Sunday, April 29, 2007

Recipe Xtra: Goh for it!

Yesterday was an exciting day for me and my wife N. First, we are getting to meet our Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in person and the more drama part is that I got the opportunity to cook something for him after he officially opened the brand new Dream Kitchen @ Marine Parade Community Club where he serves as their Member of Parliament. Given the occasion, it would be nice to cook something that can also be shared easily by all other invited VIPs and grassroots members. While I have had the many opportunities to cook for many foreign dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities during my years working abroad, I never had the chance to cook something for any one of our own country's leaders until today. N was all ready with the camera and as soon as the man himself walked in, it was all clicks and flashes. After introductions and some small talk with SM, it was time to do my showpiece, which was the Stewed Mee Pok with XO Sauce and Fresh Prawns. This was a recipe extracted from one the Chinese New Year Menu Workshops earlier this year and has always proven to be a hit with everyone that has come across it. I choose this dish because mee pok (fettuccine like noodles) are a very part of every Singaporean's diet and the XO sauce was an inspiration from Orchard's Hotel Hua Ting's Restaurant Chinese Executive Chef, Chan Kwok.

The Verdict by SM Goh to all other VIPs on the floor after he tasted the noodles: "Goh" for it!!

Stewed Mee Pok with XO Sauce

4 portions

Home Made XO Sauce:
250ml Oil
100ml Chili Oil
1tbsp Chopped Garlic
100g Chopped Shallots
30g Tee Poh Fish (Dried Flat Fish Fillets), deep fried till crispy, grounded
160g Dried Shrimp
40g Dried Scallop
2tbsp Light Miso Paste
3tbsps Dark Brown Sugar
2pkt Dried Mee Pok Noodles (~100g each)
200ml Water
1tsp Maggi Concentrated Chicken Stock
160g XO Sauce
4pcs Kai Lan Taiwanese Baby Cabbage (Xiao Bai Cai), blanched
12pcs Fresh Prawns, blanched
Coriander Leaves for garnish

Preparation Method:

Combine water with Maggi Concentrated Chicken Stock. Bring to the boil and add the chili oil and XO Sauce.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Blanch noodles for 30 seconds and transfer to XO sauce. Braised noodles for 2 minutes until cooked.

Divide noodles into 4 portions. Top up noodles with blanched Taiwanese cabbage and fresh prawns. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

Enjoy and toss for good fortune!!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Throw Me a Meaty Bone

Leong Kee Klang Bak Kut Teh
Coffee Shop @ junction of
Sultan Gate w Beach Road

Driving around recently, I had noticed that a new version of Bak Kut Teh (Pork Ribs in a Spiced Broth) popping up in town and around the suburbs. It is known as Klang style Bak Kut Teh and curiously my wife N and I checked out randomly one of those outlets along the small cluster found in the Beach Road/Sultan Mosque area. While most of us are familiar with the 2 types (Hokkien and Teochew) of Bak Kut Teh found here locally, the Klang version has its own merits too. Its profile is not too far away from the local versions but has enough attributes to be called a kind of its own.
Here at Leong Kee, they offer the Klang version of Bak Kut Teh. The pork ribs are simmered in a broth enriched with dark soya and Chinese herbs like Dang Gui, Anise, Ginseng and Cinnamon. Pork skin minus the fat are also added in along with fried beancurd skin, giving the broth a slight toasty aroma. When the ribs are well simmered, not only it gives a rich flavour to the broth, the addition of pig skin gives the broth a slight gelatinous flow and adds complexity to the palate. To many people, this is the difference that distinguishes Klang style Bak Kut Teh with our local version, making us feel that we are drinking a richer fuller and tastier broth. Mushrooms are also added to the broth for garnishing as well as fresh lettuce. This makes the whole dish look more balance and complete that just soup and bones. For the pass three occasions that my wife N and I were there, the herbal notes though were inconsistent, but still kept the soup pleasant. First time we had stronger notes of anise root, second time we got a larger dose of danggui and our most recent visit found cinnamon and star anise fronting the bouquet of herbal aromas.

What N really likes too is to dunk the pieces of pork ribs with the superior dark soy sauce. Far better than most commercial dark soy that I have tasted, the lovely dark soy serve here as a dip could be just a Malaysian artisan backyard version that nonetheless delivers an excellent taste with the meaty pork ribs. Pair with cut chili paddies, N can just eat the combination off over plain rice. Leong Kee also does a very good pork trotter stew. What I like is they never reject a request to have a leaner cut of meat. The trotters are always well stewed to a lovely tenderness in superior soy, garlic and spices. Having the rich gravy mixed with rice just makes me go ooh la la! N also got hooked onto this dish ever since experiencing Koo Kha Moo or Thailand’s version of stew pork trotters over rice with salted vegetables and eggs when we first traveled together.

The side dishes were well done too. U can go for side plates of oyster sauce vegetables that come dressed with oyster sauce and fragrant shallot oil. A generous sprinkling of shallots and few crispy cubes of fried pork lard adds a more sinful dimension to the whole dish. The other options are pretty standard like braised taupok, soy braised eggs and pickled vegetables. Another good idea is to get a side portion of dough fritters to dip into the broth of the Bak Kut Teh or gravy of their Stewed Pork Trotters. Pity is that most Bak Kut Teh stalls always serve stale cold cut dough fritters. Anyway, what really deserves a special mention should be their braised peanuts which I found to be very flavourful and delicious. I could just eat a whole plate by itself! Its was very well braised with the nuts absorbing the soy, garlic and streaky pork flavours, making it really rich and tasty with a lingering umami sensation on the palate.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Gastro Bar

Patterson's Restaurant.
4 Mill Street,
Mayfair, London, UK
Telephone: 0871 2238012
Tucked away in the corner two streets away from Oxford Street in central London's Mayfair district lies a little restaurant that could easily be given a miss if u are just driving by. With a map and by the word of mouth, N and I finally found this little dinning gem after circling the area twice. Pattersons is a chic little restaurant serving culinary master pieces focusing on Modern European Cuisine. Kitchen is helmed by Chef Raymond Patterson while his son Thomas manages the front of the house. Contemporary art pieces compliment the modern decor of this restaurant, making it insync with its menu that unifies the merits of different style of European cooking. N and I had made reservations personally during the day as we had been shopping along Oxford Street. We were lucky enough to catch the last two seats on a weekday evening as this restaurant has a small seating capacity in order to give more attention and focus to the food.

Our assigned table wasn't really an ideal place putting us against a ceiling to floor mirror. It made us felt as if the whole restaurant was watching the both of us eat. However this was soon forgotten as we settle in to the nice hot rolls with butter after our orders were taken.Usually I take it that if a restaurant can start your dinning experience with quality bread rolls, the rest of the food should be just as good.

The amuse bouche was a shot of Puree of Curry Spices Infused Vegetable Soup with Creme Fraiche. Given the cold winter weather, this was a palate warmer with flavours of lentils, mirepoix vegetables and curry spices cooked in harmony. The creamy smooth texture and subtle spices was followed by a velvety finish created by the dollop of creme fraiche.
With our tummies warmed up, we took on the two separate appetizers. N had picked a Ballotine of Cured Foie Gras, Mallard and Plums with Roasting Juices, Apple and Hazelnut Vinaigrette. Consider it was an appetizer, the serving portion to me was consider quit generous. A smooth blend of foie gras with a plum stufing was encrusted by pieces of duck meat and wrap with proscuito. Upon slow roasting, the ballotine was chilled before slicing and served with some of its roast jus. A lovely Apple and Hazelnut vinaigrette helped to cut the richness of the foie with the right level of acidity. The brioche bread served was a lovely cushion to the delicate foie gras and we used the extra bread to mop up the wonderful juices and vinaigrette.
I opted for the Caramelised Veal Sweetbreads Croustillant, served with Cepes Bolognese and Tomato Jam. Sweetbreads are rarely served in restaurants in Singapore and few chefs here put them out on their menus here. They are the most prized of all offals for the mild taste,velvety texture and multi cooking techniques versatility. Usually sourced from lamb or veal, sweetbreads are either the thymus glands or pancreas from the two types of young cattle. Chef Raymond presented his sweetbreads as appetisers in a very innovative way. Wrapped in spring roll pastry and tied around with fine noodles or pasta, it was sliced and deep fried to a lovely crisp. A tarty Ceps Bolognese which is actually replacing the beef in the classical sauce with fresh meaty Ceps (Porcinis) mushrooms served as a condiment to the crispy sweetbreads. The earthy meaty mushroms gave the Bolognese a signature mushroom character which was nice compliment to the delicate sweetbreads. The taste was further enriched by the tomato jam and having all three in your mouth at one go evoke a nostalgic, rustic feeling of eating sweetbreads in a mama Italia restaurant in Ventimiglia some years back.
For main courses I opted for a Poached Halibut with Green Pea Puree, Dorset Crab Canneloni. Culinary artistry denotes that green as a food colour should more often be a compliment than a main. Not that it is not possible but when attempting to be the latter, the chef must know how to execute it in the right way. My dish was dominated by a leafy green but Chef Raymond had cleverly put it to the background and allow other ingredients to stand out.

The poached halibut steak was crowned with a fine brunoise of proscuito, yellow and green zucchini that was held together by a layer of green pea puree which made look like a fine piece of work. Wondering why there was no sauce for fish, bitting in i had the answer. The fillet was very succulent and moist and was very well complimented by the pea puree. The slight buttery note of the fish enhanced the pea puree and the little bits of salty proscuito gave it a cheeky contrast to the sweetness of it.
The crabmeat stuffed canneloni with shaved black truffles and a light creamy foam was also a worth mention on its own. Filled to the bream with the sweetness of Dorset crab, the spinach coloured canneloni was showered with a fine shaving of black truffles giving it a colour constrast, flavour infusion and most importantly lifting the peasant dish to a new level of finesse supplemented by the light creamy foam. On bite, the taste combination of crabmeat, pasta and truffles were fantastically bonded together by the creamy sauce. I could just eat this on its own as a main course on another day!!

Feeling in the mood for meat, N decided to go for the Scotch Aberdeen Angus Fillet. Sitting on a bed of wilted spinach, the bacon wrapped tenderloin was cooked to a beautiful medium doneness and topped with a sinfully rich piece of bone marrow. This gave a lot of tallow-like beefy notes to the fillet, enriching the taste of the meat when you bite on it. The side garnishes to the tenderlon was equally as interesting. Since it was winter where savoy cabbages are in season, the chef used it to make a layered vegetable terrine that also included bell peppers. and bacon. A small side selection of buttered parisienne vegetables completed the whole masterpiece.
The menu took a break at this point and we were each given a small shot of lemon sabayon. While the sabayon was very good on its own, I found the whipped cream too generous for my liking.
Desserts were a difficult lot to choose from as everthing look so good as described. Finally we took on two different items with opposite ends of taste, texture and flavours. N chose the Mille Fuelle of Sorbets with Pineapple wafers and a Minestrone of Fruits while I went for the Composition of Chocolate with Apple Caviar. The presentation for N's dessert was awesome with a variety of sorbets that included flavours like raspberry, lime and mango sandwiched between layers of pineapple wafers sitting in a bed of assorted fresh fruit dices that were cooked compote style resembling like an Italian Minestrone soup. Overall the fruity light flavours and tangy sorbets were a palate cleanser before we hit on my dessert. The chocolate composition included three quenelles of different chocolate flavoured mousse, a chocolate tulie and a fudge covered old fashion sticky chewy dark chocolate cake. The apple caviar referred to coloured sago pearls cook in apple juice which i found it totall insignificant to the dessert. Hazelnut praline, white chocolate and dark chocolate made up the flavours of the mousse combination and their taste was absolutely creamy rich yet light on the palate. The hazelnut chocolate mousse was my favourite with the aroma and taste of roasted hazelnuts coming through and a hint of what i could be Frangelico Liqour. The chocolate cake was sinfully rich but thats how it should be and it also went naturally very well with the three different mousse.
Sweet endings of toffee flavoured fudge and cocoa dusted chocolate ganache sent us off with sugar highs into a one of best nights of dinning in London.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Twinkle Winkler Wonder Star

Culinary Master Class
World Gourmet Summit 2007
The Fullerton Hotel

I had the pleasure of being invited as a guest today to one of the Culinary Masterclass Workshops which is part of the variety of programs offered for the current on going World Gourmet Summit (WGS) here in Singapore. As a chef myself, my scope of work often requires me to address an audience during culinary seminars and conduct workshops for both corporate and public audiences. So a rare opportunity like this would be good for me to get a few tips and pointers from watching a three Michelin starred Masterchef in action.

The celebrity in focus is Chef Heinz Winkler from Residenz Heinz Winkler, Germany. He is also the Iconic Chef for this year’s WGS focusing on Cuisine Vitale which combines the style of gourmet cooking that features simplicity and natural flavours of ingredients with fresh herbs and spices. This establishes a well being or wellness element in the art of gastronomy which is the success story of his business.

The demonstration menu was also to become our tasting menu for lunch. The three course menu focused on spring season’s ingredients like salmon and morels paired with wines from Miguel Torres. Before I elaborate further on the tasting menu, I was already gaining valuable points on doing workshops like these for my future references. I must say here in Singapore, most of the time the audiences are not as interactive as the ones I have encountered in US and Europe. People here tend to be more shy and are rather slow to warm up to an interactive session with the chef in action. This happens also many a time in my own workshops too where despite encouraging them to loosen up and be more interactive, you can still see dead serious faces. This is actually the participants’ loss as the chef is here to teach and share, if u don’t take the opportunity to tap on him for expert advice, he/she won't know what you would like to know. Also do not be stingy to show appreciation or give compliments and feedback to chefs who have cooked for you. Many times we forget to compliment the chefs in the kitchen when we have enjoyed our food in the restaurants. It is the same when it comes to workshops. To be honest, real good chefs cook for satisfaction and not money so any compliments or constructive feedback will always motivate us to do better the next round.
Coming back on the menu, Chef Winkler was showcasing to us two recipes from it and this was a Carpaccio of Salmon and Scallops with Lime Dressing while the second dish was a Crepinete of Veal Fillet with a Herb Farce and Fresh Morels.

The Carpaccio was a combination of thin salmon fillets alternated with equally thin slices of Canadian Scallops. A drizzle with lemon juice, lime zest and extra virgin olive oil liven up the taste of the seafood giving it a wake up kiss of citrus fragrance. Finely snipped chives and freshly grounded red peppercorns gave the dish a touch of finesse. The dressing was so good that I could just mop it up with pieces of bread discovering another dimension of nuttiness and citrus synergy with the multigrain loaf. A lovely Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, 2005 Cordillera Maquehua from Miguel Torres complimented the seafood starter. The wine’s acidity took to the citrus notes of the carparccio’s dressing like a fish to water and the wine’s slight herbaceous notes were highlight with the light shower of snipped chives. It was a very clean finish on the palate, taking the seafood in harmony along with it.

With spring in season now, one of natures’greatest culinary gift at this time of the year are fresh morel mushrooms. Found in Europe, China and North America, this wild mushrooms have a woody earthy aromas with springy textures. Considered to be one the most expensive mushrooms in the fungus family after truffles, they have a natural affinity with cream and butter. They make great companions to choice cuts of meats and seafood and are excellent taste enhancers for sauces and gravies. Chef Winkler was very kind to share some fresh varieties with us pass the “gems” around for us to have a feel of this exotic fungus. They almost still the lime light from the highlight of Chef Winkler’s second dish, the Crepinette of Veal Tenderloin with Morels.
This was a dish that would have a moderate level of technical difficulties for home cooks as it involves quite a bit work. Taking finely pureed spinach and fresh herbs like parsley and basil, Chef Winkler mix it up with a smooth blend of chicken breast meat, giving it a herbaceous green tinge. Next, he took a bundle of pig’s caul or pork net as it is more commonly known here and spread it over a cutting board. Using the farce to encrust the season veal tenderloin, it was wrapped with the pig’s caul into a neat little green parcel. Seared in a hot pan, it was further pan roasted to a perfect undercooked doneness before being sliced and paired with a light veal jus.

The morels danced around the elegant cut up parcel and a creamy potato au gratin gave the mushrooms an excellent opportunity to unlock their wonderful flavours when you put a part of each together on your palate. Nonetheless, the complimenting wine, a 2003 Miguel Torres, Cordillera Red performed well with this dish too. A blended New World red, it is a composition of Carbernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah give the wine its necessary black berries fruity notes, spice aromas like dark chocolate, eucalyptus and mace and a pacifying ability to tame the harsh tannins. It took a while for the spices and aromas to evolve but the wine help to cut the richness gratin and the slightly over done but still juicy veal. The demo piece had achieved a better doneness for my personal taste.

On a side note, I must also compliment the excellent bread and fragrant smooth Isigny butter that I had always loved during my days working in south of France. They help to fill the gap between the small portions of the three courses.

An Ice cream of Sour Cream with Rhubarb Compote and Fresh Raspberry was the dessert that saw a late harvest Riesling, a 2004 Miguel Torres Vendimia Tardia coming in to the rescue of a dessert with to many sour components. The home made ice cream was half liquefied by the time it arrived but still took on well to the rhubarb compote despite being in its semi conscious state.

We manage to enjoy the home made pralines presented elegantly on a fine pieces of sugar work. The lovely variety of garnache, liquer and fruit filled chocolate pieces made it a sweet ending to the inspiring lunch of natural flavours, simplicity and culinary elegance. Unfortunately we had to miss the complimentary New Zealand artisan cheeses sampling as we were pressed for time to be back in office for a meeting. Next time we should be wiser to allow an extra half an hour for unforeseen surprises like cheese tasting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Recipe Xtra: Upgraded Quick Fix

Last weekend’s Sunday Times Life highlighted the 101 uses of instant noodles. This reminded me that long before they came out with this article , I had my own recipe in my archives. Well, I might as well share with all the blog friends here.

Assam Laksa Flavoured Instant Noodles with Seared Tuna and Pickled Vegetables

120g Fresh Tuna Fillet
Salt and Coarse Ground Black Pepper
50g Fennel, thinly shaved
½ tsp Sugar
Juice from 2 limes
400ml Water
1 pkt Any Assam Laksa or Kimchi Flavoured Instant Noodles
50g Beansprouts, cleaned and trimmed
2 stalks Spring Onions, finely diced
1 sprig Mint Leaf
Sichimi Togarashi (Japanese Seven Spice Powder) for sprinkling
Chopped Bunga Kantan (Torch Ginger/ Rojak Flowers) for sprinkling

Preparation Method:
Season tuna fillet with salt and pepper. Sear tuna on all sides with a heated non stick pan. Allow to cool before slicing.

Combine fennel with sugar and lime juice. Allow to steep for 15 minutes.

Bring water to boil, add noodles bean sprouts and tastemaker. Cook for 2 minutes and transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with spring onions and mint sprig. Arrange sliced tuna over, sprinkle on sichimi togarashi and chopped ginger flowers before serving.

Enjoy and remember to slurp your noodles!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Winter Sonata

Coldest winters experienced in Japan usually occur in Hokkaido, one of Japan’s four main islands. Being up north, it takes on the brunt of low pressure and cold fronts in weather systems of the northern hemisphere. Still, it is one of the most wonderful places to be for seafood especially in winter. Already beautiful with snowfall, Sapparo, its capital city is also the main venue famous for its annual snow festival in February where chef artists gather annually to carve out showpieces made of snow or ice. Much of Hokkaido’s natural beauty is left untouched to preserve its heritage and culture. Agriculture and aquaculture are the main activities on this island that supply most of Japan’s fresh produce all year. Hokkaido is a major centre of agriculture and livestock farming, not to mention home to a thriving fishing industry. Sapporo's Central Wholesale and Nijo Markets are filled with such an array of seafood, meat products, and seasonal vegetables that just walking around them is a feast of the senses. Hokkaido cuisine tends to be uncomplicated: There is no need for fanciness when the ingredients taste as good as those yielded by the island's rich natural larder. In the summer months, Hokkaido is famous for its fragrant melons and delicious berries as well as other crops. In winter, seafood reins its best in the cold pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. Besides local fishermen, Russian counterparts from Sakhalin islands and the Kumchatka Province of eastern Russia bring in their catches regularly to the fishing ports in Sapparo and Hokadate as they are able to command higher prices there than in their own country.

The winter months see many types of seafood at their best. From wild salmon to crabs, oysters, scallops and sea urchins, these are brought in daily by the fishing boats where they are repacked and distributed all over the country. The main seafood produces in Hokkaido are squid and octopuses, scallops, salmon and its roe, oysters, crabs, abalone, sea urchins (winter only), seaweed and konbu (kelp).
The Japanese people have a reputation of being the most discerning and adventurous palates when it comes to eating seafood. They are the only people in the world that dare to take a risk in appreciating the art of eating puffer fish (Fugu). A slight mistake by the chef in preparing this delicacy that results in the release of deadly toxins from its liver would mean a last meal for the diner. Puffer fish (fugu) are at is best during winter and so are salmon. Most of the salmon brought in by the fisherman are the wild salmon that is not only widely sought after in sashimi for its more flavourful character at this time of the year, its roe is highly prized too. Many Japanese enjoy having the fresh salted roe with some rice and furakake flakes for their breakfast. Japanese Chefs usually cure the excess salmon fillets in salt or miso and with wine like sake or mirin. These cured fillets are grilled and are served with rice and pickles for breakfast. Sometimes the cured fillets are also cooked and flaked. They are then served in bento boxes with rice, thick egg omelettes (tamago) and fish roe. Compared with Norwegian salmon, these wild salmon have a richer coloured flesh and are more flavourful.
Besides salmon, the other fish that is popular at this time of the year is the cod. The cod favours the colder waters of Hokkaido and are traditionally caught during the winter months. Widely appreciated for its sweetness and delicate flesh, the codfish are best consumed in the colder months when they are at their freshest. Their delicate, sweet flesh is a seasonal addition to the stews and hotpot dishes like nabemono (one-pot dish) and nimono (boiled dishes). Nabemono is a classical Japanese mini steamboat like dish with a rich broth based of either seafood or miso flavour. Being wonderfully warming, these dishes are the staples of the Hokkaido winter, perfect for retaining body heat, and when washed down with warm sake make the classic wholesome winter meal. Sometimes the codfish are also pan-fried lightly and served simply with premium grade shoyu and pickled ginger. Cod is also salted and dried, as are their eggs are also processed and eaten as a dish called tarako. The other popular winter fish halibut is available throughout the year, but reach the height of their flavour intensity during winter when they lay down fat. Deliciously smooth, the halibut has a refined taste that makes it widely sought after in sushi and sashimi, where its winter fat lends its meat a melt-in-the-mouth quality that makes it so highly revered. Sliced paper-thin and dipped in shoyu or sashimi sauce, it is said to be the cheaper equivalent of fugu when at its best.

Another fish that is closely tied in with Hokkaido's history and culture is the herring (nishin). Herrings and Mackerels are also popular during winter due to their increased fat content. They are usually grilled as whole fillets or in skewers spiced with sichimi togarashi (Japanese Seven Spice Rub). Herring fishing has been a large part of Hokkaido's industry since the Matsumae governance, and has persisted until the depletion of herring stocks in the middle 1950s. Thus there are many local dishes in Hokkaido that feature the usage of herring as its main ingredient compared to other fishes. Konbu-maki, herring wrapped in kelp, herrings grilled with sea salt, migaki-nishin (processed herrings), nishinzuke (pickled), izushi (fermented), kazunoko (processed herring eggs), the ways of eating herring in Hokkaido are certainly many and varied.

Besides fishes, Hokkaido also produces excellent shellfish like scallops, oysters, clams and abalone. Scallops are usually harvested only after they have grown to a size no smaller than 3cm in diameter. In other words, you get real plump meaty scallops. The locals enjoy eating scallops freshly shuck from the shell as in sashimi and occasionally grilled them too in the whole shell. The scallops are also dried and the ones produce in Hokkaido are considered to be some of the best in the world, highly revered by gourmets and constantly sought after by Chinese Chefs because of their distinct sweetness and flavour. Like scallops, the oysters are also wonderful at this time of the year. Farmed in pristine waters, when freshly shucked, they have a briny taste of the sea and a hint of mineral saltiness. Besides serving them raw, Japanese Chefs also like to coat them with panko breadcrumbs or in a tempura batter, lightly deep-fried and served with ponzu dipping sauce or spicy mayonnaise. Clams are also another type of shellfish that is enjoyed by many Japanese. The smaller clams are usually used for making broths, stocks and sauces for ramen and other noodle dishes. The big ones are served raw sliced up for sushi and sashimi or simply just steamed with sake and some fresh herbs. The popular varieties of clams used in Japanese cuisine are the surf clams (hokki gai), cockles (tori kai) and ark shell (aka gai). Abalones are widely sought after more in Chinese cuisine than Japanese cuisine. Whether dried or fresh, Hokkaido has been known to produce excellent grades of abalones that have been served in many Chinese cuisine gastronomic events or state banquets around the world.

Squid (ika) and octopuses (tako) are also widely eaten in Hokkaido throughout the year, and the freshest squid are prepared as ika somen, a speciality of Hakodate, in Hokkaido. It involves very thinly sliced raw squid strips (which resemble strands of noodles) that are dipped into a soya-based sauce and eaten. It is an acquired taste not meant for the squeamish, but those who have given it a try claim its texture to be exceptional, being both tender and crisp at the same time, and the saltiness of the noodle sauce enhances the squid sashimi to make it a truly wondrous experience. Also grilled over glowing coals in summer, and pickled to be eaten with rice, this common cephalopod is said to be more delicious coming from Hokkaido thanks to the cleanliness of its waters and the relative lack of pollution. The squid ink is not wasted and besides using it to make sauces, it is also used to make ice cream! Expecting it to taste fishy, surprisingly it wasn’t at all and given its dark grey colour, it is easily mistaken for black sesame seeds flavoured ice cream. The squid’s distant cousin, the octopus (Tako) can also be found here. Usually only its tentacles are boiled and thinly sliced to be used in sashimi and nigri sushi. Sometimes it is also used on salads or pickled to be served with rice during breakfast.
Other seafood that stands out in Hokkaido are the two distinct types of crabs which is the hairy crab and the snow or queen crabs (zuwaikani), a crab of monstrous proportions that is also known as the "King of Winter Taste". A hefty crustacean, it can weigh in at around one kilogram per individual, and is best eaten steamed to retain its natural sweetness and sea-salt aroma. Served on a bed of chilled seaweed whole and consumed with the fingers when still piping hot, it is one of the must-haves when visiting Hokkaido. According to a local, the best parts are sucking the sweet juices and flesh out of the legs of a freshly steamed snow crab, and the rich taste of the roe in the female crabs. The hairy crab though is much smaller in size compared to the queen crab is the favourite of the locals. It has finer textured meat and flavour intensity. The hairy crab costs more than the queen crab though the way it is cooked is similar. One of the best ways to savour it is to cook it in a hotpot of broth or stock first before adding other ingredients like tofu, leeks and cabbage. This creates a flavour enhancement to the rest of the ingredients when added in and the result is a delicious soup to accompany the meal after picking out all the crabmeat.
When the Japanese think of sea urchin, an image of a soft, yellow-orange custard-like substance wrapped in rice and seaweed and served in a sushi bar probably comes to mind. In Japan, the edible part of the urchin, the gonads -- called uni in Japanese -- are a dining staple, found both in restaurants, markets and in grocery stores. It is an acquired taste to appreciate sea urchin and its an experience for diners to learn how to overcome the uneasiness of eating this winter delicacy.
Apart from the few types of seafood introduced, there are actually hundreds more unmentioned. Hokkaido's cool seawater makes it a popular haunt for other variety of sea life, such as shellfish with escargots-like textures, seaweeds and konbu (kelp). Seaweeds have an important place in the Japanese diet and it is present in almost every meal in Japan. It is served in salads, processed into sheets and toasted, as a wrapper for sushi, and in condiments for furakake mixtures. It has a high nutrient value essential for well-being and is known to contain anti oxidant properties that help to reduce the risks of cancer development. Konbu or kelp is an important ingredient for many soups, braise and stew dishes. It is also used in many rice recipes when cooking as well as in the process of cooking sushi rice. Its naturally occurring high glutamate acid content gives it its distinctive umami character, making it an important flavour enhancer for recipes in Japanese cuisine. Konbu is usually sold dried, packed and graded according to the quality of the harvest. With such an abundance of sea creatures in its waters, it is no surprise that seafood plays such a big role in the diet of Hokkaido's people, even by the standards of the average Japanese. With any given opportunity to visit Hokkaido, it is always the best chance to sample the best of their seafood at least once, and savour the unparalleled splendour of seafood fresh from its natural source!
One of the region's signature dishes is ishikari-nabe, a hearty red-miso-flavored hotpot of salmon and other seafood, Japanese radish, leeks, Chinese cabbage, honshimeiji mushrooms and tofu. This delicious stew is a must for visitors to the region. Perhaps the most famous dish in Hokkaido is Sapporo ramen, miso-flavoured noodle soup topped with butter, seaweed, corn, and other treats. Other types of Ramen are also served with delicate seafood flavours or rich meat flavoured broths. Another local favourite is a sizzling barbecue of lamb and vegetables known as Genghis Khan. This was introduced during the Mongolian occupation of northern Japan during the reign of its great warrior, Genghis Khan. Since then, Hokkaido is the only sheep-rearing place in Japan thereby making Genghis Khan a local speciality. It is interesting to note that in Japan, many restaurants only specialised in one particular area of Japanese cuisine and seldom would one find quality dishes in restaurants that incorporated everything onto one menu. Go to a ramen shop if u want to discover the deliciousness of savouring a rich broth, which has been painstakingly cooked and reduced over many hours that accompanies the noodles. Check out a sushi shop for the freshest catch of the day and the finesse of appreciating sashimi. Pop into a grill place to enjoy the fun of grilling the choicest cuts of meats and checkout the light and crispy textures of tonkatsu and tempura at the tonkichi places.

For snacks, there are shops in Sapparo and Hokadate that specialised making artisan Senbei which is more popularly known as Japanese rice crackers. These rice crackers are the traditional snacks for the Japanese and it is actually milled glutinous rice flour stretch into a

thin dough and grill over slow charcoal fires until crispy. They are then flavoured with soy sauce, sesame seeds, seaweed, sichimi togarashi, wasabi and other condiments. Though its production has since been widely industrialised and commercialised, hand made Senbei is still considered an artistic craft that requires a lot of hard work and patience.
Besides Senbei, the other interesting snacks that are signature to Hokkaido are processed and dried cuttlefish slices that have been shredded but still provides a chewy texture, scallop “candy”, melon or strawberry flavoured white chocolate biscuits. The dried cuttlefish is enjoyed by many locals as an alternative to chewing gum though it also leaves a breath behind in your oral cavity after all the chewing that is not so desirable. The scallop “candy” is made from real whole scallops that are cured in a sweet and slightly salty brine, boiled lightly before leaving to dry in the cold winter air. The flavour intensifies as the scallops dry up and the end result is a sweet and slightly salty but chewy flavourful semi dried scallop. With melons and strawberries as one of the main produces in Hokkaido during the summer months, their essences are also extracted to flavour chocolate and other confectionary right through winter.

Biscuit sticks coated with melon flavoured white chocolate are favourites for Japanese children and many ice cream joints also sell melon flavoured ice creams or sorbet. Strawberries are commonly used to make French influenced type of pastries and the signature wines from Hokkaido are made with strawberries or melons. And as if that wasn't enough, Sapporo is also famous for its beer. It is one of the four major brands of Japanese beer with the others being Suntory, Asahi and Kirin. All in all, a trip to Hokkaido is truly an eye opening and mouth-watering prospect!