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Okazu Fest Round One

Similar to Korean Banchan, what I love most about Japanese cuisine – besides, well, EVERYTHING – are the wide assortment of prepared sides dishes served in a typical meal called Okazu or Souzai. You’ll likely find a wide assortment of Souzai at your favorite local Japanese import grocery store, where here on Oahu, Don Quijote, Marukai, Nijiya Market and Shirokiya all carry a vast assortment that would make your head spin.

Souzai includes all types of usually non-sweet natural foods, including vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, seaweeds, aromatics such as onions, ginger and garlic, and seafood, including fish and squid, to name a few. Many of which fall under the Tsukemono category, which are pickled vegetables. The Japanese method of preserving – a.k.a. “pickling” – usually involves a salt-based brine, with other active and flavoring components including soy sauce, miso, vinegar, rice bran and sake.

Okazu Fest Round One: Ao-Kyrui-Zuke, Iwashi Tsukudani, Yasai Takiawase, Nameko and Maui Takuan, with center of the universe featuring Gen-Ji-Mai Gohan and Aka Ume

Souzai is commonly served as a side dish to a main course along with rice (e.g. obento), as a snack, a garnish (e.g. Beni Shoga on Gyudon), and ultimate of all, as part of Kaiseki, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner.

Souzai are most commonly sold here at Oahu supermarkets fresh-made and shipped in from Japan, hence they are NOT cheap as far as price-per-pound goes. Fortunately a little goes a long way. They’re commonly packaged in clear plastic containers in an open refrigerator case, usually near the tofu and kamaboko (fish cake), or nearby the produce, seafood or meat department. There are also Tsukemono that are non-refrigerated and sold in bottles, such as Umeboshi.

I don’t know about you, but for me, standing in front of the Souzai refrigerator display case is like being a kid in a candy store, where I’m practically salivating. LOVE THE STUFF!

What’s funny is, the Nihonjin (Japanese nationals) who frequent the Marukai and Don Quijote Kaheka store always TRIP when they see the kind of stuff I put on the checkout counter conveyor. Here I am not looking a LICK of Japanese or asian for that matter, yet I’ve very often got stuff like this checking out…

And their most common comment or question when they look at me while waiting in line, then look at what I’m buying is (in somewhat broken, yet good Eigo), “You must really like Japanese food!” or “You eat this kind of Japanese food?”, to which I reply, “Hai, sore o aisuru!” (loosely meaning, “Yes, I LOVE  IT!”). They just smile and nod with a tripped-out look on their face. lol

Which surely regular readers here are already aware of, as I usually wax eloquent about whenever it shows up in a dish I’m eating. In fact, I’ve even already gone through some good measure over Tsukemono several years back in my Goteborg Musubi Project write-up…

Goteborg Musubi – a specialty from Kauai – with 7 varieties of toppings: Aka Ume & Nori, Furikake, Goma Konbu, Kyuri Zuke, Beni Shoga/Pickled Onion/Iriko, Beni Shoga and Kim Chee. 

So today let’s launch the first of a multi-part ‘Souzai Fest’ series, with an initial group of four from one my favorite grocery stores over at the Kaheka Don Quijote “mega-fusion” supermarket.

First up is Ao-Kyrui-Zuke…

Open it up…

Next up, from vegetables to fish, we have Iwashi Tsukudani…

Open it up…

Back to veggies of the root variety, presenting Yasai Takiawase…

Open it up…

Last but DEFINITELY not least for Round One, we have Nameko…

Open it up…

Looking at the prices, they all range from $9 to $15 per pound, which seems high, yet thankfully a little goes a long way with Tsukemono, being that their flavor profiles are SO concentrated.

First let’s try the Ao-Kyuri-Zuke…

These tiny pickled cucumbers were the most salty and acidic of the four in this showcase, along with perhaps a slight hint of sweetness from what I’m guessing is Mirin. Also noticeable was ginger in its flavor profile, thanks to which were small slivers of ginger at the bottom of the mix. If you’re familiar with namasu, it’s pretty much like that, except not as sweet, and more “ginger-ee”. Overall OISHII DESU!

3 Ume Musubi for Don Quijote’s Ao-Kyuri-Zuke.

Next up we have what is certainly the most POW! IN YOUR FACE!!! of the bunch, the Iwashi Tsukudani…

These are essentially Japanese Sardines, with the same edible bones like sardines, except unlike the uh – ehem, cough-cough – more “plain-tasting” American canned sardines, these have a super-concentrated teriyaki/miso-yaki flavor. We’re talking as if they were marinaded for like a YEAR, that’s how 150% permeated it is in that marinade. The texture of the Tsukudani “meat” is also much more dried-out and firm compared to canned sardines, being almost like a moist, flaky fish jerky if you will.

Other than its high salt content, Tsukudani are high in the desirable Omega-3 fatty acids, which are VERY beneficial for health.

The flavor is so savory and POTENT, all it takes is perhaps half an Iwashi Tsukudani to flavor an entire, generous bowl of rice. Actually, to be honest, the first few bites need a bit of a getting used to, but once your palate gets acclimated to its “fishy”, yet robust and savory, VERY deep shoyu-sugar taste, it smooths out and becomes quite enjoyable. Kinda’ like Anchovies on pizza.

I give Don Quijote’s Iwashi Tsukudani 3 Ume Musubi.

Next up, let’s try the Yasai Takiawase…

If you’re thinking that looks familiar to you, it’s because, yes this is pretty much the “Tsukemonofied” take on Nishime, a Japanese vegetable “stew” popular at Hawaii’s local Okazuya joints. That’s pretty much what it tastes like, is cold Nishime, having that familiar strong Kombu-Yaki flavor going on. Not too sweet, not salty at all, with no acidity whatsoever, so I don’t know how they “preserve” this, as I couldn’t detect those usual pickling suspects.

It has the usual ingredients of Nishime, including daikon (turnip), ninjin (carrot), satoimo (taro root) and Hasu (lotus root), along with just ONE measly piece of Mushroom, MY FAVORITE! In fact, I could just as well trade out all the other stuff for this being ALL MUSHROOMS please, onegaishimasu. Eating that one piece of mushroom out of all this was such a tease. B@stards. lol

With that, I give Don Quijote’s Yasai Takiawase 2 Ume Musubi.

“Ask and you shall receive” as the saying goes, which mushrooms are the theme here with Nameko…

For the very reason I was comparatively disappointed in the Yasai Takiawase, I’m absolutely OVERJOYED by with the Nameko, which is in fact the name of this Japanese forest mushroom that’s been oh-so-delicately “Tsukemonofied”.

There’s also very tiny pieces of Enokitake in the mix as well, further elevating me up to that mushroom cloud in the sky. Like, groooooovy ma-a-a-a-an. lol

I can’t figure out what the green “shoot” is mixed with the mushrooms, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s some sort of fern stalk. Whatever it is, like the Nameko mushrooms, it’s very soft and tender, albeit with a somewhat more fibrous texture in comparison to the completely non-fibrous Nameko. Other than that, there isn’t much unique flavor out of these green “shoots” in comparison to the savory mushrooms and sauce its all enveloped in. However it does add a nice color contrast, which always helps.

As for the “sauce” that the Nameko mixture is “pickled” in, there’s just a slight hint of acidity, but not much. It’s mostly a I would say “Dashi-Kombu-Kaki” thang goin’ on if you will. There’s definitely shoyu and mirin in it, while Dashi-Kombu is its most pronounced signature.

And with that, this here Nameko Tsukemono is freekin’ AWESOME. Next to a good Sauteed Mushroom Marsala, Mushrooms just don’t get better than this, my friends. I seriously could just as well take that whole container of beautifully marinated, chilled Nameko goodness, dump it over a heapin’ bowl of hot steamed Gen-Ji-Mai Gohan and call it a day. Done. ‘Nuff said. My day is complete. Don’t bother me. I’m busy eating. Go away. lol

That said, Don Quijote’s Nameko gets a ‘Shroom-Tastic! 5 Ume Musubi!

Oh, by the way, the Takuan (the yellow half-moon thing at the back) is the spicy one from Maui. Das’ da’ ichiban one!

P.S., time for today’s weigh-in…

Pomai’s “Revolution 2012″ weight log**
5.05.12 – 207.0 lbs.
5.27.12 – 195.8 lbs.
6.02.12 – 194.6 lbs.
6.03.12 – 194.0 lbs.
6.09.12 – 191.4 lbs.
6.16.12 – 188.6 lbs. (BMI score = 27.8)
Target weight for 6.30.12 – 187 lbs.
Final target weight – 160 lbs.
**5’9″ height, male.

Um, looks like I just may reach my 187 lbs. goal (20 lbs. total cumulative weight loss since beginning) MUCH sooner than the end of June; possibly far surpassing it. Apparently the Japanese Green Tea, along with dedicated sacrifice and a well-balanced, super-lean “veggie/fruit-centric” diet – plus, add to the regimen for sure, a few drops o’ blood, sweat ‘n tears – is REALLY paying off! Wait until you see my ‘before and after’ body pic, where I’m quite confident you folks are gonna’ TRIP!!!

One of the things I enjoy most about getting my exercise running on the beach, is coming across some really interesting people, along with the catch local fishermen bring in. Not that Tako is all that unusual, but what made this particular moment today CLASSIC, was when this group of friends were trying to get a photo of their dog with a small LIVE Tako (Octopus) they had just caught placed on his/her head.

Check it out…

“Tako Dog” on a Hawaiian Beach. 6.16.12

Is that not CLASSIC or what?! LOL! The best part is, he (or she?) was really cool about it, only getting agitated when the tentacles were covering his/her eyes.

Sorry for the poor composition in that first photo, as this was taken with my smartphone camera, which I can just barely make out what’s on screen (viewfinder) in direct sunlight.

Here’s another shot, where he/she’s like, “Will you hurry up and just take the damned picture”…

“Tako Dog” on a Hawaiian Beach. 6.16.12

Would have been even better if the Tako’s eyes were facing forward, but it’s pretty tough doing that when you’re dealing with a LIVE OCTOPUS that’s frantically squirming around all over a DOG’S HEAD. Like you see that every day. LOL!!!

Big mahalo to the gang for letting me grab a few shots of “Tako Dog”… and most importantly to you “Tako Dog” for being such a great, cool-headed (pun-intended) sport! Classic!

Finally, if you’re ever in Waikiki in the prime evening hours from Tuesday through Saturday, head to the corner of Lewers Street and Kalakaua Avenue in front of Louis Vuitton, where you’ll find two INCREDIBLY TALENTED young fellahz by the name of River & Tiger.

Here’s River and Tiger on June 1, 2012, where I took a high-def’ video of them covering ‘Time of the Season’ by The Zombies…

I’m telling you, these guys are gonna’ be world-famous STARS one day. You watch.

In this next video taken just this past Friday, River & Tiger perform songs by Bruno Mars, Ray Charles and The Beatles. Make sure you catch the last song of the night where River RIPS ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ by Scott Joplin on the keyboards. AMAZING!…


14 thoughts on “Okazu Fest Round One

  • June 16, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I bet those would go great with some ochazuke!

    • June 17, 2012 at 7:01 am

      And it does, my friend. And it does. ;-)

  • June 17, 2012 at 3:14 am

    Pomai, great you getting to goal weight. Tsukemono I like very much but cost wise no. I buy some and get recipes from web to make it. I make my own takuwa which I got to have with my rice and sushi and pickle ginger. I like the pickle cucumber the most.

    • June 17, 2012 at 7:04 am

      When it comes to rice and the main course, it’s all about flavor and texture contrast with Tsukemono.

  • June 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Yup. It is a fern shoot. My favorite is one not there, Sanbai Zuke. Hawaii has a unique take on this. Sweeter than Japan, often made with ogo. And that is good.

    • June 17, 2012 at 7:25 am

      “Local style” Kim Chee ‘Cukes are one of my faves!

    • June 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Sanbai zuke is my favorite as well!

      • June 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm

        I see a couple local brands make Sanbai Zuke, including my favorite Uradomo Farms Maui brand. It looks like it can include a number of different veggies, including daikon, cabbage and cucumbers. I think for Round Two, I’ll cover a spread of the local brands available, which tend to be most often soaked completely in a brining liquid. Oishii stuff!

  • June 17, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Yum. Kimchee cucumber. By the way, the reason Hawaii made pickles are sweeter is because if you worked on the plantation, light brown sugar was free. We used to bring home in paper bags that the sugar plant actually provided. Held about 3 pounds.

    • June 17, 2012 at 8:56 am

      Speaking of plantation era and sugar, I still remember that “smell” from Dole Cannery in Iwilei when they used to process pineapple. It was like this burning brown sugar aroma that wafted throughout the area surrounding the factory that smelled so unique, good and unforgettable.


  • June 18, 2012 at 8:55 am

    That nameko looks good! I’ll have to remember the next time I’m there.

    1. Are your feet losing weight? They look smaller…or maybe I’m imagining things.
    2. LOL, my dog would SO not stand for that. The things they put up with from us!!!

    • June 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      Reply to 1.) Actually, when I was at my heaviest weight, I still had a “chicken feet” body, where my legs were still pretty skinny, relative to my upper body. Most of my weight looked spread out evenly from the mid-section and up (including neck and face), with what I think I had quite a build-up of visceral fat, the dangerous internal fat that gets packed between your internal organs, including kidneys, liver, intestines and stomach. I’m already down one pants size, so looks like that visceral fat is steadily getting burnt away. Along with all the exercise, I really thing that green tea is my best weapon right now. Could be part-psychological, but hey, whatever it is, it’s working!

      Reply to 2.) The worst has got to be when people put CLOTHES on their pet dog. Shades looks kinda’ cool though. lol

  • June 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I love all the different tastes and textures so beautifully arranged around the ubiquitous rice (I could absolutely live on rice!). Presentation!

  • July 13, 2012 at 4:17 am

    Great review! I got homesick just looking at the pics of all that tsukemono! But the goteburg musubi just blew me away! A’uwe! I wanted to reach into the monitor and grab them all! I’m gonna start looking for goteburg sausage here in Alabama and online. What are the good brands?

    By the way, does anyone out there remember a cold cut called “burgeesa”? The spelling may be off, but this was something my mom used to make into sandwiches for us kids. To describe it, it was like sliced bologna in size and presentation, but it tasted like portugese sausage… it was amazing… especially fried, with the spicy red grease mixing with the mayo and soaking into the bread. I looked around for it last time I was home in Honolulu, but I guess it’s gone the way of Buck’s Sweet Bread…


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