Northern Japan’s fancy foods


Houraiyahonten’s Amazake drinks and rice jam. photo by Pauline Fujita/Nichi Bei Weekly

Some 17,000 attendees swarmed the 1,300 companies that exhibited across 206,000 square feet of San Francisco’s expansive Moscone Center during the Winter Fancy Food Show. The specialty foods trade show, now in its 37th year, was held from Jan. 15 to 17.

The National Association for Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) is a New York-based nonprofit currently celebrating its 60th anniversary. A culinary spectacle of unequaled proportions, its Winter Fancy Food Show is the largest event of its kind on the West Coast.

The association also holds the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.

The show seemed to include every specialty food item imaginable, running the gamut from Jelly Belly jellybeans to large tire-sized wheels of hard French, Italian and Spanish cheeses. Of the 50 countries represented at the show, more than 30 countries had their own pavilions.

This year, for the first time in show history, this included a Japan pavilion organized by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) a nonprofit that promotes trade and investment with Japan. The pavilion included 28 exhibitors, 10 of which were companies affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami from Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba Prefectures.

JETRO covered the fees for these exhibitors. Interest in the pavilion followed a featured article in NASFT’s Specialty Food magazine, which detailed the impact of the disaster on the specialty foods industry in Japan, where 75.6 percent of food business operators were directly affected by the disaster, the article said, citing a Japan Times story.

Shinmarusyo Co.’s katsuo blocks and dashi. photo by Pauline Fujita/Nichi Bei Weekly

Even within the Japan Pavilion, there was a broad selection of products on display. The traditional ingredients available to sample included: katsuobushi (dried, smoked bonito fish used most commonly as a base for making broth) from Shinmarusyo Co., Imuraya Co.’s azuki (sweet red bean paste), mekabu (bean thread like noodles made from wakame seaweed sprouts) from Shinko Co., and okara konnyaku, a versatile patty made from soy pulp (okara) that can be used as a replacement for minced meat.

Black garlic, rice jam and miso [ke]tchup were among the more exotic foods that were showcased. Kashiwazaki Fruits and Vegetables Corporation ages and ferments the black garlic in Aomori Prefecture. It boasts a mellowed flavor, and can be eaten without cooking.

Houraiyahonten’s Rice Jam was served on crackers to be eaten like a sweet fruit jam, and had a butter-like consistency and mild sweetness. Kanesa Co. presented “Miso Tchup” to be used like ketchup, but with a miso flavor, alongside its seemingly space-aged freeze dried granulated miso for quick preparation of miso soup.

Yamato Soysauce’s shio koji (salt marinated rice koji). photo by Pauline Fujita/Nichi Bei Weekly

Company president Seiichi Yamato represented Yamato Soysauce & Miso Co., which was promoting a new product, shio koji. Shio koji is koji — a type of rice fungus used to make miso and sake ­— pickled in salt. Yamato offered samples and ebulliently recommending the shio koji as a marinade for meat.

A wide array of beverages were also on hand to wash down the various offerings. These consisted of many kinds of sake from various breweries and distributors, including Nishiyama Shuzojo Co., Kiuchi Brewery Inc., Zack Lim Co. and Yoshida Sake Brewery. Such classic offerings as daiginjo and junmai-daiginjo sake contrasted yuzu-infused sparkling sake and unconventional sake-based plum wine.

Not to be outdone by the hard alcohol, Ibaraki Prefecture’s Kiuchi Brewery boasted frosty bottles of its Hitachino Nest Beer, the “XH” line, which is aged in shochu casks. Other unusual beverages included an apple vinegar drink presented by Kanesho Co., black bean (kuromame) tea from Zenyakuno Co., and amazake, a non-alcoholic fermented rice drink brewed by Houraiyahonten Co.

In addition to the Japanese food products featured in the Japan Pavilion, there were a number of Japanese products presented at independent booths. Among these were the egg-less Japanese mayonnaise MayoDoree (from The Nisshin OilliO Group Ltd.), SushiParty Soy Wrappers, Little Soya soy sauce and Angelo Pietro salad dressings.

If the wide variety of food items on display at the Japan Pavilion weren’t enough to pique one’s culinary curiosity, there were also ongoing cooking demonstrations. In conjunction with the Japan Pavilion put on by JETRO, the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad also hosted “Japanese-Inspired Cooking Demonstrations.” These featured local chefs from well known restaurants: Scott Whitman of Sushi Ran, Armando Justo of Chotto, Joseph Manzare of Hecho, Zuppa and Globe, Staffan Terje of Perbacco, Erik Lowe of BIX, Julie Tan of the California Culinary Academy, and Angelo Cattaneo of Zuppa.

Each chef presented recipes developed to use ingredients from the Japan Pavilion; these spanned everything from cocktails such as the “Shiso-Jito” by barman Angelo Cattaneo, to “Yuzu Kosho Butter” by chef Erik Lowe and “Chocolate Azuki Bites with Zabaglione” by chef Julie Tan.

The only complaint one could have of the show was that there was simply too much to see and eat.  Although so much of the food industry was affected by the tragic events in the Tohoku region, it was clear from talking to vendors that this has only redoubled their passion and pride for the tradition of their products.

Hopefully, the Japan Pavilion will be a regular fixture in future shows and continue, as it did this year, to recruit interesting and unusual vendors.

One response to “Northern Japan’s fancy foods”

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