Given the paucity of bento gear outside of Daiso, I was impressed to see on sale in Isetan’s household section bread-slice-shaped sandwich cutters similar to the one used by Lunch in a Box. They’re hanging on a shelf with other fun-shaped cutters underneath a TV playing a promotional video of some Japanese kitchen gadget.
Isetan supermarket always has some kind of Japanese food promotion going on, and up till tomorrow, it’s a ‘Japanese Sweets Fair’ with various kinds of wagashi, such as steamed manju (饅頭) buns and demonstrations of dorayaki pancake making, and ‘teyaki tsugarugi senbei honpo’ (crackers with nuts).
It was also fun looking at the pre-packaged daifuku, warabi mochi and sakura mochi made from doumyoji as inspiration for future cooking projects ^_^.
However, what excited me the most was seeing fresh wasabi root on sale again! It’s not often they appear on the supermarket shelves in Singapore, which isn’t really surprising considering how difficult it is to grow wasabi, and even in Japan, only five percent of sushi shops use fresh wasabi root, with chefs paying up to ¥1,000 or more for a fresh wasabi root (read all about wasabi here)!
The last time I managed to buy fresh wasabi was when Isetan was having a Shizuoka promotion – Shizuoka being the home of wasabi-growing. The descriptions of wasabi growing in cold, clear mountain streams surrounded in gentle mist (see this photo) only help to enhance my infatuation with this rhizome.
The main reason, however, is the surprising delicate, yet complex, taste of fresh wasabi. A very pale green when grated, its hotness is tempered by a sharp bitter edge and a wonderful sweetness! Aside from using it as a sushi dip with soya sauce, I love wasabi with all kinds of meats, and in sandwiches it tastes so much nicer than powdered mustard which only made my food take on the aroma of rotten eggs :P. I’ve also eaten it smeared thinly over okonomiyaki. Here are my bento which have used wasabi in some way. Check out also this Shizuoka blog for suggestions on alternative ways to enjoy wasabi.
It should be no surprise that fresh grated wasabi tastes quite different from processed wasabi in tubes because the latter is actually made from a mixture with horseradish (a plant only introduced to Japan from Europe in the 19th century), colourings and flavourings etc. as this comprehensive list of ingredients shows. A much better alternative is the powdered wasabi from health food shops, such as Mitoku brand wasabi powder. While this powdered version may not be made from pure wasabi either (horseradish and mustard are commonly mixed in), at least it isn’t full of artificial additives and the unnatural lurid green colour of commercial supermarket powdered wasabi.
4/2/08 update : I experimented with eating wasabi in an alternative manner: by making very fine slices then frying them crisp and eating as topping on noodles. Well, I won’t be doing this again! They were rather bitter, no hint of characteristic wasabi hotness, and were more hard than crisp.