward adverse effects from MSG, I suggest you embrace this wonder seasoning. Or at least embrace umami.

http://www.asianfoodgrocer.com/product/msg-coated-saltFor those who want to steer clear completely of food additives, there is yet hope. Umami naturally occurs in many foods, like the aforementioned Kombu Seaweed. Among Western foodstuffs, parmesan and anchovies are particularly rich in glutamates and thus umami. Ripe tomatoes and mushrooms also contain large amounts of glutamate, making them good choices for vegans and vegetarians looking for that satisfying, meaty flavor.

Want to evoke umami in your own kitchen? Many of the Japanese food products on our virtual shelves offer umami in spades. Bonito Flakes are another great source umami, and are a traditional additive to dashi and miso soups. Sauces are another way to quickly infuse umami in your meals. Both Oyster Sauce and Fish Sauce have abundant amount of glutamates, making them lip-smacking choices for your dishes.

For quick umami fixes, check out some of our Instant Ramen or Instant Miso Soup. With this additional taste to acknowledge and wield in your cooking, may you reach new horizons in your cooking.

For more ideas on who to use your newly-grasped knowledge of umami to your advantage, head over to our Recipe Section. For example, you may harness the umami potential of miso paste by using it as a sauce component, as demonstrated in this delicious Marinated Pork Recipe.

You may have read this blog and still aren't sure what exactly is umami. Well, it wouldn't be any easier explaining sweetness to a martian. Just know that it exists and that it is in the food you crave and love. It is not a flavor of the month, but a taste to stay.

Happy Year of the Snake! The Lunar Calendar, based on the activity of the moon, is still observed in much of East Asia. With the Lunar Calendar come the 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Unlike the Western zodiac, the Chinese zodiac is based on a twelve-year cycle rather than twelve months. In the Chinese culture, time was told in units of twelve. Animals were assigned to the 12 Earthly Branches in order for people to easily memorize each branch. Read on to find out more about what significance the 12 animals of the zodiac hold in Chinese culture.

Race for the Ages

How were the twelve animals of the zodiac chosen? There are a good number of origin stories on how the twelve animals of the zodiac came to be. The most widely-told folktale tells of a banquet held by the Jade Emperor, the ruler of the Heavens and Earth. He invited all of the animals in his realm to the banquet, and a race across a river would determine which animals would get to be in the zodiac and in what order.

Looking at the 12 animals, there is a conspicuous lack of the cat. The dog is there, so why not the cat? There is actually a story to explain this. It goes that the cat asked the rat to wake him up on the day of the big race. The rat, being aware of the cat's speed, goes to the race without waking up the cat. Having been betrayed, the cat now spends its days chasing the rat as payback.

The animal that came in first place was surprisingly the smallest as well: the rat. Having tricked the cat, the rat now used its cunning to win the race by hopping on the back of the ox as it paddled across the river. The ox came in second, with the tiger in third, then the rabbit, and so on. The goat, monkey and rooster helped each other in getting across the river, so people under those signs have an affinity for each other. The dog finished 11th because it wanted to wade in the water and take a bath. The pig came in last after it took a break to enjoy a snack and nap.

Interestingly enough, the cat appears in the Vietnamese Zodiac, in place of the rabbit. As a lover of both cats and rabbits, I am slightly bummed that they aren't together in the same zodiac.

Due to the widespread influence of Chinese culture, neighboring countries have adopted the Chinese zodiac, with slight variations. In the Vietnamese zodiac, the water buffalo replaces the ox; similarly in the Japanese zodiac, the wild boar takes the place of the pig. Because the Chinese characters for certain animals do not take into account differences in genus, the rat will often be translated as mouse, and the sheep may be called goat or ram.

Influence On Our Lives

Horoscopes according to the Chinese Zodiac are quite similar to western horoscopes in that they are chiefly concerned with the personal matters of love, money, and health.The Chinese believed that many aspects of human life are governed by the interrelationship between the animals and their human counterparts. One major ways this plays out is in our compatibility in our interaction with others. Be it social, romantic, or business relationships, zodiac signs play a big part in whether people will get along. Check out the compatibility chart below.

Each of the zodiac sign have qualities that affect our personality, based on the demeanor of the animals. For example, people born under the year of the dragon are perceived as being natural leaders due to the strength and reverence for the animal of the sign. Rabbit people tend to avoid conflict, in accordance with rabbit's peaceful nature.

The year of your zodiac sign rolls around every 12 years (when you're 12, 24, 36, and so forth), and that year is known as 本命年(bén mìng nián), or "year of origin life." According to tradition, that year of your own sign is actually one of bad luck. During these crucial years, you have to be on your toes and make careful decisions. One thing people recommend you do is to wear red, a fortuitous color, as often as possible to ward off the bad luck. Another possible defense during this shaky year would be to wear lucky jade jewelry on the left side of your body. The catch is that the jewelry has to be a gift from another person; you cannot generate your own luck by buying yourself things, unfortunately.

Show Off Your Sign

Now that you've found out more about the significance of the Chinese zodiac, what's your sign? Keep in mind that the lunar calendar does not align directly with our regular calendar, so people born in January actually below to the sign of the previous year. Be sure that consult a lunar calendar to find out exactly which sign you fall under. Do you find the animal in some way reflect who you are? Please let us what sign you belong to in the survey below. If you would like to show off your Chinese zodiac animal sign, we offer cute items for that express purpose.

Rilakkuma, the popular San-X character, loves to dress up as other animals. For the recent Lunar New Year, he appeared in plush toy form with the character dressing up as the 12 animals of the zodiac. You can get the corresponding plush for each of your family member's zodiac sign for nice, soft way to display your Chinese zodiac alignment.

We also have zodiac animal mini mugs. Each of these miniature cups include an adorable illustration drawn in simple black and white that shows off the charm and personality of each animal.To see all of our Chinese Zodiac-themed products, simply type "zodiac" into our search bar.

There is a reason why the popularity of the Chinese zodiac animals has endured. On the whole, people are basically self-centered. We love to find out more about ourselves, and zodiac signs, whether the Greek or Chinese version, offers us an opportunity to analyze ourselves and those around us. Our fate on this earth will always matter to us, and because of that, the animals of the Chinese zodiac will remain relevant as well.

Recordable Red Monkey Plushie So you want to give a gift, but are looking to add a personal touch. We've got just the thing for you. Some of the cooler items we've been bringing in among our new products are our line of voice recordable plushies. Yes, you've heard right. These 7-inch plushie dolls all come equipped with with recorder modules, giving them the ability to record up to 12 seconds of sound.

To record a message, simply press and hold the plush's right hand until you see a red light glow on its forehead, then speak into the doll. Press the right hand again to complete your recording. To play the message back, simply squeeze the left hand. You are able to re-record your message at any time.

Now it's fairly simple to record your voice message in the doll, but we have come up with many inventive ways to utilize this cool feature.. For example, you may record a heartfelt romantic message for your significant other for a birthday or anniversary. This approach will go particularly well with our Heart-Bearing Teddy Bears. By giving a cute soft plushie, along with a sentimental message, you'll score double the brownie points. Recordable Plushie Bear with Pink Heart

Another nifty way to use the recording feature of our plush dolls is to leave instructive messages for your children. Say for example "Lunch is in the oven! Love, Mom" or "Pick you up at soccer practice at 5PM!" Much fluffier than a cell phone message, wouldn't you say? In this way, everyday memos can become little gestures of love and care.

Green Monkey Recordable Doll
The number of cool uses are only limited by your imagination. Other neat application we've thought of include asking someone to prom with a plush message, using a plushie as a clue device in a scavenger hunt, or try convincing someone the plush is haunted by recording a creepy message. You didn't learn that last one from us.

The line of recordable plushies encompases many type of animals. We have recordable raccoons, monkeys, and teddy bears, and even Recordable Doraemon Plushies. Yep, we have the beloved blue robot feline in recordable plush form! You are sure to find a plush doll to your liking.

Recordable Bear Gift CardIf for some unfathomable reason plushies aren't your style, you can always add a voice message to any gift item with one of our Voice Recordable Cards. Just like our recordable plushie, these cards can record 12 seconds of sound for a replayable message. An added bonus of the card is that you can write down anything you couldn't squeeze into the allotted 12 seconds. How are you planning to use our voice recordable items? Whatever you decide, we want to wish you happy gift-giving!

Everyone's seen the commercials by now. "Diet pills." "Lose 10 pounds in a week." "Eat anything you want and get skinny." "No need to exercise ever again."

There is a huge market for lose-weight-fast products, and for good reason- people want to get healthy. They want to find a real way to manage weight, and to maintain that weight, especially in a time when it's so easy to eat fast food and live a sedentary life style. But because the market is so big, it is riddled with scams, con artists, and untested diet products that have the potential to severely damage your health.

But we at AsianFoodGrocer are here to educate. We want to help you avoid the scams; we want to explain the science of weight loss, and show you how the scammers warp the facts to get your money. Today we're going to be focusing primarily on something called Glucomannan. You may have heard of it, and if you Google it you'll get just under a million results.

Glucomannan is a naturally occurring polysaccharide and a strong soluble fiber. It has the ability to absorb several times its weight in water, and many trials have been conducted to see how it affects weight loss. A lot of these trials have shown to be effective in aiding with the treatment of constipation, high cholesterol and obesity. The results of these trials have been out for a number of years, and for the last decade or two, Glucomannan has been packaged into a pill. It's been sold and misleadingly branded as a miracle diet pill that will fix all your weight problems almost overnight.


Filipino dessert And here's the thing, Glocumannan does help to control weight- but not in the way that these companies were promising. You can see the complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission as well as the lawsuit information here. Companies who were brandishing the diet pills as a miraculous weight loss solution were fined about 1.5 million dollars. The Australian Government banned the sale of the pills, and there were even incidents of choking hazards with the diet pills in Canada. As you can see, these companies took a product that had potential to help people lose weight, and they marketed it as a sensational diet pill that could control weight, regardless of a person's diet or lifestyle.

So here's how it all works. Glucomannan IS a powerful weight loss aid. It works by absorbing water and expanding within the stomach. The effect of this is that people who eat it feel more full, and they eat less food over the course of a meal. Adding Glucomannan rich foods into your diet means that you'll be eating less every time you eat. You'll be taking in fewer calories, less cholesterol, less sugar, and most importantly, less fat. In short, you're eating until you feel full, but you're still eating less than you usually do, so you're dieting without really being aware of it. Combine this with a decent exercise regiment as well as some tasty vegetables, and you'll be well on your way to better weight and health. You won't be losing 6-10 pounds a week as some of the scamming companies promise, but you will see results over time.

Filipino dessert

We don't recommend you take the diet pills though. They have a noted choking hazard, and there haven't been enough studies done to condone the use of Glucomannan by itself. So does that mean you should just ignore the stuff altogether? Of course not. Just eat it where it occurs naturally. Shirataki Noodles are a great source of Glucomannan. The noodles come from the konjac root in tropical and sub-tropical countries in Asia, and it has been common among Asians' diets for hundreds, even thousands of years in some places.

These noodles have been getting a lot of press over the last few years. They've been on the Dr. Oz show a couple times. Rachel Ray featured them, and a lot of dieticians are recommending them. We started carrying them because our customers asked for it, and the more we learn about Shirataki, the more we like it.

The noodles are pretty much empty. They have almost no taste- they have little to no calories, carbs or sugar. They have no fat, no gluten, and no cholesterol. But they're effective because they will take on the taste of whatever they are prepared with, whether it's garlic Parmesan, an Italian marinara sauce, or a hearty meat stew.

The idea is that you incorporate the Shirataki Noodles into your meals. Replace your typical high-carb noodles with them, pair them with your meat dishes, put them into your stir-fries and casseroles. You'll eat less of the actual meal, meaning you'll take in fewer carbs and calories, but you're still eating so that you're full. It's a handy way to eat foods that taste good, while avoiding the overeating that leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Now, we're not going to make any wild claims about Shirataki noodles or Glucomannan. It is an effective diet tool, and it will help you take in less food- most likely the soluble fiber will even help maintain the health of your digestive tract. But it's not a problem solver by itself, you should still limit the fried chicken and the greasy fast food, and you should still exercise a couple times a week if you're expecting to see real, noticeable results.
Filipino dessert
The stuff won't magically cure heart disease or cancer, but it will help you get healthy, and a healthy body stands a much better chance against nasty things like cancer and disease than an unhealthy body.

The point that we'd like to stress is that diet and exercise is really the only way to achieve and maintain proper health and weight over time. Crazy diets and weight loss pills might shave off a few pounds for a week, but they won't keep it off, and they might even end up hurting you more in the end. We at AsianFoodGrocer encourage you to avoid the scams of lose-weight-fast products. And if you'd like a tool to help you eat less, then try incorporating Shirataki noodles into your diet- but most importantly, make an effort to get off the couch a few times a week. Your body will thank you, and the extra time you have on this Earth will be all the more wonderful because you earned it.

Japanese Seasonings 101

Kikkoman Soy Sauce

Japan has an ancient tradition of culinary dishes. From their spices, to their eating utensils, to their methods of cooking, the Japanese have enough history behind their cooking to have mastered almost any dish.

Today we're going to go over some of the various ingredients the Japanese use in their cooking, and the different results and recipes you can expect to get with these ingredients.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is one of the most obvious Japanese ingredients. Even though the Japanese didn't invent it, they still rely on it heavily. Soy sauce was originally made in China, by fermenting soy beans with salt and water. It's typically used as a condiment for rice and noodle dishes, and offers up a saltier, more savory flavor. People often use soy sauce for glazes, dips, barbecues, and various other meals. In Japan it is used very lightly, though in America we tend to overdo it a little bit.

Curry

Curry is another seasoning/meal that the Japanese didn't invent, but have widely adopted and made their own. It was even shown that each Japanese person had curry approximately 127 times in 2005. Curry is typically a spicy dish, often mixed with meat and vegetables, then served over rice. Other kinds of curry are served with breaded pork cutlet, fried rice, or even a raw egg. There are a wide range of instant curries available, curry powders, and easy to make curry dinners. It's pretty simple to make, and will offer a rich, hearty flavor to whatever you're pairing it with.

Dashi
Dashi Soup

Dashi is a common ingredient used to make Japanese soup. There are various types and styles available, depending on what soup you're trying to make. Dashi, at its most basic requirement, typically calls for kelp as well as some variety of fish. People often make their own by combining tuna flakes with kombu, as well as some spices, and sometimes even shiitake mushrooms. People often make their own home made dashi to avoid flavor enhancers like MSG or high sodium doses.

Yakiniku

Yakiniku is a unique style of barbecuing that was introduced to Japan post WWII. It is common in Yakiniku restaurants for raw food to be brought out to guests, and for the people to cook their own food using a grill at the table. Typically vegetables and meat are grilled, though beef is the main preference. There are various types of sauces associated with Yakiniku. The sauces can be similar to barbecue sauce, although with something of a lighter and less spicy effect to them. The sauces are typically made with mirin, soy sauce, garlic, and sesame.

Fish Sauce

Fish sauce is common across South East Asia, as well as some areas of China and Japan. It is a typical ingredient for soups, casseroles, sauces, curries, and noodle dishes. The sauces are strongly flavored, so they tend to be used lightly. It's commonly used as a condiment, though it can also used in cooking and food preparation.

Sesame Oil

Sesame Oil is used in a variety of different meals. Although it's usually added toward the end of the cooking process because sesame oil will begin to smoke at hot temperatures. It is popular for its health benefits, Furikake seasoning which include a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, omega fatty acids. The sesame oils have also been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol.

Furikake

Furikake is sort of like Japanese salt and pepper, and is commonly used to add a little flavor to plain white rice. It typically uses ingredients such as seaweed, sesame seeds, dried fish, salt, and sometimes MSG. It stores pretty easily, though it should be kept in a cool dry place to ensure that it lasts.

This is just a basic run through of the types of seasonings and flavors you might to expect in a run into while in Japan. Hopefully this will make you a little more savvy about the ingredients when you order from a restaurant.