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Overseas supermarkets are often as fascinating as their famous tourist attractions. They are treasuries of fascinating and delicious delicacies, but they can also be quite confusing.
Jan’s supermarkets are no different.
They house some items that are similar to western products, but make no sense (ready-made, cold milk tea in liter bottles?), But also other products that frankly cannot be identified whether you are a tourist or an expat.
Here are 8 ubiquitous Janese supermarket items that often confuse foreigners, and explanations so that you are sure to be able to try one or more of them on your next visit!
Common articles in supermarkets in Jan.
Mentaiko (pollock roe)
At first glance, those styrofoam trays with jewel-like red rectangles found in the fish section of supermarkets in January might be mistaken for marine animals themselves, but they are actually the ones Egg sacs from Alaska Pollock. Inside, the roe itself is referred to as mentaiko and is often served over rice. as a filling for rice balls; or in a rolled omelette (known as Makitamago or Mentaidashi Makitamago with the addition of roe).
It is also usually stirred into spaghetti as part of a sauceand can be mixed with mayonnaise to take a bath or to spread. In this way, it’s not dissimilar to Taramasalata – the popular European mezze dip made from smoked cod roe.
For those who are not crazy about fish flavors, it is important to note that Mentaiko’s flavor is not overly „fishy”, but simply adds a salty, rich flavor to the meal or snack.
Shirasu (whitebait / baby fish)
Much like Mentaiko, boxes of shirasu can be a little arresting for beginners in a Janese supermarket. Shirasu is easy, however
Whitebait – the fish usually fried on fried menus in the West after being coated in flour or cooked into donuts.
Whitebait is that Collective term for juvenile white fish with different species (anchovies, sardines, and herring in January) and in Janese supermarkets, shirasu is sold in its raw, pure form (and sometimes dried in a sweet glaze with nuts).
Those tiny, delicate fish can be eaten straight out of the package or sprinkled on rice. They’re also delicious when accompanied by soy sauce and ginger, or mixed with tomatoes and garlic for a pasta sauce. As with Mentaiko, Shirasu does not have a strong fishy smell or taste, which makes it tastier than other fish.
These long, white vegetables, almost carrot-like in the shape of a pear, are radishes native to Asia. Daikon are juicy and sweet root vegetables with a taste similar to a turnip instead of the peppery taste of their small, round, and red western counterparts.
They’re huge too – a daikon is roughly the width and length of a forearm. Daikon can be eaten raw or cooked. When prepared
raw, it is usually grated and served, or with sushi as a side dish or as an accompaniment to tempura. Its purpose as a tempura companion is a kind of pallet cleaner that lightens the heaviness of the fried batter. When cooking, daikon is usually boiled or steamed and added to soups or stews.
If dragging home and chopping these vegetables is a hassle, you can also purchase dried and thinly sliced daikon, which can also be added to a stew or salad after rehydrating in water.
It’s no secret that one of Jan’s favorite vegetables isn’t found on land. Seaweed is a big part of the Janese diet Because of its nutritional properties, it is therefore abundant in Janese supermarkets, where it takes many different forms (as opposed to the West, where it appears mainly as nori leaves).
It is sold fresh and also dried. The pictures below are examples of fresh algae of various plant species that grew in different areas on the Jan. coast.
All of this can be eaten raw, straight from the package (ideal with a dash of soy sauce) or mixed with a salad or soup. You are in the refrigerated area of the supermarket.
The image below is dried and shaved seaweed (a subcategory of seaweed) that can be found in the Dry Goods section. Jan’s seaweed is different from the giant seaweed plants in European waters and is called kombu. This type of shaved kombu is often used as a coating for onigiri (rice balls)., but it also has long, thick, leather-like leaves that are added to soups as a flavor enhancer – their umami flavor is the usual base aroma of most Janese broths.
Kamaboko (fish cakes)
While these may look like different products, they are all slightly different types of kamaboko (Janese fish cake) that have the same main ingredient: surimi. Surimi is a paste made from ground fish (and sometimes meat). Although surimi originated in East Asia, nowadays it is also well known in the western market and often comes in the form of seafood / crab sticks known as „imitation seafood”. But to dispel confusion – surimi is seafood, it is simply processed and shaped into a variety of shells, sometimes imitating other whole seafood such as crab or lobster.
A famous example of Kamaboko is Naruto KamabokoThe white-pink, thinly sliced fish cake was often used as an accompaniment to soup or chirashi sushi („scattered” fish on rice). Surimi bought in any form does not require cooking as it is already pre-cooked. However, fried or grilled fishcakes can be a delicious treat, and sliced they are a delicious accompaniment to stews.
Mochi / Dango (Janese rice-based sweets)
With mochi growing in popularity around the world, many may have discovered these tender looking goodies outside of Jan but may not have known what mochi really is. To explain – Mochi is a Janese rice cake from Mochigom (a sticky rice grown mainly in East Asia) that is ground, steamed, and pounded into a soft and chewy dough. The left picture shows Daifuku – special ‘stuffed mochi’. Daifuku is most often filled with anko (a sweet paste made from pureed and sweetened azuki beans), but other fillings include white bean paste, ice cream, and strawberries.
The correct picture is Dango. The colorful hanami dango is on the left and is so named because it is traditionally eaten during the cherry blossom season (hanami). The Mitarashi dango on the right is characterized by its slightly sweet soy sauce glaze and burnt scent. Dango itself is similar to and often confused with mochi, but is made in a different way and is therefore a different product.
The delicacies shown here are sweet, but mochi and dango can also be eaten as savory dishes, for example grilled on the grill with a little salt. Both are important parts of the Janese culture, historically revered by the aristocracy and used as offerings for religious ceremonies.
Dorayaki (a pancake-like confection)
Somewhere between a cake, a pancake and a sandwich is this famous Janese confectionary. Although Dorayaki’s outer batter is similar to the classic American pancake, it differs slightly in that this Janese version uses honey and mirin, and its texture is more like that of a cake.
Traditionally the filling is anko (red bean paste)as depicted here, but nowadays there are several flavors of dorayaki with fillings ranging from Nutella to custard to cream cheese. The candy has existed for hundreds of years, with its origins believed to be in the samurai culture.
In modern January, Dorayaki is known in pop culture as the preferred snack of the famous manga character and household name, Doraemon (an earless, blue robotic cat so addicted to delicious Dorayaki that it is sometimes its downfall!).
Konjac / Konnyaku (a vegetable food substance)
It’s hard to tell what Konnyaku actually is when you first see it. A jelly? Some kind of tofu? Rubber? Actually, It is a substance that is made from the root of the konjac vegetable – a striking looking plant from East and Southeast Asia.
Konnyaku is often presented in supermarkets in January as prepared noodles (pictures below left and right) or as a gray or white plate (above left and right). That way, it may not look particularly pesky, and in fact, it’s tasteless in and of itself. But when cut and mixed in stews or accompanied by a sauce and other ingredients, It serves as a wonderfully healthy carbohydrate alternative (With 98% water, it is naturally low in calories). The color difference relates to the addition of seaweed (gray means with, white means without).
Before eating, konnyaku should be boiled so that it absorbs more flavors.
Konnyaku consumption dates back to the 6th century when the plant was primarily used as a remedy for intestinal problems. It’s known as the „broom of the stomach” these days in January, in other words – it has diuretic properties so be careful not to consume too much in one sitting!
Just like that Cafés in Jan.The supermarkets in January offer a whole different world to explore. Don’t be afraid to try new things, no matter how unusual they look for what you can find in your home supermarket!