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I'm Demo-ing Japanese Food: Help!

I'm doing a demo on Japanese cuisine next week and I've got to come up with something that's relatively simple to make, cheap, and easy enough to have 20-30 people taste (teenagers included) . Since the topic concerns the diversity of Japanese food, I will NOT be demo-ing sushi (however easier that might be). I'll have to prepare some in advance (so that guests will be able to taste) and will need it to be able to hold (hot or cold) for a good amount of time. I'll have 30 minutes to complete the demo/tasting.

I'm a seasoned chef, have access to a Japanese supermarket, and have a good understanding of Japanese cusine, but for some reason i'm coming up blank...I thought about making fresh soba, as i'm familiar with making pasta, but after watching a couple of japanese chefs make it on youtube, I don't know if I'm up to the task...Any ideas fellow CH'ers have will be more than appreciated.

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    1. Items that demo well at my local japanese supermarket are gzoya w/ dipping sauce, the infamous curry over rice from those roux blocks, oden soup, udon soup (for the soups I think they snip the noddles so they are managable in a tasting cup), cold tofu with various seasoning flakes (forgot the name- "furi-something"), miso soup, and that bbq eel on toothpicks.

      1. Beef tataki might make a nice demo, since it is quick, easy, but demonstrates a lot of different techniques.......searing, marinating, and delicate knife-work. The marinade is standard (vinegar/soy/sake + any spices) and a pound or two of meat would yield more than ample slices for 20-30 to sample. The only possible issue is that since the meat is cooked by the vinegar, the rawness might scare some away from trying.

        Another idea would be to make good, "scratch" miso soup from bonito, konbu, and miso. It goes quite fast and the only hard "take home" issue is that it's very hard to measure bonito flakes except by weight, requiring a good scale.

        1 Reply
        1. re: algorithmnation

          Scratch miso was one thing I was thinking about...whilst in Japan this summer I picked up the bonito fish and a shaver, Katsuo Kezuri-Ki, which I'd like to use for the demo...i'm playing with okonomiyaki, but I'm also contemplating making fresh soba from scratch, which is where my lack of experience comes into play...anyone make fresh soba at home??

        2. How about Tonkatsu? That should be pretty easy to make, be palatable to a wide variety of people.

          1. For something that is actually cooked, easy, popular and cheap, what about edamame?

            For something easy & quick and extremely flexible, how about okonomiyaki?

            A nice spread of Japanese pickles would be easy.

            Teas -- greeen tea, kukicha (roasted stems & twigs), and mugicha (barley) are three common ones. These are all available in bags. It gets much more complicated.

            Seaweed salad.

            Have fun! Let us know how it comes out!


            1. Oyako donburi is easy comfort food for me, especially this time of year. If you have it all prepped, you might be able to make the whole thing then.

              6 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                I'm glad you mentioned this dish. When I lived in Manhattan, there was a small restaurant (not Japanese) that served "chicken donburi". I loved it but sadly that restaurant closed. Later I found the dish served as "Oyako". I've never seen it again under either name. Is one name correct or are they regional names? Just to make sure we're talking about the same thing, It's a bowl of rice with a small amount of a somewhat sweet sauce in it topped with what is essentially a chicken omlette on the soft side with onions. Yes it was a true comfort food. One more question, is there a reason that you don't see it in most Japanese restaurants (at least in NY/NJ)?

                1. re: jnk

                  sixelagogo, chowser, and jink...I would recommend oyako donburi (my listed comfort food) and katsu donburi. Donburis (essentially a meal in a bowl) are rare in restaurants but a very common traditional food--or at least was when I was growing up. The sauce should not be sweet.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    not at all sweet? all the versions i've had have a sugar presence, but the good ones weren't noticeably sweet. possibly my favorite japanese dish is katsudon, which i find has a salty/sweet profile, with an emphasis on the savory flavors, though still with a modest sugar touch.

                    one of my favorite homestyle japanese meals is nikujaga, or young potatoes and sliced or ground beef braised with soy sauce, sake, and sugar. i think family style home cooked japanese dishes might be a good way to go for a demo, since most restaurants don't do those sorts of dishes. nikujaga is meat and potatoes, japanese style, and i love how it seems western, yet tastes wholly japanese.

                    i just mentioned the sugar because i've found a lot of (good) japanese food to be slightly sweet. but not cloyingly sweet, like bad thai-american or chinese-american food!

                  2. re: jnk

                    That's funny because I've never seen it as chicken donburi, only oyako donburi (though different phonetic spellings). Oyako means parent/child so chicken/egg here. I see it in about half the Japanese restaurants where I've been. I don't know why it's not seen more often, maybe because it's easy to make? I don't know much about the origins, that might be more up Sam's aisle but there's nothing that hits the spot more on a cold day.

                    1. re: chowser

                      I love kutsu don on a cold day. Talk about comfort food!

                    2. re: jnk

                      Oh yum! Katsu Donburi was my absolute FAVORITE meal growing up in Japan. My mom learned to cook it from some local women and would make it every year for my birthday when we moved back to the states. I look for it on EVERY Japanese menu and probably haven't seen it in 15 years. I even have a set of bowls for it with the lids on top. This is the best comfort food...EVER!

                      I also remember Bulldog Sauce from Japan. I still buy that though at the local Japanese market. It is almost like a sweet-ish steak sauce. Soooo good.

                  3. Cold soba with dip, and all kinds of toppings. Onigiri - rice balls or triangles. All kinds of pickles and salads. Yakitori if you can grill.

                    1. Definitely okonomiyaki; possibly tofu hotpot; and maybe that fantastic seaweed salad they make in all the restaurants.

                      1. I'm thinkin that okonomiyaki is my best bet...i've got a cookbook entitled "japanese family-style recipes" that has a recipe, and i've seen a couple of online ones..the one from the book is just water, eggs, flour and some dried shrimps; i've seen a couple online that also list baking powder...do any of you have a favorite okonomiyaki recipe and would you please share it with me...the ones i had in Japan were quite thick (probably 1/2-1 inch thick), and not the runnier style....thanks for all the help (and that donburi idea sounds great---i may have to try it on my dude)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: sixelagogo

                          I like a batter that has more egg than usual; about a ratio of two parts flour to one part egg and one part dashi (I prefer a strong dashi). Sometimes I even do a 4:3:1 ratio. I suggest experimenting. Just be sure if there are vegetarians present that they know about the bonito in the dashi.

                          As you probably know if you top them with bonito flakes while fresh and hot the flakes will wave prettily from the rising heat. (At least the smaller ones will.)

                          1. re: sixelagogo

                            Two things-- if you can get it, yamaimo (maybe a 3-4 inch piece?) grated in (after it's peeled) will make all the flavor difference. It's a pain, b/c it makes your skin kindof itch, but taste-wise, worth it. Sorry, but I don't know what it's called in English.

                            Also, make sure to add lots of cabbage to the batter; I always end up adding more than I think I need. . ..

                            As for other Japanese dishes, can you make takikomi gohan? There are various varieties, but one I do a lot is soak some hijiki (maybe a tablespoon or more?) in water, drain; thinly slice carrots (matchstick size), burdock root (if available), konnyaku, and age (fried bean curd)-- add chicken if you're not veg., and saute ingredients in oil. Season with sake or mirin, and soy sauce. At some point, add some dashi (or water)-- then add this to the rice and top it off so the total amount of fluid is the same as if you were cooking the rice plain. Anyway, the result is rice with stuff cooked together. You can really use whatever you want-- in the fall, making one with chestnuts is popular, but peeling the chestnuts is a royal pain. Matsutake is also delicious. You can also do it with oysters (but then you want to poach the oysters in a soy-sake base and don't overcook them).

                            You can either serve the rice as is, or make rice balls.

                            Another suggestion for a side that I absolutely love-- do you have access to a grill and Japanese eggplants? I actually use my gas burners for this, but you grill eggplant (with skins on) on all sides till the skin is charred and separates from the greenish inside part. You want it charred enough that it becomes easy to peel. Peel the eggplant (remove stem), and then you cut into 1 inch-ish pieces and cool. (I forgot if you submerge them in cold water temporarily to facilitate the peeling. Maybe someone has an answer on this?). Serve with lots of grated ginger, the bonito flakes if you want, and of course, soy. It's one of my favorite dishes in the early fall. . . (or whenever eggplant is in season.)

                          2. everybody has really good idea !
                            all 'donburi' is easy for you & taste good,too.

                            oyako-don, sukiyaki-don,katsu-don,gyuu-don ,yakiniku-don.

                            If you can do okonomiyaki, I think 'tako-yaki' is more 'wow' to see.
                            you can use filled pancake pan for making 'tako-yaki'

                            making soba is ...I don't know.
                            cold soba+dipping sauce sound great.

                            but sushi or soba ,those are look easy to make.
                            but you need spend 5-7 years or more to become one of chef.
                            if you are not confident making soba,I think better use dried one.

                            also ramen is very popular .I mean very very.
                            yakitori, slow cooked pork belly( buta no kakuni), rice ball (onigiri) !
                            onigiri's stuffing is endless, so that might be fun.

                            someone was saying curry rice. that's good one.
                            japanese curry is completely different compare to Indian one.

                            many deferent kind of pickles would fun, too.for the side.
                            yakisoba ? deep fried chicken(karaage) ? ,chicken or fish's teriyaki ?
                            boild spinach+soysauce+ bonito flake as side ?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ymushi

                              Something which I've seen in books, but never tried myself, is to poke holes in a round of daikon, and stuff them with red pepper. The daikon is then grated to produce a red and white garnish.

                              One thing that I recall from the Japanese Iron Chef was to cut slices of konnyaku, make a slit in the middle of each slice, and pass one end of the slice through that slit, making a twisted 'frame'. Then poach the konnyaku in broth to give it some flavor. Konnyaku is one of those novelty Japanese foods that doesn't totally gross out Americans.


                            2. konnyaku is nasty, stay away from that stuff. although kimchi is not japanese, kimchi nabe is a popular winter dish and something that'd be easy to extend for a crowd. how bout some tebasaki, japanese chicken wings? i agree with the idea of gyoza and some okonomiyaki, edamame and some tamagoyaki, rolled japanese omelets, might make a nice starter. good luck.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: switters

                                I'm surprised you consider konnyaku nasty. I would describe it more as a bland gelatinous food. Made into noodles it is called shirataki. In fetuchini shape it is being marketed as low calorie alternative to pasta. A 'cute' version of shirataki binds the threads into little bundles, that remind me of shrimp with the legs still on, only they taste like bundles of rubber bands. Teens in the audience might get a kick out of 'grossing out' each other.


                              2. I suggest Inari, or football sushi, it's sushi rice tucked into fried tofu skin that has been cooked in a shoyu-sugar-mirin-sake-dashi-type marinade. It's sweet and juicy!

                                Also edamame, sunomono, chicken drummettes, bento box items. Easy to make and serve.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: josie888

                                  Once you've made the seasoned rice, you could allow some of the guests to stuff the tofu skins. Using precut canned pieces of tofu skin is messy, but easy.


                                  1. re: paulj

                                    don't forget to rinse and aqueeze the skins gently, to get rid of some of oil and sugar. I agree these would be fun for people to make. Maybe have some food prep gloves for that. You can get them cryovac'd too, in Asian markets in the refrigerator case, for a cheaper price than in cans.

                                2. So i went to Misuba, my local Japanese market, and picked up okonomiyaki dry mix...it kinda feels like i'm pulling an aunt jemimiah by using the mix, but as i was looking at all the packages, the ingredients listed flour, baking powder, dried scallop, and dried yam, so I thought maybe a mix wouldn't be the worst thing in the world (however much a traditionalist i am)...I'm going to try the mix out versus the recipe I have today and make a decision which one i'll be going with... I didn't pick up the yam for fear of having a terrific reaction in front of an audience, though i did see it.

                                  Also picked up sakura-ebi (dried shrimp), kupee mayo, red ginger, okonomiyaki sauce,tempura flakes (my host family put it in their's), and will be placing thinly sliced raw beef on top before flipping it over....A couple of questions on the beef: should I be keeping it raw like i remember it to be? Would i be better off with pork?

                                  Thank you all for all yer help..

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: sixelagogo

                                    okonomiyaki doesn't have one recipe.
                                    so everybody has slightly deferent recipe.

                                    It's perfectry ok when you put raw meat on okonomiyaki before flip.
                                    but meat use for okonomiyaki is paper thin.

                                    Japanese use paper thin slice of meat more than big chunk or thick slice.
                                    so make sure use very thin slice.

                                    pork or beef.
                                    I remember using pork more than beef.

                                    but beef is more familiar to you, I think that perfectly ok.

                                    Was there 'aonori' on the okonomiyaki ?
                                    powdered green sea weed.
                                    I can't remember.

                                    1. re: sixelagogo

                                      You can prevent the itching from yamaimo by soaking it in a mix of vinegar and water before you grate it (I don't usually react that much, so I peel it before soaking-- but I think some people soak it whole) It's really best with the fresh one, but the mix also works very well. I'd personally go with the mix over a batter made from scratch with no yamaimo at all-- it gives the batter a characteristic "sturdiness"
                                      I'd definitely add pickle, tenkasu (tempura flakes) and sliced green onion with the batter. It's very flexible! Speaking of non-traditional, one of our favorite flavor combos at home is kimchi+natto okonomiyaki! Good call on the kewpie-- you might also like seaweed flakes (aonori) as ymushi mentions, or finely ground bonito sprinkled on top after you put the sauce. some hot mustard with it is good too!

                                      1. re: another_adam

                                        After making 4 different recipes for Okononomiyaki, I made a decision: i think i'll be dem-ing and having the folks taste soba in hot noodle broth instead......it's quick and fresh, though while they're eating it, I plan to demo the okonomiyaki, made with the mix (the one I tried from my japanese homestyle recipes was really dense...I messed around with the recipe a bit and added baking soda to see if that would lighten it up, and it did...too much..verymuch like a pancake with cabbage...)

                                        I'll be serving the okonomiyaki with bonito flakes, sea weed, sauce, mayo and optional red ginger.
                                        The mix states that I should use 3/4 c mix , 3/4 c water and 2 eggs + cabbage...I think i might cut down on the water, as it was kinda runny and I don't remember it that way.

                                        I chose the noodles, because they won't need to be held...if i made okonomiyaki for the crowd of 30, i'd have to do some ahead of time and i'm not sure how it holds in an oven (i'm thinking really poorly)...I'll allow my guests to try out the okonomiyaki for themselves after briefly demonstrating, then the rest of them can go home if they like...

                                        1. re: sixelagogo

                                          For the mix, that's a lot more egg that I would normally use for that much mix. I'd try more like 1 egg + enough water to make 3/4 cup liquid total, for a start, and see where that gets you...

                                    2. How about beef negamaki? You could prepare and roll it beforehand, and then cook it on the spot.

                                      1. So i had my presentation today and, all in all, things went well...I went with soba in noodle broth and okonomiyaki, the soba made with real deal dashii just had to show off my little fish shaver ...) and the okonomiyaki going with the japanese auntjemimah mix.....kids liked it (some of them were raving about how fantastic the sakura ebi -little whole, dried shrip-both plain and on the pancake)....Kids were openminded about trying most everything, as were the adults...this made me happy
                                        Thank you for all yer help!!!!

                                        1. Guess I came to this topic too late. I was going to suggest somen, which was the very first Japanese dish I ever had the guts to try, when I was about 11 years old. Trouble would be that it's wouldn't be really impressive for a demo because it's awfully simple.

                                          Somen noodles cook in about three minutes, then you drain them and immerse them several times in very cold water. Then you put them in cold water and refrigerate them.

                                          These go in a broth that's made with dashi, soy sauce, and a little sake. You boil water, stir in dashi, add sake and soy sauce to taste, and chill.

                                          To serve, you put a little of the broth in a bowl, and then add the noodles.