Each year the Japanese Food and Restaurant Expo gives area restaurateurs the opportunity to see the latest trends in Japanese food culture. New York Mutual Trading, Inc. gathers close to 90 of its clients at the Metropolitan Pavilion for an impressive showcase of Japanese food, beverage, and restaurant supplies. Among the rows of vendors and crowds jockeying for position to get a tasting of dessert or ramen or sake, here are the Top Ten Best Things About the Japanese Food and Restaurant Expo.
10. Hakkaisan’s New Reusable Bottles
Niigata-based Hakkaisan Brewery has a new product on the market, but it’s not sake. Instead, it’s the sake bottle. Hakkaisan’s Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo products now come in curvy 180ml bottles that are adorable and reusable. According to sake sommelier Timothy Sullivan, Hakkaisan’s Brand Ambassador and founder of urbansake.com, when the bottle is empty, unzip the label, and it becomes a tokkuri, a vessel used to heat sake. Or you can use it as a cute little vase. It’s up to your imagination how you want to re-use Hakkaisan’s green innovation. Although Hakkaisan doesn’t have a new product, one of its sakes has a new taste. The brewery reformulated its Tokubetsu Junmai, giving it a rather generic flavor that Sullivan says makes it a good introductory sake for novices.
9. Umezu-Tako (Plum Vinegared Octopus)
If you’re looking for an easy way to incorporate octopus into your salads or other side dishes, look no further than the tangy Umezu-Tako from Uoriki Fresh, Inc. The U.S. subsidiary of a major fish dealer in Japan, Uoriki Fresh specializes in distributing SuperFrozen tuna, using a process by which tuna is rapidly frozen at -76°F. This stops microbial decomposition that spoils the fish and allows the fish to be stored without losing its quality or freshness. Interesting stuff, considering the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s summer 2015 requirement that restaurants freeze their fish to remove parasites. The Umezu-Tako is a frozen product as well, and it’s tasty.
8. Olive Oil and White Soy Sauce
Yamashin Shoyu Co., Ltd. has been producing a clear or white soy sauce for more than 200 years. Aichi Prefecture, where Yamashin is based, was one of the first areas of Japan to produce wheat, and Yamashin’s clear soy sauce is made with 90% wheat and 10% soy beans, giving it a clear appearance that is preferred by many professional chefs. Now Yamashin has added olive oil to the mix, and the result is a light but intensely flavorful dressing that enhances both vegetables and seafood.
7. Yuzu Sauce
In the last few years New Yorkers have enjoyed yuzu, a sour Japanese citrus, as a condiment (generally mixed with kosho, or pepper) or in a cocktail. With Yuzu Sauce by Yubeshi Souhonke Nakauraya Co., Ltd., we can appreciate the fruit’s sweeter side. Made up of simmered yuzu zest, honey and sugar, Yuzu Sauce can be used like jam to spread on toast, or you can add milk or sparkling water to create a lovely breakfast beverage.
6. Iwai Whisky
Since Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named the world’s best whisky in the 2015 World Whisky Bible, people have been paying more attention to Japanese whisky. Enter Iwai Whisky by Mars Shinshu Distillery in Nagano Prefecture. Iwaii is younger than Suntory and Nikka, having begun production in 1949 in Kagoshima before moving to the Japan Alps in 1984, but the flavor is comparable. Yuno Hayashi of Tokiwa Imports, which imports Iwaii and other brands of Japanese whisky and alcohol, says that Iwai Whisky is like an American-influenced bourbon and is perfect in an Old Fashioned, while Iwai Tradition is a true Japanese whisky with balance and complex layering from sherry, bourbon, and wine casks.
5. Organic Sake
Some breweries are making the push to be certified organic sake in Japan and in the States, so we’re seeing more examples at trade shows such as JFRE. Two breweries stood out as being exceptional: Tsukinoi and Kikusui. Tsukinoi uses organic rice to produce several of its sakes in Ibaraki Prefecture, including Nanotsuki 60, Nanotsuki 80, and Umeshu. (Full disclosure: The author proofread Tsukinoi’s English-language brochure.) Kikusui’s Organic Junmai Ginjo is certified USDA Organic as well. The sake from both brands are refreshingly smooth and full-flavored.
4. BORN: The Sake of Public Servants
It was hard to miss the BORN booth and Atsuhide Kato, its 11th-generation President and CEO, a gregarious figure with a big smile and even bigger eyebrows. His caricature appears on his business card, which also declares that “BORN” is No. 1. It was one of my favorite sakes of the day, with its boldness and complexity. The best sample was BORN: Yume wa Masayume (Dreams Come True), an aged sake with a strong, but not offensive, aftertaste. Kato-san’s booth assistant told us that this was the sake that Prime Minister Abe gave President Obama as a gift. BORN products are also certified Kosher, which is part of Kato-san’s goal to promote Japanese sake around the world.
3. Miso Toast with Cheese
By now Westerners are used to the flavor of miso, not just in miso soup, but as a marinade on fish and even steak. But how about miso toast? With cheese? So delicious. Why didn’t we think of it earlier? Luckily, Maruya Hatcho Miso’s President, Nobutaro Asai, thought of it for JFRE. Maruya has been around since 1337, so they know a thing or two about making miso and presenting it in creative ways. Maruya also gets our vote for Best Dressed Booth.
2. Candy Type Cheese
Since we’re on the subject of cheese . . . It’s not candy; it’s cheese packaged in a candy wrapper. Perhaps this is Rokko Butter Co., Ltd.’s way of tricking the Japanese into getting more calcium by making them think they’re eating candy. Genius! And delicious, especially the smoked cheese. The company also makes Q•B•B• King processed cheese that’s in the shape of a stick of butter. Mind blown.
1. The New Fast Food: Tempura Shrimp Hot Dogs and Tacos
DNI Group is a San Francisco-based company that specializes in Japanese seafood, including frozen nobashi ebi, or “stretched” shrimp. Serving shrimp in tacos is not new, but generally grilled shrimp is used. Instead of putting a hot dog in a bun or ground beef in a hard taco shell, substitute stretched tempura shrimp instead. Create a new kind of fast food.
There’s never a dull moment at JFRE, and it’s a great place to find what’s trending in Japanese food and beverage culture. Some of these products are available only to restaurateurs through New York Mutual Trading, and some are just breaking into the U.S. market. Eventually we’ll all be eating Candy Type Cheese and shrimp tempura hot dogs. One can only hope.
To see more photos from the Mutual Trading’s Japanese Food and Restaurant Expo, please visit our Flickr page.