What’s new in Japanese food and drink? To check out the latest trends in the Japanese food industry, JapanCulture•NYC went to the Japanese Food and Restaurant Expo (JFRE) at the Metropolitan Pavilion.
New York Mutual Trading brought together 76 vendors to show off their new products in the areas of packaged foods, seasonings, and beverages. This annual event, which is in its 19th year, allows people involved in New York’s food and beverage industries to meet the exhibitors, test new products, and – if the exhibitors are fortunate – place orders for their restaurants, bars, or stores. The expo also offered informative demos about what’s trending in Japan and, to a certain extent, here in New York.
The products at this year’s expo simplify prepping and cooking time, provide nutritional benefits, and enhance umami, the pleasant savory taste that is the essence of Japanese cuisine. Some of these ingredients are made specifically for restaurants, but the average person can purchase these products at a Japanese grocery store.
Here are some of the products that caught my eye.
Mamenori San Soy Paper from J-Oil Mills
Soy paper has been around for a few years, but I don’t remember seeing all of these colors and flavors. There are five different colors – pink, orange, green, yellow, and white – and three separate sheets of flavors – goma (sesame), shiso, and aonori (seaweed). Mamenori San is a light, melt-in-your-mouth alternative to nori (seaweed) and can be used in sushi rolls, spring rolls, desserts, and whatever you want.
You can drink this soymilk, but the main selling point is that you can use it to make homemade tofu in ten minutes.
Wasabi mixtures by Kinjirushi
One of the best products at the Kinjirushi booth is a miso/wasabi mixture that comes in a cute, squeezable package the size of an envelope. The mixture also added a nice flavor to kamaboko.
Kyokuro’s “Shell Off, Tail On” Shrimp
This is my favorite of the new products. This pre-packaged shrimp is already peeled, so all you have to do is open it, pick up the shrimp by its tail, dredge it through your tempura batter, and drop it in the fryer. The shrimp are also pre-cut to prevent shrinking and to keep oil from splashing during the frying process.
Cold Mountain Shio Koji
The super condiment/ingredient known as shio koji exploded in popularity in Japan a couple of years ago, and the interest in and excitement for it has spread to the States. Cold Mountain is a California-based company that produces this healthy, fermented product that contains mold from grains of rice.
Ready-made Soup Stocks from Somi
We’ve heard about restaurants whose soup stock takes 24 hours to make, but if you’re an establishment that doesn’t have that kind of time, Somi has ready-made broth bases for ramen, udon, and soba.
As far as beverages, I saw more varieties of sparkling sake and shochu, and Japanese craft beer had a strong presence as well. I especially liked COEDO Brewery’s Beniaka beer, which is brewed from sweet potatoes.
What I like most about JFRE are the demonstrations by industry professionals.
Shio Koji: New Discovery
I mentioned earlier that shio koji is all the rage. Macrobiotic chef Natsuko Yamawaki makes her own shio koji and uses it on practically everything she cooks. She demonstrated how simple it is to make shio koji, and she prepared a salmon and mushroom dish using it. Cooking with shio koji increases umami, tenderizes meat and reduces fishy smells, provides vitamins and amino acids, and aids in digestion.
Chef Yamawaki’s Shio Koji Abura Ramen placed second in Round 2 of the New York Street Ramen Contest in July, and through her company, Hakkoan, she teaches cooking classes geared toward educating New Yorkers about fermented foods and makes and sells fermented food products.
A New Style of Ramen: Mazemen
New York native and celebrity ramen chef Ivan Orkin, famous for his two Ivan Ramen restaurants in Tokyo, is back in the city, where he’s planning to open a ramen shop. At JFRE he prepared a mazemen, of “mixed noodles,” where there is less soup and the toppings are mixed together. Chef Orkin’s whole-wheat noodles are made by a local noodle company using his own recipe, and pork belly, mushrooms, powdered katsuo bushi, and nori gave his ramen a unique taste.
Edomae Oden: Japan’s Slow Fast Food
Junya Miura, head chef of Yopparai, a sake bar that opened in the Lower East Side in March, demonstrated the methods for making oden, a Japanese stew that contains daikon (radish), konyaku (yam cake, also known as devil’s tongue), and fish cakes. Oden isn’t a new trend in Japan; it’s been around for 600 years. But this fast food, which actually takes many hours to cook in order to soak up the broth, may become quite popular in New York, thanks to Yopparai.
JFRE also had sushi and Japanese cooking demonstrations, knife-sharpening lessons, and sake lectures to go along with all of the food and beverage tastings. A filling day of Japanese food culture, indeed.